The flight to Beijing wasn’t so awful, for some reason I had it in my mind that it was going to be 18 hours, perhaps, do to my last trip to Thailand which was about that. A ambien, a neck pillow, and a few movies on my iPad and the flight passed quite nicely. I’m not sure about that chicken sponge that was served for lunch, but I had a half of a cubano from Frontera take out and that helped.
At the airport we were all discombobulated, I wasn’t sure if I was awake or tired, met our ‘national’ guide Charlie, jumped on one of those giant tour busses and headed to the Prime hotel. Checked in, headed out. It was like herding cats on a mix of Adderol and Xanax trying to get the chefs focused or doing one thing. We were trying to head to a Szechuan restaurant since we aren’t going to that provence….hour later, tired and hungry we were staring at snakes and scorpions on sticks, chef Brian ate the scorpions, my stomach wasn’t up for it yet. A few of us broke from the group and went to a restaurant, the rest stayed at the stalls.
My legs and back were soar from flying and the restaurant option was appealing, unfortunately the restaurant was not. Beer was good, noodles with a light soy and sesame oil with crunchy baby bok choy was edible and thankfully filling, the meat gelee, beef tongue, and mystery mushroom mix were gelatinous, gooey, rustic- I took a bite and decided to opt out.
A few more went home and four of us, as chefs do, went out out for some culture, we define culture as drinking maybe too many cocktails. 3 double jacks and I was ready for bed. Midnight.
Day 2: first full day in Beijing
Feeling somewhat human, up at 6:30am, headed down for the included breakfast. Besides allof the usual suspects of pancakes the ubiquitous egg station there was a 20 foot arced buffet table with a tasty Chinese breakfast; dumplings, noodles, wok fried beef, fried rice, sweet and sour pickles. I went back for seconds.
Hour bus ride to the Summer Palace, absolutely stunning. Ornate, colorful, historic, super impressive. We all reflected on the type of power the emperors had to have this sprawling palace. Charlie tells us that they had 150 chefs that produced 100 dishes for each meal.
Big Boss is where we ate lunch. Very tasty.
A lot of discussion about the soup and it viscosity. I thought it was a simple reduction but Jose pointed out that it didn’t have a huge chicken flavor, it was more light with a interesting cucumber taste with silky egg drop. We asked and we think soup was lightly thickened with probably potato starch or maybe bean starch.
Other highlights: really crispy chicken in orange reduction, bok choy with mushrooms, crispy chicken in Ah-So(?) sauce, velvet pork in a light tomato and curry (or maybe fenugreek. The stand out was the braised pork With minced stewed onions and collards.
I think the pork belly was braised in a mushroom soy with onions, then reduced the braising liquid and stewed collards and onions in it, it was sweet, hardy, rich. Superb.
After lunch we we went to Tieneman Square and the Forbidden City. I’ve seen both on tv and in movies and neither did justice on their size, grandiose, and intensity. I expected the military presence to be greater, it was still there but no show of guns or tanks. Plenty of cameras watching people and sharply dressed stoic guards, I assume there was a lot more that we couldn’t see.
Walking through Tieneman square I was reminded of all of the news broadcast with goose stepping military and the show of military might. All the buildings we so big you really felt small in the sea of people.
The Forbidden City is complete craziness, I’ve never seen anything like it. You enter thru 6 inch thick wooden gates over moats, walking into a grand courtyard surrounded by walls and a main building in the front center, this gets repeated and repeated and repeated. I felt each time that this was the center but yet it kept going and going like one of those Russian eggs. Each element of the every building, roof, flooring, walls were all so perfectly and beautifully designed, it took 14 years to build and not one nail was used.
We walked 6 miles, totally worth every step.
For dinner we had a simple Chinese dinner, I love the giant lazy-susans in the tables and the beer was cold. After dinner we saw a Kung Fu ’show’, I thought it was going tone a couple guys fighting it out in a ring, actually it was a off off off Broadway love story about Kung Fu- most people dozed off, I thought it was campy and they certainly were trying to entertain us.
A few notes about dinner. That soup was fantastic in the fact that is had zero flavor and a weird cornstarch constancy, look at that picture, it looks almost plastic. The most interesting dish was the corn fritter.
My first impression was that it tasted like cotton candy with a hint of Cap’n Crunch. Jasper thinks they are using what we would call hard corn, it’s not the butter and sugar corn we eat every August, but the corn that is grown for corn syrup, this makes sense since this is what is in both cotton candy and Cap’n Crunch.
Back to the Prime Hotel and bed.