Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 5 - Breakfast, Zoo & Peking Duck - Part I

Eating outside the "Western-o-shpere" in Beijing.

Tavin and I had a good start in adventurous munching with the giant folded pancake on our first morning.  And we had scored pretty well with lunches along the way.  But breakfast was an ongoing quandary.  The buffet spread was very nice, and had lots of non-western options.  However, the $30 (US, thus 180RMB) price take was very western indeed.  The other hotel option, the coffee bar with 20RMB drinks ($3+ US) and the excellent donuts and pastries was less mind blowing price-wise, but missed the point since we were not busy executives.
So, this morning, we put on our full weather-battle gear and headed out to "Food Cube" which in atmosphere and clientele, made me think of Denny's in its original incarnation.  A place for people in need of a hot breakfast on their way to work.  The only English writing was the name, notification of opening hours ("24h" - so that was easy), and we could see the full picture menu.  Good, so illiterate, near-mutes like me could get by with hello, counting to 4, and thank-you.

We opened the door and dove in, out of the cold.  The staff looked at us like we had entered this building by accident.  But since we clearly though we were staying they seated us WAY in the back of the restaurant, where no servers ever came.
Nice try guys, you won't get rid of two bumblers like us that easily.  I realize that was supposed to be an insult, or a put off, but we are WAY to dense and hungry to notice something that subtle.  So we blundered back up to the front, and stood there, taking up space, until they seated us where someone would serve us.
Using my non-existant Chinese language skills I managed to order a shrimp and seaweed soup and a giant donut (savory - so technically fried dough).  They WOULD NOT let me order the hard-boiled egg that was stewed in broth.  I had seen them all over Beijing when poking about in the mornings.  They exist in crockpots at convenience stores and food carts all over the city.  But for what ever reason, the waiter refused to let me have one.  OK, he had that victory over me.  Not being able to understand him, he may have also been telling me that ordering the egg constituted, "too much food."  Which, again, would never go over well for wait-staff to do in the US.
Apparently, the Northern Chinese do not drink tea at breakfast.  And I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense.  With all the ceremony surrounding tea, swilling it over one's half asleep taste buds merely to infuse caffeine into the body; that's an insult to the tea, and says low things about the consumer (I assume).
Instead they drink hot soya milk.  Being allergic to the stuff myself (it burns the back of my mouth, and affects my internals in ways best not discussed in polite company) we just stuck to soup for morning liquids.

When our food did come, it contained 2 surprises.  1st, the savory donut, instead of being about the size of a maple-bar, was closer to the size of a loaf of bread.  

See - it's as long as Tavin's forearm!

And our breakfast soup had tiny shrimps. 

Thankfully the donut was light, airy and crispy, and there were 2 of us to eat it.  But this thing was huge!  And it was the best fried dough we had the whole time.   "Crispy end of the roast beef" made into a whole huge donut is the best I can do to describe the flavor.
The soup was pleasantly salty, the noodles were wonderfully wide and slippery, and the wrinkly dumplings that slightly resembled brains, had the tiniest niblet of filling.  Seaweed and those tiny, briny shrimp made up the rest.  

We paid our bill, which came to less than 1 pastry at the coffee bar in the hotel.

We were ready to head to the zoo after that.

Next - the saddest Zoo I've ever been to.

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