A May 1994 trip
to Beijing by TRAVELPRO guide
Quote: I always heard that if you dug a hole deep enough you could "dig your way to China."
China seemed so far away and such an impossible journey to me when I was growing up. I feel fortunate to have traveled for two weeks in China. It helped me learn "to dig" (understand) the ancient culture and history.
The food in China is not like the Chinese food in America. You're in for some suprises.
Many dishes were so different that they termed them "mystery foods." The order of serving the courses is different. In China, a soup (usually a thin broth with some vegetables) is served last--not as the first or second course like in America.
Instead of a Chinese fortune cookie at the end of the meal, there is usually a slice of apple or watermelon instead. All food served to us was from round lazy susans, which covered all the table except for the outer edges where our plates were placed.
Soups are not like American Chinese soups either. Usually the soups were very thin, and mild flavored with no meat. A few were similar to our egg drop soups.
One of the foods that tasted quite similar was fried rice, but we usually were served steamed rice in bowls at the end of our meals. We found this very annoying because we like to eat our rice with our main entrees in America.
Some of the tastiest foods that we enjoyed were breaded apples and steamed vegetables. We particularly liked the sweet batter used to coat and deep fry strips of chicken and whole shrimp. We enjoyed breaded apple slices served with a sweet sticky sauce. This was one of the few dessert-like sweet foods that we had in China.
My husband especially enjoyed a fried pastry that resembled an American long john that was prepared for breakfast. He said it reminded him of the fried bread dough that his mother used to make in Kansas.
A side dish that we liked was sugarcoated cashews. The tasty cashews were a pleasant "change of pace" from the many "mystery" vegetables and meats.
We particularly liked "beggar's chicken," a main entree. This whole boiled chicken dish originated in this city. Legend has it that the dish originated when a poor man stole a chicken, wrapped it in lotus leaves, sealed it in clay and then buried it in his hearth so the he could cook it without attracting attention.
The whole chicken was seasoned with a blend of herbs, spices, onions and mushrooms that gave it a very good flavor. The long slow cooking boiling process made the chicken so tender that it just fell off the bone.
Some of the sweet and sour sauces on the vegetables and meats were very good. A spicy peanut sauce on a chicken dish also was very tasty. It resembles a Thai sauce. We enjoyed eating baby asparagus (that unlike many of the tough Chinese cabbages) was very easy to chew.
We found their green teas, beers, and rice wines to be very good, and we drank these with our meals because water (except for bottled water) was not safe to drink. I tasted some Chinese firewater (an alcoholic drink), which had a very unpleasant after taste.
Although it was not classified as Chinese food, we found a Mongolian barbecue to be a refreshing change and not a "mystery" meal. For our meal, we selected the raw meats, fish and vegetables and seasoning sauces from a long cafeteria line of foods. Then we took it to the chef and watched while he stir-fried it with our selected sauce over a large grill. He placed the cooked food in a bowl and we took it back to our table.
One of the entrees that we did not like was a large whole fish fried and served with the eyes staring at us. The fish was very bony and strong tasting. We did not indulge in the raw fish relishes because we feared that they might not be safe to eat. Since China has poor sanitation standards, we did not eat anything that had not been cooked.
For every lunch and dinner, we sat at a round table with a lazy susan in the center covering two thirds of the table. All the food was placed in the center of the table, and we served ourselves family-style by spinning the lazy susan.
Our individual place setting consisted of a small plate, which was about the size of our American saucer, chopsticks, a small bowl for rice and a small cup for tea. If we wanted a knife or fork, we had to request it. By the end of the trip, we were quite adept at using chopsticks.
Every meal we had in China was very different from the Chinese food we know in America. Even many of the common vegetables, such as cauliflower and green peppers, were served in brown sauces that made them taste very strange.
We decided we much preferred Chinese food–American style, but eating Chinese food in Hong Kong and China was a great adventure because you are never sure just what you are eating.
Miles before we got to an entrance gate, we saw the stone wall winding and twisting up the mountainside outside of Beijing. We were so excited that we started climbing immediately when our touring bus stopped outside the wall entrance. My husband was so enthralled with the wall that the cassette in his video camera jammed after only a few few seconds and he didn't even realize it. Consequently he thought he was getting lots of great video pictures of the wall, but his camera was not working.
It was an exhilarating feeling to walk atop the wide 2,600-year-old stone wall, which is really a roadway as wide as some of our two-lane roads. We expected it to be a tall, narrow wall, but it's actually an elevated highway stretching nearly 4,000 miles. The wall is about 25 feet high and about 25 feet wide at the base, tapering to 15 feet wide at the top. The giant structure is built of rectangular slabs of stones that are securely held together with mortar.
"It's incredible. You really have to be here to experience it," remarked a British couple whom we met while walking the wall. We agreed heartily.
The Chinese started building the wall in the seventh century B.C. to protect their territory against Mongol invaders. Painstakingly they continued to build this Great Wall over a period of several hundred
years. The wall, as it stands today, was rebuilt and reinforced in the 15th century.
The most popular place to view the wall is at Badaling, which was a strategic pass and a heavily guarded outpost safeguarding the capital city of Beijing (formerly Peking). Large watchtowers are located here and at other strategic points. The wall has been likened to a giant dragon snaking its way up
and down mountain ridges-a dragon so long that you cannot see its tail or head.
The wind was blowing, and it was chilly, but we were anxious to explore the area when we came to the famous Tiananmen Square. Our bus driver gave us a half hour to walk the square, and it took almost that long to walk from end to end.
The sheer size of this square boggled our mind. We had seen pictures of the square on TV when the young people revolted against Communism and were cruelly gunned down by tanks.
We saw large pictures of of Mao and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, natonal father of China. He was president from 1911 until he died in 1926. Known as the George Washington of China.
As we left, our guide pointed out where the tank had killed the young people. That was an awesome end of our day.