Our last meal in China: mother of beancurd and a noodle.

Beijing Travel Blog

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Beijing Friendship store. (Photo is from their website).
It's our last day in China. I spent the morning acting as travel agent, researching future accommodation options, checking flights, and day-dreaming about Bali. At some point in the mid morning I mentioned I’d like to go to Bally’s for a last workout, and Steve responded by rushing to get his workout clothes into the laundry. When it was time to leave he begged out -- clothes still wet. Very clever, that one.

The warmth outside caught me off guard. The sun was for once winning the battle against the Beijing Haze. I wasted no time shedding the blue fleece that’s become like a second skin to me. Other people were in shorts and t-shirts, fooling themselves that summer had arrived (it cooled considerably later in the afternoon). My walk from cab to club was slow and pondering.
Steve peruses our one menu.
It was hard to go in!

At Bally’s, there were three trainers working out with their clients, making the place seem kind of crowded. One of the unoccupied trainers was a guy we had spoken to during a previous visit. He has been teaching himself English, and doing a pretty good job of it. He came over to say hello, and to politely inquire as to the meaning and correct pronunciation of the word “philosophy.” I did my best with it, and he left, only to return 10 minutes later questioning the definition of the word “principle.” Does it mean the same thing as “philosophy,” he wanted to know. Wow, those are pretty deep thoughts for a lazy Sunday. Again, I did my best and he disappeared, the last time I would see him. I wish him well in his studies.

When I got back to the apartment, we decided to take an actual walk.
Chinese hot pot.
We learned on Day One that Beijing is just not a walking town... too many cars, too many lanes, and air too bad for human consumption. But we decided to brave it all to go to the Beijing Friendship Store. This is one of Beijing’s older department stores and it used to be the best place to buy foreign goods in China, according to Fodor’s. (Hey, we have seen all of Beijing’s main sights by now and are frankly kind of scraping the bottom here. ) Well, imagine an enormous store decorated circa 1972, filled with merchandise from that same era, and employees waiting patiently behind each counter to serve non-existent customers. We diligently checked out each floor, but there was no attraction here and we soon left.  

Next stop was our old stand-by, YaShow Market.
The noodle man does his thing.
Steve had an “excellent” foot massage, as his masseuse had “hands like velvet.” I sat down for a $3 manicure and somehow got up-sold to a $10 manicure, but don’t ask me the difference between the two. Steve also stopped to look at a backpack, but we left with our cash intact. (Perhaps because I was the one carrying the cash? :^)

For dinner, Steve wanted to finally try Chinese hot pot, which is a popular dish in Beijing. He had read about a good place in the Sanlitun neighborhood, so we grabbed a cab and off we went. The place (I lost my paper with the name!) was huge and apparently very popular -- a good sign! We were directed up one floor, then up another, seated near the stairway, and given one incomprehensible menu (why don’t they give each member of the party a menu? Why only one menu per table?).
Into the soup our noodle goes.

Turns out there is a process with this meal that we hadn’t studied up on it, and consequently we had no idea what was going on. Oh well, utter confusion is a state we are getting used to after a month on the road. We never fully figured it out (until we left, that is), but here is what happened:  

A large stainless steel bin was placed into a recessed area of the table in front of us. The bin had two compartments -- the left contained a watery liquid into which they placed onions, a few spices, and some greens. The right side contained a red fiery-looking chili-infused liquid. On the table was a bowl of soy nuts (when we asked what they were the waitress struggled for the English word, then said, “it’s the mother of bean curd.” Wonderful!) and two sauces: sesame for me, garlic oil for Steve.

We finally managed to order several plates of food, thinking we would dip the food into the liquid, fondue-style. No, no, no, that’s not how it’s done at all. The plates of food -- textured beancurd; soft tofu; fat mushrooms; and long, fresh bamboo shoots -- were placed by our waitress into the now-bubbling cauldrons of liquid.

We stared at it for a while, wondering what to do next. I guess the waitress must have taken pity on us, because she came back to serve us the food correctly, on a regular basis (everyone else was doing their own serving, but even craning our necks we couldn’t see exactly how they were doing it). She strained the liquid from the vegetables using a ladle and a strainer thingie, and then transferred the cooked food on our teeny tiny plates. We quickly discovered that the food was scalding hot, and also pretty delicious. I had been wanting something spicy and I certainly got it! Soon, my eyes were watering from the heat and Steve and I were both mopping our foreheads. Excellent! Whenever we needed a break from the heat, we would eat from the other side, which was green-onion and mushroom flavored and really tasty in a much calmer way.

We had also placed an order for noodles, which they seemed to forget about. We asked again, and soon a young man was tableside with a small ball of dough. Turns out we hadn’t ordered one ORDER of noodles… we ordered just one NOODLE! He made quite a show of making our noodle, dancing around, stretching the dough, and flipping it towards our faces playfully, like a huge rubber band. (At one point it touched the floor, Steve said, but I didn’t see that.) Our long noodle was cut up a bit, then placed in the broth to cook. It was one delicious noodle! We both wished we had ordered at least two of them. Maybe three. Dang.

If we had it to do again, we would get half-sized plates of a wider variety of foods to add to our hot pot. We didn’t know that was an option at the time. We would also get several of those delicious homemade noodles. And now we know that with the double bin, Steve could have had meat ingredients on one side while keeping the other side vegetarian for me.

So, I wish we hadn’t waited until the last night to try hot pot �" this is something that requires multiple visits to perfect! Oh well, there’s one reason to come back some day.

Tomorrow we are off bright and early … Malaysia!   

reikunboy says:
enjoyed reading your amazing stories of China. Have a great adventure in Malaysia.
Posted on: Apr 28, 2008
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Beijing Friendship store. (Photo i…
Beijing Friendship store. (Photo …
Steve peruses our one menu.
Steve peruses our one menu.
Chinese hot pot.
Chinese hot pot.
The noodle man does his thing.
The noodle man does his thing.
Into the soup our noodle goes.
Into the soup our noodle goes.
photo by: Deats