Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bike Throughs and Dive Ins

As much as we thoroughly love going to fancy restaurants all dressed up and fabulous, there are so many good things to say about the simplest places and in some cases, real dives. The kind of places where you wouldn’t even consider peeking into the kitchen (or using the rest room for that matter) can, at times, serve the most glorious food!

One problem while living in a country where you cannot partake of all information due to the inability to READ is: 1. Learning about new places and 2. Reading the menu. We are forever grateful to our drivers, Mr. Jeff and Mr. Zhang, who patiently take us around the city when we are hungry for something new. Without worries about loosing face should we not like the place (like that would happen), they indulge us patiently in helping us discover hidden gems.

Many times we don’t have to travel far to find old and new favorites.  One restaurant we go back to over and over again is the, as we call it, “Hong Kong Noodle Place”.  For sure, it has a real name, we just haven’t figured it out yet and since we know the owner is from Hong Kong and they serve Hong Kong staples such as wonton and fish ball noodle soup, we will just continue with our name for it.

For those of us in the vast restaurant wasteland of Shunyi, the HKNP is conveniently located a short bicycle ride away near Pinnacle Plaza – close to Jenny Wang’s and next to Miso Japanese Restaurant (another STARA favorite).  Plan to arrive before noon so you won’t have to wait for a table.  The restaurant seats maybe 30 patrons with an open (relatively clean!) kitchen where you can see the magic happen. The menu is simple; noodles, rice dishes, vegetables and snacks – all very reasonably priced and delicious. There are specials advertised on the walls but sadly only in Chinese and, while the owner speaks perfect English, the serving staff doesn’t and we have yet to see it translated.

We usually go for our own personal favorites; prawn wonton noodle soup for Stacey and fish ball noodle soup for Sara, cucumbers with peanuts and garlic and bok choy with oyster sauce on the side.  The barbeque pork is also a must-try – not fatty or full of gristle, as is often the case – but with a lovely red sheen from all of the spices.  Steamy bowls of noodle soup arrive and with a generous scoop of the chili paste we are ready to slurp it all up.  

Yummy Fish Ball Soup

Simple, cheap and delicious!

Comfort food – China style.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Are We Really in Beijing?

One of the things we love most about Beijing is that this city is not always what you see.  Look one direction it is all shiny modern and look another, down a hutong alley, and you are transported back hundreds of years.  It is a city full of surprises; you just have to look!

Living in the suburbs of Shunyi, our restaurant offerings are slim.  Not only for expensive or formal; just someplace that serves good food.  It doesn’t take long to try all of the options and work our way through the menus so it was such a nice surprise to discover, after three years here, Roma Lake (Luoma Hu). 

Roma Lake
We took advantage of a rare, blue-sky day to bike to Roma Lake.  What a great surprise to find a lovely tree-lined road by a (relatively) clean lake with enticing restaurants on the bank and with plenty of outdoor seating and enticing terraces.  And so many options! Something for every taste: Malaysian, hot pot, Japanese, pizza and almost every flavor of Chinese cuisine.

Restaurants of every flavor along the tree-lined street.
Our new favorite hot pot (and crayfish) restaurant!

Having heard about Laker’s Pizza, we decided to give it a try only to be uninspired by the menu and absence of patrons. The hot pot restaurant next door, however,  looked enticing so we ambled over and found a table on the terrace.  Swedish Sara was sold when the waitress walked by holding a pan of steaming, meaty crayfish.  There must be something in her DNA as she was instantly salivating!  Needless to say, we ordered a dozen immediately but the rest of the menu wasn’t so easy!

Now, customer service leaves a lot to be desired in China.  Today, however, was the exception.  The menu here is a one-page checkbox all in Chinese.  While we can talk our way though a restaurant, we can’t read a thing!  We asked for an English menu and what arrived but the manager carrying a laptop displaying an Excel spreadsheet with English translations!  We actually didn’t want hotpot with our crayfish so she suggested house specialties – pork noodles, wood ear fungus and spinach with garlic. 

What a pleasant surprise!  The fungus and spinach, common on every Chinese menu, were the best we have had in China.  Crispy cucumber balanced the spice and sourness of the fungus.  Crunchy garlic and vinegar perfectly matched the sweetness of the spinach.  And the noodles – what looked like a bland bowl of brown hid meaty, milky broth with some of the tastiest pork around – no fat or gristle anywhere. 

But the star of the show was the crayfish.  We asked for spicy and spicy they were!  These hot little numbers were meaty, perfectly cooked and bathed in chili peppers.  The waitress kindly provided plastic gloves and aprons to keep us spotless as we quickly devoured our feast. 

Chilis anyone?

What a find!  We can’t wait to go back and see what other surprises await us.  Now we just need another blue-sky day!

To find Roma Lake - Keep going west on TianBeiLu past the Anhua Road intersection and straight through the big roundabout.  Take the first left onto the little road by the lake.  The restaurants and shops are a little ways down the road on your left.