All my worry was for naught. The food was spectacular. I'm starting to realize there's a reason why people in different parts of the world eat different foods -- because they know something we don't, and that something tastes good.
A few highlights:
- Hot Pot -- Think Chinese fondue, but with water instead of oil. Take loads of thinly sliced lamb, fresh greens, mushrooms, ginger, dough, potatoes, fish balls, noodles, and tofu and cook them together in a pot of simmering water in the middle of your table. Add beer, friends, and dipping sauces, and you're guaranteed a good meal.
- Peking Duck -- We were honored to eat duck number 1,150,325,487, and we have the certificate to prove it. Since 1864, Quanjude has been serving its famous Peking (roast) duck. Order your duck, and they wheel out a silver cart and carve it for you on the spot. Duck breast, skin with fat, and head are all presented. Take a few sprigs of spring onion, dip the duck in a dark, thick, amazingly tasty sauce, and wrap it in a small rice-based tortilla. Mmm, mmm good. Bonus entertainment comes when they fill up your tea pot. Instead of a basic pour, it's more a perfectly arched jet of water.
- Street Food -- From sweet sticky rice treats to skewered lamb kabobs rolled in cumin and rosemary, you could find just about everything from a street vendor.
- Dumplings -- How can you go wrong? Mash up a bunch of pork, beef, tofu, shrimp, or your favorite choice of protein, add some vegetables, and wrap them in a bun and steam or pan fry to your liking. Yum.
- Donkey Pancakes -- Braised donkey in a pita pocket. Who knew?
- Red Bean This, Red Bean That -- I don't know if red beans are naturally sweet, or the Chinese just picked them to use in pastries and artificially sweeten them. But honestly, I don't really care. From red bean lattes to red bean scones, we were pleased.
- Home Cooked Goodness -- We were fortunate enough to stay at the Culture House in Yangshuo, home of Master Director Wei. And let me tell you, he deserves every bit of the title "Master Director". At night we sat down at a large dining table with the 8 or so other travelers staying in the same house. An older woman (perhaps Wei's mother?) would bring out heaping dish after dish until the lazy susan in the middle of the table couldn't hold anymore. The food was by far the best we had the enitre trip. Since we were in the south, the ingredients were fresh. The sauces were perfect. Jen fell in love with the dumplings. I obsessed over the stuffed peppers and ginger pork. I would go back to China simply to learn the cook's secrets. You think I'm kidding.