I didn’t expect to fall in love with China, but that is what happened. I’ve just spent a week on business in Beijing, with a side trip to the city of Chengdu, and I was won over by everything, from the universally kind and gracious people who welcomed me, to those more anonymous people – on the subway, the street, in a cab, at the massage clinic – who kindly answered my questions, to the popsicle vendor who carefully counted out the change I owed him (yes, I felt like one of the “ancient ones”).
Beijing, with its 14 million people, is a cauldron of sights, cars and every other contraption on wheels, markets, food stalls, streets so wide you can hardly see the other side, and monuments and buildings so enormous they swallow up everything you previously knew. The air is thick as mud but, but…it also smells enticingly of food, all the time and everywhere.
And what food! From the fanciest dinner at Green Jade restaurant where chubby little river shrimp with a light soy sauce competed for my favorite with a light and delicate soup of pine mushroom, to the sautéed lamb slices (prepared at my street-side table by a young woman named Sara and her coterie of waitress colleagues), cauliflower with fat slices of browned garlic, and shaved ice smothered with vanilla syrup and sweet red beans, barely cooked spinach rolled in little logs and bathed with a richly flavored sesame sauce, every taste was thrilling.
On my last evening, I had a snack in my hutong (a hutong is a neighborhood, and I was right in the center of an old one of single story grey buildings, narrow winding street punctuated with bicycles, armchairs, tables where families had their meals, and tiny restaurants of every type) of jellied rice seasoned with cilantro, onions, and a deeply delicious vinegary soy sauce spiked with hot pepper. It was everything – light, fresh, satisfying, exciting…
In Chengdu I enjoyed the most amazing and crispy sweet, deep-fried eel, And Lion Head Soup, which is a bath of tongue-tingling pepper oil with the most delicate, flat fillets of river fish and bean sprouts floating in it. You extract the fish and the bean sprouts from the oil, negotiate the bones, and float to heaven on the flavor and the texture!
There was so much more, of course, but let me stop so you can enjoy a few more photos!