Picking up where we left off last week, I will introduce to you another three of Beijing’s traditional eateries with distinct flavors and cultural heritage. Heads up, future travelers and backpackers to China, follow this guide and you will have a native culinary experience in the capital city!
Douzhi, fermented mung bean milk. If last week’s luzhu (pork intestine and lung stew) sounded dubious to you, this drink is about to challenge your culinary courage to the moon. Douzhi is a drink made from fermenting mung beans starch, and it’s a thick mixture of green and gray. This awkward looking drink smells powerfully pungent and tastes a bit sour, but don’t worry, it is not rotten yet. Beijingers like to pair it with jiaoquan, which are fried circles of dough for breakfast. If you try it for the first time and wonder why anyone would want to drink this abhorrent and disgusting concoction, you are not alone. When my husband first went on group outings with me, we went to a douzhi shop, and he couldn’t stop laughing at the horror on my face when I had my first sip. Little did I know, douzhi has been around since the Song dynastry and was a favorite among many emperors! So if you literally want to eat like a king in Beijing, give douzhi a try!
Wan Dou Huang, pea flour cake. Chinese people have a penchant for making food out of beans and peas, and wan dou huang is one of my favorite traditional Beijing desserts made from pea flour. It’s ground pea flour boiled with water into a thick porridge, then sifted and stir fried with sugar then cooled in molds. The end results are refreshing yellow cubes served cold that taste like a smooth paste and subtly sweet. It is traditionally eaten on the third day of Chinese New Year, but nowadays can be seen in many restaurants all year round. Same as douzhi, wan dou huang was also a beloved delicacy of emperors, but during the Qing dynasty. You can find it mostly in the Muslim district of Beijing along the Niu Street, as it is a traditionally Chinese Muslim delicacy.
Brass lamb hot pot, a traditional halal way to serve hotpot, is one of the most beloved cuisines during the winters of Beijing. In the winter, golden brass hotpots line up the streets in Qianmen district of the old city, and many Han and Muslim Chinese gather around the steaming pots dipping thinly sliced lamb. Given their dietary restrictions, Muslims in China since the Ming dynasty have been inventing their own cuisine apart from the Han Chinese who eat pork, beef and other seafood in their hotpot. Their version of hotpot consist of paper thin cuts of lamb and other vegetables dipped in non-spicy lamb broth boiling in brass pots. You dip every lamb slice for 5-10 seconds in the broth and then eat it with a nutty Tahini paste mixed with chive paste. This practice was quickly adopted by the Han Chinese in Beijing and is now a traditional Beijing way to eat hotpot. You can find brass hotpots in century old establishments such as Dong Lai Shun.
For today’s recipe, I will continue on the theme of Chinese food and show you how to make a quick veggie stir fry with not so ordinary vegetables. Chinese yam is unlike the sweet potatoes that we normally think of in the States. It’s a oblong root covered in a tan colored skin. Once you peel the skin away with a knife, you will find that the inside is white and slippery. You can slice it up and add it to any stir fry or chop it into chunks and toss them into a stew. The texture ranges from crispy to starchy potato like depending on how long you cook it. It’s actually considered to have beneficial medicinal effects by Chinese medicine gurus. Without further ado, here is Chinese yam and carrot stirfry!
Chinese Yam and Carrot Stirfry
- 6 inches of Chinese yam (found in Asian grocery), peeled and sliced into 1/3 inch slices
- 1 carrot, chopped into thin slices
- 1 Tbsp canola oil
- salt and pepper to taste
In a wok or pan, stir fry carrot slices with canola oil on medium heat for 5 minutes until carrots turn slightly more orange-golden.
Add Chinese yam slices and stir fry for another 5 minutes. Yam should be somewhat crispy and carrots should be cooked but not softened. Salt and pepper to taste.