The Food in Beijing
More from the Sleeping Steinberg:
The stateside question I've gotten most often from friends, relatives and Internet stalkers? "How's the food?"
Seriously, I travel around the world to cover Scandinavian handball, and all you can ask about is the sautéed celery?
But fine, you win, here's the brief summary:
The restaurants we've gone too offer what I like to refer to as "Chinese food." After 31 years of hearing how American Chinese food is wholly distinct from Chinese Chinese food, I'm here to tell you that said claim is overrated. Sure, everything tastes better here, but things sorta look the same, are sorta seasoned the same, and sorta feel familiar in every way. Of course, I haven't gone to the famous Street of Fried Critters on Sticks, nor do I plan on joining the Baltimore Sun's staffers on their scheduled journey to a restaurant they claim serves nothing but animal penis. Although I'd be curious whether they offer a tofu version.
We had our "Washington Post Team Dinner" last night at a place called Xiao Wang's Home Restaurant, bordering a park in a neighborhood filled with Russian businesses. The restaurant, it turned out, was also hosting the "L.A. Times Team Dinner." Great business plan, building a customer base out of print media employees.
The menu offered much promise for organic weirdness: Shredded Pork Ear, Duck Tongue & Ink-Fish Soup, Fried Pork Kidney with Onion & Coriander in Flavored Sauce & Served in Iron Pan, Braised Pork Elbow in Flavored Sauce, Deep Fried Pork Intestine with Red Chili, Cold-Boiled Duck Tongue with Garlic-Vinegar sauce, Brined Chicken Feet with Green Pepper, Pan-Fried Duck Heart with Bell Pepper & Red Chili, and Sliced Pork Lung in Red Chili Sauce, although the lungs were likely filled with smog.
I was hoping we'd order all of those body parts and then try to reconstruct some mutant poultry-accented piggie, but instead the meat eaters had Peking Duck and Spicy Fish. The
vegetarians I had Soft Tofu with Chinese Cabbage. It was tasty, sure, but it wouldn't have shocked me if someone said it had been flown in from Rockville.
McDonald's is everywhere, and the menu doesn't look particularly strange. "I had a hamburger here, it was the same," reports Chairwoman Tracee, our boss. Chez McDo also serves up Premium Chicken Burgers and Corn Cup, but other than that, it looks like home, complete with the pasty white customers wearing fanny packs and the giant gleaming photos of juicy beef hovering over the servers handing out shriveled patties.
Starbucks is also everywhere, but we're mostly drinking the free coffee offered by smiling Olympic volunteers twice a day in the media center hallways. Maybe they're trying to bribe us into saying nice things about their country. Maybe they should offer more free coffee to Sally Jenkins.
The media center is outfitted with a basement dining hall that offers several feeding stations. I usually go to the "International" station, where I get things like turnips, pumpkin, kale and yams over rice, cooked vegetables apparently being the world's food. The International station also serves up Baked Snapper, Meat and Black Bean Stew and Texas Red Chili. Someone tell Texas they're now international. I'm sure they'll try to secede.
As you circle the dining room, you will also find the Asian station (Chinese Borsch, Pearl Balls, Fried Noodles with Light Soya Sauce, Sauteed Broccoli, Calamari With Zucchini, Egg with Spinach), the Mediterranean station (Cannelloni Ricotta with Alfredo or Marinara, Wild Mushroom Ragout, five kinds of pizza), the Grill (Pan Seared Tilapia, Grilled Beef Skewers, Seared Shrimp Skewers), and the Dessert station (Cole Slaw, Pasta Salad, Pickled Vegetables).
I know, the place doesn't exactly scream "China!" Then again, screaming "China!" is probably against the rules.
Upstairs is the convenience mart, featuring such Chinese delicacies as Juicy Fruit, Splenda, Nestea, Snickers, Pringles and Oreos. Some of them at least have Chinese characters on their packaging. There is also a great selection of ketchup-flavored salty snacks. And 500 ml bottles of Tsingtao for about $1.25, which I plan to employ as a performance-enhancer. Also, bagged Fragrant Beef and bagged Pepper Spice Mutton and bagged Herb Muscle Beef, Onion Juicy Steak potato chips, and tinned Spicy Mud Carp with Lobster Sauce.
But most of this isn't particularly interesting, so from now on when people ask about the food, I'm just going to tell them we're each given a daily ration of Spicy Mud Carp with Lobster Sauce accompanied by polluted pork lung.
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