Friday, September 07, 2012

Something new

Hanging out at roadside barbecue stalls has always been one of my favourite things to do in Beijing, or anywhere in China. But, wherever you go, it's always a nearly identical experience. I'd long ago given up hoping for any novelty from a chuanr joint.

But I was dining at such a place a few nights ago with some friends down in the Shuangjing district of south-east Beijing when we found that the food choices on offer were decidedly non-standard.

With a Chinese-only menu challenging our limited collective powers of character-recognition, we plumped for xia (shrimp), qiezi (aubergine), mantou (bread), and "small roast bird".

And it was a revelatory experience. I passed on the shrimp myself, since things of the sea disagree with me, but my companions assured me it was excellent. The aubergines were roasted whole, giving them a smokey, charcoal-y savour, and were dressed with an unusual, pleasantly garlicky sauce - not the bog-standard sweet'n'spicy yuxiang you usually get. And the birds, though tiny, were quite delicious, with a crisp, very salty skin and a slightly gamey flesh - like dark turkey meat. We speculated that they were quails, although I seem to remember that quail I've eaten in England years ago was slightly larger and rather different in taste. It could be "quail with Chinese characteristics", I suppose, a distinctive local variety; I note that the dictionary contains a number of different words for quails or "quail-like birds". I'm pretty sure the menu just said "small bird"; so, I suppose it might just have been whatever they happen to have been able to catch recently. Anyway, I'll be back to try that again - should probably order two or three each next time, to make a more substantial snack.
This chap seems confident these were quails; 
and they do look pretty much the same as what we ate

The real highlight of the meal, though, was the bread - a style none of us had ever encountered before (and two of my friends were seasoned tour leaders, guys who've been everywhere in China). It was Twinky-sized, had a crisp, glazed crust, and a fluffy centre - similar to, but lighter and less buttery than a croissant. It had a spiral or circular construction reminiscent of a croissant too. A Chinese croissant? Whatever next?! Damn, they were GOOD! I will be on the lookout for more of those. [I couldn't turn up any pictures of this type of bread online, despite a good long look for some.]

1 comment:

Mike Cormack said...

Mmm! I also am a fan of the chuanr, and those birds look delicious. Shuanjing is about as far as you can out of my neighbourhood and still remain central though!