Well, tonight is my last blog for this week and a good discussion of Chinese cuisine simply wouldn't be complete without writing about noodles, dumplings and steamed buns. The Chinese meal almost always includes one of these starch dishes as a closing dish, just before the fruit is served, which signifies the banquet is near its end. Now the Chinese have a saying that goes like this: when you arrive you eat noodles, when we see you off you eat dumplings.
There are a variety of noodles in China, including the famed long noodles, which are the traditional noodles one eats at their birthday celebration. But my favorite noodles are called Dandang Noodles, the spicy noodles from Sichuan, and the best ones I know are the ones to be found at Chun Xia Qiu Dong in Shenyang, China. These noodles are served in a small bowl and are packed with a combination of peppers, pepper oil and other spices, and once you dig into this dish, it is very difficult to stop, other than washing the noodles down with a nice cold beer or a good shot of Bai Jiu. I almost always order this dish as a complement to my other favorite sichuan dishes, and a dish i always look forward to at the end of the meal.
The other famous dish of Northern China, and one of my favorites in the winter, is the famous chinese dumpling, or Jaozi. Now Jaozi come in many forms, the steamed, the pan fried and the boiled, and they come with many fillings, from meat to vegetables to combo meat and veggie or fruit dumplings. My favorite are the steamed dumplings that combine meat and vegetables. The best dumplings are the ones that are soft and moist and almost melt in your mouth and leave you with a full gamut of flavors. During the winter months in the Northeast when the temperatures can dip below minus 20 or 30 celsius, there is simply no better dish to warm you up and fill up your stomach with a delicious treat. In Shenyang the most famous and most revered dumpling place is called Lao Bian Jiaozi, and it is a mandatory for stop for any foreigner who really wants to sample the local cuisine and come away with a real dumpling adventure. The variety and quality of dumplings are simply without parallel with any other place I have run across in China; at last count i noted well over 60 different types of dumplings on their menu on a recent visit, and almost everyone one of them will impress you. I also like to order a few side dishes with the dumplings, like steamed eggplant, some boiled peanuts and a green vegetable dish, and wash it all down with a nice cold Snow Beer; you can't get much more Shenyang than this.
Now a description of the great starch foods of chinese cuisine would not be complete without a discussion of the famous Chinese steamed bun, or baozi. These are the true filler foods of China and can be filled with just about every cuisine you can imagine, from meat to vegetables to sweet pastes, especially a red bean paste. But the most famous steamed bun comes from the city of Tianjin, about 120 kilometers from Beijing, and a port city with a strong European influence and a population of about 10 million. The famous steamed bun here is called the Gou bu li baozi, or the dog doesn't pay attention steamed bun. Now there are many stories behind the name, but it really has nothing to do with dogs not liking to eat these steamed buns, which obviously wouldn't be a great recommendation for these delicious buns. No, the story probably goes something like this: long ago their was a steamed bun shop owner who was very successful and busy, and his nickname happened to be little doggie. Now little doggie was too busy to pay much attention to his steamed buns because he was too busy developing customers, so they came up with the name Gou bu li baozi, or the dog doesn't pay attention to the buns. Whatever the story, these buns, usually filled with a piping hot filling of beef or pork, are simply not to be missed. I have traveled out to Tianijin over ten times, and I always make a stop to one of the cities more famous bun shops mandatory. The buns are so soft and moist, warm and tasty, that you could easily stay there all night.
Well, it is time for me to say goodbye for this week. It has been a pleasure to talk with all of you about a very important part of the "China" experience, food and drink. If you have any questions or need any advice on your future China travel, please feel free to contact me. So for now, Zai Jian (Goodbye).