I was about to place one of these jewel-like crystal dumplings into my mouth when husband SMS-ed me to say that my blog was featured in the Saturday papers. My lunch companions teased me a bit, and then we got back to appreciating the delicacy and refinement of the dumplings. The red bean paste version I sampled was gorgeous, the translucent resilient skin tingled with the oils of dried mandarin peels and maybe even a hint of eucalyptus. Just the treat to counter the throat-parching effects of a city enshrouded in a blanket of smog and dust.
My colleague and I had taken the 1.20 am flight into Beijing which landed in the morning. I was able to sleep very well in the plane, no doubt thanks to the lovely wines imbibed at dinner with friends at Old Mother Hen in Geylang. Thanks ttc!
The Beijing Zhaolong Hotel let us check in early, it was nice to have a lie-down on a firm mattress with duvets before the shops opened. This time round I was good- at the local market, I only managed to spend 510 RMB in total, on two cotton nighties, 1 pantsuit for my newest nephew and 2 little girl dresses. 5 items for our equivalent of
$20 oops $100. Then my friend G, who relocated to Beijing from Singapore only a few months ago, met up with us and we went to the building next door where she has heard of a good dim sum place.
The Deluxe Restaurant on the third floor of the Comfort-Inn/ Pacific Century building is large, and it was full of Cantonese speaking customers, we felt as if we were in Hong Kong. The dim sum here was both excellent and innovative.
The cheong fun range was extensive, the classic prawn version impeccable, with skin as thin and smooth as silk. But it was the pork liver and wolfberries combination that wowed us with its bite sized pieces of just-cooked liver and tender red berries nestled within.
Then there was a plate of spring rolls that we demolished easily, the skin was done to a teeth-shattering crisp whilst the insides of vegetables and meat were lightly crunchy and sweet.
Not everything was successful of course, the wonton dumplings had very stolid casings. Maybe this is the style the locals prefers.
After lunch, we ventured into the dusty capital for some shopping. We went to a street lined with small shops stocked with teenybopper fashion and fake designer goods, not my cup of tea but at least good for the wallet. After a while I realised we shouldn't be out breathing in all the polluted air. Above is the view taken from the plane at 7.20 in the morning, by afternoon the whole city was covered in the haze and everywhere we were inundated with the smell from burning wheat chaffs as the farmers prepare their land for the next planting season. The only refuge from it all was ironically, the swanky shopping centres which had strong airconditioners, we escaped into one with a fancy supermarket and stocked up on water and fruits. Then it was time for work as we met up with our China colleague.
By the time work was finished, it was raining hard. G who has made it a mission of sorts to find a credible "Imperial" cuisine restaurant, had made bookings for Red Capital Club. My colleagues joined us for dinner and we jumped into a waiting cab. Located deep in a the hutong alleyway, we exited from our taxis and stepped right into the past, a recreated past of fervent ideology in a bar filled with Mao paraphernalia on one hand, and on the other hand, a genteel courtyard with a moon gate as well as a tiny dining room flickering with lanterns and dominated by a Ching dynasty "dragon" robe. The blurb on the huge silk-bound menu mentioned that the building was long ago the residence of a Manchurian bannerman , and in the not-so-long-ago past it was home to a notorious female spy.
The food, how is the food one may be curious to know. I have come across many such over-restored, over-ambienced, over-hyped places to expect more than half-decent food at outrageous prices. But it was late and we were hungry, and the four of us, all coming from different countries (China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore) have become so comfortable with each other I felt no strong reasons to suggest going somewhere else. Although G must have thought me very inconsiderate when I was not at all concerned that we were running late and maybe the restaurant would not seat us when we finally arrived. No such thing happened, there was no heaving crowd outside, and there was a lovely table in a secluded corner waiting for us, the lighting was dim and the shabby-aristo chic decor elicited much delighted chatter. It may be tourist trap, but high-class tourist trap OK!
The food was surprisingly, to me at least, good. Every dish had a fancy name and were served on vast platters complete with a carved radish garnish, that apart, the dishes were cooked simply and seasoned with a light hand, none of that oily, salty mess that we associate with their counterparts in say, Shanghai. Dream of Red Chamber, a vegetarian dish, was light and fresh-tasting, so was another vegetarian dish with an equally bombastic name Jade Tree of Gold Coin. Ribs purpotedly cooked in the style favoured by Emperor Kang Xi had a piquant sweetness, and beef in a tomatoey gravy was pleasantly meaty and robust without being crude. It is expensive to dine here compared to many restaurants in the city, but still worth a visit, if only to know what the fuss is all about.
The next day we woke up bright and early for a morning seminar. There was much hand-shaking and speech-giving and well, work. For lunch, our hosts arranged lunch boxes in their canteen. Filled with way too much (not very appetising actually) dishes and a mountain of rice. There was savoury filled wheat pancakes too as optional side dishes, now these I much prefered, there is just something about Beijing breads that calls out to me.
And soon, it was time to say goodbye and to leave for the airport. The plane was delayed by 1.5 hours, just enough time for us to sigh in resignation, call husband and say yes to the nice attendant who asked if I wanted any satay. Yes please, chicken and lamb, thanks! I needed the sustenance, there was another three intensive days of training to follow when we reached home.