October 31, 2008

Seven possible surprises from China in 2009

This post has little do to with food or beverage, but should be of interest to Beijing Gourmand readers all the same. Gordon Orr, a Director in McKinsey's Shanghai office, has written a thought provoking piece in the latest McKinsey Quarterly: Seven ways China might surprise us in 2009 (free registration required to read the entire article; if you're interested in doing business in China then registration is strongly recommended). The spirit of the piece is akin to The Economist's The World in 2009.

You'll have to register to see Gordon's picks, but here is my list of seven possible surprises from China:

- China captures Osama Bin Laden in Xinjiang
- China rolls out large scale, commercially viable, desalination
- Breakthroughs in applying nanotech to solve everyday problems
- NGOs begin to play a major role in China's social and political spheres
- China announces it will build the world's largest... (solar plant, theme park, airplane)
- Chinese basketball team signs Denis Rodman
- A Chinese designed car wins worldwide critical acclaim

As an aside, my picks focus mostly on positive, innovative surprises that could come from China in 2009. I'm not an apologist or panda-hugger, China has plenty of faults, but I think that not enough is said about the positive ways in which China is seeking to address its many challenges. I'd also disagree with those who think that China/Chinese can't innovate. Follow the links above, then skim through a summary of Joseph Needham's Science and Civilization in China, and rethink your position. For a large part of recorded history the Chinese were THE innovators; and now, after a roughly 600 year hiatus we are seeing the early hints that leadership in innovation might someday shift back to not only China, but Asia in general. Granted, China copies plenty of Western technology, but on the other hand,
invention and innovation are not the same thing. The largest gap in understanding of China's ability to innovate comes from an overly rigid understanding of the term itself. I don't have a rock-solid definition of innovation with Chinese characteristics, but I do know that it doesn't look like Silicon Valley.

More to chew on:

  • Indian invention: cultivation of cotton; British innovation: the modern textile industry
  • British invention pirated by the US: power loom; American innovation: Francis Cabot Lowell, the man who stole the design for the power loom, not only made significant improvements to the design, but also pioneered the first sale of company shares to the public in the US to finance his textile business, and was a pioneer in the employment of women.
  • The system of modern finance pioneered by Lowell made possible the Monsanto Corporation, which leads us to an American invention: commercial GM crops; Chinese innovation: planting cotton that has been genetically altered to express insecticide; this reduces insect populations not only for the cotton but for neighboring fields as well; it also improves the health of farmers who no longer have to use large amounts of insecticide.


Wired takes a more skeptical view of the development of nanotechnology in China

A reasoned, middle ground take on: Is China Creative?

October 26, 2008

Emperor Burger

From Flibblesan's Flickr photostream

This week The Economist profiled Burger King's (汉堡) expansion into China in Fast food in China: Here comes a whopper. Both McDonald's and Yum!'s KFC have a major head start on the world's second largest burger chain, but there's plenty of market share left if the company plays its cards right.

Burger King has translated the name for its signature burger, the Whopper, as huangbao, or Emperor Burger, which isn't as catchy as a Royale with cheese, but aptly named given that so called "little emperors" likely make up a large part of its target market.


KFC China's Mexican Sneak Attack

Meal Ticket: McDonald's, seeking growth in China, cuts prices

Supermarket Gourmet - Wine Flavor Pejoy

This post is the first in a series where I'll review interesting food and beverages from supermarkets and convenience stores.

This box of wine/chocolate flavored Pejoy snacks caught my eye because it seems like an attempt by Glico, maker of Pocky, to cash in on "China's newfound obsession with wine".

The front of the box sets high expectations: "When chocolate falls in love with red wine, the sweet flavor melts my heart, and makes me forget the passing of time."

The back of the box was just as interesting because listed as ingredients are cocoa liquor, whisky, coffee powder and, you guessed it, actual red wine, which was number 19 in the list of 21 ingredients.

Verdict: Tastes like communion wine with barely a hint of chocolate. Pass.

October 25, 2008

Cool Beans

City Weekend has called Hot Bean Cooperative (合作社) "far and away the hippest chuan'er joint on the planet". I don't know about that, there are plenty of kaochi (, chicken wings) eateries that have stayed closer to their hipster roots the Transformers theme song wasn't played once while we were there. But, Hot Bean Cooperative is a fun place to grab some chicken wings, chuanr and beer in a laid back atmosphere, and a good place to start the night before heading to Gulou area bars.

In between each piece of meat on this gurou xianglian (骨肉相连) is a piece of chicken cartilage; it sounds unappetizing if you've never tried it before, but it gives a crunchiness that contrasts nicely with the chicken meat.

These Thai style chicken chuanr (沙拉泰式口味) were actually ordered from the salad section of the menu (I love China). While the garnish hardly qualifies it as a salad, this dish was the favorite of the night, with a slightly sweet and spicy sauce.

Hard not to smile when you have a bucket of meat in front of you

The chicken wings in the back are the 'perversely spicy' flavor (变态). These wings slapped me around and called me names like 'Nancy' and 'Susan', but in a good way.

Mantoupian (馒头) are usually the highlight of a meal at a kaochi eatery, but these were disappointingly soggy.

Rating (out of five): 串串串

Full marks for atmosphere and price, but HBC lost two chuanrs for serving its beer warm and mashed potatoes cold.

China Daily (original article from TBJ): Find of the month - February, 2007
HBC's Dianping page

Jiaodaokou Nandajie

reservations recommended


October 12, 2008

Like a (kaoya) Virgin

Over four years in Beijing I must have had Beijing roast duck dozens of times. But we just finished a meal at the Nanxincang location of the Da Dong chain, and the dining experience left me feeling like someone who had eaten roast duck for the very first time.

It wasn't only the duck which was great, the supporting cast rounded out the meal nicely:

In the fore, shredded winter melons; in the back, wild mushrooms. This Da Dong location really sets itself apart by the elegant presentation of its dishes.

'Chef Dong's Braised Eggplant', based on a recipe that Da Dong Sr. was famous for serving. The cloves of garlic were the best part.

Pan fried goose liver. Wow.

Persimmon sorbet in almond milk, sprinkled with toasted almonds.

There were many intriguing dishes on the menu that we weren't able to try. Next time maybe I'll end the meal with the erguotou chocolate mousse.

Go behind the scences with a video of how Da Dong makes the perfect roast duck.

Rating (out of five): 串中

Da Dong should probably get five full chuanrs, but I only gave it 4 1/2 chuanrs because I'm reluctant to give out a perfect score.

Da Dong (Nanxincang location)

Nanxincang, Dongsi Shitiao

Tel. 5169-0328


More safety scares

Neither of these scares are going to be as serious, or gain as much attention, as the melamine scandal, but they're a couple more straws added to the camel's back:

Ginseng jabs kill three in Yunnan

Three people in Yunnan have died after receiving injections of ginseng, a common ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Tainted China water sickens 450

In neighboring Guangxi province, 450 people are sick after flooding caused waste from a local metallurgy company to pollute the water supply of several villages; four of the sick have arsenic poisoning.

Many readers will remember the chemical spill in the Songhua River in late 2005 which grabbed headlines around the world, especially when the polluted water made its way into Russian territory. The government reacted by implementing stricter legislation, but as is often the case, good intentions from the center don't always translate into results in the provinces.

And of course, there was the infamous cardboard steamed bun fiasco, which, unless you're rather cynical or susceptible to conspiracy theories, was actually a hoax but rang so true that it had everyone fooled.


China Daily: Factory boss held over contaminated poultry feed

BBC: China tainted pork makes 70 sick

WSJ: Water-Injected Meat: The Next Chinese Food Scandal?

Apocalypse Chow III - Cooking Lessons

We had a lot of fun during a cooking lesson at The Vietnam Cookery Center.

Caramelized clay pot fish before marinating and cooking.

Ingredients: 100g sea bass, 1 teaspoon shallots, 1 teaspoon chopped spring onions, a baby chili, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1/2 teaspoon chicken powder, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground peppercorns, 1 cup fresh water, 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil, 2 teaspoons caramel syrup; garnished with coriander and more spring onions

After marinating briefly, the fish was cooked until the sauce was boiling; then, water was added and the fish again cooked until the water was boiling.

Notice the beautiful mesh pattern of the net rice paper. This kind of rice paper is perfect for fried spring rolls because it gives them a lighter texture.

Grace's spring rolls were all neatly wrapped and uniform in size, mine not so much. I had already been taken to task in front of the class for accidentally adding salt to my filling instead of sugar (the horror! the horror!). As usual, Grace was the teacher's pet and I was the kid who everyone prefers to sit at the back of the class where he'll cause the least disruption.

Filling ingredients: 40g minced pork (ours were actually "vegetarian", with silver wood-ear added instead of the pork), 30g crab meat, 40g minced prawns, 15g wood-ear, 35g taro, 1/2 teaspoon chicken powder, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground peppercorns, 1 teaspoon chopped shallots, 1 teaspoon chopped spring onions, 2 teaspoons egg yolk for binding.

Dipping sauce ingredients: 2 tablespoons sugar, 1.5 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 teaspoon garlic, 1/2 teaspoons chopped chili (or to taste). The sauce can be prepare in a large quantity in advance and stored for several weeks. However, leave out the garlic and chili until the last minute; the garlic in particular will make the dipping sauce sour if left in for too long.

One trick we learned is that the garlic and chilies should always be added to the dipping sauce last; for some reason (physics? magic?) they only float if added in last.

On the right is sour fish soup with pineapple and vegetables; tamarind sauce was responsible for the sour flavor. Not pictured is a dessert of sweet green bean and seaweed porridge.

Apocalypse Chow - Vietnam Food Pics
Apocalypse Chow II - Cafe Sua Da

Apocalypse Chow II - Cafe Sua Da

This guy was very amused when I ordered the third cup of iced coffee in as many minutes

As mentioned in the previous post, cafe sua da, coffee with condensed milk and ice, was one of the highlights of our trip to Vietnam. We were there at one of the most hot and humid times of year and this ice cold drink made the mugginess bearable.

About two tablespoons of sweet condensed milk is poured in

The very thick and strong, but somehow not bitter, coffee is prepared beforehand and poured in on top of the condensed milk. The vendors are happy to accommodate personal preferences on the milk:coffee ratio; I preferred less milk so that its strong flavor did not overwhelm the coffee.

Nearby, ice is sawed and hacked the old fashioned way from this block and then smashed into cubes for sale in plastic bags

October 11, 2008

Apocalypse Chow - Vietnam Food Pics

Over the golden week holiday, Grace and I had a wonderfully relaxing trip to Saigon and Mui Ne, a nearby beach resort. In Saigon we stayed near the river on Dong Khoi, a charming street which under its previous French colonial name, Rue Catinat, features in Graham Greene's classic novel The Quiet American. The area has a slight, but not affronting, tourist feel to it because of the heavy concentration of boutiques, cafes, spas and hotels. If asked, I'd have a hard time explaining what we did in Saigon because we spent nearly the entire time just walking around, alternating between sampling street food, shopping, relaxing in cafes, or just taking in the local vibe.

The sliced chili in the soy sauce really made this dish

The food in Vietnam was simply amazing. Other than nước mắm, a fermented fish sauce whose regional variants are common in all Southeast Asian cuisines, there aren't many ingredients that one might considerer characteristically Vietnamese. However, the preparation and the combinations and textures of the fresh ingredients give Vietnamese food a personality of its own.

Street food stalls are a perfect place to escape the rain and meet the locals

Most days began with several cups of cafe sua da, coffee with condensed milk and ice. Coffee sua da is the perfect antidote to Saigon's muggy weather, and at about USD 0.6 and enjoyed sitting on a plastic stool amid the bustle of the street, it beats Starbucks hands-down. Of course, we had pho and spring rolls, but we also tried to go beyond those well known favorites to some of the regional and country style dishes (lemon grass goat with caramelized onions was a surprisingly good combo), and even had an excellent chicken curry from an Indian street food vendor.

This is a northern country-style dish of goat meat, which had very little gaminess, with lemon grass and caramelized onions; the quality of the meat is key with this dish.

After trying some of the home style dishes I was really annoyed that outside of Vietnam you only seem to find the more modern (Western) takes on Vietnamese cuisine. Fusion and "modern interpretations" have their place, but I'd prefer what the farmers eat any day.

The baguettes in Vietnam were nice and chewy; my favorite way to have baguettes was as a sandwich (banh mi) with pâté, several kinds of pork, and salad.

Baguettes go with nearly everything. After eating this curry, India has definitely moved up on my list of future travel destinations.

It's amazing what can be accomplished with a very basic setup and by focusing on only one dish.

Notice the joss sticks in the salt. We often forget how important salt is, and how difficult it was to acquire in earlier times; it's not surprising that it's still considered holy by some.

At night the horizon was speckled by the lights from fishing boats, with crews working hard and under sometimes dangerous conditions, to bring in the catch that made this meal possible.

The above basket is actually a single person boat, made from woven palm leaves daubed with mud to make the craft watertight. Fisherman who can't afford a boat to take them to deeper water fish from the shore in large teams of men, women and children (who mostly splashed around in the water). I wish I had taken pictures because the teamwork of this traditional method of fishing was a captivating spectacle. Several of the basket boats operated a few hundred meters offshore to place the nets and then tend them as they're pulled ashore. Teams of 10-20 performed the tiring work of pulling the nets in on long and sturdy ropes. If tug of war were a professional sport then these guys (and gals) would be the champs.

This was made in a cooking lesson. On the left is caramelized fish, a must try signature Vietnamese dish; on the right is sweet and sour fish with pineapple and okra (lady fingers).

In the end, we only scratched the culinary surface of what Vietnam has to offer. For the real deal on Vietnamese cuisine I suggest checking out Eating Asia, The Last Appetite, Noodle Pie, and Viet World Kitchen.

Apocalypse Chow II - Cafe Sua Da

Apocalypse Chow III - Cooking Lessons