A Vegetarian in Beijing
I am finally back from a blog + cooking hiatus, after a short but exciting trip to Beijing and I’m excited to share with you bits and pieces from my trip – from a food-obsessed point of view.
Eating in general for a vegetarian can be a daunting challenge and nervously approached in China. I never ever carry food with me, save for the odd chocolate bar, but for this trip, I willingly carried a few foil-packed bakris and theplas – I am a Gujarati after all!
Visiting China from India is a rather unique experience, where you witness an authority-fearing population (unlike the God-fearing here), who are continuously sipping on warm green tea, while smoking a cigarette and rules and regulations are observed with the utmost dedication.
The Great Wall of China, is an enormous feat, and you have to see it once in your lifetime, preferably while your knees still work! The temples, Forbidden City and its architecture bring you knowledge of a whole different time and era.
One of the most incredible shows we were taken to was an acrobatic performance by a bunch of 18 year olds (who start training from the age of 3!), pulling off amazing daredevil stunts that put James Bond to shame (I won’t bother mentioning our Bollywood heartthrobs…). A visit to China and not watch such a show would be disappointing.
Now food… what can I say? Or rather where shall I begin? Tourist areas were tough, and I actually for the first time in my life relied on the theplas! But dinners were a whole other story! Of course, there were amazing Italian restaurants serving mouth watering burratta cheese, but I want to share with you my amazing experience at a fine dining vegetarian Chinese restaurant, King’s Joy.
As with most family trips, this one was a business related one… and we were taken for a very formal dinner – an eight (or was it twelve?) course vegetarian Chinese meal.
The restaurant entrance is breath taking, with simple and elegant décor features, the highlight being the use of white orchids, white flowing curtains, live musicians on the harp and cello and the good use of open and airy spaces. The restaurant at supper time (6:30 P.M.) was packed with locals. We were swiftly taken to a private dining room (the Chinese businessmen are very formal), and provided with a fragrant cold towel and cut fruits.
Thereafter, the majority of the courses had an interesting focus on vegetables, cooked so simply, with the right amounts of seasonings and yet left you feeling so light in the stomach. (I wrote notes for this post at 10:45 P.M., hungry again!).
The clever use of edible flowers, micro greens and emphasis on the taste of individual veggies portrayed simplicity at it’s very best.
The courses sound something like this:
A clear soup made from the root of a bamboo shoot almost made me lick the bowl;
Okra simply blanched with some salt and topped with a mushroom medley in oyster sauce;
Blanched spinach with some unknown incredibly tasty seasonings;
Freshly cut celery and red chilli salad with a peach jelly, resembling a Masterchef dish of sweet, sour and spice, and a gorgeous play of texture (crunchy and mushy!);
Mushroom and soy pâté with roasted carrots;
Rice balls with snap peas and candied sesame walnuts;
A roasted eggplant dish imitating pork;
A broth with a variety of fungi mushrooms…
There were definitely a few more courses which I cannot recollect, and each dish carried it’s own unique taste differing from the other plates. The second last one was a sumptuous rice dish, followed by a trio of desserts. Some courses were accompanied by a fresh juice or tea to compliment the dish. Presentation was fabulous, to say the least.
I am humbled to say I have no idea what was exactly in each of the dishes, and when I asked, so much was lost in translation I dejectedly gave up and chose to just enjoy each course without further ado. I’m afraid I am not doing enough justice for this restaurant; a personal experience is what I recommend.
I’m not sure what else may be available around, but this is one stop I recommend anyone who visits Beijing.
And as an attempt to copycat a dish from my trip, here is a new recipe from Kitchen Therapy – Freshly Brewed Tea Broth Soup
And if you want to know anything else about Beijing and it’s vegetarian options, feel free to email me at: [email protected]