Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Healthy Living - Vegetarian Food in Beijing

After all the excessive eating over the Chinese New Year, it's a good time to eat something a that's bit easier on the stomach. Of course, Chinese eat many vegetable-only dishes anyway, but nevertheless there are many good vegetarian and vegan restaurants in town, and I went to one of my favourite ones recently, see photos.

Now don't get turned off by the thought of bland vegetarian food which you get in the West, such as beans, lentils, raw carrots, alfafa or plain tofu even. Here in Beijing you can find many different vegetarian dishes, with different styles and different tastes. They can be quite different to the mock meat dishes you get in Hong Kong, where it can be too oily or too sweet.
China has a long tradition of vegetarian food starting over 1500 years ago in Buddhist temples, and no egg, garlic or spring onion was allowed. Confucius was probably vegetarian as well. From there it spread to the imperial family and then to ordinary citizens. The main ingredients used are soybean products such as tofu, fresh vegetables and even some flowers and tea leaves.

There are several dozen different restaurants to choose from in Beijing, some near tourist sites, some in outlying temples, some easy to find, others hidden down narrow hutongs; some with character and charm, some decorated like fast food cafes; some with cheap buffets, and a few with expensive a la carte menus. Some are state-owned with minimal service and traditional dishes, and some are privately-owned with innovative fusion food; some cater to foreigners whilst others don't have any English-speaking staff at all. 

Some have Buddhist inspired names such as "Lotus in Moonlight", "Pure Lotus", "Still Thoughts", "Sea of Mercy" and "Bodhi-Sake", so you can expect calming and tasteful decor. Others have more common names such as Veggie Love Kitchen, Loving Hut, and Vegetarian Tiger (particularly appropriate for this year). Some, such as Wo Xing Wo Su and Xu Xiang Zhai, are unpronouncable and won't mean anything to you unless you know Chinese and the pinyin system of 'spelling'. Talking about pinyin, perhaps the phrases 'wo bu chi rou' or 'wo chi su' for "I don't eat meat" and "I am vegetarian" will come in handy for you.

There are some good vegetarian restaurants near the National Museum of Fine Arts, Lama Temple and Confucius Temple (see blog on Ancient Scholars July 2009) or MOMA, which you might be visiting as part of an architectural tour (see blog on Beijing Architecture Jan. 2010). Try Roast Beijing Duck without the duck, or Chicken in Chili Sauce or Stir-fried Prawns or Grilled Fish Country Style, all meatless. Another dish I saw on the menu, Steamed Sliced Pork with White Gourd, said it can "....promote weight loss, reduce inflammation, release heat and purge pollution and toxins....". We certainly need that with all the recent sandstorms!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beijing's Fabric Market is Fab!

Some of my clients have been to Beijing several times and so want to go somewhere different, away from the must-see sights full of tour groups. I wrote about Badachu (8 Great Temples) last August and shopping at my local market last July. Well, this time I want to tell you about a huge market, the so-called fabric market. There, you can fit yourself out with a complete new wardrobe, tailor-made if you want, choose soft furnishings for your whole house, and lots more!
I took a friend to this off-the-beaten track market recently and he raved about the unique fabrics available. It doesn't look promising from the outside, a series of dull warehouse buildings on a dusty, crowded road, but inside, well a whole new world of weird and wonderful goods: not just fabrics, such as linens, cashmere, silks, cottons, printed, woven, cut to any size or length you need, but also accessories, cosmetics, bags, wallets, belts, jewelry, clocks and watches, .....if you like markets, if you like hunting for something unusual, if you want a unique souvenir from China, then this is a fun place I can take you to! 

Of course if you are a Harrods, John Lewis, Macy's or Nordstrom customer (or perhaps in these days of recession a Wal-Mart customer), you won't want to go near this market. Silk Alley, Friendship Store, Yashow or any of Beijing's new shopping malls will be enough of a downgrade for you. Similarly if you are on a 10-day-see-all-of-China tour then you won't have time to go off the beaten track for some adventure. Not only is the market a 40 min drive to the edge of town, it's also laid out in a random way.
However, if like my friend, you want to explore places where the locals go and get an unbeatable opportunity to pick up a bargain, then this is the place for you. The service can be a bit, well, minimalist, but I can help you deal with that. And although everything is very cheap, I can help to negotiate the price down even further for you.

You can be creative, mix and match, choose your material and accessories and then take them to a tailor to make something to your own design....or make a copy of your favourite Armani shirt or whatever. Just let your imagination go! How about new curtains, or sofa covers or duvet cover? How about making a new suit or shirt? Silk underwear? Leather trousers? A new party frock?

I couldn't resist getting something. I picked out a cotton print with a colourful flowery pattern, just like a Paul Smith design, and will take it to my favourite tailor, the one who made the winter coat I showed you in January's blog, to make into a new shirt for the Spring. I'll show it to you - and the market - next time you come!