China - Tour Food

>> Tuesday, April 12, 2011

So I didn't die and nothing bad happened to me, but I haven't had any updates for the last month or so because I've been in China. I went with on a package with Ritz Tours, so if you go with them you'll probably have most of these same meals. Additionally if you go with Pacific Delight Tours, you may have a lot of the same meals too (we saw their group at most of the restaurants).

Since there are days and days worth of photos here, I'm just going to post the photos and make comments where necessary. As a summary, most of the dishes were mediocre to terrible, but there are definitely a few highlights.

In the coming weeks, I'll be posting some additional restaurants that I visited during the trip (these are the ones worth talking about). I visited most of the ones worth talking about outside the tour on my own and these will be more like the traditional posts that should be expected.

As a side note, I found it quite entertaining that while we have grass-fed beef and free range chicken as premium meat products in the US, apparently all beef in China is grass-fed and all chicken is free range.

Lunch (North-Northwest of the Forbidden City)

Dinner (near Temple of Heaven):
Apparently this place was supposed to be an "Imperial Banquet Cuisine" place
Our waitress dressed in the traditional attire   
Unfortunately the word "banquet" doesn't usually go well with having a good dining experience and this place had most of the same problems, food was cold, not seasoned, etc.

Lunch (Cloisonne Factory near Ming Tombs):
This is the traditional "post Great Wall" meal and it was located inside a factory in the countryside. Surprisingly, this was the best food served to the tour in Beijing (despite the fact the tour guide warned that it would be horrible)

Dinner (Random Restaurant near Gui Jie):
So this place really hurt because it was near the foodie hub/street known as Gui Jie (Ghost Street), but it ended up being the worst food in all of Beijing. I think everyone in the group ate most 3 bites of any one dish.
We still have no idea what this was, but it wasn't meat and it was prepared in a sweet and sour pork style

Lunch - Peking Duck (Quan Ju De)
So Quan Ju De is the most famous Peking Duck Restaurant in the world. I thought about doing a separate review for it, but I didn't want to think about how many ways I could say phrases like blue screen, clobbering the heap, buffer overflow, failing to POST, wiping at 1%, etc. I guess I'll provide a little extra commentary in the captions

Quick Bit on Quan Je De:
Being the most famous Peking Duck Restaurant in the world doesn't mean you have the best Peking Duck in the world. In this case, it just means you're the "oldest" and closest to Tianamen Square.

The Meal started with a few small dishes - appetizers if you will:

This was quite literally an egg roll as the wrapper was a thin egg crepe and it wrapped around some stir-fried veggies. Probably the best dish served from Quan Ju De
At this point they sent someone out to slice up our duck:
Peking duck that is sliced up with the thin rice wrappers
They gave each person their own personalized peking duck dipping sauce and sliced scallions
Then they sent the waitress to demonstrate how to properly wrap the peking duck:
Generically this duck wasn't very good, so the skin wasn't that crispy, and it tasted very oily. You can also see that the waitress made this one (mine) with way too much sauce.
They carved the rest of the duck meat and fried it in this dish. The best surprise in this dish was there were deep fried chilis that were stuffed with sesame seeds and tasted wonderful

Dinner: Hot Pot Restaurant (South of South gate):
This restaurant was the best restaurant that the tour took us to. The hot pot here wasn't family style, but more resembles shabu shabu. The broth that they cooked the hot pot in was mixed with several different herbs and had the "meat bone" taste of having been simmered with bones for hours.
Hot Pot Stock that each person gets
Tofu Skin

Hand-pulled noodles. These were very good

They had a sauce bar for creating your own dipping sauce as well
Essentially the base of the dipping sauce is a mix of peanut sauce and fermented bean curd and there were other things that could be added such as garlic, chopped chilis, green onions, coriander, and sesame oil.

Lunch (Teracotta Warrior Museum):
The highlight of this lunch is that there would be 2 chefs making handmade noodles; knife cut and hand pulled. This meal was AYCE, so they had a salad bar of some dishes, the noodles, and then some extra cooked dishes provided by the kitchen.
Cooked dishes:

Basically the knife cut noodles were cut into some boiling watter and then were used to create zha jiang mien. This dish failed because knife cut noodles are not cut uniformly, and when the noodles were cut into the water, the first set of noodles that were cut were way overcooked by the time the last noodles hit the water, so the textures were totally inconsistent.
The hand pulled noodles were much better. It helped that the broth was well-seasoned and tasty.

Dinner (Famous Xi'An Dumpling House):
So apparently Xi'An is famous for dumplings. However, as we learned in Beijing, fame in China simply translates to renown and not necessarily tasty food. This dumpling house has apparently been around for hundreds of years and the Dragon Lady (a famous Chinese dictator) dined at it. They are known for shaping the dumplings into shapes that resemble the filling of the dumplings. 
The meal started with some cold appetizers, and there was some entertainment provided by the restaurant

There's no way I remember all the different dumplings as there was something like 18 of them. However, none of the dumplings were particularly any good and the pacing of the dumplings was such that they came before we could finish the last set, so the palette never really got a chance to digest the flavors of each individual dumpling.
A common site was some person walking around with a bunch of steaming dumpling serving vessels. This was actually a small stack

Lunch (near Jade factory far south of city):

Dinner (Shangri-La Buffet):
The Shangri-La is a 5 star hotel in Guilin. Our flight arrived late, so we had an extremely rushed buffet dinner at the hotel.

Lunch (On River Cruise to Yangshuo):

Snack: (Bakery in Yangshuo)
This wasn't part of the tour food, but we had some free time in Yangshuo and I spotted a sign for 1 Yuan egg tarts so I couldn't pass it up
1 Yuan per egg tart
Macau Tarts - these tasted better than the egg tarts
This was actually surprisingly good. There was a thin mochi wrap on the outside of coconut cream, which wrapped a moistly delicious cake in the middle
Apparently one thing the Guilin area is famous for the hot chili sauce. The chili sauce contains chopped chilis, garlic, soy sauce, and some other secret ingredient. Allowed the sit, the soy sauce forms an almost syrupy consistency that was a good compliment to otherwise bland food.
We commented that we really liked their hot sauce so they brought some of the extra ingredients for us to adjust it if desired
The chicken in this dish was raw. :(
"Dragon Eggplant"
One of the highlights of the meal, and even the entire trip was this eggplant dish. I'm normally not a fan of eggplant (in fact I tend to stay away from it), but this dish really won me over. The eggplant is first deep fried, and this one was done such that the outside retained a crispy yet tender consistency and the middle of the eggplant was completely soft and moist. The sauce had a good mixture of sweet with spicy and the bell peppers provided some excellent extra flavors.

Aside: You may have noticed that a lot of the dishes contain bell peppers and be thinking that they are all horrible. However, the Chinese bell peppers are a completely different beast than the american bell peppers; they actually contain a lot more concentrated flavor and when stir-fried with things, the flavor of the bell pepper gets infused with the other ingredients to enhance them (almost like salt). 

Eating this eggplant, I'm supremely confident that if this dish was offered in the correct setting, some critics would be thinking it was Michelin star worthy. This dish had a nice contrast of several components: texture, sweet with spicy, eggplant and bell pepper.

Lunch (Guilin):
Nobody actually drank this, but we noticed they had snake wine for sale
More good Guilin spicy sauce

Unfortunately the rice in this was undercooked and slightly hard, but otherwise fried very well
We told the tour guide how much we enjoyed the eggplant the previous night so she tried to order it again, but the one at this restaurant wasn't nearly as good. All the elements didn't play the different dualitys of contrast as well so this incarnation failed as a dish and reminded me why I don't like eggplant
The fruit plate included a hand carved watermelon rhine in the shape of a birds around a tree
The tour didn't end here, but there was a truly awful meal at the Guilin airport which I decided not to take any photos. After Guilin, we split off from the main tour group and basically got our own trip in Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hong Kong. Instead of covering those as part of the larger post, I'll post about those cities separately in the future (in the more traditional style too).


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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
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