Sunday, April 19, 2009

Farm to Table

Mmm dinner

While in mainland China, I definitely thought a lot about where my food comes from - not just out of paranoia, but farms and farmers were just so pervasive and a normal part of every day life in most of the country (outside of the big cities). Living in California (and the bay area no less), we're pretty bombarded with "slow food," "farm to table," and "local," "organic" concepts/movements/revolutions/whatever you want to call it. But one thing that most ironists will recognize is that SF in particular is full of bandwagon "foodies" that really have no idea what these things really mean, or how this all really works. I don't claim to be a pro in any of these areas (nor do I proactively promote these ideas), but while I was in China, it was so easy to see where your food came from, how it was stored and cleaned, etc.

I took the above photo while I was on a bus in the Sichuan province. Tons of trucks full of animals and produce were passing us by, and this one in particular struck me. These animals were no doubt "free range" and were probably fed "local" and "organic" meal, and were bred "naturally" (we passed by tons of farms), but WTF! In transit, they were just covered in each other's vomit and feces. It was truly disgusting. Yes, that did make me want to become vegetarian for the day (I had dan dan mien w/ ground pork for dinner), but moreover, it made me wonder if all that sustainable jargon really mattered when it came down to whether or not I'd eat it.

Anyway, I won't say much more about the topic, so with all that aside, one of the best parts of the trip in terms of fresh food was the tea! Super fresh and picked right off of the mountains!

Some less thoughtful Top 5 lists after the jump:

TOP 2 Beijing Roast Ducks
1. Quanjude (the one near google and microsoft, not the forbidden city location!)
2. Dadong
Quanjude (right) and Dadong (left) were comparable in quality - the skin was crisp, had a light golden color, and the fat was translucent and blended into the skin. Despite Dadong's reputation for being the best, what put Quanjude over the edge was its cornmeal wrappers that gave extra flavor. They also gave you more for less money, but that was really secondary to the flavor. People usually consider Quanjude overrated and way past its prime, but their new location in the "silicon valley" of Beijing is smaller and less people go there... so the high quality that has made this restaurant successful in the past is maintained at this branch (so far). Note: we also went to Bianyifang, which isn't worth talking about. I attempted going to Liqun mostly because Tony Bourdain went there and loved it, but all the locals were disgusted and insisted we go somewhere else since it was supposed to be the worst!

TOP 5 Lays Potato Chips Flavors
1. Lychee all the way!
2. Seaweed (couldn't find them in Beijing, but went I went to Shanghai a few years ago I brought back bags and bags)
3. Mango
4. Blueberry
5. Finger Licking Braised Pork (I actually didn't try it, but hey, it must be finger-licking good!)

TOP 4 ways to get food poisoning in Beijing (or, TOP 4 foods to regurgitate onto the lawn of the Bird's Nest):
1. Hot pot: note to self - do not listen to locals when they say to only cook tripe for a few seconds
2. Hot pot: a free plate of lamb. Chinese people never give freebies!
3. Jian bing
4. Bao zi with pickled vegetables

TOP 3 Sichuan-style foods
1. Boiled fish in oil, water, and spices - I couldn't get enough; truly amazing!
2. Dan dan mien
3. Fried sticky rice balls - OK, not exactly Sichuan, but we got these multiple times in Chengdu (even better version in Guilin: coated in sugar and pork sung).

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