Saturday, May 24, 2008

Will Travel for Food

Who: VN Senior Editor Jennifer Pickens
What: Long weekend in Asia
Where: Beijing, China
When: May 15–19, 2008
Why: Shopping + food + soymilk

The Scoop: With my one-year tourist visa teetering on the edge of expiration, I couldn't resist another trip to one of my favorite cities in the world: Beijing. I first began taking annual trips to Beijing many years ago in my quest to see all of the remaining original Seven Wonders of the World, and the Great Wall was at the top of my list. I loved it so much that I continue happily volunteering to tag along with anyone planning to go. These numerous excursions have resulted in "Jen's Beijing Travel Tips":

1) The Great Wall at Mutianyu is the best place for first-time visitors. Walk to the end of the refurbished part and you'll see a sign telling you to go no further; ignore it and continue your hike as far as you can. No one has ever stopped me!

2) If you look at the map and think something is just down the street, it's actually a very, very long walk and will most likely take hours. Trust me: Beijing is huge, and the scale of the map has tricked me many times. If you’re prone to getting lost, you probably will.

3) The best ways to get around is by subway and bicycle. Taxis are affordable, but traffic is so bad that you'll soon tire of watching pedestrians speeding by as you sit motionless in a clog of traffic. Bicycling is my favorite; though make sure the bike you rent has brakes! The last time I was in Beijing with Aurelia, I didn't realize I was brakeless until I zoomed down a steep descent and almost hit two young girls. But Beijing has a new bike rental system that's very convenient, with stations located near the subway stops. I do enjoy the subway as well; it's clean and easy to negotiate. Line 5 is especially polite and encouraging. While on my way to the lake district, the recorded announcement assured me "We're already at Beixingiao." Oh, already? Thank you very much.

4) is your best friend. Its Chinese/English translation sheet is invaluable and I love its veg restaurant list. This time, I was excited to visit one of my favorites, Baihe Vegetarian Restaurant, in the Doncheng District (see photo above). It's located down a tiny hutong (alley), so may be a bit hard to find, but it's worth the search! Located inside an old house, you'll pass through an interior courtyard with ancient circular doorways to get inside, and once there, you'll discover shelves lined with books. I dragged two meat-eating friends along, and the food surpassed the challenge with ease. We began with an appetizer of raw shredded veggies rolled in a thin, tortilla-like wrap, similar to a spring roll (that's me eating one of those, below). It came with two tasty sauces: a Hunan sauce and hot chili oil. Then came the One Thousand Layer Cake, a naan-type bread with a Nepalese taste and texture, baked in olive oil and herbs, which was the panel favorite. Next came the Braised Vegetarian Fish and Fried Vegetarian Beef with Peas. The "beef" tasted much more like chicken and the peas were fresh and plentiful. The faux fish was great—the seared seaweed lining the tempeh gave it a good, briny flavor.

5) Go to the grocery store and get yourself some fresh soymilk! And look for the brand with the Roman-alphabet label and the Green Food certification. Of course, the editor in me had to taste-test every flavor, and here's the lowdown: green cap is plain, white cap is sweetened, and the yellow cap is raw (and, in my opinion, the tastiest). I only want raw soymilk from now on.

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