Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Roast Duck Empire

Talk about a flashy entrance for one of Beijing's top restaurants!
What's a trip to Beijing without eating Peking duck? And the best place in the Chinese capital to eat it?

Da Dong Roast Duck or Da Dong Kao Ya.

My friends suggested we dine at one of the nine locations I've never been too -- Gongren Tiyuchang Dong Lu, or Workers' Stadium East Road, a block from Sanlitun.

The half portion of roast duck neatly displayed on the plate
I arrived early to find that diners walk a long catwalk into this field with sculpted life-size horses, and in the middle is a "pond" filled with "reeds" that are blue LED lights with a wooden walkway in the middle.

It's very... gawdy which surprised me, as the Dongsishitiao location I used to frequent is in what was formerly the imperial granary, quite a classy place.

But here inside it gets even better. There's a massive screen, almost floor to ceiling (and it's a high ceiling) that shows off many of the gorgeous-looking dishes from his menu, and footage of him giving cooking demonstrations in Europe, hunting for white truffles, and being lauded by laowai, or foreigners.

As a diner facing the screen, it's really distracting to say the least... and there's more horses inside too...

Rapeseed flowers that didn't have much taste
Nevertheless, the food thankfully is still pretty consistent. The menu is a massive tome, a large rectangular book where each page is filled with beautifully-photographed dishes. You kind of need bookmarks to record possible dishes to order, otherwise you'll never find them again.

We ordered the half duck, and as before, it's juicy, tender and the skin isn't too fatty or oily. The pancakes are warm and thin, and we wrap the duck slices with the sauce, spring onions, radish, cucumber, a dab of mashed garlic, and preserved vegetables. They're so addictive that you have to have another one...

A new dish we tried was a massive vegetarian dumpling shaped like a bun, but it's not doughy. Inside was choc full of vegetables and cubed bamboo shoots. This was delicious and the crunchy texture was refreshing.

Braised eggplant with garlic and garnished with flowers
The braised eggplant dish was also a treat, decorated with flowers it was almost too pretty to eat. The slices of eggplant were well seasoned with soy and hoisin, and texture-wise were quite meaty.

However a disappointing dish was one of rapeseed flowers. While they looked pretty on the plate, they didn't have much taste to them, but now we know... it wasn't an expensive dish, but an interesting experiment to try.

Finally we had some mochi filled with durian paste that was fun to eat and the taste of the usually pungent fruit wasn't too intense. The restaurant also served some fresh strawberries that were surprisingly sweet.

Green-coloured mochi filled with durian paste
The chef-owner Dong Zhengxiang is not only a solid chef, but also a smart businessman. So much so that he's ambitious enough to open a Da Dong branch in New York! It will be located in 3 Bryant Park in Manhattan, New York and the rent isn't cheap -- 13,000 square feet there was asking for US$2.3 million per year...

I also heard he is using top quality chinaware with plates that cost 3,000 yuan (US$435) per piece...

Sounds like for Dong, it's go big or go home in the Big Apple...

Da Dong
Beijing Workers' Stadium East Road
Chaoyang District
(010) 6551 1806

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Donkey Burgers in Beijing

A small shop that has gotten a lot of curious diners from far and wide
I'm in Beijing for a week and it's nice to be back -- it made me wonder why I haven't come back earlier.

Some things are still the same -- queuing in the wrong line even though the sign seems like you should line up there, given stacks of fapiao or receipts, the perilous journey of crossing a street.

And then there are things that are different, like numerous new buildings that sprung up since I was last here four years ago, and hailing a cab on WeChat.

Here's the "burger", stuffed with lots of donkey meat!
I arrived in the afternoon, and after a short nap ventured out to Gulou. Last week I met a New York freelance writer in Hong Kong who travels probably 10 months of the year. I told him I was going to Beijing and he suggested I check out a place that made donkey sandwiches.

Needless to say I was intrigued.

Its original location is in Gulou, sort of near the Drum and Bell Towers. So when I popped out of Gulou subway station and saw the Drum and Bell Towers, I knew I had to walk towards them and somewhere south west of them would be Wang Pang Zi, the shop selling these sandwiches.

About a 15 minute walk later I finally found the place -- finding your intended destination in Beijing on your own is definitely an accomplishment -- and saw it was a small shop.

It was about 5.30pm and some people were in there like me, having a late afternoon snack, as I wasn't having dinner until 8pm.

Really enjoyed the soup with donkey meat and coriander
I ordered a lu rou hao shao (驴肉火烧), or donkey meat "burger" and the waiter suggested I have soup too, so I ordered the donkey meat soup.

They arrived relatively quickly together. The "burger" is more like a long sandwich, but the bread is more like a kind of crunchy quasi pastry like, but not as hard as a baguette. Within it are slices of the donkey meat, similar to pastrami in appearance and had a sprinkling of diced green peppers in it.

I really enjoyed the bread, but also the soup too. The broth was savoury and flavourful, with more slices of donkey meat, but these ones had some cartilage, a bit of spice and garnished with coriander. For me the soup was addictive. It would be even better with noodles in it!

In any event, I managed to finish both and the bill came to 21 yuan (around US$3).

Wonder what other wonderful Beijing snacks I should try out!

Wang Pang Zi Donkey Burger
80 Gulou Xi Da Jie
Xicheng District
8672 7505
王胖子驴肉火烧.鼓楼西大街80号

Monday, 27 March 2017

Election Aftermath

Is Carrie Lam wondering how she will govern such a divided city?
Yesterday I spent four hours watching the election for the chief executive on Facebook Live, and I shouldn't have wasted that time when we already knew who the winner was.

But I was curious to see how many votes Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would get, and shocked she did get well over 750 votes. I was also very surprised her rival John Tsang Chun-wah could barely break 400.

Several people were screwed over in this election, which makes it a bitter one.

What will Regina Ip do now? Will she change tact?
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has been a loyal pro-establishment supporter. What did she get for consistently towing the party line? She was outright rejected by Beijing at the nomination stage.

What will she do next? Will she continue to speak on behalf of "Western"? Or will she think she has nothing to lose and become more centrist?

The same goes for Tsang. Whatever he does, we hope he doesn't set up yet another think tank. The last thing we need is another body that churns out research papers that no one reads.

Sadly Woo Kwok-hing had a terrible showing in the polls. He was a refreshing voice prodding the two other candidates to justify their actions or in-actions, and speak for the average person who is keen on justice and rule of law. It's just too bad he wasn't well versed enough in policy.

Luckily for him, he was already retired, so he will probably go back to his calligraphy, which he does very well, by the way.

Tonight nine Occupy activists reported to the police
Chief executive-elect Lam was screwed over by incumbent Leung Chun-ying. It was reported that hours after her win, police contacted organizers of the Occupy movement to tell them they would be arrested. As of around 7pm this evening, the nine contacted arrived at Wan Chai Police Station.

Just as when Lam said yesterday she would try to mend the rifts in society, this latest action by Leung's administration sabotages her chance to smooth divisions in the city. Joshua Wong Chi-fung, one of the student leaders in 2014, says both Leung and Lam are polarizing society.

The resoluteness of the government will only harden the stance of localists and create further tensions. Maybe Leung is worried people will forget him when he leaves office?

Meanwhile the people of Hong Kong have clearly witnessed Beijing manipulating the winner of the election. Beijing officials actively lobbied Li Ka-shing while Ricky Chim Kim-lung, who had nominated Tsang, was approached by liaison officers to change his vote.

This kind of manipulation and heavy handedness does little to earn Hong Kong people's trust in Beijing. This is the real crux of the problem. The more the mainland meddles with what's going on in the city, the more locals get agitated and upset because they were promised "one country, two systems", but it seems less and less that way.

After the election results were in, many Hong Kong people voiced their disappointment, anger, frustration, and sadness on Facebook. Some lamented, saying "Hong Kong is dead", or that they were going to emigrate, or "Today is a dark day".

As one acquaintance pointed out, the election did not affect his daily life at all -- Hong Kong will continue to run the way it has been going, that it's not the end of the world. He was tired of people being so emotional and venting knee-jerk reactions on social media.

While things don't seem to bode well for all of us considering all the issues at hand, we can try to make Hong Kong a better place starting with our own circles of communities, with friends, family, colleagues at work. In the end that's what really matters. We're all in this together, so let's make the most of what we have and fight for what we believe in.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Hong Kong's New Leader

Pre-ordained Carrie Lam is now confirmed as Hong Kong's next leader
It was expected from the beginning, but it is now confirmed Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is Hong Kong's next chief executive with 777 votes -- far more than her predecessor and former boss Leung Chun-ying with 689.

John Tsang Chun-wah, the public's favourite, only got over 365 votes, while Woo Kwok-hing had 21.

Xinhua News Agency already reported Lam's win minutes after the initial vote count, since she surpassed the 600 votes very easily.

When news that Lam had won had won by a far margin was announced, there were cheers and jeers from the audience in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Obviously the pro-establishment (pro-business) are pleased to vote in the person they believe will help them continue to prosper in the city, while those related to the pan-democratic camp shouted, "I want universal suffrage!" as this small-circle election is hardly democratic.

There are concerns now of how she will govern the city where she is highly unpopular, seen as a distant person who doesn't give the appearance of caring much for the poor, as she claimed she was too tired to visit Tin Shui Wai, a district known for its challenging social and economic issues.

When the official results were announced, there were whoops of joy from most of the audience. On stage, Lam looked teary-eyed, hugging Tsang a few times. Maybe he was saying, "Better you than me"?

In any event if the critics will have a go at her, at least they can use the number 7 -- it's slang for flaccid penis... and she got 777 of them...