Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Day in Zhangjiakou, Hebei

After the terrifying incident that happened the day before, I was mostly numb the whole night after that, with 'what-could-have-been' kept repeating in my mind. We all checked into a hotel at Zhangjiakou city, about 45 minutes from Wan Long ski resort that night. The next morning, Zhang Ti, Chao Jie and Brother Ma proceeded to go for their second round of skiing as agreed. The rest of us including Joanne and her hubby Mr Liew, stayed back in the city. Needless to say, I was too traumatized from the incident the day before to go up to the ski mountains again. My mom, too, said she had got enough of skiing, so we both planned to stay back in the city and asked Joanne and Liew to go ahead without us. Being the hospitable host that she was, she insisted to stay with us even though I knew she LOVED skiing!

Anyway, we started by taking a cab to the nearyby market in the morning. The temperature was about -14C, which was freezing! The streets in the morning looked cold and gloomy, probably because all the trees were leafless. Even the sunshine didn't really help much.

Cold and gloomy morning

The market in Zhangjiakou was really a busy one, even in the cold cold winter days! There were loads of different stalls selling mostly food and many stores selling winter clothings too.

Busy street at the market

Plenty of stalls selling dried foods such as these in the market. I had no idea what they were. :/

Dried food for the winter

According to my mom, apparently those dried foods and nuts were pretty cheap. She bought home some walnuts and almonds, and the picture below shows gingko as well.

Gingko and nuts

After a while of walking, we smelled something pungent from a distance. It couldn't be... oh but it was! The unmistakeable smell of the smelly tofu (Chau tau tu in Cantonese) was soon to catch up with our noses. I for one, had absolutely no desire to go near the store, but Liew kept convincing us to give it a try. Fine, so we all stood nearby while waiting for him to prepare. Luckily with the cold weather, the smell was not as strong as it would have been.

Smelly tofu (beancurd) in the making

And I did eat one, in case you're curious. Apparently if you eat without inhaling, then it didn't taste that bad. Well, I did exactly that and the tofu was not that bad. However, the aftertaste was nasty! Once I opened my mouth after I finished eating, my breath stunk! Eww... Not anymore for me, thank you.

witch eating smelly tofu

Some of the other stalls on the roadside include the roasted chestnut, also with its own pungent and familiar smell.

Roasted chestnuts

Another roadside stall we came across was this egg crepe, prepared by 2 lovely ladies. The crepe was rather plain but seeing it being cooked was definitely tempting. It's too bad that with the freezing weather, the crepe got cold after a couple of bites, and cold crepes were not nice at all. :(

Delicious crepe

Couldn't get enough of food eh? This was a roadside lok-lok stall with plenty of people standing and eating. The fiery pot of delicious skewers with the hot soup were enough to attract me to try it out. I only ate 2 skewers and honestly, they were pretty normal. I guess it was the experience of eating piping hot skewers in the cold cold weather that counts. :)

Street lok-lok

Nevertheless, when we met up with Zhang Ti in the evening, he told us that these lok-lok stalls were very unhygienic! Apparently the soup used to boil the skewers was recycled for a whole week before they're changed! *Eww* Luckily we didn't have any case of diarrhea after that.

Piping hot food

After eating enough of roadside stalls, we continued walking and exploring the market. Liew wanted to get a pair of pants because he tore his own pants during skiing, and at the most unflattering part too! :P He was wearing Zhang Ti's pants at that day, but after searching a few stores, he gave up the idea of purchasing because they didn't have his size. :/

Oh, look I spotted McDonald's!

McDonald's is really everywhere!

More of roadside stalls food to see! Starting with ping tang hulu:

Ping tang hulu

A variety of balls made of flour. I believe they're something like tang yuan, perhaps someone could help to translate the Chinese labels?

Tang yuen?

Even sugary bread, something like donuts but in an elongated and twisted shape:

Sugary long donuts

Bread with ham and egg, certainly didn't look too popular here:

Bread with ham and egg

Along the way, we were greeted with the incredible driving skills of Chinese men too. Look at the picture below, it was a major gridlock on the road! And bear in mind, it was NOT a parking lot. All the vehicles, big and small, were at a standstill. It's amazing how the drivers in China maneuvered their way out!

Major gridlock in traffic

Not only vehicles, even the people had their own people jam. Look at how packed the streets were!

Sea of people

Before long, we decided to look for a place to lunch. Since we were not familiar with the area, we just entered whatever shops that came to sight. Just like this one that we spotted from the outside.


Lo and behold, the restaurant, just like the streets was packed to the max! And it was extremely noisy too, which didn't work well with Joanne. Almost immediately, she turned around and asked us to go to another restaurant.

Crowded restaurant

Finally, we ended up at this place somewhere down the corner of the road. A very traditional and quaint shop, nestled in the middle of the busy streets.

Entrance to restaurant

The decorations of the restaurant were very pretty and charming. Definitely gave us a feeling of how restaurants in the olden days would be. Some of the shots captured around the restaurant:


Decorative roof

Spotted this ancient lamp and a couple of hulu or bottle gourds.

Hulu @ calabash

Traditional Chinese wine

The ingredients of every dish were actually laid out in the front of the shop. There were chefs working just to get ingredients ready, after which they would be cooked at the back of the shop.


Cute chefs at work

A shot of the startled waitress in a pretty uniform.

Whatcha looking at?

Our lunch for the day! As usual, fish was a must. The food here was pretty all right, nothing too memorable though.


Except for this corn, and the dessert later on. The corn here was VERY different from the corn we have in Malaysia. This was salty and sticky, and each kernel was like one big piece of glutinous rice. It was definitely not something I like, even though Joanne enjoyed it very much.

Salty and sticky corn

And this sweet dessert was something cool! It looked and tasted a little like mango, but it's not mango at all! Apparently they used some kind of radish and created this dessert. Very refreshing because it's served cold, and not exceedingly sweet, too.

Sweet dessert

After lunch, we all went back to the hotel to wait for the rest of our group who were on their way back from skiing. Our journey back to Beijing took another 3 hours or more, and we reached there just in time for dinner. It was our last night in Beijing and Joanne brought us to a shop famous for Sichuan dishes. Some of the dishes we had that night:

Freshwater fish soup

Chicken cubes in dried chilli

Cold dish of vegetables

Spicy frog!

The Sichuan food was amazingly spicy and hot! It wasn't the normal spicy that we experience in Malaysian food, it was a numbing spiciness, rendering your lips and tongue to be lack of sensation. I couldn't handle most of the food there, and just ate mostly fried rice and vegetables. :/

So, that is all about my Beijing trip, finally! We left for the airport early the next morning, to catch the MAS flight back to KL. It was without a doubt one of the most memorable trips I've had so far, with lots of different culture, food and unforgettable experience for my keepsake. Beijing is definitely a lovely city with kind people. The only gripe was, as you could guess, that I couldn't read much of the Chinese words or speak them. But fear not! There are loads of information on the internet that could help you by if you're like me. :)

Till we meet again, Beijing!


J2Kfm said...

what a trip. its so different from mine, as I followed a tour group, hence the restricted schedule. none of those skiing stuff.

the stinky tofu i've had in Beijing was BLACK in colour, and tasted awful. this, coming from someone who eats everything. :)
HK's and Msia's better though. still yet to taste Taiwan's.

khengsiong said...

Is this the end of your Beijing story? Oh... I will miss your blog... *sob sob*

I can see the Parkson advertisement. This Malaysian group is doing better in China than in here. When Chinese boycott Carrefour last year, I joked that we should never anger Chinese. Or they would boycott Parkson.

Regarding the tang yuan - yes, they are tang yuan - the labels, from right to left, are:
巧克力 - chocolate
桂花 - some sort of flower. Not very sure about it.
哈密瓜 - honey dew
水蜜桃 - water plum?

The round label between the two characters 湯 and 圆 seem to be written in Arabic. Which means the stall was opened by Muslims.

Wondering if you drank the Chinese wine out of the huge bottle directly, like what we see in the movies...

soo sean said...

You had an interesting trip! Wish I am going to have one too.

ck lam said...

It was an interesting review with almost everything...Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

eh... I tot you can read mandarin one... heheeh welcome to my world also... oops.. I reveal too much... Keep guessing abt me ?

chiaoju said...

i am amazed... that u actually DARE to take the food by the roadside? u have my respect - BOW. i haven't tried any of the food by the roadside... takut lao sai.

nevertheless, love sichuan food. one of my favorites has got to be the chicken cubes in dried chilli. YUM!

MisSmall said...

I'm salivating over the twisted donut thingy! And the tray of rice cake (?) next to them. Did you try those?

foongpc said...

I don't know why people like the stinky tofu!

The sweet dessert really looked like mango! Would love to taste that!

Sichuan food so spicy? I think I won't enjoy it either! I like spicy food but not too spicy!

QuaChee said...

thats a full load of food! very nice. i like the winter weather. the crepe - its like our roti canai rite? haha. i tried that in shanghai too.

the corn - its quite different. still prefer the ones back home :)

smelly tofu - i like it now after learning how to eat it in taiwan! haha

iamthewitch said...

J2Kfm: Yea, I think if I followed tour groups, I wouldn't have had the chance to ski too! And BLACK stinky tofu? That's a first for me!

khengsiong: You can still visit my blog for other non-Beijing related stories! :)) Thanks for the description of the tang yuan. And no, you don't drink from the big bottle, the waitress would actually pour out the wine into a small jug before serving to the customers. :)

soo sean: Thanks! I'm sure you will have a fantastic one soon too! :)

ck lam: Thanks ck! :)

Anonymous: Eh I really think you're Felix! Don't lie!!!

chiaoju: Haha, yes I did eat roadside food! And I got exactly the same reaction from my Beijing friends there when they found out. :P Luckily nothing happened to me. No more of roadside food! :P

MisSmall: Haha, I didn't try the donuts or the tray of food next to them. The stall seemed very quiet without any business, so I didn't dare to try. :P

foongpc: I don't like stinky tofu actually. Was Forced to eat. :P I don't think you'll enjoy Sichuan food because the spiciness is different from our Chili spiciness. It's more like wasabi type of spiciness, just imagine many many wasabi. :P

QuaChee: Hmm the crepe was not really like roti canai. It was made from eggs and flour. Yup, I didn't like the corn there at all. Wow, there's a WAY to eat it smelly tofu? But I'd really rather not eat it. It leaves behind an awful aftertaste! :P

Anonymous said...

Hi Witch, If I am Felix I will use my Capt Felix profile right ? But wrong... keep guessing... so many hints I slip up already... but keep guessing. I am sure you can find out. Good Luck.

iamthewitch said...

Anonymous: OK, another guess. Alex? :P

Anonymous said...

ok lah ok lah.. I gib you another clue...mmm let me think....oh yeah...if you manage to guess who I am, you can also SMS me

iamthewitch said...

Ermmm Yew Koon????????? Is that you? :P

Anonymous said...

since you haven't sms me so I guess you are wrong.. keep trying...