Tag Archives: cooking class

What to do in Beijing

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
~ Bill Bryson

I left Beijing late on Monday night, sad to leave Jane and happy to be heading towards a city with cleaner air. Grateful for the marvellous trip – Beijing is really home to many wonders besides the Great Wall!

There is so much to write about – wandering down curious mazes of narrow streets/hutongs. Bus adventures involving rapid-fire Mandarin and being forced to elbow people to stay alive (the buses there, they do strange things to humans). The spitting (which I now understand, because I was tempted to cough up and dispose of the balls of dust which kept taking up residence in my throat). The beautiful, soft foliage. The ‘exercise machines’ on streets for public use – hilarious, and rather cool! The marvellous mangoes. The way the city looks tranquil and mysterious in the evening. The thoughts I thought in the public toilets, which I shall spare you from. The curious ways of guan xi.

And thoughts on travel! – how wonderful, worthwhile, informative and exhausting it is… and how much it makes me appreciate my life (both the big and little things that make it awesome). How much I love, too, the moments of mini coincidences, kindness from strangers, inspiration and total shock. :-)

My favourite method of getting around Beijing was, without doubt, via tin can car! It’s like a loud mini motorised carriage or a Chinese version of the tuk tuk… way too cute! I wish we could’ve travelled everywhere in them, but for the following reasons: distance (the drivers mostly do short rides), variety and cost, we also travelled via taxi, subway and on foot. If you can cycle, Beijing’s pretty bicycle-friendly too.

We attended a dim sum cooking class at The Hutong Kitchen, at Beixinqiao (map here). With the Little Gold Book, we got a two-for-one deal. :-)

Our instructor showed us how to make nuo mi ji (steamed parcels of chicken/glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves), shao mai and xia jiao (shrimp dumplings) (all pictured below).

It was certainly a class designed for foreigners and dim sum beginners (and the dim sum was not quite identical to what is served in most restaurants), and I doubt I’d reproduce any of these in my own kitchen (too cumbersome!) – but I gleaned valuable cooking tips and enjoyed it very much.

Right after the cooking class, we adjourned to Sanyuanli Market (Shunyuan Jie, opposite Jingkelong Supermarket, west of Sanyuan Dongqiao, Chaoyang District). A long corridor with stalls selling just about everything you need to cook anything at all. I’d say it caters well for both locals and foreigners. Good cuts of meat, wide selection of seafood and fresh herbs/vegetables – and all sorts of dried/packet goods too! All at good prices.

See, we had two excellent meals made from products purchased at Sanyuanli Market (Jane cooked! Yum!) – baked salmon, and lamb and prune tagine.

Jane also took me to Niu Jie (Ox Street), the Muslim quarters in Beijing. I loved this area! And not just because the Niujie Mosque (Niu Jie 88, Beijing, China) so beautifully incorporates both Chinese and Islamic culture and elements…

Niu Jie is also home to an amazing array of food like yang rou chuan’r (lamb kebabs), various types of cakes and nian gao and other snacks… (we bought a few green bean snacks before we lunched at a place with delicious Xinjiang cuisine).

One place I’d definitely visit often if I lived in Beijing is Ri Tan Gong Yuan (Temple of the sun)… so calming!

After a leisurely walk and cup of coffee/tea in Ri Tan Gong Yuan on Sunday afternoon, we were well ready for dinner! We walked for 20 minutes to get to Na Jia Xiao Guan (south of the LG Twin Towers, west of 119 Middle School in Chaoyang District) – a fantastic place both in terms of food and ambience.

We queued for nearly half an hour to get in, and were served red date tea whilst we waited – dinner was totally worth the wait. The place was buzzing with positive energy and happy diners. The menu – featuring mostly Manchu cuisine – was colourful and exciting. And the food, including a plate of most perfect crispy goose, was so delicious!

I ate my first donkey burger on Monday. Surprised by how good it tasted! Tender and flavourful… so good, especially with the addition of chopped chives! It tasted nothing like chicken, for the record… :-)

Also ate my first jian bing on Monday – again, loved it. Imagine a warm, savoury cross between an omelette and crepe with sweet crunchy lettuce in the middle…

Lastly. Jingshan Park – it was so foggy when we visited, but the view from the top was still spectacular… I can just imagine how stunning it’d be on a clear day!

(While it is very unfortunate that Emperor Chongzhen hung himself, I think it even more unfortunate that they chose to bear such text on a sign in the park – right at the top, no less!…)

Thanks Beijing (and Jane!) for having me! (And thanks Jane for taking the better photos that feature in this post).


Let your hook always be cast; in the stream where you least expect it, there will be a fish.
~ Ovid

So I sat tonight in a room pregnant with good smells and hungry people, watching this man whip up Mediterranean seafood dishes… but my mind was far away. It was an unsettling and seemingly slow day at work today, and by 3.30pm when we were seated in a meeting room on a conference call – I was less taken by the call than I was by the view outside the window… the sky was startling. Half the sky was illuminated, blinding; while the other half sat shrouded in angry cobalt and grey. Then we learned about this afternoon’s tornado… not a good thing at all. Things are a little crazy around the world and I think this is a time to live courageously and reach out more! At least, I’m trying to do so…

Anyway, class tonight: the main thing I learned from Marco was a wonderful method of chopping basil finely without bruising it. Usually, I tear the leaves with my fingers – but tonight I learned that to chop them finely without bruising them, you stack them like pancakes, roll the stack into a little cigarette and chop finely. Great method which Marco says he adapted from Gordon Ramsay.

After watching Marco and his assistant demonstrate cooking the dishes, we were divided into groups of four to cook our dinner. Things went reasonably smoothly all things considered and I soon fell into a different world where everything else that was going on around me seemed at once immediate and distant; all I knew was the smell, look and feel of what I was touching – de-boning oily salmon and smashing/peeling/chopping garlic and drizzling garlic oil on baguette slices… beautiful is food! I hardly noticed what everyone else in my group was doing, but they did really well and dinner came together so nicely.

(Kath did most of the plating – not so well captured in the photographs in this post – our plates looked very pretty on the table!)

Finally, everything was ready and we sat down to enjoy a glass of chilled white wine; saffron scented fish soup and garlic crostini; poached seafood roulade, spinach and sauce vierge; and lemon sorbet (the latter was provided by the kind folks at Auckland Fish Market).

Overall verdict? The whole meal was wonderfully light and easy to eat, yet satisfying; flavours melded together well and the fish was perfect. Preparation wasn’t too difficult and I suspect that with some practice, this routine will be a very easy and good one to use for dinner gatherings. Marco gave a great demonstration and was unbelievably patient while we were fumbling in the kitchen and constantly all asking for help at the same time!

I’m not sure I really tasted the saffron or the fish stock in the soup tonight, but what I do think are great are the simple additions of basic ingredients like fresh herbs, celery, fennel, leeks, potatoes, salt, pepper, lemon, sugar – I suspect carrots would be great too and that ingredients can easily be swapped based on what is in the cupboard or in season at the time.

Also great – the use of two kinds of fish (salmon and a white fish) in the roulade and in the soup, and varying the textures (cubed, minced), and, oh, I cannot not mention the vierge sauce. My goodness! The vierge sauce was so delicious – and so simple. Olive oil, tomatoes, lemon, basil, chervil, garlic, coriander, salt and pepper – mixed and gently warmed – and that was it. I do think this sauce would effectively work its magic on many other dishes.

So thank you Kath, for coming to class with me, Marco, and Auckland Fish Market for tonight. :-)