Sunday Sofa Sojourns #11: Dinner in Beijing, China

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

I plan to write a full post on my trip to Beijing in the future. This is just about an interesting dinner we had the evening of our first day.

I was on work training in Shanghai for six weeks. My colleagues and I thought it would be a cool idea to take an overnight train up to Beijing for a weekend. None of us had been to China before, so we were planning day trips left and right: Suzhou, Hangzhou, Xi’an.

We arrived in Beijing late in the day. After settling in at our hotel, we wanted to get some dinner. Being in Beijing, all of us naturally thought to look for a place that served good Peking duck. We ended up in a random restaurant called Tiānfǔ Shíbā Xiāng. (Think it was 天府十八香, which I suppose could be loosely translated to Heavenly Province 18 Spices? I’m not too sure.)

The servings were huge, good value for money, and surprisingly tasty. We had the Peking duck we wanted; it was carved skillfully tableside. You have to place the duck –including slices of crispy, juicy skin — in thin Mandarin pancakes, add hoisin sauce, cucumber sticks, fresh scallions and voila! A delicious bite-sized duck wrap. Apart from that, we ordered pork dumplings, diced chicken, plates of spicy tofu, and two kinds of rice (egg fried rice and soy sauce rice). It really was quite a lot of excellent food.

Food aside, one of the more memorable things about the meal was some inadvertently funny translations of dish names on the menu.

To be fair, this was around ten years ago. Google Translate didn’t exist and some poor employee at the restaurant probably had to dig out a physical dictionary and translate all these somehow.

Now that I also have the benefit of knowing a little bit of Chinese, I can figure out some of the characters myself… KIDDING! Of course I used an app (shout-out to Pleco). Also, sorry about the quality of the photos. By this time, I hadn’t saved up for a decent camera yet.

So, let’s begin:

1. Rabbit Leg Singular Taste. The script is stylised so I can’t make the last character out. I only understand 兔 (tù, rabbit). Can anyone tell me what the rest means?

2. Squirrels GuiYu (松鼠桂鱼). I initially thought this was referring to squirrels of the nut-eating kind. Now, even a Chinese language newbie like me knows 鱼 (yú) means fish. This dish is actually called Squirrel Mandarin Fish, a very popular dish because the fish lacks bones. It belongs to Huaiyang cuisine, from China’s Jiangsu province. The dish is called “squirrel dish” because the way it’s presented resembles a squirrel’s tail. I wouldn’t mind having this the next time I get the chance.

3. Poached [various] animal offal (毛血旺). Don’t get me wrong, I like plenty of dishes with offal ingredients (in fact, my all-time favourite dish is lengua estofado). But I generally prefer a bit more specificity when it comes to knowing what went in my soup. 😅 In Pleco, the name for the dish actually translates to “duck’s blood and beef tripe in spicy soup,” which kind of reminds me of Pinoy dinuguan (a delicious Filipino stew made from pork and pig’s blood).

4. Monolithic beef has generated a lot of income (铁板牛柳). I would like to think they meant this was a bestseller. 😂 The name of the dish translates to sizzling beef fillet served on a hot iron plate.

5. Bullfrog burning (小炒牛蛙). No, they don’t serve the dish burnt. This just translates to wok stir-fried bullfrog. And don’t knock frog meat until you’ve tasted it! Frog is a relatively common ingredient in Singapore, especially in congee. It tastes just like chicken (really!).

6. Shaozi soil egg (绍子土鸡蛋). No soil here! I think “绍子” may be referring to Shaanxi cuisine, which generally means dishes that are seasoned with many spices and condiments, including Sichuan peppers; while “土鸡蛋” literally translates to “soil eggs” but actually means free-range eggs, or eggs laid by home-kept chickens.

7. Chinese style hoecake (玉米饼). My friend’s favourite. I guess they should have just translated this as “corn cakes!”. And finally…

8. One for the world (一品天下?). This one had — and still has — me stumped. I think I can guess what the main ingredient is though!

My main takeaways from this menu are 1) tourists have it so much easier these days — clarity can be had with the tap of an app, 2) it’s easy to get things lost in translation, and 3) it pays to be a little adventurous.

If I could go back, I’d definitely order myself a sizzling plate of monolithic beef.

Think critically dear readers,