Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Food Finds

A few weeks ago, probably around July 4, I suddenly found myself suffering from an insurmountable craving for a hot dog. It's not like I eat a lot of hot dogs; even living in NYC, where good hot dogs are available on many street corners, I did not eat very many of them. But perhaps with the onset of Independence Day, which is so closely associated with hot dogs, the cravings would not go away so I decided to do something about it. But nowhere could I find a restaurant serving hot dogs and I would not stoop so low as to eat a Chinese "hot dog", which have a color and aroma that I do not associate with things edible by humans. In the end, I went to Schindler's German butcher and bought myself some raw frankfurters that I then cooked at home on my indoor grill. Indeed, they were excellent, and my craving was satisfied.

But in recent weeks, several of the expat-oriented magazines have published listings of where to get Beijing's best hot dogs, and my cravings returned. As it turns out, my whole premise of looking for the hot dogs at "restaurants" was a mistake, since the places that were listed fell into two categories--bars and kiosks. The bars were categorically places I would never go to, since they tended to be the sort of bars where young Chinese women pounce on the foreign guys in hopes of landing a ticket out of China. But the kiosks sounded promising, and two of them were within a short walk or bike ride from our apartment.

The first of these places is called "No More Bunz", and is on Xindong Lu just south of the Canadian Embassy (on the south side of Dongzhimenwai Dajie). It's literally a hole in the wall, with a grill in front. They have several kinds of dogs on offer, including 100% beef, German, and Italian, and they offer a huge range of toppings, including all the old favorites. Prices are also very good, with the small sizes costing around RMB 15-20. I stopped at this place on Thursday on my way home from work during lunch to let the dogs out, and they were delicious. I had the German and the 100% beef, and had them with all the fixin's. Would definitely go back.

The other place I have been to so far is called Stadium Dogs and is located near Gate 10 of the Workers' Stadium. This place is a bit larger than No More Bunz, and even has some seating. They also offer a few varieties (100% beef, American, Italian and German), which also come with a large range of toppings, including beef chili, sauerkraut, tomatoes, etc. The dogs cost RMB 20, but the big menu on the wall says they cost RMB 25 (they have lowered prices recently). I had the Italian and it was also very good, though perhaps not as good as No More Bunz. The one advantage of this place is that you get to put your own toppings on and they have a huge selection of mustards and ketchups (and also it's closer to our apartment). They also have a nice selection of beers.

The other food find that I want to share with you is the dish called Ma La Xiang Guo (麻辣香锅). This is a dish that is sweeping the city, it seems, since more and more places that serve it are proliferating. What it is is a kind of dry hot pot, where the diner chooses what items will go into the dish from a long list of possibilities (meats, vegetables, mushrooms, rice cake, tofu etc) and the level of heat (at our local place, from 1 to 7). The kitchen then mixes your ingredients with the appropriate number of chilies, cilantro, garlic, ginger, Sichuan pepper, etc., and stir fries it. It then comes to your table in a big stainless steel bowl and you pick through it. Unlike hot pot there is no broth, so it's a bit easier to find the bits you want. The first time I went to our nearby mala xiangguo place I tried to order a level 6, but they wouldn't serve it to me, saying it was too hot. So I reluctantly had a level 5, and then spent the evening alternately taking a mouthful of the dish and mopping my brow with a soaking wet towel and trying to douse the flames with a beer. Since then we have ordered level 4, which is certainly hot enough. (We also went out with Alpha and Diana, our trainer and his wife, and had level 2, since they're wimps; we found it to be utterly un-hot.) The dish has wonderful flavors, and is now one of our favorite things to have for a bit of a splurge-y meal (the dish is relatively expensive, and with all the oil it's not exactly dietetic).

I'll try to bring more dining finds as we find them!