Thursday, March 26, 2009

Xibei Youmian Cun

My friend Christy was here for a visit from the US this past week. She used to teach here at our preschool in China and wanted to come back for a vacation. She was able to volunteer at the orphanage for a few days and share some of her special education expertise with the staff. Her visit provided an excuse to go to my favorite restaurant. Our staff had our Spring Festival celebration here and I fell in love with the food and the atmosphere.
Xibei is a small chain in Beijing and Shenzhen. It is full of rural ethnic flourish. I love the rustic concrete floors and interior designed to mimic the cave homes of the northern Hebei cuisine it features. Walls are lined with braids of red peppers and corn. Trees overhang wells, and pumpkins and other produce are scattered throughout. Patrons gather casually outside and in with baskets of roasted sunflower seeds to munch on as they make their food selections from a huge book of colorful photos. You can view these on their website. The staff is dressed in in cheerful clothing typical of the region and upon request will perform with dances and songs. Huge windows allow you to view the food prep and the kichen. Everything is spotless (including the squatty potties). The food is very earthy, fresh and natural. We had the fabulous house salad with vinigrette and roasted peanuts, dumplings, tomato and lamb boiling soup, some kind of wonderful roasted flatbread with herbs, and lots of veggies. It was scrumptious! Here's a review...

Frommer's Review

This place is worth the trip out to Yayun Cun in itself. Friendly staff and bright, faux-rural decor make this the best "family restaurant" in Beijing, and the cuisine (a hybrid of Mongolian and Shanxi fare) will have you looking through the picture menu to plan your next visit. The signature dish is youmian wowo (steamed oatmeal noodles) served with mushroom (sushijun retang) or lamb (yangrou retang) broth, with coriander and chile on the side. Familiar yangrou chuan'r (mutton skewers with cumin) and yogurt (suannai) with honey make excellent side dishes, while the house salad (Xibei da bancai) is a meal in itself, crammed with unusual ingredients such as wild greens, radish, and purple cabbage, and topped with a delicious sesame dressing. The one dish you must try is zhijicao kao niupai (lotus leaf-wrapped roast beef with mountain herbs). Roast beef will never be the same.

And another great review can be found here.

Here are little animals made out of dough. An older lady sits at a table and makes these using a pair of scissors and seeds for eyes. The children can gather around and sit on little tree stumps to watch as she expertly crafts them. Each child is allowed to choose one as they leave, Abbey has picked a bunny each time.

Gan bei!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Raindrops, Sesame Rolls, and Freezing Again

My sunshine on a cloudy day, thrilled for a chance to break out her princess umbrella.

Life is finally returning to our "China normal" around here.
When we came back from the States it was very warm...i.e. air conditioning and shorts. We sent home all our winter clothes, including my only jacket, with my mom. Socks, sweaters, robes, long pants, everything. Guess what? The rains came and now it's freezing again...i.e. heaters and layers. We keep hearing it won't last long though, so we are trying to refrain from buying again and just get through it somehow.
There is a saying among foreigners here, "Do not ask why." It is so true, you just never know what will happen on any day or at any moment. Best not to question it, just go with the flow. I never know what repairman will show up next in my apartment or when there will be hot water, or not. So normal is to expect the unexpected. My new theme is that nothing else matters, Abbey and I are together, and we are having fun, all else is not important.
Abbey concocted this interesting outfit for one of her song and dance shows shows.
On the ferry to Hong Kong with Lao Lao. We had so much fun shopping together. Abbey picked out a pink silk purse with sequin dragonflies and a pink silk parasol with flowers painted on it. She also got a silk fan and has been performing some wonderful fan dances with it.
We took a tram up to Victoria Peak and got to enjoy the dazzling view of Hong Kong.
We won a prize for our fundraising efforts for the orphanage, dinner at the Sheraton buffet. The meal was incredible and Abbey loved dipping the colored marshmallows into the chocolate fountain and then adding her own colored sprinkles. She also really enjoyed visiting the cheese bar. Mom and I loved the coffee, bread, and really everything. Thank you B & E!
Of course Abbey had to wear the Snow White dress and bring the new parasol. Yes, she's wearing the plastic high heels too, as usual.
Brad and Emily welcomed my mom with a special meal on their new roof top garden. The view of Shenzhen is awesome from here. Surrounded by water and overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Yes, we have an Eiffel Tower here, don't ask why.
When my mom left to fly back to the states my friend Lisa sent me a text that she had made my mom some dim sun to take on the plane. When I had flown home weeks before she sent Abbey and I with a stack of yummy hot chinese pancakes. This time she had incredible sesame rolls for my mom and I. It was so sweet. I told her I would love to learn how to make them so a few days later she had me over to do just that.
Lisa is a pastry chef that attended culinary school in Beijing. She is an incredible cook and everything she makes is wholesome, tastes wonderful, and looks beautiful.We are spreading a sesame paste made of fried sesame seeds and sesame oil over whole wheat dough. We then rolled it up and sliced it cinamon roll style. Oh and yes, these have a little cinamon and brown sugar too.
Instead of egg yolk we heated special organic honey Lisa brought down from Northern China. We diluted it with hot water to brush on the top of the rolls before dipping them in the seeds and baking them. She has a toaster oven just like me, a rarity in China!

Abbey and Richard, playing while we cook. They had so much fun! Richard is in my kindergarten class at school.
Made from purple sweet potatoes and black sesame seeds, formed into dough rings and fried.
Everything is cooked in a wok, you need no other pan here except a soup pot. These are our delicious scrambled eggs and yellow leeks, grown away from sunlight.
Lisa's beautiful wooden birdcage that I love. She collects rare wood and jade.
A feast!