Street Stalls, Beijing
1) Crisp minced pork with chopped scallions. Eaten while waiting for the bus.
2) Flat pancakes layered with egg and onion, some crunchy fried batter folded up inside. Eaten while surveying the old neighborhood, now destroyed.
3) Triangular sticky rice stuffed with sweet bean paste, wrapped in a banana leaf. Eaten while reading a map.
4) Sweetened yogurt, packaged in tubes and sucked from the top. Drunk while walking.
1) Fresh crawling clams and live locusts stacked at street stalls, special ordered from plastic bins also crawling with fish and eel. Eaten while watching a man throw up.
2) Kebabs, smoking and greased, smothered in paprika and chili oil, turned over again and again by three people from Xinjiang. Eaten while reading The Beautiful and the Damned.
3) Cheap ice creams on sticks, their thin layer of chocolate sprinkled with sunflower seeds, breaking in angular flats. Eaten while bargaining for bicycles in the Kong Forest.
Night Train to Xi’an
1) Hot instant noodles sloshing in bowls full of train water. Plastic coated beef jerky and bottles of beer purchased from the fancy dining cart, consumed back on cheap bunks in the dark. The lights have been switched off for the night.
2) Steam rises from our bowls, visible only when we shoot under the lanterns of small towns or halt for a single passenger at an empty station. We are still many hours from our destination.
1) Globular black mushroom heads.
2) Flat, circular breads baked on oven walls. Burned and crisp, chewy and soft.
3) “Golden Rim Chinese Cabbage,” a dish said to be a favorite of Empress Dowager Cixi during her hiding days in Xi’an following the 1900 Allied invasion of Beijing.
1) Small plates with peppers that are selected and popped into the mouth from the ends of long, slender chopsticks.
2) “You don’t want to eat the hot, do you?”
3) “No hot eating for you.”
4) “I don’t really like to eat so hot the food, but my friend here he does. He likes the hot, hot one. Very spicy food. Okay?”
a) That last one is me speaking Chinese, word for word. Is it okay? It is okay! Then translating back to English, sticking to Chinese and not English but speaking to my friend in English and not Chinese. Continuing to dislike spicy food, yes, everywhere and all the time. Is it okay? It is okay!
b) The plates that result from this conversation: fried meat in oil, noodles, garlic water spinach. One last bowl, rice, its edges ridged with faint blue porcelain flowers. Lunch. Day 23.
a) Big views and big spiders that jump in and out of the disintegrating woodwork.
b) Big views? Big views. This is the only mountain around. The flat plains are spiked with the cylinders of pipe factories.
3) Buns the size of hearts, steaming and white, flaking and falling apart, can be pulled hot from the metal steamers and packed into flimsy plastic bags. One two three.
a) I get two, one filled with mushrooms and one with sweet bean paste.
4) Tearing the bean paste bun in two, one curl of steam rises from the center of a dark, red blob.
a) Steamed buns are best eaten from the inside out.
b) How did I make it back inside the temple just in time, before the rain started to pound the only mountain and all the pipe factories below?