Beijing/NYC: Tranquil Tuesdays

Before I left for China last month, Don put me in touch with Charlene, his high school friend who recently started her own tea brand in Beijing. Charlene is the founder/owner of Tranquil Tuesdays – a tea company with a mission to promote women’s empowerment though “distractingly good teas.” And that they are.

What an opportunity. I find vacations most rewarding when you have local friends or a purpose to visit aside from simply sightseeing. So one weekday afternoon I headed down Fangjia Hutong to Tranquil Tuesdays showroom. We sat down for a truly exquisite tea tasting and equally great conversation to match.

Charlene currently offers five different types of tea, all personally sourced from different regions throughout China.

White Peony White Tea (白牡丹白茶)
Organic Jade Sword Green Tea (有机毛尖绿茶)
Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong Tea (铁观音乌龙茶)
Qimen (Keemun) Black Tea (祁门红茶)
Organic Ancient Tree Raw Pu’er (有机古树生普洱茶)

No detail is spared, down to the teaware collection. She currently works with three emerging porcelain artists in Jingdezhen to create exclusive pieces for Tranquil Tuesdays. Think hand painted blue and white “fluttering” leaves (pictured above), celadon, and crystalline white glaze teaware.

Not heading to Beijing anytime soon? No worries. Charlene’s coming to NYC and will be at Dekalb Market the weekend of August 20th to 21st! The world is small indeed.

China: Dinner Tables

No tidy two-tops or bar seats. Tables for 10, 15, and even 20 on certain occasions. Such was nearly every meal in China. And though I prefer eating in small groups, some of the best moments during this family vacation took place around these large tables.

Bai jiu, the local white liquor is poured at both lunch and dinner. Cheers and gan bei! “Gan bei” translates to “dry the cup,” and that is taken seriously. But unlike the American custom of saying “cheers” at the start of the meal, and drinking at your own pace, in China you have to say “cheers” every single time you want to take a sip. And usually you say cheers to the whole table. So everyone has to take a sip. And thus everyone ends up drinking at least 20X more than planned.

Needless to say we all ended tispy/drunk/wasted by the end of each evening. A family vacation indeed ;)

Luckily there is plenty of food to buffer all the alcohol…

…and meals end with a plain bowl of hot jook (aka congee) to “calm the stomach.”

China: Watermelons at the Table

In China we had watermelon with every meal. Sometimes it came at the start, in the form of a fresh puree. I could drink gallons of this. Just fresh watermelon, blended and nothing else. It was always served at room temperature.

Anytime I asked for the puree cold or iced, I was told that it was just not done that way. And that watermelon is best enjoyed at it’s “natural” temperature.

Most times we had it at the end of the meal, a whole watermelon cut into slices.

No dessert, this was dessert. These watermelons were sweeter than anything I’ve enjoyed in the US. And it wasn’t limited to restaurants, – upon check-in at any hotel we visited, there was fresh watermelon waiting in the hotel rooms.

Depending on where we were, the presentation of the watermelon varied from the very fancy to the totally ghetto served in a plastic bag. Dig in :)

At the Sichuan Provincial Office in Beijing: Chuanban Canting

Dan Dan Mein

I was excited to see an article on Provincial Eating in Beijing in the New York Times today. Especially because it covers a restaurant I visited just last week! Each region in China has a provincial office in Beijing – the highlight of these offices are of course, the attached government-run restaurant. From the article:

“Beijing provides a quirky, time-lapsed way to explore authentic provincial cuisines. Each region has an office in the capital, a system that grew out of an administrative need to govern a vast country with absolute central power. The offices’ administrative usefulness has withered in the telecommunications age, but the restaurants are among the few state-owned holdouts in a now fervently capitalist economy.”

Thanks to a suggestion from a local friend, my family and I stopped in for lunch at Chuanban Canting (川办餐厅) which is run by the Sichuan government. After a good two weeks of eating in Hong Kong and Southern China, we were craving heat, spice. This was a perfect fit. We started with our own bowls (a few bowls in my dad’s case!) of dan dan mein and proceeded to share the following dishes with sides of rice.

Pickled cabbage and peppers

Fuqi Feipian. The name translates to “sliced lung by the married couple,” and features sliced beef, tongue and tripe all in a bath of hot oil.

Crispy sauteed string beans with pork

Per my little sister’s request: Szechuan chicken with peanuts

Eggplant with garlic in hot oil

Mapo Tofu

The whole lunch for four people came out to about $25USD. Good and cheap. The dishes were not numbingly spicy as I had anticipated…but I’m guessing that’s because we were outed as foreigners and spice level was thus tuned down. Here’s what the NYT article has to say about Chuanban Canting:

“Chuanban Canting, run by the Sichuan government (5 Gongyuan Xijie Toutiao, Jiangguomennei Dajie; 86-10-6512-2277, extension 6101; scheduled to reopen in July after renovations) is the most famous of these restaurants and has earned an almost cultish devotion among the city’s culinary cognoscenti. “Chuanban can be the best Sichuan restaurant in the city, depending on the mood of the chef,” Ms. Mooney said.

Almost everything served here (the menu is in English and Chinese) is strewn with Sichuan peppercorns. On a recent visit, I tried the mapo tofu, which has a custardy texture, explosive opening kick and a lingering tingle dancing on your tongue.

Fame, of course, begets large crowds, so expect to wait unless you can sweet-talk the management in Sichuan dialect.”