Odd perhaps that the first thing I’m writing about in Beijing is food, when there are all those other magnificent things, like the Temple of Heaven and The Forbidden City, to write about. But not really – I start thinking about lunch exactly five minutes after breakfast is finished. And the best thing about China is that lunch starts soon after 11am, about the same time as I would usually be tempted to eat a slab of cake and drink a quart of coffee. Dumplings, on the other hand, are much more satisfying than cake, and make an excellent fast lunch. Plus, eating lunch at 11.15am means you can start dinner at 5.30pm, leaving enough time for a small supper before bed.
These particular dumplings (jiaozi) are from TianHai restaurant on Dazhalan Jie. I was ridiculously proud of myself because I could read both characters in the restaurant’s name, although the mental efforts required almost killed me. I seem to remember a similar feeling as a five year-old sounding out the word c-a-t for the first time. It goes something like this:
me: hmmm……hey! I know that character! that’s ‘tian’!……OK,OK…tian something…….oh! that looks the ‘hai’ in ‘Shanghai!’ Guys!! You guys! This is the TianHai restaurant!!
guys: Yeah……it says that in English above the doorway Fiona………..
Hmmm. Encouragingly, the place is full of Chinese eaters as well as tourists, and has a pleasingly shabby interior with dark wooden tables and chairs, art deco lamps and loads of atmosphere. And cheap! This plate of (exactly) 22 jiaozi set me back 12 kuai ($2). They were really delicious, with a rustic thick skin with a bit of bite, and a pork filling flavoured with ginger, some rice wine, and shallots. A little vinegar to dip each one in, a cup of green tea, and that’s lunch. All over by 11.34am.