Sitting out on the balcony of my hotel room in Idaho Falls, listening to the river nearby and to some soft jazz, looking up at the stars, and down on the city below, while a cool, gentle breeze rustles through the trees and my hair, smelling faintly of pine and the storm from earlier today.
I defy you to find anything that feels THIS GOOD.
WHERE: Beijing on Grove
(5710 Grove Ave, Richmond, VA 23226)
I've lately been catching up on the countries I automatically crossed off my list early on in this project where I was like, "oh sure, I must have had that one before". Seeing as how Chinese food and Mexican food are neck and neck with each other for the ethnic food enjoyed by most Americans, with Chinese food winning by a nose on the East Coast, I'm pretty sure that I've eaten Chinese food probably before I could even walk and talk. But I'm still a little confused as to how much of those crab rangoon, spring/egg rolls, wontons, lo mein, chow mein, all the meins!, sweet and sour pork, kung pao chicken, ect was truly Chinese food and which were just Americanized versions of what they eat over there.. and where my line with Traveling By Tastebuds is drawn anyway.
So I looked up the National Dish (peking duck) and found that I have never eaten it before. I had the Hong Kong version of roast duck last year, but never the traditional Beijing meal that has been prepared since the Imperial era in the mainland country. I found it being served at a very upscale gastropub in Richmond that just happens to serve fancy Chinese food-- which really begs the question whether this is more authentic since it wasn't cooked by a Chinese chef, or whether those Chinese food take out shops are more authentic even though the food is slightly Americanized, but I digress.
Anyway, the place was really fancy and had a tasting room in the back you could rent out-- I did not rent it out, but it seemed really classy. That's fitting since according to Wikipedia, "By the Qianlong Period (1736–1796) of the Qing Dynasty, the popularity of Peking duck spread to the upper classes, inspiring poetry from poets and scholars who enjoyed the dish." So I guess it was always supposed to be enjoyed all fancy-like. I should go write some poetry about it!
After ordering the peking duck, it arrived to my table in pieces: the roasted duck, spring onions, sliced cucumbers, bao pancakes and hoisin sauce. I did not know I was ordering a taco bar... Unfortunately, the place does not have the best wi-fi so after attempting to look up how to put this thing together (for the price, I feel this meal should have come already put together, lol), I just made due and made some cute little Chinese tacos. I hope I did it right. I did find out afterwards when I was looking it up that it is customary to ask the waiter for more pancakes if you run out and I wish I had known that because bao buns have become one of my favorite things this year after getting them from the Hong Kong shop near me regularly. And there were just not enough of them to make an efficient amount of tacos here.
They also have duck spring rolls where I guess the tacos are already made, and I plan to go back and get those some day soon. Those are thankfully significantly less expensive!
When I came back home, all stuffed and happy on peking duck, I found an article when I was researching (https://www.businessinsider.nl/chinese-american-food-isnt-from-china-2018-12/?jwsource=cl) about how most Chinese food is adapted from old recipes by immigrants and how it's more cultural adaptation vs. cultural appropriation. As they put it, "It’s easy to knock Chinese food served in American restaurants as being mostly inauthentic, but as Clarissa Wei asked, how can it be inauthentic if it’s made by Chinese people for Chinese people (and others)? As people from different cultures travel and adapt to new places, their food naturally changes. When my dad came to the US from Bangkok, he couldn’t find fresh, fat rice noodles in nearby stores, so he substituted lasagna noodles to make pad siew. At the time, it was a necessary – and ultimately delicious – adaptation."
So it comes down to the fact that food, like many things in life, can not be entirely boxed in. Culture is always changing, always flowing, moving and adapting. Culture is a living thing, which picks up different flavors as it journeys forward in its life. So whether it's crab rangoon (probably not authentic because Chinese didn't traditionally have cream cheese) or pekin duck (with recipes that go back several dynasties), just chomp down and enjoy!
PS. After I finished my meal I went to the park. Bad move. Major guilt trip seeing the duckies there. lol
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