It’s Valentine’s Day here in Beijing. I’ve seen people selling bouquets of flowers, girls holding roses, couples holding hands. My colleague and I are here, halfway across the ocean from our partners. We decided to go out for a fun dinner together; we were supposed to be checking out Peking Duck places anyhow, so it was actually useful.
We got in a cab and showed the driver the printed address. After a while, we wondered where exactly we were going. It wasn’t close by. We weren’t really sure where it was or where we were. But eventually we reached a colorful, busy-looking commercial area with the restaurant we’d been told to check out.
The hostess wore a short fur coat and in confident English told us it would be a half-hour wait. Even though we were hungry, where else would we go? It’s not like we knew the neighborhood or anything. And there were free drinks if we waited. So we stood in a hallway, drinking boxed wine, surrounded by waiting couples, bird cages holding single candles, awards to the restaurant, and letters from happy customers. The wine on our empty stomachs got us feeling cheerful in no time at all, or approximately 2.7 minutes.
And that feeling of well-being came even before we tasted the food. The menu was a massive hardcover, bilingual, with gorgeous pictures of impeccably arranged food. Our order: asparagus, bean curd in saffron sauce, mushroom fried rice, and duck (for my non-veggie colleague). Oh, and a bottle of wine (a New Zealand sauvignon blanc). Mmmmm. I know I’ve written about food a lot, but please bear with me. The tofu in the saffron sauce was as tender as eggs in egg-drop soup, and the fragrant dish was dotted with sweet whole chestnuts. The asparagus achieved perfection. We were so enchanted by the food that we started talking about our favorite recipes, drawing out our culinary fixations. Just when we thought we were full, a plate of watermelon and kumquats that appeared to remind us we were wrong.
This morning we had a little bit of time to see the Forbidden City. Several buildings within the walls are undergoing construction. Golden lions, described by the brochure as “imposing,” just aren’t as intimidating when they’re surrounded by scaffolding. Even though the palace compound is beautiful, and impressive, and massive, it’s just not as memorable as a good meal.
I’m not sure I like what that says about me.
My new goal in life: re-creating the bliss achieved through tofu and chestnuts in saffron sauce.