Lucky Nectarines

I first saw these nectarines at a park in Guangzhou, dangling from a tree as part of a botanical exhibit. I learned from my dad that they (the nectarine growers) put some sort of a sticker over the fruit before it ripens to block out light and create a lettering effect. Quite clever, I must say.

Lately these things have been popping up in Beijing's produce markets. I couldn't resist buying some, despite the fact that they were almost twice as expensive as other nectarines. I dug through a bin and pulled out "double happiness" (喜喜 shuāng xǐ) and "long life" (寿 shòu). All the "good fortune"s (福 fú) looked a little bruised, so I didn't get any. They were quite juicy and delicious on a hot muggy day.

I've seen this natural lettering on apples too. My dad seemed stumped when I asked him over the phone just a few minutes ago if this type of fruit had an official name in Chinese. "Fat choy guo?" he guessed, meaning fortune fruit in Cantonese. Perhaps. Has anyone else seen these around and/or know what they're called?


How could you not be curious about a fruit that looks like a blowfish mated with a Venus fly trap? The dragonfruit, also called the pitaya or strawberry pear, is one of those strange-looking things you see in a market and just have to try. I had forgotten about eating these in abudance as a child in Guangzhou until I spent a lot of time last year in Zhongshan. There, dragonfruit is sold at almost every supermarket and served as dessert at many higher-end restaurants.

Dragonfruit is also happily consumed in Vietnam, Malaysia, and many other sub-tropical places. They liven up your grocery bag like nothing else, a bright spindly fucshia thing amidst a sea of cardboard boxes and plastic cartons. The flesh of the fruit, dotted with little seeds, looks and tastes a bit like kiwi. Some people think dragonfruit tastes a bit bland, but that may depend on where you buy them. (There are bland and tasty versions of every kind of fruit.) Dragonfruit with the pink flesh tend be sweeter than the ones with white flesh. But I've also had sweet versions of the latter, like this one sent all the way up to a supermarket in Beijing.

You can find dragonfruit jams and wine, and (according to 5 seconds of Googling recipes) use them in homemade salsas or even mooncakes. But I'm a purist. My favorite way of consuming of dragonfruit is diced up in a fruit salad, perhaps with clementine slices and grapes. Or simply cut the whole fruit in half and eat it one delicious scoop at a time. I may try out the salsa recipe at a later date though.


Ikea Restaurant in Beijing

Whew! With being mildly under the weather and furnishing a new apartment, I haven't had time to write a lengthy post yet this year. I did, however, make it out to Beijing's Ikea over the weekend. I had thought US IKEAs were crowded, but here I couldn't push a shopping cart 3 feet without hitting someone. (Had to resort to a yellow bag hooked on a dolly.)

Beijing's Ikea restaurant seats 700, possibly one of the largest Ikea restaurants in the world. The picture above shows only about 1/4 of the restaurant. We went at 3pm on a Saturday, and it was so packed many families were roaming around with their trays looking for seats. And while most people were enthusiastically chowing down on such un-Chinese specialties as herbed salmon and Swedish meatballs, there were stirfries available to appease the local palate. (Like how the McDonald's in Spain has gazpacho, and so on.)

What we ate at the restaurant (and what furniture we bought) isn't as important as what I found at the Swedish food market: vodka, for 86 yuan! That's at least 3 to 4 times cheaper than any bottle I've seen elsewhere. I also found some other Swedish goodies like fish roe, Wasa, and lingonberry jam that would (naturally) fit into our Chinese kitchen.

IKEA Restaurant
3rd floor, 1 Taiyang Gonglu, Dongbahe
Chaoyang District, Beijing
800 810 5679

We Didn't Have Eggnog for Christmas, But...

...We did have Lulu 露露, an almond milk drink that is all the rage here in Beijing. (You may have seen it in this Thanksgiving video.) And unlike eggnog, it's not so heavy that it sits in your stomach all night long with the turkey, pie, and chocolate pudding you stuffed into yourself.

Of course, living in Beijing and being thousands of miles away from either of our families, we didn't have turkey, rich desserts, and all that good stuff. We decided to go out for dinner instead. Let's just say Lulu goes quite well with Din Tai Fung's soup dumplings, although beer also does.

This almond drink featuring an actress and her signature on the can has inspired a host of other imitation almond drinks, or walnut and peanut drinks, also with actresses and their signatures on the can. But only Lulu is popular enough to make it onto the drink list of what seems like every restaurant in town. Including the upscale ones.

Although Lulu tastes good cold, the best way to drink it is warmed up. Restaurants will offer to warm up the can if you order one. At home, you can use an electric tea pot and heat it up as you would water. Of course, be careful not to wander off and accidentally let the almond milk boil over, resulting in a big mess, like I did tonight. Oops.

Accidents aside, I like having Lulu right before bed. It's warm and comforting, like steamed milk or good hot chocolate, but nuttier and much easier to find here.

Happy sipping and happy holidays!


Clementines in Winter

'Tis the season for colds and flu. Last week Jacob had a cold and sore throat, and now this week is my turn to be under the weather.

Fortunately, 'tis also the season for clementines. Markets and street vendors' carts are overflowing with this juicy fruit that's filled with vitamin C. Unlike tangerines, clementines are seedless and sweeter. Here in Beijing, they are only about 3 to 4 yuan a kilo. Is it not a coincidence that clementine/tangerine season in the north is November to January, when we need vitamin C the most?

Over the past two weeks we have bought between 20 and 30 kilos (yes, kilos.) Jacob ate 2 to 3 kilos a day when he was sick, and combined with the potent throat-soothing affects of ice cream, got better within a few days. Now I'm trying out the same cure. The problem, though, is some of the clementines are still more tart than I'd like. Tartness tends to sting sore throats.

While staying home sick today, I caught a cooking show on BTV that said that best way to tell a sweet clementine from a sour one is to look at the top. Flat clementines tend to be sweeter, and pointier ones tend to be more sour. Next time I'm at the market for another few kilos, I'll apply this bit of Chinese TV wisdom to find a sweeter path to recovery.