December 11, 2019
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Food With A Past

Food With A Past
The Eastern China Airlines twice-weekly flight from New Delhi to Shanghai and Beijing is around 70 per cent full carrying among others Indian tour groups and a bunch of Gujarati travel agents. Breakfast on board is a bit of a shambles, with vegetarian meals running short and the hardy travel agent group making do with apples and bread rolls, uncrushed in spirit and surprisingly uncomplaining. Such is their zest for this new destination!

Eating out was always a great tradition in China, and the capital's prosperity is palpable in the profusion of eating places, all the good ones packed with loud crowds, enjoying themselves with gusto. The restaurants range from the super-expensive, like Made in China at the Grand Hyatt, just off the shopping street Wangfujing, where the guests sit alongside the glass-enclosed kitchens that protrude into the restaurant, to the small establishments that still offer hand-made jiao-dz dumplings at the equivalent of Rs 30 a dozen, and roadside stalls that produce even cheaper stuffed traditional breads! I'm told that eight of the great eateries, each between 300 and a hundred years in age, still survive. Some of the old places located in the hotongs in the old city are gone. Many of the new ones are implants from Shanghai, Szechwan and Gwangzhou; some are veritable chains, catering to a variety of tastes. In the early '60s Beijing was said to have 140 restaurants, offering some 12,000 different dishes. Today's numbers are many multiples of those figures.

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