Friday, 30 December 2011


Being a big fan of sweet potato, not only did I order (and love) the japchae at Saveurs de Coree, but when I saw sweet potato noodles in the shops a few days later I immediately purchased a packet. And I have no regrets. Sweet potato noodles take a little longer than wheat noodles to cook, and I went really light on the sauces because I didn't want to overwhelm the awesomeness of any sweet potato that might make its way through.

This recipe is not strictly japchae. I should have added some mushrooms or something, and I didn't add a sweetner. But it was so good, and I am looking forward to trying this again soon.

an attempt at sweet potato noodles

serves two people

200g dried sweet potato noodles
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, julienned
a little bit of broccoli
little bit of chinese cabbage (just the leaves, cut tiny to wilt fast)
a dash of light soy sauce (or gf tamari)
a small amount of sesame oil (about a teaspoon or so)
some sesame seeds

Boil the noodles until they are delightfully soft, about five minutes or just over. Drain and cut (or cut in the wok, just know they come long and you have to cut them).

In a hot wok, add some cooking oil then throw in the garlic and the carrots. Fry about for a minute or two, then add some water and the broccoli and wombok, and put the lid on to steam. After the broccoli has gone beautiful and bright green, lower the heat and add the noodles, soy/tamari, and the sesame oil. Toss to combine, let them all cook together for a minute, and plate. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Delicious, fast, made from sweet potatoes. No regrets.

saveurs de coree [dongcheng, beijing]

The only reason I tried out Saveurs de Coree is because Happy Cow told me they knew what the word vegan meant. And this is sort of true!

I love the atmosphere of the Ju'Er location, though its poor lighting meant I was unable to get any nice photos. They have a lovely looking outdoor section that I look forward to trying when it's not -4C, and lots of fun Korean books inside, and an awesome water feature in the back room that I really enjoyed.

The menu is extensive, filled with all sorts of things, and a little leaf indicates things that can be made vegetarian or vegan. It says so, right there at the bottom of the menu! Sadly this is where things got a little complicated for me. The menu clearly states that things with leaves can be made vegetarian or vegan, however our waitperson (who spoke some English) clearly had no idea.

potato cakes

We ended up ordering a whole bunch of food, and it was all really delicious. We went for these gamja jeon (potato pancakes), and some japchae and ttekkdokki to share, and then a plate of mushroom rice each. These three dishes pictured were amazing. I was so excited by the japchae (sweet potato noodles fried with sesame oil and vegetables) that when I saw sweet potato noodles in the shops on Monday I purchased a pack immediately (more on that tomorrow). The ttekkdokki was delicious but spicy, as always.

japchae + ttekkdokki

Dessert was tofu chocolate mousse, good but a bit pricy and tiny (and all the pictures were blurry).

I'm mostly confident of the vegan-ness of the meal except for one factor: they don't use dairy at all, and there were no eggs in any of the dishes I ordered. However due to the waitperson's confusion, I'm not sure if they went to the kitchen and said 'these dishes need to be vegan' (which based on the menu I think they'd be clear on), or if they said 'these dishes can't have seafood'. If it was the former I'm all good; if it was the latter then maybe my kimchi was of the non-vegetarian variety.

The menu is available in English, Korean and Mandarin. There are some pictures. Cost is a bit high, this was the most expensive meal I've had since arriving in Beijing, but the service is attentive (when the waitperson stops texting) and they let us hang around even though we were clearly the last people to leave, and when we left one of the waitstaff had their coat on.

Saveurs de Coree
20 Ju Er Hutong

There is a second location at 128-1, Xiang Er Hutong off Jiaodaokou, no more than ten minutes walk from the Ju'Er location, that specialises in 'fine Korean grill.'

A step up to enter, poor lighting. An obstacle course to get from the front (tiny) room to the rest of the restaurant. About 10-15 minutes walk from Beixinqiao Station (line 5, exit D). Some English spoken. Not sure about gluten free. Meals: 100-200Y (including dessert and alcohol).

Monday, 26 December 2011

christmas disaster

so even when you're celebrating a low-key christmas in china with five of your friends, and all the food has been cooked by someone else and you just have to pick it up, there is still room for a christmas day kitchen disaster:

a christmas disaster

merry christmas if that's your thing! and remember to put the lid on your pumpkin puree, even when you're only heating it up for five minutes. although who has pumpkin puree at christmas? i mean really.

some christmas cheer

Saturday, 24 December 2011

shenton park cat haven (and the dog refuge, too)

Shenton Park Cat Haven is looking for forever homes for some adorable but homeless cats! They are seriously oversubscribed and though since that news article went up they've had a whole heap of cats adopted, the oversubscription continues.

If you can't give the gift of a home but are looking for a present for someone, you could also consider making a donation to the Cat Haven or to the Dog's Refuge (also in Shenton Park).

If you want to make a Victorian-based donation, there's The Lost Dogs' Home in North Melbourne or Edgar's Mission.

There is a possibility I have left my donation-presents until the last minute.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

the first curry

My kitchen here is pretty limited, so I was a bit nervous about trying curry for the first time. I should not have worried, though: I don't think I've ever had a curry disaster, for I am a Curry Master. I made this one up as I went along, and had to use curry powder because I haven't been able to find turmeric, and red onions because I didn't have any shallots, and it still all came out okay.

I served this on noodles, because I don't have any rice.

the first curry

pumpkin curry

quarter of a red onion, diced tiny
inch of ginger, minced or shredded
little bit of garlic, minced
1 large tomato, diced large
300g pumpkin, diced larger still
some curry powder
some chilli flakes
some cumin
little bit of extra water

in a little oil, fry the onion until it starts to colour, then add the garlic and the ginger. after a minute or two, add the curry powder, chilli flakes and cumin, and fry until they become fragrant, then toss in the tomato and the pumpkin. allow the tomato to soften, and ensure it's mixed a bit with the pumpkin, then add in some water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cover, leaving to simmer for about half an hour. check on it every now and then, adding a little bit more water if it's soaked it all up. keep simmering and adding water until the pumpkin is nice and soft.

serve on rice or noodles or roti.

(i would pay a lot of money for roti right now)

Monday, 19 December 2011

the bookworm [sanlitun, beijing]

The Bookworm is an English-language lending library, bookstore, cafe and bar. I went there recently for Green Drinks after work, and I also dropped by for their booksale last weekend. Before perusing the books, however, I stopped for a mid morning meal.

The menu is not very vegan friendly, and they don't carry soy milk so no coffee for me. I was assured that this would be suitable - it's one of three items that can be modified or should be okay for vegans. My dining companions all loved their meals (brunches) -they were massive and filled with things they found exciting. This salad was okay. It was nothing exciting, and I dislike cold tofu puffs, which is personal preference. It was actually nice to have some lettuce, I haven't had any since I arrived in China.

I'm not 100% sure about the veganinity of the dressing.

Service is okay, there's usually someone who speaks English and the menu is in Chinese with English subtitles.

tofu salad at the bookworm

the bookworm
Courtyard 4, Gongti Beilu / Nansanlitun Road
Chaoyang District

get there on line 10 (gongtibeilu) or line 2 (dongsishitiao) and walk down Gong Ti Beilu. The Bookworm is not accessible for people with mobility issues, it is up a very steep flight of stairs with no elevator access. There are also internal stairs. Brightly lit during the day, poorly lit in the evening. Confusing double door for entry which is difficult to get the hang of.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

white nights / 白夜西餐 [dongzhimen, beijing]

My first ever visit to a Russian restaurant!

It surprises me how many people think they've never had Russian food, or don't know what Russian food entails. A number of my friends (not my housemate, whose family is Russian and was the one to suggest the restaurant) paged through the menu, unexpectedly discovering they actually knew many Russian dishes, such as stroganov, or Chicken Kiev.

Russian food is pretty cream and meat heavy, so I went for two things that V was pretty sure I could eat: pierogi, and vareniki, both filled with potato, and when I asked the waitstaff, they said there was no dairy so I went for it. The vareniki were fried and looked like curry puffs, and the pierogi were steamed, and they were all delicious. An entire meal of potato and pastry and I have no regrets.

The photos didn't turn out, little white things on little white plates in a dimly lit, smoke-filled restaurant, so here instead have a photo of our refreshments for the evening:

strawberry juice and vodka

a bottle of vodka and some strawberry nectar, ordered from the menu. We were expected to drink the entire bottle, and we did, just five of us, and I desperately wish I'd brought Berocca to China with me when I woke up the next morning.

The meal was good, stodgy and filling on a very cold evening. Service was a bit average, but the prices were good (including vodka it came to about 60-70RMB each) and it's no more than a ten minute walk from my apartment. A definite revisit.

White Nights / 白夜西餐
13A Beizhong Jie
off Dongzhimennei Dajie, near the Russian Embassy
Dongcheng District

on PT: Take the subway to Dongzhimen Station, exit A, walk East along Dongzhimen Outer Street and take the second right. Stairs to get into the building, poor lighting, and the toilet is down some stairs and around a corner. Ordering and payment at the table. Menu is in English, Russian and Chinese with pictures. Waitstaff speak Mandarin.

Was it vegan rating: probably. I asked and was told what I ordered had no dairy, and I didn't get sick afterwards. I didn't ask about egg because V thought it was very unlikely.


Sunday, 11 December 2011

stir-fried noodles + marinated tofu

marinated tofu + noodles

An old standard, stir-frying some noodles with some vegetables and tofu. I've been eating a lot of this, and mostly cooking it Malaysian mee goreng style, because I get home quite late of an evening from work and it's so easy and fast to prepare, just whatever I have in the fridge. I made a special trip to the supermarket though, for five spice and firm tofu, and pan fried this (as I'm spending a year with no oven, alas). A combination of five spice, mushroom dark soy sauce, smidge of light soy and some fresh garlic, spooned over some thickly sliced tofu, which I left to marinate as I skyped to E for an hour.

Then I dirtied a lot of dishes: pot for the noodles; fry pan for the tofu; wok to bring it all together. You know the drill. I haven't marinated tofu since I left Australia and it was so good. I'm definitely going to try to do that more often.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

eight treasures rice and vegan compromises

sticky rice on a stick

Being a vegan in China can be hard, and sometimes you try your hardest and you still can't be sure. I've been having a lot of problems lately, judging myself and worrying about being judged. I went to a Greenpeace event a few weeks back, where a (white, British) vegan scolded me for going to non-vego restaurants with my non-vego friends. The first vegan I met here, on my first day, came with us all to a restaurant and then didn't eat a thing. She told me she never eats at non-vego restaurants, and I thought at first, that's a bit hardcore. But having been here five weeks now, I realise it's what she has to do to be totally confident that she's living animal-free.

The only time I'm confident that my meal has no animal products is when I'm in my house and I'm cooking for myself, and when I visit the vegan restaurant down the road (and most of the time I'm confident about the vego restaurants, too, if I ask the right questions). The term vegetarian food (素菜) here is generally understood as 'there's no meat as a main ingredient', and it sometimes means I get a bit of a mince garnish on my beans, a little pork in my eggplant. Today at lunch I asked 'does this have meat?' The chef looked at me and was like 'why?', as if it was a ridiculous question to ask. I once asked 'does this have egg?' and got the answer, 'it doesn't have egg, it's sweet!'; but I'm pretty sure it had an egg-wash. I giggled and ate it anyway, because it was a friend's grandmother and she'd gone to so much effort to get vego treats for me.

I'm making these compromises or having these questions at least a couple of days a week. I try my hardest to stay vegan, but even speaking Mandarin I can never be quite sure, and I worry about what people would think, if they knew that today I picked the egg out of my meal and kept eating rather than having to miss lunch.

This is part of the reason why reviews have dropped off. I've eaten a lot of amazing meals since I've arrived here, and my friends in Beijing, every one of them a meat eater, let me pick almost every dish when we go out for food. I've discovered some delicious local dishes, filled with unexpected combinations (cabbage + glass noodles, I don't know how to describe this wonder). I'm for the most part content with the decisions I'm making, but I feel like I cannot with confidence recommend these places to people, for fear that I'm wrong. I've made my peace with knowing I lose my vegan powers intermittently during my time here, but I don't want to put other vegos and vegans unknowingly at risk. I'm thinking about starting to review the places I go to, but adding caveats about how hard it was to be confident it was vegan and other things like that.

Anyway, this eight treasures pudding on a stick. I thought it was vegan but in hindsight I don't think it was, which pisses me off because it was delicious and in a way serves me right for being too intimidated by the Jinan accent to ask. Steamed in a bamboo stem and served on a stick and filled with fruits, what genius! Also genius: the eggs on a stick. Cracked into moulds and fried on to the stick. Obviously not vegan but interesting to look at.