Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Beijinger Restaurant Awards

This was originally written for Tao's blog over here at Beijing Cream.  I'm reposting it in its entirety with minor edits because, hey, Tao's not paying me enough (0 RMB/word) not to.  The story is self-explanatory.  Enjoy!

The Beijinger’s 10th Annual Reader Restaurant Awards: Basically Unnoteworthy, But Thanks For The Free Beer!

One thing I learned about getting invited to a the Beijinger awards ceremony is you first have to leave Beijing. During my four-year tenure here, I never received an invite. Just three months after I made the move to Hangzhou, I was chosen to be an official nominator. Sure, why not.

Months later, as an Official Nominator for the Beijinger’s 10th Annual Reader Restaurant Awards, I got an invitation to the ceremony. Like, 18 hours before it started. Thanks for the heads up! It just so happened I was back in town for the first time in six months, so in your face, the Beijinger’s 10th Annual Reader Restaurant Awards!

Esther and I roll up to the front desk to register, and I draw a blank when they ask me, “Which restaurant?” I’m like, “All of them?” And then my brain turns back on for maybe the first time since the diaper changes and midnight feedings began, and I say the three magic words (plus one, in my mindhole) that open the doors wide open:

“I’m a NOMINATOR, Bitches.”

We’re in, underdressed and, really, with no good reason to be there. But that’s mostly the fun. We have almost nothing invested and intend to milk that extensively.

Esther is hungry, and I’m thirsty. Within minutes she has sampled all four finger foods. And the award for Best Finger Food at the Beijinger 2013 10th Annual Reader Restaurant Awards goes to:
  • The Sausage/Pastry Thingies
Awards for Outstanding Finger Food go to:
  • The Meaty Croissants
  • Cream Puffs
Mini-quiche does not make the list. While Esther eats, I beeline for the alcohol. First stop, Grand Marinier Balls. These are a staple at every awards ceremony, a classic mixture of pineapple juice, soda water, and Grand Marinier. They are good, but I’m more interested in the rack of fine draft beers. I struggle a little between Leffe and Chimay, but in the end, I choose wisely. Goblet of Chimay in hand, we continue touring.

Together we make friends with the fine people from Glacio, and enjoy scoop after scoop of the finest ice cream I’ve had in a while. There was a second ice cream company next to it, but it was unmemorable. We chased it down with a few espressos.

The actual awards were background noise for all the free stuff, obviously. I gain nothing from anyone winning, except maybe bragging rights for my favorite restaurants. But when Element Fresh nabs “Best Breakfast” and Chef Too doesn’t even get runner-up, let alone the Best Breakfast Ever award, I cease to care about the results.

In conclusion, yes, it was worth the price of admission and I will gladly enjoy more free stuff in the future. Thanks, the Beijinger!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Art of Ganbei

Chinese New Year passed as it normally does: in a cloud of smoke (both cigarette and firework) and reeking of baijiu.  My little family survived it in Xiaoshan with my in-laws.  It was cold, but much more bearable than last year since they got the air-con fixed.  We spent about 10 days hanging out with her family.
Jordan with his only living great-grandparent
CNY is celebrated for a full week straight, with different families hosting lunches and dinners.  There is so much food at each meal, it seems the 10 of us per table barely make a dent in it.  Dishes are stacked on top of each other when theres no more room.

Strange foods are presented, liquor is poured, and cigarettes are smoked by the case.  The award for Strangest Vegetable Dish goes to the mini cucumbers, and the award for Strangest Meat Dish goes to the "Plate o' Rabbit Skulls".

For those of you unfamiliar with CNY's many traditions, here's a walkthrough of a few.

First is smoking.  Whenever a man is going to light a cigarette, he passes one out to every guy sitting at the table first.  Sometimes one dude will have collected five or six before he's ready to smoke his first one.  And when he does smoke that first one, he'll pass one out to everyone from his own pack first.  If you think the pollution is bad in Beijing, you probably shouldn't be anywhere near a Chinese dinner table during CNY.

Hong bao's, or red envelopes, are another common tradition, and one that i will gladly endorse.  The family hosting the dinner will give a hong bao containing a few hundred RMB to all the children present.  Jordan must have collected 20 over the week.  Or course, that's all money that her parents have paid out over the years while giving hong bao's to other kids, but now is Esther's turn to receive them.

Last, and probably most important, is drinking.  Every man drinks.  You're drunk at lunch, you're drunk at dinner, and you're sometimes just barely sobering up between the two.  It's exhausting.  The drink of choice is obviously baijiu, but i usually just drink red wine, beer, or the local yellow wine.  Yellow wine, or huangjiu, is 15-17% alcohol, where regular red wine is around 12%.  Baijiu is 43%.

Here are a list of some drinking rules i've managed to decipher over this past CNY.
  1. If you cheers one person, you should say how much you'll drink. The options are usually suoyi (drink whatever you want) or ganbei (dry the glass).
  2. If you cheers the whole table, you should finish your glass, everyone else can drink what they want. 
  3. If you're hosting a dinner, you must cheers everyone at least once. 
  4. You can request that the cheers'er(?) switch glasses with you, if they are drinking weaker alcohol.  This happened to me once when i was drinking red wine and our family was hosting the dinner.  Esther's older cousin switched with me, which became the only time all CNY i actually drank baijiu.
  5. Touching your glass below the other other person's glass is a sign of respect, and is encouraged especially if they are much older. 
  6. Everyone should wait for the toaster to finish drinking, so you know what you should drink. 
  7. You will rarely drink until you are toasted, or you toast somebody.  Few normal people can afford to drink casually when there is ganbeiing(?) going on. 
  8. Finally, if someone toasts you and says ganbei, you're expected to finish your glass. This usually ends badly.  I've seen many an inexperienced drinker get floored because of this tactic.
It's also amusing to watch them pour out the much-feared liquor.  For a people that appear to love drinking baijiu, they sure have a funny way of showing it.  Maybe they just fully respect it's potency.  Check out the body language when esther's cousin tries to refill their glasses.

Also, i just like this picture of esther's dad and her uncles hands.  It's, like, all artistic and crap.