By Jim Ferri
Food always tastes better when you get it at the source. Fish ‘n Chips in London, steak in Buenos Aires, crepes in Paris.
The same is true for Chinese food. It certainly tastes better in Beijing than at our local Peking Palace All-You-Can-Eat Buffet – Open Everyday From 11AM.
Wanting to see more sights in China and sample food outside of the capital, my wife Marjorie and I left Beijing one day and flew south to the city of Lijiang to see the home of the Naxi people, one of the last matriarchal societies in existence. In the Naxi society the women go out to do the work in the fields, or elsewhere, and the men stay home with the children and keep the house. It was almost like stepping into another world, made even more so since the Naxi wear their national costumes all the time, not just for tourists.
But as interesting as we found the Naxi and Lijiang, a beautiful old city, what really caught our attention was the food.
Through our US travel agent we had hired Jake, a local guide who along with a driver showed us around the countryside for a few days. From our home-base hotel in Lijiang we drove about for entire days, stopping at several different restaurants along the way. Interestingly, a couple of them were actually parts of large houses, still resided in by the owners. I’m not adventurous with food but it was a great opportunity to sample Chinese “home cooking” at its source.
At one of them – we called it “the place with the chili peppers” for the strings of red peppers hung outside its door – along with Jake and our driver we dined on local dishes in a room off a courtyard. At another, the Green Snow Restaurant outside Lijiang (Jake said the local people called it No. 8 Restaurant, for some reason) we lunched in a small room away from the main house.
Bundled up next to a small coal-filled brazier to ward off the chill at No. 8, we had a fantastic meal of beef, chicken and fresh vegetables, serenaded by recordings of “Only You” and other old hits by The Platters. There’s nothing like sweet-and-sour chicken served with a side dish of memory lane.
But the meal that still stands out in my mind had nothing to do with the food. It happened one night in Lijiang when we chose to go to the restaurant Michi, not so much because Jake told us “it was really popular with foreign tourists,” but because, he added, “ it has the best pizza in China.”
Chinese pizza? Who could resist the temptation to take a peek into this clandestine corner of Chinese cookery? Off we went.
The place was dimly lit and nondescript with, from what I could tell, mostly Europeans and Israelis at its few tables. We ordered three beers, a local chicken dish and a pizza, and made small talk with Jake until the food arrived.
The pizza turned out to be all cheese, with not a speck of tomato anywhere. The cheese had a unique sweetness, making it unlike any pizza we had ever had before.
As I turned to Jake to comment on its unique flavor, I immediately saw a clash of cultures.
There Jake sat, quietly eating his slice with chopsticks.
If you go:
China National Tourist Office (New York)
370 Lexington Avenue, Suite 912
New York, NY 10017
Tel: (888) 760-8218
China National Tourist Office (Los Angeles)
550 North Brand Boulevard, Suite 910
Glendale, CA 91203
Tel: (800) 670-2228