I was at the DMV the other day before leaving Las Vegas for this trip and the man renewing my driver’s license struck up a conversation with me. Among the topics of discussion were travel and food. He recalled his experiences serving in the Navy when he was stationed in Korea and I talked about some of my favorite travel destinations.
After a couple of minutes of generic travel talk, he turned to me and said, “Please tell me that you eat the local foods.” Apparently so many of the men he served with never tried the local food when they were abroad. I responded and informed him that yes I do indeed love to sample local dishes. We then both agreed how eating a country’s cuisine is an essential part of the local experience.
As the conversation went on, we discussed how it is impossible to recreate the culinary experience of a foreign country at home. For example, we have a wonderful Chinese community in Las Vegas with some fantastic authentic Chinese restaurants. I have tried the dumplings at many of them and they just never seem to taste as good as the ones in China.
Perhaps it is a fallacy in my mind, but my favorite dumplings are located inside of the Wangfujing Gourmet Street food court in Beijing. Back in 2008 when we spent several weeks in Beijing both before and during the Olympics, we visited here often and usually tried something new everyday alongside our trusted dumplings. Jasmine and I just couldn’t get enough.
While I am sure that someone else probably makes better dumplings, it doesn’t matter to me. In my mind, these are the holy grail of dumplings. For years now, any time someone mentions dumplings, I talk about Beijing. For me, dumplings and this small food court stall go hand in hand. So where do you think I went when I landed in Beijing last night?
After getting off of the plane around 6pm, I cleared immigration and took the subway to my hotel, the Crowne Plaza Wangfujing. (I will have a review of the hotel at a later time.) I quickly checked in, dropped my bag in the room and headed outside to make the ten minute walk towards my beloved dumplings. Would they still be there? After all it has been six years.
The Wangfujing Gourmet Street food court is located two stories below ground in the bottom of a department store on the famous Wangfujing pedestrian mall not far from the Forbidden City. It didn’t take me long to find the stairs which led to my subterranean mecca.
Before long I was descending down the stairs and then I saw them. They were in the exact same spot as I had left them in 2008. Not much has changed in this small food court over the last six years. This is in contrast to the massive changes that have gone on above ground. Wow has the city changed!
Just like six years ago, when I walked up to order, no one spoke English so it took a minute to convey what I wanted. Just like six years ago the cost for a plate of 20 dumplings was 20 yuan. Just like six years ago it took about five minutes for them to roll up each dumpling fresh and boil them. Just like six years ago they were out of this world delicious. Heaven on earth.
Travel is not just about finding new experiences and tasting new things, but it is also about reliving and revisiting your favorites. For me, eating those dumplings was worth scheduling the stopover in Beijing. Sure I will see a couple of sites before I head back to the airport tonight, but had I only been able to eat the dumplings, then this visit would still be a success.
What travel foods are your favorites? Please let me know in the comments section below.