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07 May 2008

Jetsetting Foodistas | Beijing: Hiking in Chestnut Country

HannahHannah's Beijing Adventure
Jetsetting Foodistas: A Travelogue by Hannah
Part 1 of 3

For someone visiting Beijing for just a short while, there are hardly any opportunities to go outside the city to experience the countryside, apart from obvious places like the Summer Palace and Mu Tian Yu Great Wall. So when a friend I was staying with asked me if I would like to go hiking, I more than enthusiastically said yes.

Beijing Hikers was created out of a common passion for the outdoors. Run by a woman named Hui Jie, the sister of one of the original founders of Beijing Hikers, they offer hikes twice a week and in total have almost 50 different hiking trails under their belt. This continues to attract locals, expats, and in my case the occasional tourist. A few times a year, Hui Jie organizes an overnight hike, which is what we signed up for.

Our hike for that afternoon was called the Spring Valley Loop, which starts in the village of San Cha, and stretches over 12 kilometers of Beijing countryside. During one part of the hike, one will be able to come across the Qin Dynasy Great Wall, which was built using mud and stones over 2000 years ago. Another part of the hike brings you to a mountaintop where you will be able to stand at the intersection of three districts Changping, Yangqing, and Huairou.

Hannah TofuAfter our 3.5 hour hike, we were welcomed at a local guest house, where a charming little courtyard leads to several private rooms. We were invited to help plant an old woman's newly acquired chestnut seedlings, the main source of income of the town. We were then hurried back to experience real Chinese homestyle cooking.

While the food was definitely authentic, it was beyond what constitutes as usual fare in the countryside. We began with several cold dishes, Tofu with Soy Sauce and Spring Onions, Wood Ear Mushroom Salad, and Jellied Pork.

Hannah SaladThe tofu was just freshly made, and very refreshing. The story that came from the kitchen is every day a man from town would come to San Cha on his bicycle, carrying a case of freshly made tofu. When the village people hear that he has come by the bell on his bicycle, they come out holding items for barter, in this case our hosts exchange their unroasted chestnuts for fresh tofu. The same goes for various items such as meat and other vegetables.The mushroom salad surprised me, not only because there we were sitting in 10 degree weather eating cold food, but because of the cook's use of wasabi which I didn't think even existed in these parts. The coriander and cucumber give the dish flavor and crunch. The savory gelatin was Hannah Porkquite good (think cold gelatinous bulalo soup), and it would be good to note that jellied pork does not use gelatin or agar, but gets that way from the collagen that is extracted from slow cooking collagen rich parts of the pig (such as bones, ligaments, and tendons). I definitely didn't want to try this at first, but then decided that I would have to take one for the MF team this time, I wasn't disappointed!

Among some of the other dishes we had was the Chinese Homestyle Pork Stew with Potatoes, Sauteed Pork with Potato and Celery, Spring Onion Cake.

While we were out planting the chestnut trees, the little old lady we planted the trees for took the time to stand by a large and handsome looking tree and proudly proclaimed that the chestnuts we were to eat later came "from this tree".
Hannah CPork
So when the small unassuming dish had the chance to grace our table, the story and the images that preceded it made the meal all the more special. The Chestnut with Pork, was quite sweet even with the use of soy sauce, but i enjoyed eating the chestnuts very much, they were sweet and firm to the bite.

Next what came were the Battered Pepper Tree leaves. Straight out of a wok full of oil, these were very crunchy and had the faint taste of pepper. This was one of the more popular dishes of the night.
Hannah PTree
The pièce de résistance of the meal definitely had to be the Leek and Cabbage Dumplings, of which most was eagerly devoured. Dipped in black vinegar, the dumplings, with their piping hot egg and vegetable filling, were simple and homey. When most dumplings we have come to know are filled with all sorts of things, this dumpling is a reminder of simpler times.

If you were to ask me how I felt after this meal, I wouldn't be able to tell you. Or even how much I ate, since the order given to the kitchen was not to allow the plates to be emptied. So, Hannah Jiao Ziwhen everyone was sitting around exclaiming how full they were, we glanced in amazement at the still full plates of food, making us think twice of whether we actually consumed anything. By the time we had finished eating, it was getting unbearably cold so our hosts exchanged some very fast Mandarin with the kitchen and they brought out what looked like some kind of broth.

Just as we were about to say we couldn't possibly eat anything else, our host explained to us that this was Hot Coke with Ginger, which is the chinese equivalent of hot cocoa. This is made by boiling coke with ginger and lemon, which removes the carbonation and creates Hannah Cokesomewhat of an all purpose cure. It tastes exactly as the name suggests, like flat coke with ginger and lemon, but it hits the spot and is a good finish to our more than complete meal.

After dinner what followed was a friendly game of Beijing Monopoly, which in the end started sounding like Battleship played among disgruntled army generals. And after a midnight snack of Nissin Seafood Cup Noodles, we went to sleep to prepare of the day ahead.

While we did not join the group for the hike on the following day, we did join everyone for a hearty breakfast. Complete with Whole Wheat Baguettes, Fried Peanuts, Sauteed Bamboo Shoots, Boiled Organic Eggs (you can tell they're good when they don't all look the same), White Bean Salad, and Millet Porridge.

Hannah BreakfastWe went back to the city a few pounds heavier than we arrived, albeit very happy with the outcome of the weekend. I guess my only regret is that I have yet to find something like this in the Philippines. But in a way, it will make me look forward to the next time I will have the chance to join in on another memorable hike.

To follow on this Jetsetting Foodistas series: The sushi that will "knock you out", a cozy little pizza nest, and the best italian takeout.

Reviewed by Hannah.
Photography by Hannah, Jisoo, and Mr. Lee.

Special Thanks to Hui Jie of Beijing Hikers.


  1. Hey Hannah! glorious article/review of the stuff that you ate; the descriptions are nice and vivid enough to give a very good impression to how good the food was, and they sound pretty odd/interesting/must be tried :P

  2. wow hannah! i can't believe they're still using barter.. cool naman! i mean, i didn't expect it to still be like that there. Well you sure had a lot of fun there! I wish I could try the same experience...and yes, I wish there's something like that here in the Philippines! That would be fun and worth going to! :)

  3. Wow Hannah! Your article just makes me go hungry! hahaha The images of the dishes is enough to show how delicious it is probably and hopefully, I can come back to Beijing and try all of those!

  4. wow mukhang masarap!

  5. Reading something well written always leaves me in awe. I like the way you more than vividly describe things. It almost feels like I'm actually in Beijing!!! Good Job Hannah! :D

  6. My grandma used to make us drink hot coke with lemons, too. I don't think she meant it as soup, though. It tasted horrible. Eventually we were saved when our mom told her that the coke wasn't supposed to be hot. Haha

    Anyway. Good job on your review! Very colorful, just the way we like it. :)

  7. Aww Hannah!

    Btw. You can boil coke? :o
    That's definitely for the blogs!

  8. Wow! Now I wish I can go to Beijing to try it out. I like hiking and I like food... and boy, did you eat a lot. Nice entry! :)

  9. Looks good. Too bad I've associated Beijing food with diarrhea :-(

  10. I expected Philos to be the one associating foods with diarrhea >:)

  11. jakedharrison@gmail.comMay 8, 2008 at 2:47 PM

    Interesting to hear from another foodista! The jellied pork makes me a little worried, hehe. The format is different from your usual, I noticed. Are you changing it? I prefer the previous format, but nothing wrong with this one. Still a good entry. :)

    Looks like you enjoyed your trip, Ms. Hannah :) Looking forward to the next parts of your series.

    Hope everyone is doing well! Looking forward to your future posts, foodistas!


  12. EXCELLENT work.

    Love the photography.

  13. Good article, bad decision on resizing the photos. It bogs down loading time, and that can be really annoying. I hope you guys reconsider not changing the format. Your previous one was already good. Why change what's not broken?

    Sorry for sounding mean. Just giving my two cents, you don't have to listen. Good luck with your future entries, guys.

  14. to jakedharrison
    anonymous (13th commenter)

    Thank you for your comments. I never knew that picture size would be a problem. No, we are not changing our format for the restaurant reviews, only for my Jetsetting series. I guess it's my bad then, hehe, because I enjoy slightly bigger pictures. But thanks for your input!

  15. wow naman hannah ... gs2 ko ma-try!!! SARAP!

  16. that's a lot of dumplings!

    i think the spicyness of the wasabi is what makes it a good meal in cold weather, even if it's served cold. kind of like kimchi?

  17. Hi Hannah. A really interesting read. I wish your food pics were bigger though. Like they say, you first eat with your eyes...

  18. Hi Foodistas. Could you email me at I have a proposal. Thanks.

  19. @raein: Err... why would you think that?

  20. Your gindara experience -- I was kidding.

  21. Gindara generally has that affect on people. It's a very rich, oily fish.

  22. I wonder how they thought of that Hot Coke thing. Never heard of it. I've tried the jellied pork though and I liked it. It's kind of like balut. Sounds heinous but is actually quite nice.

    Found this through Joey's flickr, btw. Great blog, guys!

  23. Thinking of jellied pork actually makes me feel queasy -- maybe it's an acquired taste?


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