Friday, 22 June 2007

嘉禾园素食 -- my favourite restaurant in BJ

I decided it was time to introduce my favourite restaurant in Beijing. 嘉禾园素食 (Jia he yuan su shi) or the "excellent grain garden vegetarian restaurant" (my translation, not sure if they have an English name) is located near Jishuitan metro station along the 2nd ring road north. But the place is quite hidden, in fact the first time I went there we had to call the place three times just to find it! It's hidden in a courtyard of houses, the sign at the gate of the courtyard says 北京地铁 (Beijing metro), which doesn't help matters. Even inside the right area it's easy to walk past the place. Basically from Jishuitan station you take exit A and walk west past the petrol station, and the first courtyard to the right after a short bit of green following the petrol station should have that sign. Within the area the restaurant will soon be on your right hand side.

Now assuming you find it, what you'll find inside is a quiet and comfortable environment and friendly staff. Perhaps due to being hard to find, this place is never crowded. The owners are Buddhists and that explains the decor as well as the music playing on the background. But of course it's a restaurant, so the best part would have to be the food. Everything in the menu is vegetarian, but not necessarily vegan. However, the dishes themselves don't tend to contain eggs or dairy (but do verify!). Among my friends this place is commonly known as "the potato fish restaurant". This is because the very first time I went there, I ordered a dish that was one of these mock fish things in sweet and sour sauce. To my surprise, this "fish" that looked realistic enough tasted like potatoes! For the simple reason that that's what it is. There's also pineapple at the bottom. It's pretty good, do have a try.

While the potato fish is a distinguishing feature, it's not my favourite dish in this great place. That would be their roasted mushrooms in a spicy sauce. I discovered by accident that if you have the mushrooms together with their shredded pancake, it's not too spicy at all, but still enough to wake up the taste buds. It's beautifully set too. A total delight.

Also noteworthy is their sweet taro, of which I have no photos at the moment, and this sweet potato dish featured on the left. A lot of other foods are tasty also, do go crazy experimenting! The only thing I don't like is the fake pork meat which they make too realistically, even adding in a layer of fake fat! What's the point? Nobody wants the fat anyway.

To complete a meal there's a complimentary fruit plate as is rather common in restaurants in China, well, the decent ones. What's more, this place also has vegetarian books on offer, many for free, and sometimes Buddhist music also.

Here's the address so you can find them, first in Chinese:
Or if you don't read Chinese but want to say it to a taxi driver:
Deshengmen Xidajie jia 5 hao.
Tel: 010 - 62261846

Monday, 18 June 2007


Back to civilization! And straight to shower... That was the feeling when hitting Singapore. Singapore seems to be just what it's famed to be: modern, clean and efficient. The parallel to it being wet didn't apply during my visit at least, it hardly rained at all. Maybe I'm just lucky. Aside from Hong Kong this seemed to be the only place in Asia where cars actually stop when someone is stepping to a zebra crossing.

Singapore has a large number of vegetarian restaurants and it seemed you're never too far from one. The quality of them didn't make any great impressions, however, they all seemed fine, but nothing to write home about in all honesty. But their sheer number makes it seem it's easy to be vegetarian or vegan in Singapore. What was more impressive were the gorgeous tropical fruits squeezed into great fruit juices all over the place! Yes, the fruits and even the juices existed in Indonesia also, but not here in the north. It's that, the beaches, the rainforest (something I didn't really expect in a concrete jungle!), the tropical scenes, all services being easily available in a modern city with efficient public transport, nice people, and places to dance that tell me that this could indeed be my next destination. I've never experienced an eternal summer before, or even a non-white Christmas! I don't have much time to write this in all detail now so I'll just post a picture collection instead.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Indonesia, days 8-10: The beach! And leaving...

Anyone who knows me at all knows that when the weather gets hot, there's one thing I long for: to get in the water! Throughout the time in Indonesia I was asking for places to swim, but apparently there aren't decent ones except for Bali which was far away. There was one beach that I had been told to be possibly the most gorgeous one there is, and a place where no foreigner had set foot before. But there were also supposed to be huge tidal waves and it may be too dangerous to swim. Well, by day 8 it was time to find out for myself. We dropped into a temple in Yogyakarta first and from there found a car and driver and two ladies who came along. To this day I remain unclear as to why they came along as they didn't even come to the beach, but... not my problem. On the way we dropped by a fruit market and bought three big boxes of oranges and plenty of water bottles to give away at the village. Or well, to reduce the price, I hid away and the locals did the shopping. It took 2-3 hours to get to the village on small mountain roads with beautiful scenery, passing rice fields and fruit trees all the way.

There are no phones in the village and mobile phone networks don't cover it either, so there was no way to check if the local kids would be around then. It also happened to be a day for weddings, we passed several wedding receptions on the way, and as the first houses in the village were empty it seemed as though everyone might be at one of those. However, eventually we found a kid and he helped gather around the rest of them, and some parents too, to the temple. At the temple we served fruits and nuts and crisps to everybody and sat around and sang songs... I was put to sing a couple of Indonesian songs and the kids sang English songs to me. Some of them were excellent singers! Actually their artistic talent wasn't limited to singing put some had made gorgeous oil paintings also. I was given one as a gift, a beautiful scenery and a waterfall, complete with a cute little duck.

After the singing session, it was time to hit the beach! It's a bit away from the village, we gathered up as many kids as could fit in the car and drove a tiny little road, the rocks sounding like doing dangerous damage to the bottom of the car. Eventually we hit a point where you couldn't drive any further and hiked for the last half an hour through some gorgeous scenes... although the best were only seen when we finally saw the sea!

The beach was gorgeous, but the tidal waves really were huge and it was rocky, so it soon became clear that to swim there that day would be practically a suicide. We walked in the water and I got myself completely wet, so it felt a little better. The kids collected sea shells. I hear during high tide this beach would be absolutely perfect as then the water reaches the sand, making it easier to swim without such fear of hitting the rocks. Either way, it was a gorgeous location, and it was quite special to be the first foreigner out there.

The way back wasn't clear and we had a bunch of kids along so it was time to head back before it got dark. The kids were dropped back into the village and then we headed back to Yogyakarta and to the great vegetarian restaurant Milas, described in more detail for the previous day. The food was as good as ever.

All good things must come to an end, and so it went also for the Indonesia trip. Day 9 was just a day for preparing to leave: took a bus back to Semarang, bought a plane ticket to Jakarta, waited for my friend to negotiate with her aunt about how to do this and eventually doing it a little differently anyway... We took the car the aunt insisted on back to Ampel but stayed there overnight rather than returning immediately to Semarang. This time was needed to pack and get the pictures on a CD and so on. Then it was an early morning drive to Semarang, flight over to Jakarta (where the damn bastards stole my sunscreen as it was in the hand package and that's not allowed!) and then back over to the northern hemisphere again... not very far though, just to Singapore. The pics below are still in Yogyakarta, and another vegetarian restaurant there, Lusidus. We persuaded the staff there to mark vegan dishes in their menu with my green marker, so if you go there and see the markings, you know who to blame. :-)