Wednesday, October 2, 2013

China recap: My non-vegetarian night in Beijing

In getting ready for our trip to China, we watched Anthony Bourdain.

I went vegetarian in May 2001, but I ate meat sporadically that year (maybe one occasion per month) until my final voluntary consumption of meat in the US -- a corny dog at the Texas State Fair in October 2001.  What better way to stop eating meat than to go out with a bite of all different kinds of crappy meat rolled into one corndog? 

During the 6 months of being 99% vegetarian, I went to Asia with one of my best friends for his bar trip (lawyers usually take the bar exam in late July but don't start working at a firm until mid-September (after the summer clerks are gone), so most everyone takes a big trip abroad for a month or so). 

A year earlier, he'd met me in Nairobi for my bar trip and we'd covered Kenya and part of Tanzania together.  It was always strictly platonic, but man, I can think of no one that is a better travel buddy for me.  In terms of traveling companions, my husband is probably in second place (of course he'd win if you added in hugs, kisses, and sex), but generally my husband likes to do more sitting in cafes and people watching particularly in Europe, whereas my law school buddy and I, each left to our own devices, would likely design the exact same jam-packed itinerary for some obscure city anywhere in the world. 

Anyway, long story not short, Steve and I went to Asia together in August and part of September 2001 (we actually flew home on September 9, 2001, lucky break there!).  We spent time in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.  I tried to eat vegetarian almost all of the time, but because I have a seafood allergy, there were times when eating meat seemed safer because it was a known quantity. 

I reasoned that eating meat outside of the Americas was sometimes more of a cultural experience, and I don't think factory farms are as common outside the US (though of course I have absolutely no idea if this is true, particularly in China).  But the more years that passed without meat in my diet, the more I thought about why I am a vegetarian (loving animals, hating killing), and the more I worried about ill-effects of eating meat on my digestion, the more I've just become a vegetarian everywhere in the world. 

My husband's family in Italy doesn't seem to understand my choice, so that is now my one exception -- I try not to eat meat, but occasionally in their home, I take a bite to be polite, before attempting to move it onto my husband's plate. 

But in China, a decade and change after that first trip to Asia with Steve, I was planning on my usual traveling standard -- no meat.  I've gotten a lot more confident in my travel in general, and I trust my husband to tell me if there is meat in something.  And on this trip, I had the forethought to get written papers to show servers in restaurants to indicate 1. my food allergies, and 2. that I am a vegetarian. 

But then we saw the Anthony Bourdain episode about Peking Duck.  Then we stumbled upon the actual restaurant that he went to in the show (Li Qun).  It was all lining up, and I knew my husband wanted to try it.  Once inside, we tried to find a table to point to so we could order the same as what they had, and there was meat everywhere. 

Ducks hanging and roasting as we walked in, then carved table-side.  Skin separated off, and then the duck sliced into thin strips -- like I usually cut an avocado.  And many sides to accompany the duck came to our table as well. 

And I decided to take the plunge -- to eat Peking Duck in the traditional way (thin pancakes, brushed with hoisin sauce, and then topped with slices of duck and cucumber).

I must say, I wasn't wild about it.  Mostly because of the kind of fatty taste, but it was probably just the voices in my head screaming about my morals.  I ate my one duck pancake, and then went to just eating the various toppings. 

Our table of sides (the duck plate is on the top right):

And other photos from the night:

"Notable" other diners on the wall of fame:


  1. Interesting! I was wondering how you handled being a vegetarian in a foreign country.... especially a country with a language SO different from English!

  2. i ate duck once...i was not impressed...and i love poultry