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off the beaten track ■ hidden china and tibet

off the beaten track ■ hidden china and tibet

■ Samye Monastery, Tibet

ow hungry are you?” my intermy attempts to share some, eventually admitting it preter and friend, Lillian, asked contained a special aphrodisiac ingredient meant only as the minibus headed back for men – dog’s testicles! Liquid Viagra, in other words. towards the city of Guilin, in On a different trip, I misheard a menu translation at a China’s south-western Guangxi traditional restaurant in Kunming, Yunnan province, and province. ordered what I thought were honeyed beans…only to be It was post-SARS and I was in China for three served a plate of fried honey bees! months as presenter for a TV series being filmed by an All of which demonstrates that, for the adventurous all-Chinese crew for national TV channel CCTV-9. We prepared to escape the well-trodden “Golden Triangle” had spent a gruelling day up in the mountain rice itineraries – Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an – when visiting terraces of Longsheng, a couple of hours’ drive away, China and explore off the beaten track, the experience is and I was starving. Without thinking, I replied: “I could a world away from what we are used to. eat a horse.” regional cuisines They nodded understandingly…and that evening, we The Chinese love their food. They live to eat rather than were tucking into horse flesh at one of the city’s horseeat to live, and the phrase “Chi fan le ma?” – meaning meat restaurants. Be careful what you wish for in China “Have you eaten?” – is used as a form of greeting. – they literally take you at your word. China has many different regional cuisines. Such food may not appeal to animalSome, like in Sichuan, are very spicy. loving, squeamish Westerners like me, but In the north, Mongolian hotpot in many parts of China it is the norm. helps fortify against the cold Throughout that and later trips around winters. China, I was offered (and it was rude not to The people of Cantonese accept) various other “exotic” dishes. capital Guangzhou, near Camel hump, chicken’s feet, sparrows, Hong Kong, are renowned snakes, fried scorpions and silk worms on for their unusual tastes, as a stick – even a decapitated chicken’s head its Quingping Market underwhich, as guest of honour at an official lines. Starfish, dried ants, reception hosted by the local Communist bottled deer fawns – you will Party chief, I had to tackle while they see all that and more. looked on. After biting some skin off its Even in Beijing, you can find face and quickly swallowing it without bizarre foods. At Wangfujing Street’s chewing, I smiled politely and pushed the night market, a short stroll from the plate away, saying: “Wo chi bao la,” or I Forbidden City, you can try the fried scoram full. At which point the cameraman pions and silkworms. Beware the scorpions’ grabbed the bird by its cockscomb and stingers, though. They hurt if you prick your dug out its eyes, slurping them down. They lip on them, as happened to me. Thankfully, are a prized delicacy, apparently. they are not venomous! Another time, I and the male film crew Most visitors to Beijing only see the most members were served a special whisky while ■ Ethnic minority girl, Yangshuo famous sights, which also include the the women were given tea. Lillian refused

“H

A taste of

For many visitors, a trip to China is a whistlestop tour of its famous highlights. But, as Peter Ellegard explains, if you can stomach some of the exotic delicacies, there are many wonders to savour around the country ■ Karst scenery, Yangshuo, Guangxi province

36 tlm ■ the travel & leisure magazine

www.tlm-magazine.co.uk

Spring 2011

Spring 2011

All photos: Peter Ellegard

China

tlm ■ the travel & leisure magazine www.tlm-magazine.co.uk

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off the beaten track - hidden China and Tibet