Kate in China - Fake Cafes and Fruit Iceblocks


Kate Woods is currently in China on an artist residency at 3Shadows Photographic Art Center. When not working on her own art she is the Assistant Registrar / Preparator at the City  Gallery Wellington.

She will be blogging between residing.

Alongside my research at the 3Shadows photography library I have been doing some food ‘research’ on the side. I have always been fascinated by new gourmet delights and Beijing is no exception.

There is such a diverse array of choice here but so far my favourite is Sichuan cuisine which is known for its many flavours. The dishes I have enjoyed most use Sichuan pepper. This peppercorn is unusual in its spicy flavour (although not overwhelmingly hot) incorporating many tastes (like wood and citrus) accompanied by a numbing/tingling sensation in your mouth and lips. In Mandarin this numbing effect is called “Ma”.  At one Sichuan restaurant I partook of an incredible feast of dried duck, herb encrusted pork ribs and Sichuan pepper chicken.

The heat can sometimes be overwhelming in summer so I am getting to know the different types of ice blocks here. The fruit flavoured iceblocks are the best. I’m still figuring out what fruit they are meant to be. One (perhaps lychee?) had a pink solid outer shell of cool iceblock with soft thick pulpy fruit on the inside. Another treat was finding a packet of brightly coloured mini blocks on sticks with all sorts of fruit flavours – great if you can’t decide what flavour you want.

A solid favourite for me has been the simple handmade and filled flatbreads found in street vendor’s stalls. Especially when fresh herbs and chilli are used.

Locally I had the most delicious meal at the 3Shadow’s café. It was sticky chicken and mushroom rice steamed in a banana leaf. Another local café was a funny experience, which shows the clues I miss out on not knowing the language well.  Feeling thirsty after a day of exploring local art galleries I wandered into Ouben Coffee Ltd. They had lots of empty tables and looked relatively new.

I ordered a passionfruit ice drink from the board over the front desk. It appeared to be something that no one there had made before and more and more staff came out from the back to assist. It has to be one of the most delicious drinks I have ever had. It was icey, pulpy and passion-fruity - with the seeds included. Perfect for a hot day.

 It wasn’t until I was leaving that I suddenly realised the café wasn’t real. It also sold coffee machines and was set up like a café to show people how to use their supplies (which must have included ice drink makers). I later double-checked with a local and yes – no ‘café’ existed there. I tried not to laugh as I realised the awkward situation of the staff being unable to explain to me that they weren’t a café. Which led me to think that they were very nice pretending and I was pretty glad they had as the drink was amazing!