Hunt for the best food inside the Beijing Winter Olympics bubble

BEIJING – The robot bartender is an ominous sign.

It showed up on one of the first days of the Olympic Games, just in time for happy hour, and started off impromptu a fruity drink with its long, swaying arms.

In fact, there are robots everywhere: Across the room, they stack burgers and wrap them neatly in wax paper; around the corner, they boil dumplings; the others jumped overhead, lowering their plates of food from the ceiling.

This is proof, as if more needed, that this is no ordinary Olympics, that the pandemic can somehow steal the human heart of a global sporting gathering; that one of the joys of the Olympics in ordinary times – delving into the local culture and cuisine – can be hard to come by.

Yes, other topics are more pressing: drug enhancement performance, political geography, realistic sports. But inside the high fences of the so-called bubble, where all the Olympic participants are cut off round-the-clock from the city outside, food and where to find the best are still on the tip of your tongue. everyone.

And so it became a pleasant surprise, as the Olympics progressed, that despite all the restrictions, curious athletes, officials, volunteers and journalists could still It is possible to find moments of culinary diversity, however small.

It may take a bit of effort and persistence, but good food finds a way.

A conversation about Olympic dining, like all things here, can start and end with the inevitable. Eileen GuChinese-American freestyle skier, in many ways the face of this Olympics.

Gu, who was born and raised in the United States but competes for China, announced his participation in the Beijing Olympics by posting a picture of dumplings – “All done,” she wrote — which has garnered thousands of likes on Weibo, China’s social media app.

After winning her first medal, she said she would celebrate with Ghirardelli chocolates, an obvious nod to San Francisco, her hometown. And while competing on the ramp, she was photographed eating jiucai hezi, a pocket Chinese baguette and a roast pork bun, sending social media into a frenzy each time.

It was charming, perhaps reminiscent of an American politician chopping down a corn dog at a state fair. Everyone ate it.

Similarly, Malta skier Jenise Spiteri has become a fan favourite, despite finishing 21st in the women’s snowboarding competition, after being filmed munching on a red bean baguette she pulled from the breakfast buffet. and in her coat pocket.

“The bread-eating skier embodies the Olympic spirit,” read a title in the state-run Shanghai Daily.

Food from the athletes’ village and the venue’s canteen tend not to inspire scathing reviews, no matter when or where the Olympics are taking place. In Beijing, the dishes prepared by robots are cooked with precision – broccoli is always crispy, wonton skins are always plump – but barely appealing. (Some critics were harsher: Korean athletes chose to eat canned meals provided by their organizers, according to a report by Yonhap News.)

In the past Olympics, one could simply go into the surrounding city to buy a throat cleanser. Even at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, visitors under somewhat looser pandemic protocols enjoyed semi-religious privileges into the popular part of the city, and surprisingly delicious, convenience store.

So it’s frustrating to be behind these fences in Beijing, one of the world’s great dining cities. The game plan for the intrepid diners became very clear. Sampling of famous Chinese dishes, like their natural state, is possible only in a few hotels within the Olympic walls.

This became a hot topic of the Olympics. People shared notes and gossip. They spread rumors about regional dishes prepared by skilled chefs, about classic cocktails made by men. A Google document invites community-sourced reviews, including photos and menus, to be delivered to journalists’ inboxes.

A satisfying meal materializes from a tip to a colleague: There’s a potential delicacy from China’s northwest provinces to be served at a place called Tarim Petroleum Hotel.

A group quickly assembled and ventured aboard an Olympic bus, finding a tattered dining room with signs reminding visitors of a recent government initiative to reduce food waste: “We I’m serious about Clean Plates Campaign,” read one.

That won’t be a problem. We gathered around a small table and cleared a series of plates: lamb chops stuffed in dill and pinned to a stainless steel tower like Christmas tree decorations; translucent flakes of fish heads plucked from a pile of minced peppers; Splendid, sparkling eggplant, carved into addictive little coffee beans.

It turns out that pleasure can be achieved with an open mind, an enterprising spirit, and tempered expectations.

On Valentine’s Day, for example, British cyclist Ellia Smeding joked about planning a romantic dinner with her boyfriend, Cornelius Kersten, who also skates for the national team. .

“We could go on a date with KFC or something,” she said, referring to one of the few fast food outlets in the bubble.

And in the mountains of Zhangjiakou, where several ski events take place, rumors spread of a Chinese restaurant located on the 5th floor of a resort. Before long, hungry enough athletes like Shaun White were eating there and a wall of fame formed near the door, with notes from happy customers.

“The Chinese food is so good,” reads a sentence from Japan’s snowboarder Ayumu Hirano, who won a gold medal at the Olympics. “Thank you very much!!” (Notes disappear at one point, then reappear the next day, laminated.)

Most of my days are a jumble of full-blown cafeteria food, junk food crammed into bags for long bus rides. A paradise emerged in the form of a luxury convention center hotel near the main press center. By the second week, it was hard to get a table.

The first time I went there, the sight of steam rising from hot pots on a few tables gave me an adrenaline rush – and that was before enjoying the Sichuan broth. . I asked the waiter if I had ordered too much. Yes, she said with a laugh and walked away.

We made another quick visit, before late-night competitions, to celebrate a colleague’s impromptu birthday. We ordered a whole roast duck, one of Beijing’s quintessential dishes, which a masked chef carved onto our table with an extra-large blade.

I reached for a pancake, but a Chinese colleague suggested I find the purest fat possible, then dip it in the white sugar dish in front of me.

It melts sweetly in my cheeks. Thank God the robots sunk deeper into the depths of my mind. Hunt for the best food inside the Beijing Winter Olympics bubble

Fry Electronics Team

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