My First Yak Ice Cream (Beijing, Part 3)

On our last full day in Beijing, K and I did some aimless exploring around the city. Some of my favorite travel memories have occurred on such outings. And in Asia, every street feels like an entirely-new world to me. The sights, smells, and tastes are just so foreign compared to my everyday life… unlike traveling to Australia or Europe, where I think the languages, cultures, and foods seem more familiar.

Our day’s adventures brought us to the bustling street of Nanluoguxian. The same friend who recommended I try the ice cream at the Wu Yu Tai Tea Shop also told me about historic Nanluoguxian. K and I didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived, but I had a lot of fun exploring around here. It’s a pedestrian-only street, chock-full of food and jewelry stands.

It wasn’t long before K spotted something totally new: yak soft serve. We noticed a giant photo of a soft-serve ice cream cone at a food stand named “A Bite of Tibetan Flavor.” I wouldn’t have known it was yak ice cream, since nothing besides the stand’s name was written in English. But K has been to Tibet, so he knew that the ice cream would be made out of yak milk. Yaks are a source of life to the Tibetan people, who herd the animals for their milk, meat, hide, and even their poo! Since it’s treeless in the high Himalayans, Tibetans use dried yak poo to start fires. K tried yak milk, butter and cheese while in Tibet, and I knew that he didn’t like any of it. But we still couldn’t pass by the opportunity to try yak soft serve. When in Rome China, right?

The verdict? Yak is yucky! There are very few ice creams out there that I find inedible, but this was one of them. When the ice cream first hit my tongue, it tasted mild and creamy. But my taste buds were quickly overcome with that famous rancid-tangy flavor that is characteristic of yak milk. The best way I can think to describe it is sour cream or plain yogurt gone bad. As someone who can’t even handle pungent cow cheese, yak ice cream will never be my thing. While K and I were sad to admit defeat, neither one of us could handle more than a couple small licks of this cone. Still, it was fun to try something totally new to me. And of course, I think everyone should try yak ice cream and make up their own mind about it 🙂

The Stats:
A Bite of Tibetan Flavor
Nanluoguxian, or Nanluoguo Xiang
Dongcheng District, Beijing 100009, China

Made in China (Beijing, Part 2)

Let’s head back to Beijing!

As mentioned in my previous post, K and I took a quick trip to China over Memorial Day weekend. After two ice-cream-less days in Shanghai, I was excited to have 48 hours in Beijing – where ice cream is easier to find.

Since our time in Beijing was so short, we tried to make the most of every mealtime — treating ourselves to massive breakfasts and dinners but skipping full lunches in favor of snacking (the best of which was that tea-flavored soft serve). We made sure to visit K’s favorite fancy Beijing restaurant, Made in China, which he discovered several years ago during a business trip. Located in the beautiful Grand Hyatt hotel, Made in China serves up classic Northern Chinese dishes in a contemporary atmosphere.

We didn’t think far enough ahead to make reservations, so K and I ate dinner at the restaurant’s bar. This wasn’t disappointing at all; we both love chit-chatting with bartenders and watching the hustle and bustle while enjoying a meal. K was in charge of ordering, and he picked out several interesting appetizers and a nice bottle of white wine. The star of the meal was Made in China’s signature Peking duck. According to Wikipedia, the Chinese have been preparing Peking duck since the imperial ages. At Made in China, the ducks are slow roasted in a wood-burning stove until the skin is dark brown and crispy. The roasted duck is then sliced tableside and served with little steamed pancakes (sadly, not gluten free), cucumbers, scallions, hoisin sauce, garlic, and sugar. Diners then assemble their own little taco-like duck pancakes. Even without the pancakes, I thoroughly enjoyed this local delicacy.

As you could imagine, K and I were fairly full from our dinner. But when the bartender handed over the dessert menu, I spotted homemade ice cream and decided to go “all out.” After all, we were on vacation… right?

Made in China serves up about six flavors of ice cream, but the most unique is definitely Wuliangye Chocolate. K told me that Wuliangye is a common type of baijiu, the classic Chinese distilled alcohol known for its potent smell and taste. K doesn’t like baijiu, but we were both intrigued by Made in China’s decision to combine it with chocolate. Since an order of ice cream includes two scoops, I hedged my bet and asked for Cashew Nut Crunch for my second scoop.

Bottom: Wuliangye Chocolate; Top: Cashew Nut Crunch

The verdict?  Made in China’s ice cream is clearly homemade, and its texture is more icy than your average store-bought variety. The flavor of each scoop was intensely yummy; the nutty sweetness of the Cashew Nut Crunch was very satisfying. The “crunch” was tiny bits of cashew – small enough that you didn’t need to worry about chewing before letting the ice cream melt in your mouth. This flavor also made a nice palate cleanser after a few bites of the strong Wuliangye Chocolate. This scoop reminded me of why I must create my own boozy ice cream; I can never get enough of the juxtaposition of the heat of alcohol and the cool sweetness of ice cream. And K thought Made in China was right to pair the baijiu with chocolate, as he figured vanilla wouldn’t be strong enough to compete with the pungent alcohol. Overall, I thought both flavors were fun. But the Wuliangye Chocolate was the most memorable of the night…. Maybe even more memorable than the Peking duck!

The Stats:
Made in China
1 East Chang An Avenue
Beijing. China 100738

Tea Time for Ice-Cream Lovers (Beijing, Part I)

It’s been way too long, my friends. I apologize for the long absence; work and wedding planning have gotten the best of me. But while blog writing took a back seat, ice-cream eating did not. And I have several new reviews to share with y’all!

Over Labor Day weekend, K and I flew to China for a mini-vacation. A major reason for our trip was that K needed to practice his Mandarin, which he feared was getting rusty. In his previous job, K would travel to China multiple times a year, making it easy to keep up on his language skills. But his new job doesn’t require much travel to Asia, so he now has to create reasons to go to China.

We started our trip in Shanghai, a beautiful city in eastern China. Shanghai is one of the busiest port cities in the world, so it has a very global feel. The city is very cosmopolitan yet seems cleaner than Beijing. The big drawback of Shanghai? It’s very difficult to find ice-cream shoppes in the city! Sure, McDonald’s and other fast-food chains serve ice cream. But I had my eyes peeled for some mom-and-pop places but didn’t find any. On our last evening in Shanghai, K searched for ice cream on his phone. We hopped into a cab and gave the driver the address of a gelato store, but we arrived just minutes after they closed for the night. I was disappointed, but I knew that we’d have better luck in Beijing.

The last time K and I were in Beijing, we hung out with my childhood friend who was living and working in the city. While my friend has since moved back to the States, she did have some ice-cream recommendations for me. The one that sounded most intriguing was the Wu Yu Tai Tea Shop, which she said was a popular “local” teashop that happened to serve tea-flavored ice cream.

With the teashop’s address in-hand, K and I took the subway to the Beixinqiao stop in northeastern Beijing. The traffic is so bad in this city that taking the subway usually saves you a lot of time! It was oppressively hot outside, but I soldiered on. There was good ice cream to be had!

The first Wu Yu Tai teashop was established in Beijing in 1887, connecting city dwellers with a

variety of teas from the countryside. And 120 years later, Wu Yu Tai now has many different locations in and around Beijing. We had a pretty easy time finding our location. After all, it’s not every day that you see a giant green ice cream cone on the sidewalk!

The Wu Yu Tai teashop was a quiet oasis in a bustling part of Beijing, filled with beautiful displays of tea leaves, teapots, and teacups. One of the two female employees rushed to our side as soon as we walked through the door. K explained in Mandarin that we were here for ice cream. She said they had two different flavors: Green Tea (or “Macha”) and Jasmine. Without even consulting me, K ordered one cone of each flavor. The woman disappeared into a small alcove and resurfaced moments later, carrying two cones. The serving size was incredibly small… probably less ice cream than in an American kiddie cone. But our small cones came with an equally-small price: the bill for two cones was ¥8, which is equivalent to less than $2.

Left: Green Tea / Right: Jasmine
(Not my best photography; it was hot and I was rushing to eat!)

The verdict? I have no idea how Wu Yu Tai does it, but their ice cream tastes exactly like a strong cup of tea with milk. These ice-cream favors weren’t sweet, but they had deep floral notes and that distinct nearly-bitter tea aftertaste. While the Green Tea ice cream had the best visual appeal, it was the beige-colored Jasmine that had K and me asking for more… literally! Neither of us were fully satisfied with the small servings, so K doled out a few more RMBs for another Jasmine cone to share. After all, ice cream offers the sweetest relief in Beijing’s oppressive summer heat. I definitely recommend that any visitor in Beijing try to find a Wu Yu Tai location for this one-of-a-kind ice-cream experience.

The Stats:
Wu Yu Tai Tea Shop
43 Yonghegong Dajie (Multiple other locations)
Beijing, China