Old Beijing Dinner Tour

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March 29th 2019
Published: April 4th 2019
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Old Liu's Mongolian Hotpot
A few months ago, I had done a breakfast eats tour in Beijing. I had really enjoyed it, so vowed to do the evening food tour ran by the same company. It took a while to get round to it, but I eventually did. The group met by the subway station so it was easy to find. I think there were about 11 of us on the tour and we had two guides with us. The guides were lovely, super friendly and knowledgeable. It was great to hear their stories as well as the information about the food, restaurants, and China in general. We headed off into the hutongs to our first stop. Hutongs are the old traditional neighbourhoods in Beijing, but the word actually come from Mongolian, when Kublai Khan invaded China. The original word in Mongolian meant well. Chinese couldn't pronounce the Mongolian word and bastardised it into hutong, which now refers to the small neighbourhoods that make up central Beijing. I think other cities in Northern China also have hutong style neighbourhoods, but none as well known as those in Beijing. Our first restaurant was called Old Liu's Mongolian Hotpot. We headed into the restaurant and into a

Old Liu's Mongolian Hotpot
small room with about four or five tables. I liked the small and more intimate atmosphere compared to the huge hotpot restaurants that you find everywhere. These places sell Sichuan style hotpot, which is extremely spicy and popular all over China. Here though, we were to try a different style of hotpot, the Beijing style. I had only had it once before and that was pretty recently, and also not in Beijing, so I was really eager to try it. It has been a popular way of eating since the Tang Dynasty and is normally eaten in winter, Perfect for tonight as it was rather cold, the good weather we had been enjoying seems to have disappeared. I love the stove/utensil that the hotpot is cooked in. In the centre, there is a cone filled with charcoal and then like a moat around it, in which the food is cooked. Once the broth was bubbling away, we added the ingredients to cook. We had lamb, mushrooms, fried tofu skins and spinach. And of course, once it was cooked we used our chopsticks to lift it out and dunk it straight into the dipping sauce. The dipping sauce was really good.

Old Liu's Mongolian Hotpot
The restaurant had already prepared the bowls for us, all we had to do was mix it up. The sauce was heavy on sesame paste, which I love, but could have done with chili for a kick, but that's just my preference. It was all really delicious. The guides had also bought some dumplings from the shop next door, so we snacked on those while eating the hotpot. We had two different kinds of dumplings; pork and cabbage, and egg and vegetables. These were yummy, too. I was sad to leave the first place as the food was really good, but knew there were more delicious things ahead.

As we walked along the street towards our next destination, our guides stopped at a liquor store so that they could get us some of the local Beijing yogurt to try. I had it before when I was on the breakfast tour and enjoyed it both times. The guides told us that the empty glass bottles are worth quite a bit and no sooner had we deposited them on the side of the street a guy came and picked them up. He made a small killing that night and probably thought
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Nuo Yan Rice Wine House
we were mental for leaving them lying for anyone to find. We headed into another hutong. I really don't know how the guides know Where they're going in the dark as the Hutongs we walked through were rather quiet and nondescript. I did like how quiet they were. It was rather peaceful and what I like about Beijing is that at times and in some places, it is easy to forget that you are in a big city of millions. We arrived at a courtyard and made our way across it to our next destination. We were taking a break from the food and just having some alcoholic liquid refreshment. We headed into a place called Nuo Yan Rice Wine House. The brand was established in 2014 by Huang Yu, a winemaker. Nou means glutinous rice and yan means language. I really liked this place, it was a relaxed space with a nice interior and a lovely relaxed vibe. Here we got a tasting flight, which contained six different rice wines. We had two that were a year old, a refgular one and a rose flavoured one if I remember correctly, I could be very wrong, we also sampled a green plum flavour, an osmanthus one, and two that had been aged for three years, which were original and rose flavoured. My favorites were the green plum and the original one that had been aged for three years, very yummy. This place would be a lovely place to spend a chilled out night sipping rice wine.

After that brief interlude, it was time for more food. We headed back through the hutong to the main street. We were led into a small restaurant, that was surprisingly empty. Here we got to try a Beijing speciality, a donkey burger. I was really looking forward to this as someone had told me it was really good and I like to try slightly more unusual dishes. As the food was being prepared, our guides explained the origins of this dish to us. During the Ming Dynasty, soldiers had very little to eat, so they ate what was available their horses, then local people followed suit. Since horses were a valuable commodity, people began to eat donkeys instead and found them to be tastier. People started eating them in the form of a burger in the late Qing Dynasty, when the Beijing-Hankou railway
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Fatty Wang's
was built. Previously, donkeys had been used to transport goods but were now surplus to requirement. People found a new used for them as burger meat. The burger wasn't a burger in the traditional sense. The meat wasn't a patty, but rather small chunks of meat and the bread is thin, flaky strips into which the meat is stuffed. Because ours were cut up into bite sized chunks for us to share, they may look rather different. Also the shop makes its own bread. I really liked the donkey burger, the bread was a bitof a bugger to eat as it went everywhere, but it went well with the meat. The meat was tasty, nothing unusual about it. It had a bit of a kick to it, which I think may have come from the spring onions. All in all, very yummy and I want to return to Fatty Wang's, so I can have a whole one to myself.

Our next stop was just down the street. This restaurant was called Qin Tang Wei Dao and the dish we had was Biang Biang Mian, which are big flat noodles that originate from Shaanxi Province. I really, really lIke these
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Qin Tang Wei Dao
noodles, but don't eat them too often. Our guides explained the process of how the chefs make the noodles, it was a rather complex process which aligns all the glutens in the dough. The large bowls of noodles came out and they were topped with tomato, meat, beansprouts, bok choy, and sauce. It was rather tough to mix everything up because the noodles were so huge. This dish was really yummy and our guides recommended trying it as is, and then adding vinegar and trying it again to taste the difference in flavour. I also added another liberal spoonful of chili paste to give the noodles some extra kick. I really enjoyed this dish and want to come back in the future.

For our final stop, we headed to Fifth Brother's Chicken Wings. This was a small family run business in Nanbanqiao hutong. The owner had started a business selling chicken wings and used one room in his home as the restaurant/seating area for customers. As his business became more popular, more rooms in the house were used to accommodate more customers, until finally there was no room left for the family and they had to add a second
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Fifth Brother's Chicken Wings
level for them to live on. Although we had a private room, we walked past the other rooms which were filled with people. Everyone was enjoying their Friday night with beer and chicken wings. The decor in the room was pretty old school and rustic, I loved it. There were pictures of the founding fathers and mother of modern day China as well as the current president. We got four different types of chicken wings ranging from plain to both sides of the wings being covered with Sichuan pepper. I started with the one side coated ones and since they weren't too spicy I had some of the double coated ones. Sichuan pepper isn't super hot, but it does numb the mouth a bit. Our guides explained that it is actually a reaction in your brain and not a physical reaction. Learn something new everyday. There was also some edamame beans, which I didn't try. We were also given some toasted bread. I love Northern China's love of bread. The last stop was Great, it felt like a really local place and a perfect way to end the tour.


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