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Published: December 11th 2019
Zha Jiang Mian
Being a total glutton, I wanted to do another food tour in Beijing. I booked up with Lost Plate for their evening food tour. I had enjoyed their breakfast one and the evening tour would go to a different area. It was also in a different area to the evening food tour I had done with Untour, so there would be no overlap. I like food tours as being a solo traveller, it lets me try many different foods that I probably wouldn't be able to if I was by myself as I wouldn't be able to eat it all and some places aren't made for solo dinners. We met at Lama Temple subway station. Our guide, Isaac, was really nice and gave everyone a beer or water in a special stubbie holder to start the tour with. He explained how the tour would pan out. Once we were all assembled, we got into some tuk tuks and headed to our first restaurant.
The first restaurant was hidden away in a hutong neighbourhood. I can't remember the name properly but it was something like search 7 or 8 times and you will find it. The restaurant was totally non descript
Zha Jiang Mian
from the outside so the name was really apt. It was bigger than I imagined inside and there were quite a few other tables free. This was a local noodle shop that sold Beijing style noodles. I am not the biggest fan of noodles as unless they are coated in spicy soup/sauce I just find them really bland, however I was excited to try this dish. The noodles were served by themselves and next to the bowl was a small tray, which contained some thinly chopped vegetables and a ramekin of sauce. First, we were instructed to pour on the sauce, mix it, add the veggies and then mix again. The noodles are called Zha Jiang Mian (炸酱面). These are the originals of the Chinese Korean dish, Jjajangmyeon, which was never a favourite of mine when I lived in Korea. These noodles, however, were better. The noodles were, well, just noodles, but the vegggies added some texture and crunch. The sauce was the best part, it was really tasty and I struck gold when I found a large hunk of pork in it. The pork was amazingly delicious! I could have just eaten a bowl full of that. Since noodles
are generally a quick dish, we didn't stay at the restaurant for very long.
We hopped back into our tuk tuks and headed off to the next restaurant. I really enjoyed speeding around the streets in the tuk tuk. It gave a different perspective to being in a car or bus, where you feel more removed from life around you. But it also provided a faster pace than walking the streets. Our next place was a Mongolian (I think) barbecue place. W e were shown to our table which had a big grill in the middle. It reminded me of a Korean BBQ place. We were given two different plates of marinated meats, one was beef and the other was lamb. Some dishes of thinly sliced potato and eggplant also appeared. Our guide arranged the eggplant and potato around the edges of the grill and piled the beef up in the middle. Luckily, it didn't take long for the meat to cook and we could soon dig in. The beef was really yummy and once that was gone the lamb was added to the grill to cook. The lamb was really good too, as were the potatoes and eggplant.
Finally, some sweet potato was added to the grill. It was all so good and the beer was great to wash it down with. After about an hour here, it was time to move on. I really enjoyed this place as I love BBQ and the communal aspect of dining.
Zipping off in our tuk tuk, we headed to our next destination. This was a Muslim dive bar, which sounds like a bit of a contradiction. Since Muslims don't generally drink alcohol (at least not those who are devout), the place had evolved to suit the local clientele, who are alcohol drinkers. This place definitely looked a bit rough and ready from the outside and it was busy looking. All the tables downstairs were taken, so we headed upstairs and into a private room. The room was a bit pokey and the ceiling was rather low, but it was kind of atmospheric. We all sat or stood (there weren't enough chairs) around the table and waited for the next round of food to appear. We didn't have to wait too long and soon a big plate of dumplings arrived with a couple of side dishes. These dumplings looked like
giant sheng jian bao, which are crispy bottom pork filled dumplings. Since this was a Muslim place, these ones were filled with beef. The side dishes that came with them were a cucumber salad and a celery and peanut dish. I'm not normally a fan of celery, but I really liked this dish. The cucumber dish was just same as other places I'd had it at before. The giant dumplings were amazing! I absolutely loved it. In fact, it was so good that when I realised that there were some leftovers, I had to have another one. The dumpling skin was like pastry and when biting inside the juices and fat oozed out. The beef filling was yummy, too. Being a dumpling addict, this was definitely my favourite dish of the evening. We also had some baijiu to wash the food down with. I'm not a fan of baijiu and can probably count on one hand how many times I've had it, but I rather enjoyed my shot of it, maybe I'm getting a taste for it?
The tuk tuk couldn't quite drive us all the way to our next destination, as it was close to Nanluoguxiang, which is
a pedestrainised shopping street in an old hutong neighbourhood. We walked briefly across Nanluoguxiang, which looked very pretty with all the lights lit up at night and headed down a smaller street. This street was quite and a lot more understated. We passed a couple of places and came to the entrance of the restaurant that we would be eating at. We headed into the courtyard of the house and I think that we were all surprised at how big the place was. We walked through to the restaurant that was situated at the back. Since it was pretty late, especially for Chinese eating times, the restaurant was pretty much empty. It was a stark contrast to the dive bar. The restaurant was really beautiful with traditional décor. We were lead to a large table and after a short wait the dishes appeared. Here, we had some Chinese classics and Beijing favourites. As much as I love rice, I am happy that Northern China loves bread as much as I do, and their cuisine is a lot more bread based than in the south. Bread became more popular in Northern China because rice isn't/wasn't grown there. So instead of having
rice with our food, we were given wraps, which looked like the pancakes that you normally get with Beijing Duck but a bit thicker. We loaded the pancakes with some of the other dishes that filled the table. We had Gong Pao Chicken, which is always yummy. We also had shredded potatoes, which I love due to being spicy and sour, the perfect combination in my eyes. There was also a noodle dish, which I don't think I tried and a veggie/egg dish. I really enjoyed loading the pancakes with the different dishes and munching on them. There was another dish, which is a Beijing dish called Jing Jiang Rousi. This dish consists of shredded pork in a sweet bean sauce and is served with shredded vegetables such as cucumber and spring onions and tofu skins. You eat it by wrapping the meat and some veggies in the tofu skin wrapper, similar to how you would eat Beijing duck. I have had this once before, but that was far too salty. This one was perfect though hand I really enjoyed it and would happily eat it again. We washed all the food down with some jasmine tea. It was funny
talking to the others as we were on about how you get tea at western Chinese restaurants, but you never get it at actual restaurants in China, hot water wins.
Our final stop of the evening was a local brewery/bar. We headed into the hutong and came to a stop in front of a courtyard that was lined with bars. The bar that we were going to was tucked away at the back and was called Peiping Machine Taphouse. I really liked the interior of the bar as it was very modern and airy and its décor reflected the fact it was in an old factory. We grabbed a table and had a look over the beer menu. While it wasn't too extensive, there were a few different choices on there, something to suit all tastes. I opted for a cider as I haven't had a locally produced one in Asia before. I am glad to see cider on the menu as I really like it and it made a nice change after drinking beer all evening. The cider was very light and refreshing. I would have liked to have stayed longer at the bar, but time was not on my side. I really enjoyed the food tour. It took me to places that I would never be able to think of/find on my own and I got to try some new foods that I hadn't had before as well as eat some old favourites. I really liked nipping about in the tuk tuks and I like that it meant more money was being poured into the local economy by employing the tuk tuk drivers. It was great night, in which I was fed and watered.
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