Fave restaurants (Beijing Bucket List #4)

In our last few weeks, we made as much of an effort as possible to revisit some of our fave restaurants. It’s hard to make a list because one of the main reasons we have loved living in China is the food. We have so many wonderful food memories.

But here are some of our faves, which we just had to visit one last time. Click on the restaurant name for the address.

Baoyuan Dumplings – Amongst our friends, this place is either known as the ‘purple jiaozi restaurant’ or the ‘crack jiaozi restaurant’. Purple, because the purple ones with crispy rice inside are the most amazing dumplings on the planet, and Crack, because you can get seriously addicted to them.

Yongle Restaurant – This place has been our go-to for Beijing Duck. We discovered it when we lived near Gulou, in fact, on the day we moved into our new apartment, we went there and bought lunch for our friends who had helped us move. They do all the Beijing standards. Their duck has a ‘special option’ that comes with sesame buns, sprouts and plum sauce. Yum! Other highlights are the Japanese Tofu (hongshao riben doufu) and an AMAZING deep-fried lamb leg. We can never remember what it’s called, but they have a picture menu (or show them this pic).

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Meizhou dongpo – Meizhous is a chain that pops up all over Beijing. They are a sichuan restaurant and do delicious spicy food. They also deliver! Yay! We love their broad beans, spicy small potatoes, mapo doufu, tangsu liji, stuffed eggplant and bamboo shoots.

Pure Lotus – As well as being a restaurant, Pure Lotus is an experience. It has the most amazing decor, and unique serving dishes. You’re very likely to have a dish served on dry ice. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that I have really explored the menu because it is the most difficult and heavy menu to read on the planet. But don’t let that put you off – the food is delish! Highlights are the Tofu Spicy Chicken (laziji), black beans wrapped in lettuce and purple dragon baozi. There are plenty more, but they are what spring to mind!

Wuyishan Fujian Restaurant – This little dive is tucked down a side street along Maliandao, Beijing’s famous tea street. I was introduced to this place through The Hutong, where I ran a few tea tours. It’s such a dirty little place, but makes the most amazing food. Highlights are the okra and the red-cooked fish.

Xinjiang provincial restaurant – So, this wasn’t a fave restaurant. We only went there a few days ago for the first time. But, we LOVE xinjiang food, and frankly, there just isn’t anything good close to our house any more, so we thought we’d head across town to this one. And it was totally worth it. We had all the standards; chuan’r, dingdingers, dapanji, as well as a new one for me – xinjiang sweetened milk tea. It perfectly matches the spicy food.

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The Westin Financial Street Brunch – The Sunday brunch to end all brunches. This is the most indulgence you’ll have in a sunday brunch. Enough said.

Lush – The Lush burger is by far the best in Beijing. First we had, and last we had. Lush is way out in the student district, where we lived when we first came to Beijing. Many a drunken night was spent here, and even better, the burgers are half price between 2 and 4am. We just had to go and have just one more.

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Gungho pizza – We believe this to be the best delivery pizza in Beijing. Thin, wholemeal bases, a huge variety of toppings and great salads. It seems silly, but this was actually our final meal in Beijing. Why? Because it was one of our favourite things to do on a friday night after an exhausting week of work, and the business is such a symbol of why Beijing is a cool place to live. If you see a hole in the market, and you know how to do something well, you can fill that hole and become so successful. You can develop the concept of amazing customer service, you can have creative packaging designed by locals, you can have hilarious, distinctive pink bikes that are driven by drivers who call out to each other (Gung!!!!…… HO!!!!!…..) and you can cook good food well with good ingredients.

Hatsune – And finally, our fave of all time. Hatsune was the first foreign restaurant that we visited after moving back to Beijing. We went there for a friend’s birthday and were completely overwhelmed by the menu. Firstly, by the prices (we’d pretty much only eaten 5 yuan bowls of noodles up until this point) and secondly, by the most amazing looking sushi we’d ever seen!! We decided to ignore the price tag and just go with it, and it was the best sushi we’d ever eaten. Plus, our friend got the bill at the end anyway!! A few years later, Hatsune opened a second branch much closer to our home and we jumped in the air for joy! It quickly became a regular for a fancy meal. They also have really cool events, such as sushi making classes.

What’s your favourite Beijing restaurant???

Tangyuan – a newly found love affair

The last day of Spring Festival is Lantern Festival. To celebrate this festival, everyone eats tāngyuán (汤圆-roughly translated as ‘soup balls’). I distinctly remember being introduced to these sticky balls many years ago in Australia. Our good Chinese friends kindly brought some over for dessert one evening. But, it was not a good memory. I remember the glutinous texture coating the inside of my mouth, making it difficult to swallow. And when I did swallow, I remember trying to hide the fact that it made me want to retch.

A lot has changed since then. I no longer turn my nose up at ‘red bean’ flavoured goods. Strangely-flavoured icypoles no longer gross me out. And tangyuan is now one of my favourite desserts. I’m not kidding.

The most common flavour is black sesame (黑芝麻 hēizhīma). And it’s super good. Not too sweet and you still have the graininess (??) of the sesame seeds.

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However, of course, someone made non-traditional chocolate ones. And man, they are sooooooooooo good. These ones had little chunks of peanuts inside. If you’re looking to try tangyuan for the first time, go for these.

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And of course, would it be a trip to a Chinese supermarket without me buying something silly? I ummed and ahhhed between strawberry and orange. I decided strawberry would probably be so super sickly sweet that I wouldn’t eat them, so orange it was. And the result? Glutinous fanta. That’s the only way to describe it.

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They are so simple to cook too. Just throw them in boiling water for a few minutes until they rise to the surface.

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Our local sichuan restaurant serves these boiled in a little bit of booze, and that’s also delish. I’m not sure what they use, but there’s definitely room for experimentation. And I should probably learn to make these too! Though the supermarket is a very easy option.

I was also told recently that there’s another type called yúanxiāo that are made with a special technique that can’t be replicated by hand. I’ll have to try these out next year… has anyone tried them before?

Baby Led Weaning Journey – 6ish to 9ish months

I was introduced to the concept of ‘Baby Led Weaning’ by a friend here in Beijing whilst I was pregnant. She recommended that I read: Baby-Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett

As I read the book, the concept started to make more and more sense. In my mind, I could see how this process could lead to more independent, less fussy eaters in the long run. A parents dream, right? Also, I can all-too-easily remember how picky my younger sister was, and I’m pretty damn sure I was an annoying, very simple, plain eater as well. I was immediately attracted to how this method requires less food preparation. The basic idea is that your baby ends up eating what you eat. This means no prep of mushy foods.

So, at six months we gave it a try. We sat Adella down in her bumbo chair with some sticks of steamed vegies. Watching her slowly bring the snacks to her mouth and realising that they weren’t just an inanimate object for chewing on, and were instead to be swallowed, was fascinating. We put a wide range of foods in front of her and let her pick and choose and munch as she likes.

These are the foods that she has tried so far:

  • 1st month: steamed carrot and broccoli, bananas, apple, bread, hummous, crackers
  • 2nd month: pikelets (made with banana instead of sugar), strawberries, mandarin, salmon, breadsticks
  • 3rd month: pumpkin, yoghurt, mango, pineapple, lasagne, pasta, lentil cakes, chicken

My favourite has been strawberries. From the first one, she just loved the sweetness. And within about a week, she had totally worked out how many bites she had to take out of one before she could safely put the rest of it in her mouth.

It seems like a lot of people get scared because of choking hazards, but instinct always seems to kick in. Her gag reflex brings anything too big back to the front of her mouth. In almost three months, I think I’ve only pulled two things out of her mouth. Even so, it took a little while for me to totally relax, but I made sure I never panicked. I feel that our emotions affect our children so easily.

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It’s not all perfect of course, there are some challenges. One of the main ideas is that you encourage your children to sit down and eat with you, so that you are eating as a family. On our current schedule, this is kind of tricky. We do our best to sit down with her though, and at least have a snack. We also don’t have a table to eat around. This is making us sound like quite a dodgy family, but we always eat around the coffee table. We used to have a dining room table, but since Adella arrived, we had to reshuffle our furniture and the dining table got dismantled. However, our plan is to have one again when we move soon. Ah, apartment living. So, for now, the Bumbo chair has been doing a great job, but the little one’s thighs are getting a little podgy and it’s getting harder to get her out of it! We have ordered a high chair, and it’s on its way. It’s also a challenge to find crackers and things that have no nasty ingredients in them. I have become very aware of ingredient lists on packages now.

And, eating out in China can be quite funny. In general, people are quite fascinated by the process. Sometimes they panic, thinking that the crazy foreigners don’t know how to feed their baby. Also, there’s a definite lack of high chairs in local restaurants. We have a portable one, but it can only cope with tables of a certain depth, and for some reason, tables here always seem to be really deep. Often the hygiene standards of tabletops can also be a worry. Using plates or bowls is no good, as eventually it will go flying. I made some cute eating mats out of oilcloth which we try to use, but stopping them from getting pulled or thrown is the challenge. I’m on the lookout for the appropriate size peg to attach them onto tables with.

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My pikelet recipe:

  • 1 cup flour (I usually do half/half with white and wholewheat)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (because I don’t have SR flour)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 mashed banana (to replace 1 tbsp sugar)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • unsalted butter for frying

Also, here is a great Lentil cakes recipe. I made mine with dill and parsley.

I also have some references on my pinterest board.

I have some great videos of her eating too. I haven’t worked out how I want to share these yet, but I will link it here when I do.

Thunder Tea Rice

Hawker centres are such a fantastic to sample the local Singaporean delights. Before going to Singapore, I did some perusing online, and found this intriguing blog on Thunder Tea Rice. I couldn’t wait to try it – it sounded so delicious, super healthy and includes tea!! Yay!

Thunder Tea Rice involves an oversized bowl of brown rice, with all sorts of delicious ingredients: sprouts, soy beans, peanuts, green vegies and dried anchovies. Plus, a bowl of a soupy green matcha tea with basil and mint mixed in. We bought the set meal, which also includes a huge piece of tofu encrusted with a yummy topping.

The brochure tells us that the dish is advantageous for health and weight management by increasing your metabolism and detoxification, as well as treating a number of nasty diseases. I particularly like their quote: “The tedious way of preparing Thunder Tea Rice dish also contributes as a physical work out especially during the hour-long grinding to make the Thunder Tea Rice paste”. Nice.

This dish was so amazing that we’ve replicated it twice since coming back only a few weeks ago! Zac made it for our masterchef 2.0 challenge. When Zac replicated it though, we did the paste in the blender!

If you are travelling to Singapore and want to try it out, you can find it in the Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre – Stall 12. It’s easy to spot, as there’s a HUGE queue at lunchtime.

Dining in the Dark

For Andy’s surprise birthday party, Michelle organised a surprise dinner. But, it was a surprise dinner with a twist… the dinner was a surprise for everyone! We had no idea what we’d be eating whilst dining in the dark!

Upon entering the foyer, we were met with a bright, strange conconction of drawings that made up a wall mural. There were octopi, flying animals, pirates, princesses, aliens, volcanoes… it made about as much sense as the name of the restaurant: Trojan Fairy.

After we placed all our belongings in a locker, we lined up, hands on each other’s shoulders and shuffled in after the waitress. The first part of restaurant has glow-in-the-dark stickers on the wall – to lead the waitresses I guess. Then, you step through another curtain into darkness. Real darkness. Let’s say blackness. I kept thinking my eyes would adjust. I kept thinking that vague shapes might come into view. But they never do.

We sat around exchanging jokes about taking our pants off and the like. It’s a really weird situation. Especially if you stop to think about what hand movements and facial expressions you use – even when in the dark! We slowly pieced together our surroundings, feeling for the edges of the table, and listening to our neighbours. It is true that your other senses are heightened when one is missing. I was a lot more aware of the chinese being spoken in the background. Other diners’ conversations were so much more prominent, and I found myself having to focus quite intently on the discussion around our table to prevent my mind from wandering around the room.

We’d organised to be there early, so our presence would be an extra surprise. The clever waitresses played Happy Birthday on the piano, so we’d know when he arrived. We tried to sit in silence whilst listening to the birthday boy being brought to the table. I giggled first – I just couldn’t hold it in any longer!

Our waiter came around and explained where our spoon and napkin were. We were brought our drinks – beers, juice and wine. Note to the restaurant: thin-stemmed wine glasses are not easy to find in the dark, and don’t show up on night-vision goggles. Sorry about the tablecloth. We complained a number of times that Cheryl’s juice hadn’t arrived, only to find out during the last course that it had been delivered but she hadn’t found it on the table yet!!!

Our first course was a ‘Russian salad‘. I was concerned that my biggest problem would be making a mess and getting food everywhere, but in fact, it was tricky getting it on the spoon! I served myself a number of spoonfuls of air.

Pumpkin soup was next. Slurping became the new noise around the table, in an attempt to make sure most of it got in our mouths and not down our fronts.

The main course was steak. An odd choice, yes, but they cut it up for us in advance. In theory, this would be hilarious, however, steak in China is generally not great. Without being able to see what we were eating, I occasionally ended up with a tough bit of gristle or fat. I would’ve much preferred a stirfry. Nic and Cheryl ordered the vegetarian mushrooms, which turned out to be just that – a plate of mushrooms!

As our main was taken away, so was our spoon. And we were instructed to eat our cheesecake by hand. In theory, fine, but when you’ve spent the last 3 courses using your hand to help get food on your spoon, it’s not perfect!

Overall, it was the experience that made the evening!! I would imagine it would be incredible if a chef like Heston Blumenthal was in charge of a place like this. He could play around with the textures and flavours so much! It would be crazy to have squishy gooey things that turn out to be delicious, and to play around with savoury and sweet.

Of course, there were costumes to dress up in after dinner!

My only wish is that we could see a video of how the night played out, or at least a photo of the mess we would have left behind on the tablecloth.