GREAT CHINESE FOOD IN…
Beijing. The surprising restaurant news in Beijing right now—contrary to what you’d think—is the resurgence of government restaurants. These modest eateries are longstanding fixtures in the Capital, established decades ago by China’s far-flung provincial and city governments to ensure that their bureaucrats had access to their native cuisine. Indeed, they are often located within the office complex housing bureaucrats from their province or city.
These government restaurants have always focused on perfecting the pure and authentic dishes of their home region. Ten years ago, they seemed dinky and tired. But somehow now, in a Beijing bursting with restaurants ranging from the fancy (Duck de Chine) to the fusion-y (Transit), the highly local flavors of the government restaurants seem more appealing than ever. Also, in recent years, many of them have expanded their menus with new specialties from home.
Chuan Ban, the Sichuan Government restaurant, is the granddaddy of the Provincial restaurants, and a long-standing tourist mecca (Sichuan food having achieved worldwide familiarity). But a few others are worth visiting too! I personally cannot stay away from the Dali City Government Restaurant despite having twice been to Dali City (in Yunnan Province), and having eaten my head off both times. We loved a molded salad of minced vegetable, tiny dried fish, and peanuts, and a soup of matsutake and squid in chicken broth.
But both my husband and I fell hardest for “beef steamed in rice,” a molded casserole of minced beef and broken rice, kissed with soy and star anise.
Lamb lovers should head to the Shaanxi Government Restaurant, right behind the Changan Grand Hotel. Representing a heavily Muslim region, this government eatery has attained fame for its lamb “burgers” (rou jiamo) and its lamb soup with broken bread (paomo yangrou). The light, clear mutton broth of the latter is a minor revelation.
In the mood for something artistic and refined? How about the Water Banquet of Luoyang? Luoyang, a city in Henan Province is famous for its broth-based banquet of eight appetizers and 16 hot dishes, about half of which are soups. The banquet’s opening dish, peony soup, is an exquisite presentation resembling a giant blossom. Yu Fu Shen Chu is the only restaurant in Beijing offering this special-occasion regional banquet.
Rosemead, CA. Rice Yummy wins the prize: dumb name, outstanding Shanghainese restaurant. Located at 8801 Valley Blvd, Rosemead 91770. Don’t miss the house special crab over Shanghai-style rice cakes. You practically want to wipe the platter.
Anaheim, CA. Did that lamb soup served at the Shaanxi Government Restaurant in Beijing make your mouth water? Fear not, there is now an even better version in Southern California, at Ma’s Islamic Chinese in Anaheim. Their “lamb stew with broken bread” is full-bodied, touched with chile and spices, almost impossible to stop eating. Think I’ll go back there soon. 601 E Orangethorpe Ave, Anaheim, 92801.