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Cuisine: Donkey meat
Areas: Gulou, Huguosi, Xinjiekou, Dongsi, Shoupakou
Price: 15-30 RMB per person
In Gulou, where I used to live, donkey is popular. It feels like there’s at least one donkey-meat-sandwich hole-in-the-wall restaurant per block. If you’re not sure about the idea of donkey meat, it tastes a lot like beef – and the most popular way of eating it, in a garlicky sandwich with crispy bread – is delicious, even addictive, and perfect for a cold Beijing night. Why not?
If you’re going to give donkey a try, the best place to go is Fat Wang’s Donkey Sandwiches (Wang Pangzi Lürou Huoshao or 王胖子驴肉火烧).
Why is Wang’s the best? First, Beijingers rate it the number-1 restaurant in its price category (15-24 RMB!!!!) on China’s version of Yelp, dianping.com.
My neighbour in Gulou, a cheerful 80-year-old man with one tooth, liked to ask me if, and what, I had eaten. If I said, “donkey sandwiches,” he would say, “ahaaah! Fat Wang’s Donkey Sandwiches!”, sounding very pleased.
Second, the happy, friendly, waitstaff, who hang out around the door to the tiny kitchen.
And finally, the donkey meat. Wang’s serves nothing but donkey meat! You can in fact order it by weight, order various body parts, get donkey soup, etc., but the most popular dish is the lǘròu huǒshǎo, 驴肉火烧, the first item on the menu, at 6.5 RMB for one.
One is usually enough for me, but hungry people will want two each. The meat is tender, the bread is oily and flaky. Ask for a dish of garlic sauce, (suànzhī 蒜汁） to add an extra kick.
Side dishes are excellent too, my favourite being the suānlà báicài 酸辣白菜，a spicy and vinegary cabbage salad, basically a coleslaw that’s actually exciting. Those who’d like a milder accompaniment can try one of the various plain porridge, (zhōu 粥) sides.
80 Gulou Xidajie, Xicheng district. Gulou subway station, exit B.
113 Huguosi Jie, Xicheng district. Ping An Li station exit B.
92 Dongsi Beidajie, Dongcheng district, Beixinqiao station exit C.
66 Xinjiekou Dongjie, Xicheng district, Jishuitan station exit C.
71 Shoupakou Nanjie, Xuanwu District, Liuliqiaodong station (then the bus, it’s a bit far from the station).
Anyone making a trip to Bed Bar for the best mojitos in town should definitely make Kaixin Lai part of the evening as well.
This little hole in the wall serves up chuar, spicy chicken wings, etc. – These are all good late-night snacks, but their xiangla tudousi, or “spice-fragrant potato silk,” might just be the best drunk food known to man.
I don’t believe that xiangla tudousi is on the menu, so you’ll just have to ask: xiānglà tǔdòu sī or 香辣土豆丝. But the waiters always know what you’re talking about, and when it comes, it’s worth the effort:
Xiangla tudousi is made of deep-fried julienned potatoes – shoestring fries – fried in chili-garlic oil. Tossed with cilantro and a little bit of sugar, it’s crunchy, spicy, sweet, salty – it hits every note, and craving, perfectly.
Another winner is yuxiang qiezi, 鱼香茄子 or fish-fragrant eggplant. Kaixin Lai’s version is, amazingly, not too greasy, and the sweet and sour notes are perfectly balanced. They use a lot of pickled chili to great effect, and it looks nice too:
Chuar is good here as well – but nothing different from the thousands of other chuar places around the city. Kaixin Lai’s main problem is consistency – not really surprising for a hole-in-the-wall type place. In five visits, the potatoes were slightly burned once, and another time the waiter forgot our order. Don’t be afraid to complain – you’ll usually get what you want. And Kaixin Lai is always good enough to keep me coming back.
Kaixin Lai Wing & Chuar Bar. 100 Jiugulou Dajie， at the intersection with Zhangwang Hutong. Gulou subway station exit B. Open every day, from before noon until around 2 a.m.
(FYI, to anyone who also loves late-night poutine, there’s another hole-in-the-wall called the Box serving poutine across the street.)