Price: Highly variable – we paid 48 RMB each for lunch, but dinner might run up to 100 RMB per person.
On the surface, there isn’t much attractive about Wangjing. A series of blank, beige-grey highrise blocks, an enormously wide road. One of those sections of Beijing that’s a bleak architectural equation: lots of people, as many cars, not enough space.
What makes Wangjing special – and worth visiting – is its vibrant Korean community. Here there are more families and professionals than in student-y Wudaokou, and the area has food to match, with a greater variety of delicious restaurants.
For lunch at Purple Cloud Gate, we tried the bulgogi lunch set (烤牛肉套餐), at RMB 48 per person. First, in a theatrical touch, our waitress stir-fried our beef at the gas burner in the center of our table. After she portioned out our beef, she poured a bowl of soup into the same pan, handily deglazing it and adding flavour to the soup (brilliant!)
Soon we were wrapping up the beef in lettuce and dipping in a sweet soy sauce, already happy with our lunch. But then the side dishes began to arrrive: kimchi, of course; pickled green onions, a green salad with rice vinegar, tofu wrapped in fried egg, a salad with chili paste dressing – this was turning into a proper feast.
Just about everything was delicious – though meant for two, this meal could easily have fed three, or even four. But the most exciting thing was a small bowl, whose contents we didn’t even recognize at first. The bowl came sizzling and hot, but only had a thin layer of what looked like chopped vegetables at the bottom.
It took us a few minutes to realize: this was chili paste, seared in the stone bowl with vegetables until it tasted even smokier, sweeter and richer. (This genius treatment for chili paste would be easy to do at home, too!) We proceeded to eat this with our beef and, when that was gone, stirred it into our soup, ate it on top of rice…seriously, this paste would have made a napkin taste delicious.
Definitely a meal worth traveling for.
Purple Cloud Gate/紫霞门韩国料理
5th floor of Zhongfu Baihuo Building, Building 201, Huguang Bei Jie (near Nanhu Bei Lu)
Subway: Wangjing Station
Open 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. (I highly recommend going at lunch for best value).