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Cuisine: Hunan

Area: Minzu Daxue (in southern Haidian)

Price: 40 RMB per person

The area around National Minorities University (Minzu Daxue) is good to visit on a Saturday night. Everywhere you look, beers are being cracked open, meat’s being grilled on a fire, bubble tea’s being shaken up, drunken college kids are hugging their friends. “I drank too much!” “Dude, I did too!”

Minzu Daxue is blessed with a series of truly excellent restaurants, including, as we found tonight, pitch-perfect Hunan at Tong Xin Kitchen (童心厨室). This place is well worth a trip: the decor is friendly and cheerful, as is the service. Prices are very reasonable (about 40 RMB per person), and the food is as good as, if not better than, what we ate on a recent trip to Changsha.

Hongshao rou, 红烧肉 or red-cooked pork is a classic Hunan dish, which was given a priceless PR boost when Chairman Mao declared it his favourite. It’s made with pork belly, cooked for a long time with cinnamon, star anise, chilies, and caramelised sugar. Tong Xin’s version was redolent with cinnamon, “richly fat but not greasy,” fei er bu ni, as you would say in Chinese.

In fact, I found Tong Xin’s version far more flavourful than the one I tried at Mao’s family home in Shaoshan.

Tong Xin’s nongjia xiaochao, 农家小炒 or “country house small stir-fry,” was also one of the best I’ve ever had. This is a very potent dish – made with dried pork, green pepper, lots and lots of chilies, and fermented soybeans. The result is super salty, peppery and hot, making the dish very xia fan – “makes the rice go down”. This means it’s so intensely flavoured it keeps you reaching for your rice, and you fill up fast even if there isn’t much to eat.

This was the kind of dish eaten during hard times in the countryside – happily, now mainly enjoyed for its amazing flavour.

Our third dish was a bit of a mystery. It’s called 青炒油麦菜, and we ordered it at our waitress’ recommendation. It was beautifully seasoned, but we couldn’t identify the green, nor can we find it in the dictionary. It did taste great, so no complaints!

Tong Xin Kitchen/童心厨室

26 Minzu Daxue Xi Lu (at the corner of Minzu Daxue Xi Lu and Weigongcun Jie).
海淀区魏公村民族大学路26号(近民族学院西门)

Dianping page (including map).