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Area: Gulou (Baochao Hutong)
Price: 50-100 RMB per person
At any given time in Beijing, where all Chinese cuisines are available night and day, there’s always one region that’s hogging the spotlight. Taiwanese is enjoying attention now, and Sichuan is always popular. But the star of the moment in Beijing is, definitely, Yunnan.
Yunnan Province is in China’s far southwest, and its cuisine is very easy to love. It relies on simply cooked local produce – like mushrooms, pineapple, mint, flowers and lemongrass – and delicious preserved products like ham. For Beijingers it’s also nice to think about a visit to the gorgeous Yunnanese countryside (which we imagine, incorrectly or not, to be all green hills, blue rivers, etc.)
There are plenty of great Yunnan restaurants out there now (Middle 8th, Dali Courtyard, In & Out) that are all as good as they are expensive. Equal deliciousness can be found at Dali Renjia in Baochao Hutong, with an interior slightly dustier and a price slightly friendlier.
Jasmine flowers stir-fried with egg (茉莉花炒鸡蛋). The flowers are more buds, and their gentle herbal flavor is perfect, PERFECT, with the salty stir-fried egg. The combination is a Yunnan classic.
The beef with lime (柠檬牛肉) isn’t delicate at all. Cured beef slices are covered in vinegar, lime, mint, and chilies, making the dish very acidic and spicy. And addictive.
Cucumber salad is always delicious, as in smacked cucumber, （拍黄瓜) but this lime cucumber salad (柠檬黄瓜) kicks it a crazy notch up with extra acid from the limes and a huge amount of chili. This one had me running for the fridge for drinks and sniffling hard – I’m a chili addict so I loved it.
The day I took pictures they had run out of pea tofu (碗豆腐), but if you’re a tofu lover don’t forget to order it – the lightly pea-flavoured tofu is dressed with vinegar, chilies and soybeans; it’s pretty sublime.
There’s no question, Dali Renjia is an awesome place to eat in Gulou, with a great rooftop view away from the Nanluoguxiang crowds. This meal cost us about 50 RMB each (if we had ordered more meat dishes, it would have been more). That, plus the service is always great – casual but attentive, and the waiters have suspended their break time more than once to serve us a midafternoon meal.
80 Baochao Hutong 宝钞胡同80号
Opening hours – ??? They are never closed at lunch or early dinnertime.
Area: West Sanlitun
Price: Around 80 RMB per person
Today Beijing had a one-in-a-million blue sky day. It looked like some property developer’s sketch – even the metal-and-glass monstrosities stacked up in Chaoyang looked gorgeous in the sunshine. A good day to eat outside. Going to In & Out is a great thing to do on a day this sunny, not least because they serve Yunnan cuisine, which involves mint, fresh flowers, mushrooms, pineapple and lemongrass.
Decor: Beautiful green outdoor patio, though you might be bothered by itinerant vendors, especially if you look foreign. Indoors is painted white, with comfy chairs.
Menu: Beautifully photographed. Includes Chinese and English, but I liked the explanations of dishes (in Chinese only). In & Out is clearly not aiming for a Yunnanese customer base, but to denizens of the Embassy area and to the many, many Chinese couples who went to Lijiang on their honeymoons. Unfortunately, we were too cheap to order the fried bees (82 RMB). Next time perhaps.
Jingpo Ghost Chicken (景颇鬼鸡) is a poached, pulled-apart chicken, served cold and dressed with lemon, chilies, pepper, ginger and garlic. The flavours were very bright, and the chilies got hotter with every bite. This dish is a specialty of the Jingpo ethnic group, which offers the ghosts a sample of everything they cook before it can be eaten.
The Dongba No.1 Ribs (霸王排骨) were surprisingly good. They didn’t come warm, and they weren’t falling-apart tender, but the chopped chili sauce on top was so good it more than made up for the cooler serving temperature. I took the mint on the side and ate it with the ribs, I’d recommend you do the same.
The roasted eggplant (火烤茄子) was the only serious disappointment. The mix of roasted eggplant, bell pepper and onions was drenched in a very strong-tasting vinegar, drowning out the flavours of the vegetables. Too strong to eat!
Finally we had the roast tofu with ham and lemongrass (建水香草云腿豆腐裹). This one was my favourite, Yunnan ham encased in little tofu pockets, tied up with lemongrass. Yunnan ham is always great – salty and rich – and the tofu had, I suspect, been fried in rendered pork fat, because it tasted rather meaty itself. I chewed up the little packets, lemongrass and all, and really enjoyed the lemongrass and ham flavour together.
I should mention that my friend did NOT enjoy the slightly funky taste of the tofu, saying it “tasted like barnyard.” It is true that the tofu had a gamy, funky flavour, which I completely loved, but if you don’t like, say, blue cheese, stay away from this one.
There was plenty more of interest on the menu – Yunnanese mushrooms, for example, which are rightly famous, plenty of edible flowers, and very interesting-looking desserts. This is a menu to explore. I’d highly recomment giving the jasmine flower eggs (茉莉花炒鸡蛋) a try.
Value: Decent, especially considering the location. A couple of items (like the 25 RMB Dali beer, and the 40 RMB pineapple rice) were clearly, blatantly overpriced. We are in Chaoyang, after all. But other dishes were good value, 30-40 RMB each.
Service: Very friendly. The traditional Yunannese outfits were lovely. Our waitress always came right away when we called, and she was great about helping us choose what we wanted.
Comparisons: I think that Golden Peacock in Haidian may still have the edge (I’ve never had a bad dish at Golden Peacock, and it is slightly cheaper). But In & Out has a more varied menu, a convenient location, and plenty of unique, interesting Yunannese products and dishes on offer – while GP focuses on Dai cuisine, In & Out picks and chooses from many different cuisines. If decor is a factor, In & Out is far superior, and that can be important on a sunny day. In & Out also beats No Name both in terms of flavour and prices.
In & Out/一座一忘丽江主题餐厅
1 Sanlitun Beixiaojie, next to Jenny Lou’s.
Open 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.