Where to find authentic Northern Chinese in the Bay Area
Hi you foodies out there. I was wondering if any of you are aware of authentic Northern Chinese restaurants in the Bay area. By authentic I mean: a restaurant where the chefs come from Bei Jing, Shan Dong or the Dong Bei area, the staff speak Mandarin and English and the dishes are not watered down Cantonese versions or for westerners. I need help as Im having major withdrawal symptoms from China. The sorts of dishes Im after are suan rong bo cai, real..Bei jing kao ya..(hmm!),xiao bai cai yang rou wan zi tang, chao cong yang rou, yang rou tuan, jing jiang rou ci, even ...a simple xi hong shi chao ji dan...anything. Those who can understand my bad pinyin please respond.
What you are more likely to find are Northern dishes through the filter of a Taiwanese chef. There are many places popping up that don't even have signage in English, all Chinese with Mandarin-only speaking staff.
There is one restaurant that comes to mind. This would be the Bei Jing restaurant on Vicente between 41st and 42nd. I went there to eat lamb once and it was pretty authentic. The owner even has the Bei Jing Mandarin accent (Bei Jing and Taiwanese Mandarin are slightly different). I recommend you give it a go. I remember the lamb was really good which was more than i can say for the dumplings but there are also many other dishes on the menu that i might be what you are looking for.
PanPan - when I read your message late last night, I could only figure out part of your pinyin transliteration (mostly because I don't understand Mandarin). My curiousity about the specific dishes you crave inspired a web search for better translations. Surprisingly the best source was an Italian travel site that had Cantonese and Mandarin phonetics translated into Italian culinary vocabulary. My restaurant Italian is much better than my Chinese! Here's my rough translation for these from the site's Italian into English. Pls. let me know how close I am.
suan rong bo cai - spinach sauteed with garlic
Bei jing kao ya - Peking roast duck
xiao bai cai yang rou wan zi tang - baby bok choy and mutton meatballs in broth
chao cong yang rou - roasted then stir-fried lamb
yang rou tuan - roast lamb kebabs
jing jiang rou ci -??
xi hong shi chao ji dan - tomato omelet
Another Chinese Islamic restaurant is Fatima's (link below). This menu site lists menus from many Bay Area Chinese restaurants oriented to primarily Chinese clientele. It could be a good resource for you to filter out what you're looking for.
If you use the search engine on the Chowhound main page, you'll find several posts about this restaurant. Try searching for Shandong or Shan dong too for restaurants that specialize in that cuisine.
re: Melanie Wong
Thanks for the efforts made on my behalf...your Italian translation is fantastic...the last two dishes were the only ones you missed and these are deceptively named local specialties...Jin jiang rou ci is actually slang for Bei jing jiang (Beijing fermented bean sauce)shredded pork, and xi hong shi chao ji dan is stirfried egg and tomatoes - not a tomato omelette but very close.
Thanks for the suggestion to find the restaurant using Chinese characters..this has led up till now to some funny discoveries, the Manchurian restaurant turned out, for instance, to be the South China Restaurant!!!I guess they were trying to cover all their bases.
The restaurant to which you refer sound like a western Chinese restaurant..xin jiang or ching hai. Although there are a considerable number of Chinese muslims in the northeast as well their cuisine has a distinctively different taste, namely they use cummin, tumeric, chilli and coriander because of the proximity to Kazakstan and and Pakistan. Its very good food though and their lamb kebabs wrapped in panfried bread rivals the Greek gyros!
You're welcome! My restaurant French and Italian exceed my Chinese reading skills, unfortunately. The Italian for the stir-fried egg and tomatoes was "fritatta di pomodoro", hence I thought omelet. Chao ji dan is so close to the Cantonese, I should have caught that one. Now is this a soft shirred-style scrambled egg, or a harder cooked until browned egg?
I've been a broken record on this site about is that Chinese food is made up of many different regional cuisines. What we have here in the Bay Area is overwhelmingly Cantonese dominated due the history of Chinese immigration to our State. Being of Cantonese extraction, I don't mind this at all. But the more recent immigration from Taiwan and PRC are bringing change. There are many more Shanghainese restaurants then there were a few years ago, maybe Beijing cuisine will not be far behind. Unfortunately, to be economically viable, Shanghainese cooks are turning out bad Cantonese and vice versa to cover all bases.
The middle eastern flavors of Chinese uighur cuisine are so exotic. Although the cumin-scented lamb at Little Sichuan in San Mateo was even better.
You might also check out San Wong on Post St. in SF (many posts on the SF board). I originally got that tip from a friend from Shandong who used to work at the PRC consulate.
I look forward to hearing about your eating trials!
re: Melanie Wong
Hi Panpan and Melanie,
I have a suggestion in making pinyin easier to understand. I do speak Mandarin, although I've never formally learned the pinyin system. When I exchange email with my family using English to represent Chinese words, I use a number at the end of each character to denote the tone. For example, I would write bei3 jing1 kao3 ya1 for roasted Peking duck. It has helped us at least.
I would also love to hear other suggestions for northern style cuisine restaurants in the Bay Area. I am always on a quest for good Peking duck! I also prefer it served with very thin flour pancakes instead of the puffy steamed buns, although I don't know which is more authentically Beijing.
Panpan, can you describe what jing1 jiang4 rou4 si1 is supposed to taste like for real? I see this dish (usually written as shredded pork in Peking sauce in English) on menus at many Chinese restaurants, but the interpretation is usually something quite sweet and Americanized tasting.
I am quite fond of Fatima (have only been to the Cupertino location). My husband and I always order tsung1 bao4 yang2 rou4 (shredded lamb stir-fried with scallions) and dzi1 ma2 buo2 bing3 (thin sesame pancakes) there. They also have a good lamb and winter melon soup. The mixed lamb soup (yang2 tza2 tang1) sounds interesting although I haven't tried it. And there are several LARGE clay hotpots such as lamb with sour pickled vegetables. And they have knife-shaved noodles (dao1 shiao1 mien4) both pan-fried and in soup.
re: Nancy Acton
I have mostly eaten Jing jiang rou ci in Shen yang not in Beijing, and there I ate it frequently in the Liao da can ting...!(the uni cafeteria). Funnily enough despite its name it wasnt a common dish in Bei jing. Jing jiang rou ci, as served in Bei jing, comes with pancakes and spring onions but in the northeast it is served with gan dou fu. I have never seen gan dou fu outside of China, or outside Shen yang for that matter. It is like paper thin sheets of fermented dou fu which are slightly sweet and soft. The overall taste of a good Jing jiang rou ci is salty, crispy and slightly sweet. I found a restaurant that made a passable rendition in Melbourne, Australia but havent come across a really good one in the West. Part of the problem may in fact be in acquiring a good quality fermented bean sauce.
re: Nancy Acton
on the islamic restaurant note, another good one is darda seafood. it is located in milpitas square (with a ranch 99) on the other side of 237 from mccarthy ranch. it's off the 880-237 intersection, kind of by the great mall.
i love their ji1 tsao3 dau1 shiao1 mien4 (chicken knife shaved noodles). they also have the sesame pancakes you're talking about -- they're called da4 bing3 here. :) also, they have a moo shu dish with mixed vegetables and fried egg on top that's really really good! it's the last thing on the mushu menu, if I remember correctly.
I haven't tried the duck here, so I can't tell you how it is. =\
great idea with the pinying, btw. =)
Hi Pearl, thanks for the tip. That mushu dish sounds interesting.
I mentioned on the General Topics board that mushu has become the "chop suey" of our day. The only place that I felt confident ordering mushu pork was a restaurant in Foster City that's gone now. They had two versions, one on the English menu and a completely different dish with the same name on the Chinese menu, and the servers would ask you very carefully which one you wanted.