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Beijiang Restaurant (Richmond) - Xinjiang

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Saw an ad in the newspaper for this newly-opened restaurant and finally went in today. Got there around 2:45pm (yes, for lunch) and there were a couple of parties there. Our server said they have been open for a month and a half.

We had the Da Pan Ji (Big Plate Chicken) which comes in 3 sizes. Noodles were served on the side. I found the dish a bit bland but I don't know if they purposely toned it down because we had two young kids in tow and they were afraid that the kids weren't going to eat spicy food. (The blandness does not just refer to the spiciness though.) They didn't know that the kids had already eaten their lunch. :)

They had a very colourful menu and the pricing is a tad high. Think the pricing for Golden Szechuan or Bushuair plus 10%-15% more. E.g. our plate of Da Pan Ji costs 16 for a small. The menu is very lamb-intensive and they have on there advertised a whole barbecued lamb, which is priced at 980 yuan. I don't know if that's CAD or RMB. Skewers cost $2 each.

The food items are certainly interesting and I would go back and try different items. They have what they called hot-pan specials, which looked from the pictures to be "sizzling" items.

The restaurant is in the strip mall with Michigan Noodle House and the Shaolin Martial Arts Academy, at the end of Alexandra Road. The address is 1075-8580 Alexandra Road and they are open Tuesdays to Sundays 11am to 11pm.

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    1. 2:45pm for lunch ??? You would have just caught "IF" starting his day at Nine Dishes ;-)

      1. Skewers were probably the best I've had in town.

        Lamb and cumin was impressive (but it was eighteen dollars, too). They know their way around a lamb. Someone organize a roast lamb dinner there.

        The place is in the tradition of Sinified Xinjiang-type places that are common on the Mainland. This is a fully-owned subsidiary of a restaurant of the same name in Suzhou, in fact.

        But the menu seems to hold back even more than a similar place on the Mainland would. There are the same cumin lamb and skewers and náng and whatnot, but I guess I was looking for something deeper. (I was vigorously dissuaded from ordering a dish of lamb and cabbage, because "you aren't used to that kind of thing; you won't like it!")

        The amount of straight up generic "northern Chinese" dishes is kinda disheartening, especially when it tends toward dishes like sōngshǔyú 松鼠鱼 (deepfried, sweet and sour fish, which is rarely executed with much elegance). And it was lacking some stuff I really would have appreciated, like, say, cold lāmiàn/laghman-- for noodles, I think there was only hóngshāo 红烧 stuff (maybe I missed it, though).

        25 Replies
        1. re: DylanLK

          Pics to come.

          I popped in today, had a quick perusal of the menu and promptly texted betterthanbourdain and DylanLK.

          Concurring with DylanLK about the skewers. When I saw the chef carrying bags of charcoal into the kitchen I knew I had to order them ($2 each). They were excellent - the charcoal makes a difference.

          I also concur on the various holes in the menu pertaining to Xinjiang specific dishes and the generally high prices (it is a decidedly upscale room - marble tables and expensive ceramic place settings).

          They do have hand-pulled noodles, Xinjian pizza, Xinjiang bread, and a whole section dedicated to lamb/mutton. And like _js_ mentioned - a whole lamb dinner can be had for 980 RMB (I have no idea what the price is in CAD, and I foolishly failed to ask). The lamb dishes we had were very good to excellent.

          I too was looking for cold noodles when I first opened the menu (it was a hot in Richmond today - lamian would have hit the spot) and settled for a cold simple salad and a tofu/century egg appetizer instead. They did have have nice cold appetizers - come to think of it.

          1. re: DylanLK

            Yeah, I was surprised to see a big picture of the squirrel fish, taking such a prominent spot. I did have a hard time navigating through their menu though. Some of the items still don't have pricing on them so I don't know if they're offering them or not. I found the menu terribly confusing -- and they probably should streamline it.

            RE the vigorous dissuasion: It's probably the same lady who dissuaded us from ordering ice water! LOL I had asked for ice water for the kiddies and she kept insisting that ice water is no good and that they should be drinking hot water, so I just said, fine, just not too hot, mix it with a little cold water because they can't drink hot water.

            We'll just have to see if people here will "get used to [their] kind of thing" and whether they'll like it.

            A whole roast lamb dinner sounds good -- I'm guessing that the 980 yuan is RMB? Seems steep if it's CAD.

            1. re: _js_

              Check out the website of the parent company-- http://www.beijianghotel.cn/ -- and you'll get an idea of what they're going for. I hate to be cranky about restaurants, where people have, I assume, put their heart and soul into building the thing, but... I'd probably choose KFC over a place like that. It's a cheesy theme restaurant, a Sinified version of Xinjiang food, where the non-Han Chinese are kept confined to the kitchen or brought out to dance for the tourists. I guess I can kind of dig eating there, if you're in Richmond, since it's almost the only option but it still sorta puts me off.

              There are some creepy racial/ethnic things going on when this food and "minority culture" are imported into central China. The region of Xinjiang is being beaten down by--okay, this is inflammatory but true--Han Chinese colonists, who, at the same time, are fetishizing "minority culture" and turning it into a product to be consumed. You know what I mean?

              It's kind of the same problem I have with that Richmond night market dude calling his lamb skewer place Xīnjiāng Lǎo 新疆佬. That's Darkie Toothpaste-level offensive.

              Nowadays, Sinified Xinjiang food is a legit thing in its own right. It doesn't have to be cooked by a Uighur guy, following some particular rules. But I resent when the food is presented as mínzú fēngwèi 民族风味-- yay, "ethnic flavor"!-- while actually having not that much to do with any kind of ethnic cuisine. I'm put off by that theme restaurant vibe.

              But!

              Honestly, who cares about all that?

              The food that I tried was really good.

              1. re: DylanLK

                >>"The region of Xinjiang is being beaten down by--okay, this is inflammatory but true--Han Chinese colonists, who, at the same time, are fetishizing "minority culture" and turning it into a product to be consumed. You know what I mean? "

                Not too different from what we see here: Southern BBQ places, Modern Chinese cuisine, Modern Thai, etc. Simulacra. I guess the difference here is that we are importing another culture's biases and culinary fetishes.

                >>"But!
                >>Honestly, who cares about all that?
                >>The food that I tried was really good."

                It was definitely good today (brushing aside questions of authenticity and cultural co-opting). The chef was from Xinjiang province if that makes a difference to anyone.

                1. re: fmed

                  "Modern Chinese cuisine": LOL I was just thinking how is Beijiang different from Bao Bei? I probably will get flamed for that but here goes. Chinese dumpling makers in the back -- dumplings served 2? 3? to a plate, beautiful, fetishized, for which we are charged a premium -- the only thing missing is the Chinese equivalent of a belly dancer. . .or are those the servers?

                  I don't have a problem with Sinified Xinjiang cuisine. I suppose I think of it along the same lines I do with Indianized Chinese cuisine -- and it's a genre of its own.

                  Thank you, Dylan, for the link -- it certainly gives one some background and context and perspective. I don't know what the precise relationship between the parent company and this Richmond location is (franchisor/franchisee? company outpost?) and I don't even know if that would make a difference. It would be simpler if this was a small mom-and-pop joint, eh? I'm thinking we could probably enjoy the food with less baggage. :)

                  1. re: fmed

                    I think it's different than those examples, because there's simultaneous oppression of Xinjiang and Han Chinese rebranding of Xinjiang minority ethnic culture. It strikes me as something like a culinary blackface routine, with Han Chinese bringing non-Chinese food to a Han Chinese audience, safely, without any actual interaction between different ethnic groups.

                    I see where you're going with those examples, but I think the closest thing would be Americans doing Mexican food (think of the worst, most offensive examples). There is a tradition of, like, you know, Tex-Mex, just like there's a tradition of Chinese-Xinjiang food. But....

                    But-- okay-- now imagine a Mexican restaurant in, say, Utah, where they serve mostly passable Mexican food, but the front-of-house staff are all white dudes and the only real live Mexicans are hidden in the kitchen or performing vaguely ethnic dance numbers for a mainly white, local audience. And now imagine that the United States annexed Mexico during the last century and is waging an all-out war on Mexican sovereigntists and the region is frequently torn apart with interethnic violence.

                    If I detected some kind of deep, sympathetic attraction to the region, to the people, to the food, and it didn't seem like a cheesy Planet Urumqi concept restaurant, it would be different.

                    That's the baggage that comes with a restaurant like Beijiang, for me.

                    And those are mostly issues with how it reads to a Mainland Chinese audience. To most locals, I assume it'll read as: "Chinese restaurant with pictures of camels [instead of pictures of, for example, the Blue Mosque, which decorate most Xinjiang restaurants not run by Han Chinese]. How queer! But great sweet-and-sour fish!"

                    1. re: DylanLK

                      Ah - I understand. The closest thing I can think of in Canada are tourist tourbus potlatches that include an Aboriginal meal and a bit of dancing.

                      1. re: DylanLK

                        Thanks for the clarification. Certainly puts a lot of things in perspective.

                        Going back to the Richmond restaurant, I don't know how well they'll do in this competitive market. Their prices are quite high, the food is somewhat unfamiliar. The restaurant might be sold within the year and become something else entirely.

                        I don't mean to be nasty or anything -- I'm just thinking, the political context not withstanding, they have to evolve into something else to be able to sustain their viability in the tough Richmond restaurant market.

                        1. re: _js_

                          How about a chowdown before they shut down. Barbq whole lamb at 980 RMB is only about 150 canadian. Good for 10 or more chowhounds.

                          1. re: CrispyLechon

                            I think this price is an error. (I saw two menus - one in RMB with CAD pricing taped over top and the one I photographed which is a reworked version).

                          2. re: _js_

                            Yeah, tourbus potlaches are close enough. I think if it was, for example, a Tibetan restaurant, the political context might be more apparent. But the situation in Xinjiang--right now, at least--is even more clamped down. So, it's hard to consider a restaurant like this outside of the very active political context. But anyways....

                            I think the food is a known commodity to most of Richmond's dining public. I don't think it's fair to say it's unfamiliar. The Xinjiang theme restaurant is a pretty well-worn concept in Mainland China.

                            Maybe price is a problem but... have high prices crippled the business of any Richmond restaurants? This isn't a rhetorical question. Although my perception is that price point scarcely matters. And I was almost hit by a Ferrari while crossing Alexandra on the way there. It doesn't seem like Richmond Chinese restaurants are in any kind of a price war.

                            I wish I could end this with something like, "Head out to [neighboring suburb] to [my imagined ideal Xinjiang restaurant] for something cheaper and more honest," but this is the only show in town.

                            Okay. Actually, jeez, just go to Peaceful-- not my favorite place in the city but it'll scratch the same itch without the corniness and inflated prices. The menus, if not the concepts, at the two restaurants are similar. And you'll save eight bucks on cumin lamb.

                            1. re: DylanLK

                              (What are you doing up at 4am? What am I doing up at 4am?)

                              The new influx of monied Mainlanders means that we will see more of these types of restaurants. A restaurant that specializes in skewers and lamb without the histrionics would be great. (Like a XInjiang Zakkushi). Or Tibetan...or a restaurant that specializes in the 8 Great Traditions...

                              I'm looking forward to see what happens to the restaurant scene in Richmond as the demographics balances out a bit - from HK-Cantonese to Mainland.

                              1. re: fmed

                                popping in from China board to join this fascinating OT.

                                Based on my limited observations: Chinese who live on the mainland are far less interested than foreigners in traditional Chinese food; the migrant workers gave Chinese esp around eastern parts tastes of food traditions from all over the country and now in larger cities the residents have unprecedented access to food from around the world. Fusion is lamentably popular. OTOH, overseas Chinese' homesickness is highly food-related. Best case scenario is they will keep the local Chinese places affordable and honest. Worst case scenario is that their food dollars will go towards more glitz and theme restaurants where the taste of the food doesn't really matter, as is fashionable on the mainland.

                                Just to keep it about the restaurant, the dianping reviews of the suzhou branches rate them the best tasting and most popular xinjiang restaurants in town, and I don't see a lot of comments about the decor or the service, it's all about the food.

                                1. re: pepper_mil

                                  Hey pepper_mil! Nice to see you around these parts. Thanks for that insight.

                              2. re: DylanLK

                                I did like the Da Pan Ji at Peaceful better. And on a totally superficial note, I did like the tables there better too: the tables at Beijiang make me uncomfortable for some reason. LOL re the Ferrari. . .My observation has been: a lot of people like their cars expensive but their food cheap. Maybe the new influx Mainlanders are a breed different. :)

                    2. re: DylanLK

                      To DylanLK: Where in Suzhou, if I may ask?

                      1. re: buttertart

                        Looks like four locations in Suzhou: http://www.beijianghotel.com/?fpage/l...

                        南门店: 江苏苏州市沧浪区新市路272号
                        新区店: 苏州市高新区塔园路160号
                        园区店: 苏州工业园区苏惠路158号左岸商业街B区I座
                        石路店: 金阊区阊胥路

                        But, obviously, there's much better Xinjiang food readily available in Suzhou.

                        1. re: DylanLK

                          Thanks, where is the better Xinjiang food to be had? We get there semi-regularly and are very interested in the cuisine (as a contrast to Suzhou Jiangnan style which we love too).

                          1. re: buttertart

                            Heard from foodfirst that the 980 price tag was in fact Cdn $ for the whole lamb...

                            1. re: grayelf

                              Yes I can confirm that. I had lunch there today and I asked the server about the whole lamb. I asked if its in Yuan. He laughed and said its in Canadian dollars. Its kinda expensive for that price unless the lamb is as big as a cow. LOL.

                              BTW, I was lunching alone so I just ordered the lamb skewers and the tofu with preserved eggs. The skewers are really good and its a good deal at $2.00. I think its about twice the size of that served at 9 dishes.

                              1. re: grayelf

                                Hhhmmm...that's only $50 per person for 20 people....sounds do-able.

                                1. re: grayelf

                                  That must be one HAPPY lamb and one that must have lived quite an idyllic existence on the Xinjiang prairies, as advertised on the Beijiang menu.

                                2. re: buttertart

                                  ...ahem, better Xinjiang restaurant in Suzhou?

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    I haven't been there in two years! I don't exactly have my finger on the pulse of the Suzhou dining scene. By readily available, I mean that you can get a better plate of laghman or big plate chicken with nang bread at any hole-in-the-wall Lanzhou lamian restaurant (which, in Eastern China, are mostly run by people from Xinjiang and Qinghai). Suzhou has a pretty large Uighur community, so I'm sure there are other options.

                                    But... for more formal, sort of in the same style as Beijiang, but not a cheesy theme restaurant, there's Pamir 帕米尔 -- some pictures here: http://www.wretch.cc/blog/ixionwheels... --.

                          2. It doesn't feel authentic. Some kind of wierd fusion of PRC street food and supposedly Turkestani cuisine.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: baybal

                              To me, it's like a fusion of Jiangnan banquet food (parent company is based in Suzhou) and what those Jiangnan banquet chefs imagine Xinjiang's food must taste like, after reading the Baidu Baike entry on it. I don't think it has much to do with the ethnic food of the region and a lot more to do with the syncretic cuisine of Han Chinese that moved to the region, right?

                              It's interesting to me, in the same way that other wonderfully inauthentic things are interesting. It's syncretic! New! Don't approach it as some kind of authentic ideal.