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Recent Trip to China

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We returned last month from a trip to India and China. I reported on some of the Indian restaurants we liked on the India Board, and I thought I would put down a few thoughts on some of the restaurants we liked in China here. We were in Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai.

My favorite restaurant in China was in Xi'an. The name is Xiang Xiang Da Pen Ji and it's at 264 Chang Yen Nan Lu (boy, I hope I wrote that down correctly). The speciality of the house is Badaling Chicken ("big plate chicken"). I think it would be worth a trip to China just to eat this dish. I learned about badaling chicken on Chowhound and other websites, but for the life of me I can't find a recipe for it on line, or a restaurant that makes it. If anyone knows of such a place, please do let me know.

"Big plate" chicken consists of a whole chicken (head and feet included), cut up and sauteed until it is deeply brown. It's served with delicious hand cut noodles mixed in, and hot peppers and, of course, the juices from the saute itself. This brief description is utterly inadequate, but it's the best I can do. I gather it is a speciality of Xi'an, but the guide told us that this restaurant is the best. The other Chinese diners were also eating badaling chicken at lunch time in this large and fairly modern establishment in a business neighborhood.

With our badaling chicken, we ate steamed buns made of buckwheat (the buns came in two colors: yellow and brown) with depressions in the buns into which you put diced duck meat and vegetables. We also ate a fantastic dish of "fungus with white walnuts" and, for dessert, sweet steamed buns served with thickened condensed milk for dipping the buns. Chinese whiskey was a good accompaniment to this meal, which cost (for 3 of us) about $17 and was a high point dining experience for me of all times.

We also had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant along the road from Beijing to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall As you drive along, you see lots of restaurants with adjacent ponds advertising fresh fish. Our guide told us that these country restaurants are very popular with Chinese families visiting the Wall. He selected the Mu Tian Yu Yu Kan Restaurant for a lovely late lunch at an outside table near the pond. Naturally, we ordered the fish.

The fish was a large trout (or at least it was described as a trout) plucked from the water as we watched. It was served roasted with cumin and was magnificent. And so was the spectacularly good wild chicken stewed with ginger and onion in a brown sauce, and the roasted eggplant with tomato and peppers and the dumplings stuffed with wild seasonal mountain vegetables (served with vinegar for dipping). This feast (including Tsing Tao beer, of course), for the two of us, and our guide and our driver (although hthe driver only ate noodles) was about $35.

In Shanghai, we had lunch at Chun's Restaurant at 124 Jinxian Lu (6256-0351). This was one of R.W. Apple's 10 favorite restaurants in the world (to read about another one, Trishna, see my post on the India board), and the Wall Street Journal also wrote it up fairly recently. You know, fame does not appear to have gone to Mrs. Chun's head in the least. It was a wonderful meal.

We arrived at the restaurant around 1 p.m. to find it empty because, according to Mrs. Chun's son, Kevin, we were too late for lunch. I never did figure out what time people eat lunch in Shanghai. But Kevin suggested we wait for his mother to return, so we sat around the little four table restaurant and found out what good English Kevin speaks. When Mrs. Chun returned, she was most cordial and said she would be glad to feed us. Her only question was if there was anything we would not eat. Our answer, of course, was that we would eat anything Mrs. Chun suggested.

So we got, for the two of us, without ever seeing a menu, red shrimp in oil and a whole fish in brown sauce and cold wine poached chicken and wonderful little crabs sauteed with their roe in wine sauce. Washed down with Tsing Tao, the meal was about $30. Given the difficulty of getting a reservation at Chun's, we felt like the luckiest people in Shanghai.

We had other wonderful meals in China, of course. In Beijing there was the rather exotic Lao Fung Restaurant, packed with Chinese diners drinking a red beverage from large pitchers (not enough English spoken here for us to figure out exactly what it was, but I think it was a fruit juice with healthy properties). We ate shrimp in red oil (very spicy) and braised mutton (with sesame salt for dipping) and peas "with flavor" and noodles with bean paste and meat. And for dessert, we had the most wonderful and amazing apples in toffee -- the burning hot apples covered with caramelized sugar are dipped into ice water by the diner, creating the most amazing spider webs of toffee when they emerge hardened from the icy bath. This entire meal was an astounding $25.

And in Shanghai, of course, we ate wonderful dumplings at the ultra fancy, very modern, Fu Lin Xuan at 300 Huaihai Zhong Lu Phone 6538-3699. This establishment is on the second floor of a posh mall, and the customers were well dressed to say the least. We spent about $17 on crispy pigeon (with a wonderful lacquered skin) and shrimp balls and fresh, cold cucumber in garlic and steamed buns (yeasty and filled with sweet and sour meat) and wonderful soup dumplings (after all, here we were at the Fount of Soup Dumplings) and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf wrapped in wax paper, packed with such things as egg and fish. Egg custard (fresher and flakier than even the best we've had in New York City) and freid sesame balls filled with sweet lotus paste for dessert. And a lovely and attentive staff to boot.

It's hard to write it all down. All I really want to do is to go back and start eating again.

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  1. Loved your description of the "Big Plate" chicken & other dishes there - make me want to go to Xian just to eat :-D

    1. Thank you for this, haven't been to China in a couple of years and really miss it. What a great place for food!

      1. Yikes! It looks like I got the name of the fabulous chicken dish wrong. It's “Da Pan Ji” (大盘鸡). But it does translate as "Big Plate Chicken"

        1. This is the dianping link for the restaurant: http://www.dianping.com/shop/2076724

          Glad you enjoyed your meal but a lot of other people seem to really put off by the sanitary conditions of the restaurant.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hong_kong_foodie

            We try not to look too closely at the sanitary conditions of any restaurant or food stall where there is a big crowd of happy diners and the food is excellent. But, having said that, we suffered no ill effects from eating everything we could at Xiang Xiang Da Pen Ji and it remains a high culinary point of our trip. And, come to think about it, the conditions really didn't look that bad to me. Thanks for the link.

          2. Nice report. I'll be going to Mutianyu next week, with a driver probably - do you recommend that we find this particular restaurant?

            Also, where is Lao Fung restaurant (and what kind of food is it?) Sounds intriguing!

            Thanks
            Dave MP

            3 Replies
            1. re: Dave MP

              The restaurant was on the main road up to Mutianya, and we really liked it, but there are several restaurants that sure looked similar and I'll bet they are just fine. We only tried the one. And I'll try to get you an address for the restaurant in Beijing. The food was Beijing style (lots of oil, for example), but, to the extent I could understand the menu, certain dishes had certain health-related qualities.

              1. re: EHBrown

                The exact name of the restaurant in Beijing is Liu Zhai Shifu. It's at 8 Meishuguan Dongjie, opposite Sanlian Bookstore, Dongcheng, Centre. You should reserve your table.

                1. re: EHBrown

                  Cool, this looks great. And possibly a good option for Peking Duck too....I found this article, where the chef is interviewed: http://www.cnntraveller.com/2009/01/0...

                  I'll definitely make a reservation.