Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Taste of the West

I have an American friend who constantly raves about Xinjiang food. He also raves about the place too which he visited in 2007.

So I took him and a couple visiting Beijing to a Xinjiang restaurant that's in the west side of town.

Every province and region has its own representative office in Beijing, and in these compounds or at least nearby are pretty authentic restaurants from those areas.

I'd been to this restaurant back in November when some friends drove me there so I was a bit worried about finding it again.

However, after getting off at Chegongzhuang on Line 2, we took the 701 bus westwards three stops and there was Sanlihelu, just the street we were looking for. And on the north west corner was the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region compound with a brass plate in Chinese and Arabic.

We wandered inside where there's a Xinjiang Hotel, the government offices, and a restaurant on the second floor.

I had tried to make a reservation for four, but the girl at the other end said they didn't take reservations for small parties, but if I didn't want to wait, I'd had to come before 6pm. We arrived around 5:30 and were seated right away, with more than half the restaurant already full.

By 6pm the place was packed and hungry diners were already waiting for a table.

The last time I was here, we had two large tables and ordered a whole roasted lamb. It came out, head included with a red bow on its head too. We ate so many different dishes, all of which I can't remember, except for eating lamb meat non-stop.

This time, however, we probably ate just as much with four.

We started off with baozi, or buns filled with bits of lamb and vegetable, a bowl of slightly sweetened yogurt sprinkled with sesame and pumpkin seeds.

Then we had a giant plate of braised chicken that was cooked in a spicy red sauce complete with the chillis and potatoes, with slices of naan bread underneath soaking up the sauce.

We also ordered roasted lamb legs which were delicious, seasoned with cumin and paprika. We grabbed the legs like Fred Flintstone, chewing on the large bones.

But that wasn't the only lamb we had -- we also had chuar, or kebabs, that were actually roasted on tree branches. Again very tasty, thick cubes of meat, with bits of fat in between for flavour.

Another good dish was stir-fried noodles, which were actually bits of cut dough, about 1cm long, stirfried with finely diced peppers, kale, tomatoes, Chinese celery and small bits of lamb. We also had a plate of naan, flat bread covered in sesame seeds.

Our only vegetable dish was stir-fried young kale with muyi, or wood ear fungus.

At first we were worried about not being able to finish everything, but eventually, with swigs of Shinjiang (Xinjiang) beer, we practically finished everything, save for most of the naan.

But that wasn't all -- we even managed to find room in our stomachs to try a dessert of red bean paste wrapped with pastry, that wasn't too sweet, and had crushed walnuts in the mix.

In the end our bill came to 239 RMB ($35) for four. And when we walked out of the large dining area, there were many people standing around the entrance, waiting to get their hands (and mouths) on some pretty authentic Xinjiang food.

Yisila Restaurant
No. 7 Sanlihe Road
Haidian District

8683 2666
8617 5588

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