Sunday, April 18, 2010
Cheap Hutong Eats
One was a restaurant that specialized in oysters and clams cooked in the half shell with toppings, while the other was a nearby dessert place tucked in an alley.
The two eateries are in Dongsisitiao, a short taxi ride from Dongsishitiao.
My friend and I walked into the Dongsisitiao hutong and on our right we found 蚝酷 hao (2) ku (4), which sounds like "how cool", but literally means "oysters cool".
The restaurant with red Chinese doors is pretty much no-nonsense, with three rooms, a spacious main dining area and then two smoking areas in the back.
At first we were seated in one of the smoking areas and the smoke was so intense that we had to give up the table despite a lineup of eager diners behind us. Nevertheless, about 20 minutes later we finally got a table, around 7:30pm and had already decided what we'd get since I had been studying the menu, trying to make out what it said as it was all in Chinese.
The oysters and clams come in orders of a dozen and you can choose from four different toppings... garlic, chili peppers, pepper and vegetarian. We were forewarned that vegetarian wasn't good so I ordered oysters half a dozen with garlic, the other half with peppers, along with a dozen clams with garlic.
We also ordered some appetizers, like seaweed, a nice mix of crushed garlic, a dash of chili peppers and salt; soft tofu simply dressed with sesame oil and green onions served cold; roughly chopped cucumbers with vinegar and garlic; and a dish featuring shan yao (山药), or Chinese yam, a white fiberous yam dressed with a sweet osmanthus sauce that was nice and light. This last dish seemed to be a favourite at every other table.
Luckily we didn't have to wait long for the appetizers as we got hungry watching other customers eat. Another great thing about this place is that a big bottle of Yanjing beer was only 5RMB ($0.73).
Not long after the cold dishes arrived did the clams come in a stainless steel tray, the juices in the shell still bubbling away. These giant clams were plump and completely covered in chopped garlic. Seems like someone had the unenviable task of chopping garlic all day everyday... Nevertheless, these clams were delicious, big, meaty and not too overwhelmed by the garlic.
Then our oysters arrived in very thick shells. The oysters were a good size and while eating them some had the tingly feeling in the mouth thanks to the zinc content. While cooking them with garlic wouldn't be my first choice, it was still an interesting taste.
We had also been told to stay away from the roasted chicken wings, and since there wasn't much else on the menu to try, we ordered another round of clams which we somehow managed to finish.
Each dozen of clams and oysters were 48RMB ($7) each, and the appetizers ranging from 8RMB to 12RMB, the bill came to 187RMB ($27.40) for two.
Then we came out of Dongsisitiao hutong, crossed the street and wandered south in search of a very narrow alley where the dessert place was.
Thanks to its bright signage on the main street we soon found it and it was a cute destination, complete with drawings on the wall and subway maps of various cities, like Rome, Tokyo, Hong Kong, London, Cairo and Paris.
There are savoury dishes here too like Cantonese steamed rolls with different fillings, but we tried the strawberry and coconut sago which were mediocre. The place's specialty is (双皮奶) shuangpi nai, or double-boiled milk that becomes a custard. We ordered the one with red bean on top and it was served cold, but hot would have been better. The texture of the custard was good, not sweet, and went well with the red bean. Our bill came to 26RMB ($3.80) and after all that eating and restaurant hopping we were definitely full and waddled out of the area, satiated and hope to come back again for more.
No. 82 Dongsisitiao