Hidden in the outskirts of Beijing lie many a restaurant that most of us have never heard of, places so weird and strange that might blow your mind away.. if only we could take the time to go scout them and get there. A few sundays ago, while i was preparing for a relaxed afternoon at home, a friend called on me to head over to tongzhou and partake in an inner-mongolian feast of food and dance… Tongzhou? gee, my last trip there wasn’t exactly a success but it did sound intriguing enough.
After a little trip down the batong line which took a lot less than expected we got over to liyuan where we were picked up by a couple of friends. after a 5 minute ride, we parked in front of this old SiHeYuan (courtyard) which was home to jìn fēng zhuāng yuán 晋风庄园
It was a gorgeous courtyard with outdoor space that can seat 100 or so, a stage and a couple of BBQ stands. My hosts were from inner mongolia so i assumed they knew what they were doing but just in case, I did check it out on dianping and found that it was pretty darn good in terms of rating but the weird part is that it was listed under 山西菜 (shanxi cuisine). Scattered around the yard were a roasting pit, outdoor oven and a mini distillery amongst others.
Anyways, we got there quite early by my standards (6:00 pm) and proceeded to order some of the goodies on the eclectic/extensive menu. The usual suspects of course plus some more original combinations that i had not seen before. Roast leg of lamb, roasted giant dumpling, tripes, soup, eggs, inner mongolian pizza and old fashioned round noodles.
The Roast leg of lamb came out roasted to perfection by inner mongolian standards, that is to say, it was well cooked but nevertheless tender. I like the Mongolian way of roasting better than the Uighur one but I’m not a fan of their mutton: I found the aged sheep meat slightly overpowering usually. In this case, it wasn’t.
The Mongolian pizza was also a thing of beauty: thin crisp dough with a layer of mashed potatoes mixed with fish roe!!! yes, you read that right! It was the most unusual of flavors and ingredients as far as i was concerned. This prompted a few questions to my fellow diners about fish and seafood in Inner Mongolia’s diet and it’s apparently quite prevalent…surprising to me! There were quite a few different tastes, some better than others and quite a few deemed original by the locals. The round noodles 羊肉台蘑浇莜面, which i had not had in a long time, were also well done.
Another big difference came in the roasted baozi: Whereas the Xinjiang ones are mostly made of lamb and chives/onions, the Mongolian ones had a cacophony of ingredients as filling.. see the picture below:
During the meal, we were treated to a interesting “Inner Mongolian Idol” where about 12 younglings came out doing their best outdoor karaoke renditions of classic Chinese songs. While one or two of them were good, the other definitely need to log more practice hours in the local KTV parlors honing their non-existing skills.
The big question in this case is and will always be: is it worth going all the way out there for this? Honestly, I don’t think it is but if I happen to need a little getaway from town or a taste of Hebei without really leaving Beijing, I might! 20mn on the batong line are definitely doable considering how much time we spend in taxis commuting around the ‘Jin. The food was good but not exceptional, the atmosphere entertaining but replaceable. It’s a hard statement considering we had a great time but your average Beijing expat is never gonna get there. If you don’t mind the outskirts though, it’s a great place to wow your guests.
You won’t find the place listed in any of the expat sites but good old dianping sure has it:
jìn fēng zhuāng yuán 晋风庄园
Jìnjiāo Tōng Zhōu Qū Líyuán Xīncūn, Líyuán Chéng Tiě Zhàn Dōng
Tel: 010-81516626 81516696