I spent a lovely week falling in love all over again with Chinese cuisine while reading “The Last Chinese Chef” by Nicole Mones (more on that later) and as soon as i turned th e last page over, I had the mother of all cravings for Beggar’s Chicken 叫化鸡 (jiao hua ji). I did the first thing that came to mind: Jump to dianping and run a search.. unanimously, 无名居 (wu ming ju) came out on top! I double checked with a Chinese friend of mine who appreciates good food and she confirmed my findings.
Now, what’s so special about a beggar’s chicken ( also known as 富贵鸡 ,literally “rich and noble chicken” in Beijing) ? Here is the story:
Legend has it that a homeless, starving beggar had a chicken but didn’t have a stove to prepare it. Desperate for food, he came up with an idea. He killed the chicken and covered it with mud and baked it with fire…
A Qing-dynasty Emperor passed by. Attracted by the aroma of the baked chicken, he stopped and dined with the beggar. The Emperor loved the “Beggar’s Chicken” so much that it was added to the list of dishes served at the Imperial court.
A quick phone call to Wu Ming Ju confirmed that they did indeed have authentic Beggar’s Chicken and that it required 24 hours notice to get one so keep that in mind if you ever decide to check it out.
Restaurants like Wu Ming Ju are poster establishments for the differences in dining habits between locals and foreigners: This place has 3 branches in Beijing with different reviews on dianping. Zhongguancun ( 1133+ reviews), Xizhimen (429+ reviews) and Lufthansa ( 319 + reviews). As far as I could tell, it’s not even listed on The Beijinger or City Weekend. Mobile Native has a listing for it. I’m not sure how to explain such discrepancy in taste or popularity!
The place serves up imperial and Jiangsu style cuisine. It is not cheap as far as Chinese Food goes for a good reason: It is Chinese Cuisine!
So, how about the food?
We arrived there on the 5th day of Chinese New Year trying to dodge the fireworks as much as possible. The staff was amazingly friendly and the restaurant a decent little throwback to my time in Hebei with their private rooms. I didn’t wonder around much but I can’t recall seeing a common seating area.
The menu was beautifully illustrated with English, Chinese and pictures making it a breeze to order. The main course of the night was preplanned so I just picked a few random dishes to complement our pre-ordered chicken. I was a bit tired that day so I forgot to write down the Chinese name of the dishes but a few stood out:
A peppered beef that was out of this world: The beef was tender and the peppers had quite an attitude if memory serves me right! It was quite popular on the table
Lotus shoots with prawns: I had forgotten about the prawns until i bit into what looked like the lotus shoot and was surprised at the mix of textures. This one had a hint of sweetness to it that balanced out the spiced beef nicely!
Simple Fungus n shoots: Simply elegant and tasty! Not much to say about other than it went well with the chicken. This one came as a recommendation of the staff which was surprising considering it was one of the cheaper dishes on the menu
But this is about a Beggar’s chicken, isn’t it? And finally the baby came along! The presentation was simpler than expected, a whole chicken sitting on a lotus leaf that exuded of earthy smells. I was a bit surprised as i expected to get the mud wrapping as well but the hostess explained that it was too messy and they removed it in the kitchen prior to serving.
Our chicken was then taken away from us for cutting purposes and when it finally came back, it was time to dig in! I was a bit afraid of being let down as the book and the search had both resulted in increased expectations. I checked out the opened bird on offer and notice that it was stuffed with a few mushrooms inside and that was it.
Finally, the moment of truth: A carefully picked up a piece and put it in my mouth where it just went in and melted right away! This was one of the most tender pieces of chicken that ever graced my tongue! The taste was quite suprising: The lotus aftertaste was that of green tea, quite leafy if I can describe it that way. The skin was crispy and tasty to perfection!
My dining partners all agreed that the Chicken was worth the search and the trip! By the time we were done with it, the plates looked like a prehistoric cemetery of cleaned up bones!
To say that we were still wanting more would be an understatement!!! we were begging for more!
Overall, I’ll give the experience an A- . The Chicken delivered on its promise and cost RMB 180. The rest of our dishes varied in price between 30 and 60 which is on the high end as far as Chinese Dining goes in Beijing. The total bill for the 5 of us including a few beers was about RMB 580 but almost 40% of it was just the chicken.
That said, I’ll be back for more and I’ll hunting for further Beggar’s Chicken establishments in the capital.
Wuming Ju 无名居
Màizi Diàn Zǎo Yíng Běilǐ 32 Hào
Tel: 010-65021568 65021537