For this trip, Mirna gifted me with a Not Just A Good Food Guide: Beijing by Eileen Wen Mooney – it’s the best picture book ever! Photos show the most important dishes from different parts of China and restaurants in Beijing to eat these dishes are listed after each chapter. For example, Noodle Loft was recommended as a place to try Shanxi noodles (like the kaolaolao). We used this book one evening to try something not available in London – after a brief flip through, we settled on Chinese Muslim food, firstly because we’d never had it before and secondly because the location of the suggested restaurant was easy to find. The main things lacking with the book are the absence of addresses in Chinese (we then can’t show it to a taxi driver to get us there) and no map of Beijing with the restaurants labelled on it. It does seem though that her other book Beijing Eats solves these problems.
The restaurant we visited was simply called The Muslim Restaurant and is located in the campus of the Beijing Language and Culture University, a landmark we could easily find on a tourist map. Unfortunately, once we got there, it was a bit of a struggle to find the place on campus. You’ll need to look for the main canteen but then walk round the building – the entrance is on the outside. Look out for the man grilling meats!
The food served is from the autonomous region of Xinjiang where a large population of Chinese Muslims reside. As none of us were very familiar with the cuisine of this region, we allowed the book to guide us through the ordering (I was surprised to see a picture menu even here!). We started with a cold dish of tender, garlicky steamed aubergine. Though it wasn’t in the book, it was delicious.
That was followed by my favourite dish of the night, fried lamb with cumin. Each strip of lamb was held together by a toothpick before frying, which instantly converts this to finger food. Still, we used our chopsticks to pick up the delicious fried onions that surrounded the crispy yet tender meat.
For carbs, we ordered a nang bread – a thick flat round of bread that would probably be better served with something saucy to mop it up.
As the grilled meats are so famous in this region, a mixed grill platter was ordered. Unfortunately, this was the only dud of the evening – there wasn’t much seasoning on each of the meats, which consisted of minced lamb/mutton kebabs, chicken, and lamb’s liver.
Luckily, our last dish was a total winner. A round of nang with a big helping of lamb stew poured on top – I loved how the nang soaks up all the sauce. This must be the Chinese version of a trencher! Large chunks of lamb and carrot had been stewed to utter tenderness.
If rice is more your thing, I noticed lots of plates of a rice pilaff with lamb or mutton coming out of the kitchen and it looked delicious too. Prices are generally low, the food is generally good, and the place has a great buzz to it with the majority of the diners students at the university. Do come early to secure a table – the place filled up not long after we showed up at 6pm (in general though, most people did seem to eat quite early in Beijing).
The Muslim Restaurant
15 Xueyuan Lu
Beijing Language and Culture University (Yuyan Wenhua Daxue)