Being married to a member of the Hui Muslim minority means that I’ve had my share of Chinese-style halal (qingzhen, 清真) meals. Although my in-laws are not the most orthodox of practitioners (my wife and mother-in-law will occasionally eat pork, while my father-in-law does not), they still maintain many of their culinary traditions.
One such tradition is having big family meals at Beijing’s various Hui-style Muslim restaurants whenever we get together with my wife’s relatives. We’ve had Hui-style snack food at Baikui Laohao (白魁老号, Longfusi Guangchang, 1 Longfu Qianjie, Dongcheng District, 6406 0668); homestyle feasts at Ziguangyuan (紫光园，2 Dongdaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District, other branches across town, 6593 3280), Nan Lai Shun (南来顺, 83 Zhushikou Dajie, Xuanwu District, 6318 6688) and Hong Bin Lou; barbecued mutton at Kaorou Wan (烤肉宛, 58 Nanlishi Lu, Xicheng District, 6802 8180) and hot pot at Dong Lai Shun.
Last night’s get together was at Kaorou Ji in Houhai (pictured above). This well-known laozihao (老字号, “time-honored brand”) restaurant has been serving their specialty grilled mutton and beef since 1848. Because of its location and history, the place is popular with tourists from across China and abroad. Last time I went was years ago, and I had assumed that serving en masse to the all those tourists would have driven the quality of the food down (read Quanjude), but I was impressed by last night’s dinner. Despite the crowds, it has a family friendly environs – and yes, they have high chairs. It was one of the better Hui-style meals I’ve had and proof positive of the restaurant’s reputation.
Some of the dishes we had (if you’ll excuse the blurry, unprofessional shots and my inability to recall some of the dish names):
This stir fried mushroom dish, the name of which I cannot recall, was quite delectable.
The jumbo-sized shao bing were out of sight (not sure what’s going on with the blue tint of my camera lens here …)
A blurry shot of our grilled mutton, served on a hot iron plate heated by candles.
The best way to eat ’em …
Du (肚), or tripe – an acquired taste, but not bad if you’re into innards.
A selection of Hui-style sweets, including aiwowo (the white things with the red bits on top, made from sticky sweet rice and filled with jelly, walnuts and watermelon seeds), and wandou huang (the yellow cubes made from mashed peas). Note the resemblance to middle eastern sweets (i.e. baklava, kunufa etc.)
All in all, Kaorou Ji is a great family dining experience. Houhai itself is kind of a mess at night if you’re toting around kids against the crowds, but it’s worth the trip.