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With the air quality being what it is these last few days, we decided the wisest thing to do this week is stay close to home and not venture into the city unless absolutely necessary. We made an exception for the International School Choral Society Music Festival (ISCMS) gala concert at the Forbidden City Concert Hall on Saturday evening. Hosted by Dulwich College Beijing (DCB), the event featured students from DCB, the Western Academy of Beijing, and 20 other schools around China and Asia. This was a concert worth sitting in traffic and bad air for. Over two hours, the orchestra and choir – made up of high school students and some teachers – played specially-commissioned music with special guest Christopher Tin.
Otherwise, we ate our way through three Chinese restaurants over the last two weekends. This week, I’ll write about the first two. In the next edition of Shunyi Happenings, I’ll review the third and share more local eats.
Chinese Food 101
All three of the restaurants aim to make Chinese food palatable to foreigners. While you are likely to still be seated next to many locals (and occasionally, their lit cigarettes), these restaurants will enable you to try some authentic fare without having to worry about hygiene or quality. Keep in mind that these venues are much more expensive than your typical Chinese eatery.
This restaurant is part of a chain with a very long Chinese name, but you can’t miss the logo featuring a smiling pig among red flowers. Known as A Pig (一口猪) for short, you can recognize it by the archway of red lanterns leading up to the imposing wooden entrance. It occupies the space where A-Z Kids used to be along Pinnacle Avenue, not far from Rego and across from Shadow Creek.
A Pig’s unassuming facade masks an impressive interior. I won’t give it away; I’ll just say that I never expected this sort of decor in Shunyi. We even liked the wait staff’s uniforms and headpieces.
Our group had mixed reviews about the food, however. Some really liked it, while others thought it was pretty standard fare. The stand-out dishes were lightly battered and fried lotus root stuffed with ground meat (RMB 68). This was served on a bed of green beans and eggplant. We found the dish a little too oily but overall very flavorful.
Another favorite was a mix of julienned pork, Chinese celery, and red peppers. Not being a big fan of overly-spicy food, I feared the worst when I saw the amount of peppers in it. Surprisingly the peppers only gave off a light fragrance. This dish, called rousi qincai (肉丝芹菜, RMB 58) goes down well with rice.
We had a pleasant experience at A Pig during lunch hour, but a second visit to the restaurant for dinner turned out a bit disappointing. There were more smokers and the wait staff was rather haphazard about taking away used dishes, making a lot of noise in the process. Be sure to choose a table that is not too close to the service area for a quieter meal. Service is generally efficient and friendly.
The gigantic board menu is chock-full of tiny photos; it almost felt like looking at contact prints (for those who know what those are). There were no English translations, so asking questions and plenty of pointing will be necessary. When in doubt, don’t be shy to point out what people at the next table are having. It’s a good way to try out something new.
A Pig is open daily from 11am-9pm.
When we first saw Sentiments, we thought it was a high-end furniture store judging by the leather couch with fake fur draped on it and the fancy lamp. The name on the facade says Sentiments, but a smaller sign on the glass door says "Sentiments of Hong Kong." Always on the lookout for places to get our Cantonese food fix in Shunyi, we wandered in.
The same high-end feel extended into the interiors, with polished black marble-top tables, overstuffed velvet couches, and mini-chandeliers. We primarily had dim sum on our minds, so we went with a selection of roast pork buns (chashao bao, 叉烧包), shrimp spring rolls, spare ribs in salt and pepper sauce, and chive pancakes.
The chashao bao was first steamed, then baked in a clay casserole with oil. If you like the traditional steamed white fluffy buns, these were not them. However, if you like a twist to your food, this will come as a pleasant surprise.
We ordered the shrimp spring rolls because the wonton we originally wanted was not available. They came in soft, white rice wrappers; we were surprised to find upon first bite that the shrimp and vegetables were held together by the more common crispy, fried wrapper. We liked the combination of crunchy, soft, and chewy. Everything was drizzled in a light vinegar-soy sauce.
Steamed spare ribs are a favorite with my boys, so we ordered two steamer baskets right off the bat. My sons are perhaps unable to give an objective review, but I passed on them because they were floating in oil (like at many other restaurants).
The chive pancakes were nice and crispy. Though fried and a bit salty, they were well-drained so that they didn’t feel greasy on the palate. All dim sum items cost between RMB 28 and 38 per serving. Though it was a bit on the pricey end, we would go back because it was clean, well-located, and makes up one of the very few places to go for Cantonese cuisine in Shunyi.
Sentiments in located in Riverville Square beside Maan Coffee, and is open daily from 11am-9pm.
International Women’s Day at Green T. House Living
Mark your calendars, ladies. Next Friday, March 7 is International Women’s Day. Green T. House Living is celebrating strong women again this year from 11am-3pm with a fashion show, music and dance performances, and an International Brunch Cook-Off. The idea is to get a group of friends of the same nationality together, cook traditional dishes, and celebrate culture together.
Each team will receive the same basic ingredients of flour, oil, sugar, salt, pepper and eggs. You are allowed to bring five more ingredients to come up with one of your country’s traditional dishes. Contact Mary Kate Brown at email@example.com to join the fun.
We’d like to hear from you! What are your Shunyi favorites? Any recommendations or bits of news you’d like to see here on Shunyi Happenings, please feel free to send it on to us via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Dana Cosio-Mercado