An ancient Chinese capital for six dynasties, the eastern city of Nanjing is now better-known for its cuisine: heavy on duck, imbued with street food culture, laid-back but characterized by refined cooking methods.
Despite the fact that Nanjing Impressions been established in Beijing for over two years, only a smattering of expats have given the chain a chance to impress. Food should be enjoyed in the right ambience – and Nanjing Impressions knows how to deliver an authentic experience. We visited the Sanlitun branch at Shimao Department Store, where an elderly man in Nanjing traditional dress greeted us with a bow and politely ushered us in.
After being seated, we quickly forgot we were in a shopping mall. Red and yellow paper lanterns hung from the rafters, the floor was paved with grey stone tiles, the wooden walls were weathered to evoke an old-style Nanjing restaurant, and the evening featured a performance of pingtan (评弹), a form of musical storytelling that features the pairing of Suzhou dialect with Chinese instruments.
The menu is extensive and can be overwhelming at first, though it contains good English translations. Take your time writing down the dishes’ ID numbers. Or, simply stroll up to the “snack street” – an open kitchen with noodles, dumplings, and cold appetizers on display, point to what you want, and tell the staff your table number. Oddly, the drinks menu is in Chinese only.
We started with zhaopai yanshui ya (招牌盐水鸭, RMB 28), a cold appetizer of marinated and air-dried duck. Don’t be deceived by the simple preparation and appearance; the duck was firm in texture with a smooth white skin, heavy on the salt but balanced with a slight sweetness. It is but one entry in the grand pantheon of duck dishes that Nanjingers love, from duck head to duck offal and duck blood. Even the buns – such as tianwang kaoya bao (天王烤鸭包, RMB 12 for three) are stuffed with juicy roast duck. Why so much variation? Ask a duck lover.
We also loved the laopai yangchunmian (老牌阳春面, RMB 9), a traditional Nanjing noodle soup devoid of toppings. The noodles came in a big bowl with clear broth barely flavored with soy sauce and bit of oil, making this a good start to your meal.
Model Laura Fueller’s favorite was baobing niurousong (薄饼牛肉松, RMB 32), a stir-fried mix of beef and diced string beans served alongside soft pancakes. Kids will have fun wrapping up the beef as they would Beijing duck. Those with a sweet tooth should try a bowl of gufa tangyumiao (古法糖芋苗, RMB 6), or sweet taro balls and osmanthus flowers in syrup.
Though the food is cheap, families can expect efficient and friendly service. A wait is inevitable, but don’t be put off; turnover tends to be fast. Wooden highchairs are available, and a willow basket is placed under each table for storing clothes and bags. The bathroom is opposite the restaurant on the same floor, with western-style toilets and a change table. Smoking is not allowed.
Nanjing Impressions 南京大牌档
Mon-Fri 11am-2pm and 5-10pm, Sat-Sun 11am-10pm. 4/F, Shimao Department Store, 13 Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang District (8405 9777) 朝阳区工体北路13号世茂百货4层
Photos: Sui and Courtesy of Nanjing Impressions
This article originally appeared on p24-25 of the beijingkids April 2014 issue. Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com