A Chinese friend of mine lives right next to Ditan Park (Temple of Earth) which is one of Beijing’s four great central temple parks. Whenever she and I want to get together for a catch-up on life, the universe and everything, we invariably meet for an early evening meal at Shuang Fu, a restaurant just outside the East gate of Ditan Park. Shuang Fu (which means Double Blessing) has branches in Beijing and one branch in the northern city of Harbin. It is a Dongbei cai restaurant which is to say it serves the cuisine of north-east China comprising the provinces of Heilongjian, Jilin and Liaoming – back in the pre-WW2 days this was the part of China refered to as Manchuria.
The staple grain of this whole area is wheat and so there breads, buns and noodles abound and rice is not usually served. The food is simple, warming and hearty as you might expect from an area which has winter temperatures that regularly go below -20C . One of the most common cooking methods is braising or casseroling. Over the centuries there has obviously been a fair amount of culinary cross-fertilisation from the neighbouring countries of Russia, Korea and Mongolia so meat stews, potatoes, fermented cabbage and pickles are all popular. The region is also famed for its charcuterie – and for serving donkey meat (not that I’m about to order a dish of Eeyore any time soon).
When we met up for supper last week, Liu Xin took command of the menu and this is what she ordered:
mati mianbao – (aka horse-hoof bread) This was a delicious crusty bread roll that resembles a horse’s hoof. It had been slashed in half and a thick slice of hot roasted pork inserted – a rough and ready doorstop sandwich. I think that these would usually be eaten on the hoof – so to speak – up north, as a takeaway fast snack.
Liu Xin started with bowl of hot corn soup – it looked more like a corn gruel and when I tasted it I found it incredibly bland, but she loves it and orders it every time we come to Shuang Fu.
Then we had two salads; the first was mu’er with chunks of cucumber and lashings of chopped garlic in a pungent dressing, and the second was a salad of noodles with shredded carrot, cucumber, fresh coriander and slivers of crispy fried pork. The noodles were very different from the usual noodles one associates with Chinese dishes. Called dongbei dala p’i they are made from mung bean starch, and are glassy looking, about an inch wide but quite flat, translucent and very slippery with a gelatinous mouth-feel. The contrast of textures between them and the crunchy vegetables made this a really interesting dish.
After that we had a dish of hot sliced Dongbei sausage with corn ‘chips’. The sausage, which is made in-house, was like a French garlic sausage which has been cured, rather than an English sausage which requires cooking. The crispy golden ‘chips’ had been made of a cornmeal paste which had been deep-fried, and were absolutely delicious and very moreish. I hate to think how many calories they contained!
We shared a 500ml bottle of Tsingtao and the whole bill came to less than £11.00.
There is no English (or Engrish) on the menu so you have to rely on the picture menu or you can point to things people are eating at other tables, unless you have a Chinese friend with you who can translate (thanks Liu Xin!).
The restaurant comprises four floors, with a rustic decor of corn stooks, farm implements hanging on the walls and simple wooden tables and benches. Most of the diners seem to be groups of young people or families, and the place is quite rowdy. Not somewhere to go for a romantic evening, but ideal for a good value meal with excellent service and cooking. If you are in the Ditan park area and feeling peckish this is definately the place for you.
9 Area 5, Heping Li Nan Lu, Dongcheng District East gate of Ditan Park. Tel: 8422 2388