Walking around Beijing on the weekend, I ended up among the hutongs and was looking for a place to eat. I need not look far.
Wudaoying Hutong 五道营胡同 is located in Dongcheng District, which runs in an east-west direction. It starts from Yonghegong Street in the east and ends at Andingmen Street in the west, with a total length of 632 metres.
During the Ming Dynasty, this place was the barracks of the army stationed in the city, called “Wu Dewei Camp” 武德卫营. In the Qing Dynasty, it was renamed “Wu Dao Ying” 五道营. When the name of the place was reorganised in 1965, it was also renamed “Wu Dao Ying Hutong”.
Around 2010, an Englishman and his Chinese wife were the first to open a diner and bar into the Wudaoying Hutong called “Grape Courtyard”. Since then, there has been an endless stream of international friends coming in and out of this place. Later, other foreigners opened a lot of cafes and bars, attracting hippies Beijingers to come; when many Chinese people see business opportunities, they also open stores one after another.
In addition to food, there are many boutique and home craft stores that are quite eclectic. The restaurants and bars here are often unique and could not be found in other hutongs. The shops are also very artistic and full of character, so gradually the Wudaoying Hutong become popular among the younger set, overtaking the more touristy Nanluoguo Alley.
The streets are lined with old shade trees and are surprisingly quiet little patches of ordinary community life in the center of the vast city. The few cars we see are covered with protective sheets and a thick layer of autumn leaves, and people carefully weave quiet electric scooters between bicycles.
While skyscrapers crowd the horizon of the city, the courtyard houses in the hutongs are low: rarely more than one story, left over from an imperial rule that decreed the houses, shops and restaurants could not be higher than the emperor’s throne room in the Forbidden City.
And nestled among these four-sided courtyards 四合院 in the hutongs is a small, unique restaurant opened by a Yunnan native that has called Beijing his home. The self-taught chef is from a minority ethnic group and could not find similar food in the huge megapolis.
His yearning for his mom’s cooking inspired him to open this eatery that featured a mix of Yunnan and influence from a mixture of cuisine. In his own words, the food is “anything that works”.
招牌马蹄豆腐 Tofu with minced water chestnut
Deceivingly simple, chopped up water chestnuts are mixed with soft tofu with seasoning, and then steamed like an egg custard that would be on the dining tables of every family. The familiar yet unfamiliar steamed tofu had the texture and taste of steamed eggs, but this one is totally vegetarian.
The serving was quite a lot even for two persons dining. And like home cooking, the taste was quite monotonous after a few bites.
招牌牛肉汤锅 Beef clear soup
The soup came in huge cast iron pot, and this was a standard portion. It has a peppercorny taste and I don’t like that numbing taste. Cubes of beef juxtaposed with the bean sprouts and button mushrooms. Again quite monotonous in taste.
腊肠炒山蕨菜 Sautéed fern buds with Chinese sausage
Fiddleheads are the furled fronds of a young fern, harvested for use as a vegetable. And in order for these to be shipped to Beijing, they were preserved in salt and vinegar.
This sautéed fiddleheads with Chinese sausage was a rice killer. It was quite heavy to eat it on its own.
Not exactly a very nice restaurant, but maybe because I wasn’t used to eating Yunnan minority ethnic cuisine. Worth the visit just for the experience of eating in a typical Hutong quarter.
Soup Kitchen 汤厨 私厨
24 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng District 东城区五道营胡同24号
Visited May 2023
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