Our second trip was much more pleasant – for once the traffic was acceptable, and we managed to get to Yonganli for a bit of brunch.
#7 – 阿文汤包 A Wen Shanghai Restaurant: No surprises here.
When we were planning the trip, this restaurant was one of the first that came to mind, and for good reason. We must’ve been here perhaps ten times, and while we’ve never really strayed far beyond the xiaolongbao we’ve never felt we’ve needed to either.
Price: ¥20 for 8
Location: Yonganli junction north, down a hutong opposite Silk Street.
James – Two options here – pork, or pork with crab roe. Both are equally good, so we opted for the cheaper pork ones. These are the gold standard for xiaolongbao – a slightly thicker skin which holds the soup well, excellent savoury soup with a slight sweetness, the meat tender and succulent. As near to perfect as you can get in Beijing. 9/10
V – Very good indeed. 9/10
Total score: 9/10
#8 – 7 Eleven: The horror, the horror
In order to experience the true quality range Beijing has to offer the baozi connoisseur, we took a stroll underground, to the 7 Eleven I used to buy my lunch from every day. These may be the most commonly eaten baozi in China.
Price: ¥2.5 each
Location: Pretty much everywhere
James – Though other options are available (the chashaobao are perhaps the most edible) we went for the standard pork and bok choi bun. Unwrapping the bag it seemed to be made of plastic, and biting into the thing did little to dispel this idea. The bread was chewy and nasty, like the worst quality mantou, and the inside smelled like chemicals and tasted like cardboard – utterly dry and flavourless. Their competitor KuaiKe can produce perfectly reasonable baozi for half a kuai more, so it’s a mystery why 7 Eleven don’t up their game a bit. 1/10
V – I need paying to eat this shit (after which she dumped the remains in the nearest bin) 0/10
Total score: 0.5/10
#9 – 唐宫海鲜舫: Back to the good stuff
It was time for a bit of late lunch now, so we took the subway down to Chongwenmen to get a bit of dim sum. The restaurant was well-hidden – inside a Novotel, on the second floor – and emptier than it should’ve been by rights. The TV was showing an expose of slaughterhouses – not a great thing to watch while you eat, but thankfully the programme finished before our food arrived. The dim sum here is surprisingly cheap, but when we returned the next time we found their dinner menu was much more expensive – and these dishes were entirely unavailable.
Price: ¥11 for 4 xiaolongbao, ¥9 for 3 chashaobao
Location: Above the Novotel XinQiao, Chongwenmen Subway Station
James – The pork xiaolongbao are (amazingly) almost as good as the ones at A Wen, and at a better price too. The meat is great quality, the soup has that savoury taste. The only criticism I have is that the meat could be separated a little more, but that’s a minor quibble. 8/10
The chashaobao are even better – fluffy, slightly sweet bread, juicy barbecue pork with just enough fat, and a sweet, rich sauce. A little too filling, perhaps, but that wouldn’t be a problem under normal circumstances. 8.5/10
V – xiaolongbao 8/10 – chashaobao 8.5/10
Total score: xiaolongbao 8/10 – chashaobao 8.5/10
There followed an abortive trip to Qianmen, where we failed to find a restaurant, briefly lost each-other, realised V had lost her phone and had to use the tourist information woman’s phone to check where it was (in the A Wen Shanghai Restaurant) as mine was out of power.
A subway journey and a bus, and a wander around some back-streets later, we were on our way again.
#10 – 江南大包: Silver standard
A little stall on the side of the road, this is more like the kind of place you more commonly buy baozi from. Without anywhere to sit down, we went round the corner to a street restaurant, and ordered some traditional Beijing bottles of fizzy orange drink.
Price: 1¥ each
Location: CuiWei Building North, Fuxinglu, Gongzhufen
James – These are proper street baozi, the standard according to my (limited) experience. There’s a pleasantly bready bun, good quality juicy meat inside, and that’s enough really. Nothing too special, but worth the price. 6.5/10
V – For normal baozi these are quite fresh. The meat is good quality – that’s the most important thing. 7.5/10
Total score: 7/10
–> Part 4