After a morning working up a sweat picking pears, we followed our hosts to a little country restaurant for a hearty meal.
Nowadays, it’s pretty popular for Beijingers to make the trek out here to get a taste of true country cooking. Country restaurants are plain and humble. They’re often just one small room in a shabby building crammed with some tables. Nothing fancy. But they evoke the feeling of stepping into a farmer’s house and being treated to a home cooked meal.
This restaurant is hidden away down a little path that leads toward the reservoir. You can just see the surface of the water in the distance.
We took seats in the small dining room, which only had 3 tables, each seating 10. There’s hardly even any space to walk between the chairs and the walls (unfortunately no photos of the room itself!) Soon enough, we had a table full of delicious home-style dishes. Everything on the table – from the veggies to the meats – was made from local ingredients.
In the eagerness to eat, I forgot to take pictures of the people (my family, our far too generous hosts, and the lovely cook). But of course, I remembered to take pictures of the food!
A little introduction on some of the more special dishes:
The Miyun reservoir is famous for its fish. In the past, the reservoir used to be open to leisure activities, such as row boating, etc. But now, in order to protect the reservoir from pollution, no more activities are allowed and people cannot play by the banks anymore. Every year, the reservoir is closed to fishing from April to September (in order to allow the fish to grow and pollute). And when fishing season reopens, only those with special permits are allowed.
The reservoir area is popular with Beijingers who come up here just to eat its famous fish (and of course, for a peaceful escape from the city). There are numerous restaurants dotted around the reservoir specializing in the local fish (my mom recently had lunch with friends up here at another restaurant, where they ate 6 different types of fish!).
We visited on the second day of the new fishing season. This fish we’re eating was caught the day the fishing season re-opened. I’m not sure what’s the official name is, but informally, it’s known as the “big head fish”.
These tiny shrimp are also from the reservoir. The preparation is simple – just a light stir fry until cooked and the shells become crispy. They’re so small and tender that you just eat them whole… head, shells, whiskers, and all. It sounds/looks a bit scary and I’m normally not crazy for prawns, but they’re DELICIOUS and addicting. I can just shove them in by the mouthful.
As for the chicken dish… I’m sorry to say that yes, this is the very free-range pear-eating chicken that you saw in the last post! (Don’t feel bad, those chickens have super happy lives. :P)
So how does a chicken who grew up on organic pears taste?
Quite tough, actually. You can tell that the meat is from a chicken who runs around all day. The chicken was prepared with chilies and a spicy marinade, which soaked into the meat deliciously.
Accompanying the meat are standard home-style veggie dishes, including vermicelli & spinach, woodear mushroom & snow peas, eggplant, cauliflower seasoned with cumin (not in the picture), boiled peanuts, and tofu noodles & cucumber. Rounding out the meal are fluffy steamed buns and cornmeal buns.
And to wash all this down: fresh pear juice from the pears you saw in the last post!
Ya li are extremely delicate. If dropped on the ground, they’re basically done for. They’re easily bruised and can even crack open when dropped. You can imagine just how many pears go to waste from a single tree!
But out here on the farm, nothing goes to waste. So what happens to the unfortunate pears that ended up on the ground? They’re made into fresh pear juice! Because ya li is known for having a high sugar content, the juice comes out naturally perfectly sweet – a super refreshing beverage to quench our thirsts.
After the meal, we explored the little courtyard for a bit. This is the humble kitchen where all the magic happens!
It was such a treat to experience this day of countryside fun, followed by a delicious meal. Many thanks to my Auntie Hui and especially to her friends, Liu & Zhang, for hosting us and giving us an unforgettable family day!
I know there’s a high probability that nobody who reads this blog will ever visit the Beijing countryside and much less eat a meal there, but I hope this gives you a sense of what a country restaurant is like! Have you ever eaten somewhere similar?
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