If Beijing is internationally synonymous with any one dish, it's surely roast duck. But judging by the city's vast legion of hotpot restaurants, it seems that the locals have an even greater penchant for shuan rou (rinsing meat, as the practice of simmering tidbits in various kinds of broth is locally termed). With February's average high temperature reaching just 4˚C, it's a great time to discover this winter warmer. Here are three good hotpot places to try.
Ordinarily an informal affair, hot-pot gets the upscale treatment at branches of this swish chain (also called Ding Ding Xiang). The mixed-vegetable platter and the sampler dish of Inner Mongolian lamb will give you plenty of things to simmer, and go well with either the mushroom broth or the herbal black-chicken soup. The latter features medicinal ingredients like goji berries and red dates for extra goodness. Get a side order of the restaurant's award-winning sesame crispbread, and wash it all down with a jug of cold soybean milk. Dinner for two runs to about $35. The Shin Kong Place branch, tel: (86-10) 6530 5997, is conveniently located and has English translations of menu items, with photos, for easy ordering.
The custom at this homely venue in central southeastern Beijing is to cook your meal not in broth but in zhou, or congee, a watery rice porridge. The list of what you can simmer in it is worthy of Noah's Ark. Try the wild mountain chicken, which is not, in this case, a euphemism for frog (though that is available) but an actual fowl. The trick with the chicken is to cook the pieces of white meat very quickly or you'll be chewing on pieces of rope, this being a scrawny bird and let the rest simmer for 30 minutes or so until tender. This process also alchemizes the zhou into a rich, soothing potage worthy of any grandmother's kitchen. Under $30 for two, tel: (86-10) 6770 2288. No English menu.
Er Gui Suan Tang Yu
The suan tang (sour soup) of Guizhou province, laced with tomato and chili, is the house broth at this Chaoyang eatery, and it goes superbly well with fish. Catfish is one of the more popular choices, sold by weight and carried flapping and thrashing to your table as proof of freshness before returning as your dinner. Together with accompanying noodles, tofu and vegetables, you have the makings of a real feast. About $17 for two, tel: (86-10) 8575 1765. English menu and photos available.