Day 3 of my trip was probably the most memorable and fun of all the days we had there this time around. We didn’t do much again other than eating, but this time the meal was fantastic.
Breakfast was average, we just ate at a nearby restaurant called Hun Tun Hou or Wonton Hou (馄饨侯). We shared a number of different items like wontons, buns and sesame flat cakes. The total of our meal was only 78RMB which is about $15AUD. That fed 4 adults. Most small restaurants like this would cost about the same so regular meals here are still quite affordable. However, taste wise was just average.
The wontons I liked. They were meaty and the soup was umami. I ordered a sour soup wonton and there was a regular flavoured soup wonton as well. The wontons were the same but I enjoyed the sour soup more as it gave me a better appetite. The flat cakes were a little dry but still tasty and the buns were not bad too.
After breakfast we went to a public bathhouse. As it’s a bathhouse, I decided not to take any photos so there’s no documentation of our lunch.
The main point of this post is the dinner. Yuye’s dad found a very entertaining, delicious and unique restaurant that I’m sure all of you would enjoy. Have you ever had Mongolian food? Have you ever had a meal inside a yurt? Chances are even if you have had Mongolian food but probably not inside a yurt. For those of you who don’t know, yurts are portable, round tents made from skin that’s used as a dwelling by Mongolians and nomads in central Asia.
Although we didn’t go all the way to Mongolia to eat dinner, it was the closest I was going to get. There’s a restaurant in Beijing called 99 Yurts (99顶毡房). There’s actually only 60 something but they call it 99 I think because the number 9 in Chinese is auspicious. It’s a little bit of distance from the city centre because it needs a large piece of empty land to build the yurts.
There are yurts of different sizes here, ranging from the one we were in (one table for 10-12 people) to massive ones that can hold many tables at once. If you want to book a private room, there is a minimum spend, I believe it’s to order a full roasted lamb or mutton, but if you go with just a few people, you can book a table in the big yurt. There is free entertainment and dancing by traditional clothed staff in the shared yurt but private yurts actually need to pay for the entertainment.
As it was my first time inside a yurt, everything was all very fascinating to me. The door to the yurt is tiny – about half the size of an adult so you need to bend down to enter. The bright red furnishings and decorations inside had me looking around for ages.
Roast lamb or mutton are all done inside a cooking station that’s clearly visible as you walk through the grounds. The cooking station’s full of glass so you can see how it’s being cooked and there were many whole lambs and mutton on rotisseries being cooked at once. You must book what you want to eat beforehand as I don’t think they have many spares so booking a table and telling them how much roast lamb/mutton to order is essential. You can order a whole animal if you have a big table or else just a leg or even skewers are okay on the menu for those of you who can’t eat as much meat.
Our meal started with one of my favourite courses that night – it’s a traditional platter of Mongolian cheeses along with a homemade natural yoghurt dip.
The extreme climate of Mongolia has affected their diet and it mainly consists of meat, dairy and animal fats to keep themselves warm. So cheese has become one of their essential meal items. Compared to the Western style of making cheese though, the Mongolians don’t ripen their cheese as much so the taste is more bland and creamy. I actually quite liked the texture and flavour of these cheese. For those of you who don’t like cheese, these will be a great entry level one as it’s much less ‘smelly’.
The platter had slightly harder cheeses (almost like blander feta) to creamier ones as well as bread sticks, roasted rice and natural yoghurt to dip the cheeses with. The range of flavours and textures were fascinating and everyone really enjoyed them. The dish was accompanied with a traditional milk tea. We were told that the way to eat the cheese was to put them in the milk tea along with the roasted rice, but I found I enjoyed them more separately.
The milk tea was topped up as the night went on.
We were also provided a natural yoghurt pudding each which you eat with a drizzle of light honey. It was sooooo creamy and delicious I couldn’t get enough of it. We were told all the dairy products were made with goat or sheep milk but I couldn’t really tell, they all seemed like cow’s milk to me.
The entree was followed by various sides including a potato salad, chilli tofu and marinated cucumbers. I didn’t care so much for these dishes as they were dishes you can get in most Chinese restaurants. What I was interested in was this dish – ice plant.
Do you know what a ice plant tastes like? In fact do you know what an ice plant is? I didn’t know before that day that such a plant is edible. The proper name for it is mesembryanthemum crystallinum, a native succulent to Africa, Egypt and Southern Europe and naturalised in North American, South American and apparently Australia…I’ll be damned. The leaves of the plant contain little cells full of water so when you bite on a leaf, a burst of lightly fragrant and refreshing water will burst onto your tongue. The leaves are served icy cold and drizzled with sweet passion fruit dressing. It was so refreshing and interesting that the plate full of leaves literally disappeared in a matter of minutes.
I did some researching and although there is a plant in Australia called the ice plant that’s edible, it seems it’s quite salty. This ice plant we had wasn’t salty at all, perhaps it’s due to where it was planted. Anyway, I highly recommend you try it if you can get your hands on some, whether it’s at this restaurant or somewhere else.
This is where the star of the night comes on the table. The whole lamb was brought onto the table, whole and in all its delicious glory. Crispy skin, tender juicy flesh, all covered in beautiful cumin and other spices. You can dip it in the provided sauces or eat it as is.
But before it was cut, they even provided a little cutting ceremony with the cutter gets given a scarf to keep.
Then the dancing and singing started. A group of traditionally dressed dancers came in and crowded around our table. We all stood up and danced with them, creating a fun and exciting atmosphere. We even danced to the famous Gangnam Style! Okay I know it’s not a traditional song, nor is it even Chinese but everything’s modernised these days isn’t it?
Another great side dish was this awesome raw green radish. This dish was served together with the lamb. It’s a radish that’s often seen in Tianjin, a city half an hour away from Beijing by bullet train and is actually Melbourne’s sister city (promoted travel by the two governments). It was very crunchy and refreshing which helped to take away the oiliness and heaviness of the meat.
During the serving of the lamb our final side dish was served. It was a fried egg dish. It tasted just like a normal fried egg dish, nothing special, but it was cooked together with hot stones which was quite different.
After the lamb was almost finished, they took away the bones (which still had a lot of meat on them) and deep fried them to give them a different taste and texture. The staff explained that they dislike any sort of wastage, since food is something that’s hard to come by and should be finished. Even biting on the bones was delicious.
Consuming a whole lamb wasn’t enough, Yuye and his cousins decided to order lamb skewers too. They used good quality meat and was tender with plenty of spices. But I think secretly Yuye still likes those better…
We had the most fantastic experience at this restaurant and I can’t recommended it enough. The food was delicious, unique and although we had to pay for the entertainment, we thought it was well worth it. All up for 11 people, it cost us 2867RMB, which came to about $570AUD at the current exchange rate. That’s quite a reasonable price for what we got I think. A whole lamb cost 1599RMB and the dancing was 499RMB. Trust me though, it will be an experience to remember.
Ninety Nine Yurts (jiu shi jiu ding zhan fang – 99顶毡房)
Address: 9 Yongtaizhuang N Rd, Haidian, Beijing, China 100192
Hun Tun Hou (Drum Tower Store – 馄饨侯鼓楼店)
Address: 309 Gulou E St, Dongcheng, Beijing, China