Of rivers and lakes

(That's beijing)
Updated: 2007-05-29 09:52

Jianghu literally means large rivers and lakes, but metaphorically it refers to the community of martial artists, assassins, wanderers and other liminal characters popularized by wuxia (martial arts heroes) novels and films. Outside of literature, the word is commonly used to refer to the melee of contemporary society, to express its complexity and cut-throat competition. There is a certain romanticism attached to the idea of jianghu, as a lawless, chaotic place full of unpredictability, but also endless potential.

Bi Jie is one person who's been captured by the romanticism of jianghu. His small eatery, Yingxiong Shanzhuang, literally meaning "Hero Villa," is his first venture into the restaurant business. "I've read every single one of Jin Yong's novels," Bi proudly proclaims. Jin Yong is the most popular author of wuxia novels among Chinese speakers, noted for his vivid descriptions of the jianghu culture that his protagonists live in. As a loyal reader, Bi wanted to create a space for wuxia culture to come to life.

Bi's wait staff are like actors in an '80s Hong Kong wuxia TV series. They boisterously shout to each other, much like the peasants who would run a roadside eatery where undercover assassins might stop by on their journeys. Clad in black kung fu outfits, the waiters insist on communicating in terminology from wuxia novels. Yingxiong may not have fancy decor, but its well-trained waiters successfully create the atmosphere of a wuxia movie set.

Yingxiong serves jianghucai a cuisine as multifarious and complicated as its namesake. Also called minjiancai, the dishes are rooted in folk culture and their definition is fluid, cooks often improvising to transform humble ingredients into something with a distinctive personality.

Bi's take on jianghucai is similar to home-style cooking. Diners do not order from a menu; instead they talk to Bi about their food preferences and leave the selection of dishes in Bi's hands. Plate after plate of home-style food arrives at your table and the hearty, meaty dishes are complemented by Bi's homemade sorghum wine, a sweet, refreshing liquor that cleanses the palate.

He may serve you glutinous rice dumplings in bamboo steam baskets. Chewy granules of rice coat a layer of minced pork, which in turn envelops a salty egg yolk. This may be followed by a plate of stir-fried maocaogen, the root of a plant native to Bi's home province, Anhui. It's a nutritious vegetable that is used in Chinese medicine to get rid of excess heat in the body. Bi's stir-fried eggplant with re-fried youtiao illustrates the low-brow theme of the food here. Leftover bread sticks from breakfast are roughly chopped and re-fried till crispy, then quickly stir-fried with eggplant. The gooey, mushy eggplant contrasts wonderfully with the crisp fried bread.

To help boost your wuxia cool, here's a list of the wuxia-themed terminology that you must use when stepping into this restaurant:

Waiter: xiaoer
Eating: liangong
Bathroom: laohumen
Napkin: mazuibu
Spoon: xiaonu feidao
Chopsticks: shuangjiegun
Beer: yangjiu

Yingxiong Shanzhuang

Address:181-1 Dongzhimennei Dajie (in the same alley as Six Root Tree, Dongcheng District Tel: 010-8403 5851

Recommended dishes:
Yingxiongzhuang quanyu wok-fried whole fish (RMB 28)
Meiji zhushou soy sauce braised pig's trotters (RMB 20)
Huizhou wanzi pork-filled glutinous rice dumplings (RMB 3/dumpling)
Maocaogen stir-fried roots from the maocao plant (RMB 14)
Qiezi chao youtiao eggplant stir-fried with fried bread stick (RMB 10)
Ziniang baijiu homemade sorghum wine (RMB 5/bottle)


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