Sunday, 27 September 2009

Review: Yunteng Shifu (Yunnan), Beijing

Blogging Hell at the Yunnan Embassy

On my last couple of visits to Beijing, I've sampled the delights of Yunnan cuisine. As you might expect, it has a South East Asian feel to it as it hails from the part of China that borders Burma, Laos and Vietnam although that's an over-simplification of this diverse cuisine.

Previously, I've eaten Yunnan food at South Silk Road, a trendy mini-chain with bilingual picture menus. On this trip though, I went hard core by going to the Yunnan Embassy or to give it its proper name, Yunteng Shifu. This restaurant is attached to the Yunnan Provincial Government offices in Beijing and attracts curious Beijing foodies as well as homesick Yunnanese. The interior is well OTT and may not to be everyone's taste although I could live with it.

I left the ordering to my host but it turns out he wasn't overly familar with Yunnan food and he relied on recommendations from a Chinese website. Out of curiosity we ordered black rice wine but I didn't like it so switched to beer. Then the food started to arrive including mint salad, air-pot chicken soup, various mushroom dishes, whole grilled river fish on skewers, spicy beef stew, herb & bean curd skin salad, pig’s ears, cold spicy beef, crepe filled with red bean paste, stir-fried glutinous rice cake, stir fried veg before finishing off with a bowl of soup noodles.

These unfamiliar delights came thick and fast and it wasn't easy to keep track of what was being eaten. In terms of blogging, I thought I could take a few photos, jot some notes in the morning and write up the review when I got home. After all that was my approach to date and I had managed to get away with it. How wrong I was ! For weeks now I've put off writing this post. I didn't really consider how different Yunnan food was and it's not as if there's much on the internet that I could bluff from. I did consider not writing anything but that kind of defeats the object of blogging. Thankfully there were a couple of dishes that I could write about.

Air-pot chicken soup (qiguo ji) is cooked and served in an 'air-pot' so called because it has chimney in the middle that circulates the steam (air) in the pot keeping the flavours in. This clean refreshing soup is a signature dish of the restaurant and I can understand why. I was also pretty sure that the medicinal qualities of the goji berries were counteracting the ill effects of 10 days of overindulgence.

To round off the meal, we each ordered a bowl of soup noodles and there was only going to be one choice, the famous 'crossing the bridge noodles' (guoqiao maixian). A steaming bowl of soup is brought to the table with accompanying dishes of rice noodles (maixian) and other fresh ingredients including quail egg, chicken, Yunnan ham, spring onion, bean curd skin, flower petals and other herbs to put in. These were easily the best noodles I had on this visit to Beijing and I especially loved the D-I-Y aspect of it. There is a particular order in which you add the ingredients but all I can remember is chicken first, noodles & herbs last.

Sadly this was my last meal in China and it was an interesting end to my trip. However, I do wonder if I might have enjoyed it more if I wasn't fretting about my blog and just let the evening flow. Looking back though, I'm glad I experienced eating at a Provincial Government office restaurant and in the long run I learnt a lot about my new hobby.

Verdict: Yunnan cuisine isn't available in the UK so it's a must try in Beijing. Whether Yunteng Shifu is the place to try it depends on whether you or someone in your group is able to read the Chinese-only menu and you don't mind eating in a tacky dining room.

Other Stuff: The stylish South Silk Road mini-chain is a more user friendly place to try Yunnan cuisine with its bilingual menus. On the other hand, if you can read Chinese then Provincial Government run restaurants are a great place to sample authentic regional cuisine.


  1. This was on my list of restaurants for last year, but I chickened out because I read that there was no English menu and having to consider that the husband doesn't eat lots of things, I thought it safer to eat at South Silk Road, which he really liked. I would have loved to have eaten at Yunteng Shifu though!

  2. Helen - have you thought of visiting Yunnan itself ? More I think about it, it's somewhere I'd love to visit and try the food as it's really meant to be !