The big secret that everyone in Dongcheng knows is that Xian Lao Man is among the best places for dumplings on a tight budget. There’s a strange rule in many dumpling joints that requires each variety be ordered in pairs, as in a double order. Go figure. It’s a wonder why the kitchen doesn’t just put more on one plate and call it a day.
But when the dumplings are this good, you never ask why. You just order and eat. And so it goes at Xian Lao Man.
There is just about every kind of filling you can imagine – from basic pork and garlic chive (zhurou jiucai 猪肉韭菜), to pork, shrimp, and Japanese tofu, the eggy soft type (zhurou xiaren riben doufu 猪肉虾仁日本豆腐), to the crisp-tender carrot, cilantro and frozen tofu (huluobo xiangcai dong doufu 胡萝卜香菜冻豆腐) filling. The sky’s the limit for around 5RMB per order.
Glass urns against the wall contain whole cloves of garlic pickled in black vinegar that take on a bruised blue tint from a natural reaction that’s harmless. They’re delicious.
The menu reads like a Chinese phone book so bring either a friend to help you order or your reading glasses and a dictionary. Cooked dishes include the notorious cola chicken wings (kele jichi 可乐鸡翅). These glazed pieces of meat sweetened by soda look great on a plate but it’s better to look at than to eat.
One of the best old Beijing dishes that are seldom, if ever, found outside the city is yangyou madoufu (洋油麻豆腐), made from the remnant bean pulp of soybeans used in making tofu and soy milk. The traditional version is served with a well of lamb fat and dried chilis on top of the greyish puree, much in the same way good olive oil might be drizzled over hummus. It’s not a looker, but one bite and you’ll be hooked.
If there’s a definitive local comfort food, this is it and this version’s got hidden bits of pickled garlic chive flowers and green soybeans that give the good mush a bit of bite. If lamb fat isn’t your thing, there’s a vegetable oil option.
The options are endless, ranging from a small plate of vegetables to a stir-fry of almost anything. This is good cheap eating at its core and for many, the perfect Beijing eatery. Lillian Chou
Serving one of Beijing's best dishes!
Serves up some of Beijing's best cheap eats