Guild Hall Dining, #1

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While on a walking tour of Beijing’s Tienanmen Square and environs, I learned that from way back when each province of China has had guild halls where envoys from the provinces would stay. These halls also have restaurants where anyone can sample the best cuisine from each province for a relatively low price.

I found a list of these spots on a blog called Eileen Eats and have wanted to visit some for quite a while. This past weekend I had a friend who was game and we went to Xingjiang Fanzhuang Urumuqi Muncipal Office for lunch.

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Since the blog contains the addresses in Chinese as well as the romanized pinyin, we could show a taxi where to go. Urumuqi is the capital of Xinjiang, a western province with a large population of Uighurs, an ethnic group that differs from the Han Chinese in language, culture and politics. I’ve had good Uighur food in Beijing at a restaurant that’s disappeared and on my trip to Urumuqi.

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Lamb & onions

After a 15 minute taxi ride from the South Cathedral at Xuanwumen, we arrived in a neighborhood and weren’t sure we got to the right place, then we saw a Central Asian facade on a building set back from the street. Sure enough this was the right place.

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Potatoes

Upon entering we where struck by the noisy bustle of the restaurant. The place was busy and the wait staff scurried about. Soon someone noticed us and gave us a card with a number. Then after awhile someone was shouting a number in Chinese and was getting frustrated that no one was responding. I guessed, correctly, that they were calling for us. We were shown to a table and given a menu with English and with photos. Since it seemed we were the only foreigners there we were surprised, and delighted that there was English. The menu featured a lot of lamb dishes and some exotic items like braised camel’s feet. We chose a lamb and onion dish, some meat pockets, which were a lot like what a Mongolian friend would make, and Xinjiang vegetables, which turned out to be potatoes in a spicy sauce.

The food was fine, but not spectacular. Our tab came to 62 rmb (so less than $10 USD). The decor was Central Asian with a touch of Russian.

I think we should have followed Eileen’s advice and gotten the “polou rice.” I was just delighted that we found a place off the beaten path. I’d definitely try another provincial restaurant and possibly go back to this one if a friend was eager. It was easy to get a cab back to the city center.

(Tip – If you don’t speak Chinese, just say Tienanmen or Wangfujing and you’ll get to a place where you’re likely to find something to do or hop on the subway.)

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