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  Beijing Scene




Dai Family Village:
Where Andrew Lloyd Webber Meets
Yunnan Cuisine
Everybody do the conga Yunnan-style
By Chris Lew



When you head toward Daijiacun (Dai Family Village) Restaurant, you get the sense early on you're about to experience a place with character. From the main street, you turn into a narrow alley and go through an arched gate, much like the one in front of a traditional walled village. Upon entering the restaurant you are greeted by a three-piece band with crashing drums and cymbals. Once inside the main dining hall the show really begins.

Strands of metallic Christmas garland deck the halls, and live entertainment a la Andrew Lloyd Webber fills the aisles, ranging from not-so-authentic Yunnan dancers to a piercing bird-call solo played by a pot-bellied man.

Daijiacun's kitsch appeals equally to locals and tourists. The place is packed with families, work units and groups of beer-guzzling Beijing homeboys gemen'r. One also has to give the restaurant credit for trying to create a festive venue, whereas the activity at most eateries in Beijing is limited to watching fish and turtles in murky tanks await their fate. The live show here - which offers the chance to join in (think conga line full of Chinese people) - has a certain drunken charm.

Luckily, Daijiacun's food is categorically tasty and superbly presented. From rice served out of bamboo stalks to soup simmering in coconut hulls, the eyes can't help but be dazzled. All of these decorative devices reflect traditional Yunnan food and customs, with a specific focus on the Dai, an ethnic minority in southwestern China closely related to the Thais just across the border.

No Dai culinary experience would be complete without Crossing the Bridge Noodles (guoqiao mixian). The story behind this colorful name dates back to ancient times when a scholar, who was studying to pass his civil service exams, isolated himself on an island. His wife would dutifully bring him food, crossing over to the island by means of a wooden bridge. But the meal would be cold by time she arrived. So she devised a soup with a layer of chicken fat on top that would retain heat over a long period of time. This way the scholar had hot food and he went on to pass his exams.

Although "Crossing the Bridge" at Daijiacun is not among the restaurant's stronger dishes (it's basically chicken noodle soup), it is filling, brimming over with hearty noodles and fresh vegetables. The dish is listed on the menu as Stewed Yunnan Rice Flour Noodles in Clear Soup (shaguo mixian).

Another traditional delicacy is Yunnan Ham Cooked in Bamboo (zhutong yuntui). This carnivore's delight is a toothsome combination of Canadian bacon and chipped beef. Chewy, but thinly sliced and oozing with flavor, this relatively cheap dish (RMB35) can serve as a filling appetizer or a complement to the main meal.
Vegetarians will also be pleased by the wide selection of meatless entrees, including White Rice Cooked in Bamboo (zhu tong xiang mi fan). The menu also features two pages of mushroom dishes. The jizong mushrooms were particularly tasty.

For dessert, the Eight Treasures Pineapple (boluo babaofan) is highly recommended. It is served in a hollowed-out pineapple with the top removed. Inside is a delectable, gooey concoction of rice and sugar, satisfying the sweet tooth in most of our party.

There is a full range of dishes for the more adventurous to try. Snake - while not so exotic by Chinese standards - makes an obligatory appearance in the forms of blood and bile mixed with Chinese high-octane grain alcohol, as well as venom and meat served at the table. Those looking for something even more exciting might want to try the Crisp Queen Bee Embryo (xiangsu fengwang tai) or the Crisp Bamboo Stick Insects (xiangsu zhuchong). But these delicacies do not come cheap with price tags at RMB400 and up.

How much of Daijiacun's fare is truly Yunnan or Dai in origin is debatable. But you will not be disappointed by the food, and judging by the crowds whooping it up and clapping slightly out of time to the music, you might even temporarily suspend your taste in entertainment and find yourself leading the conga.

Daijiacun Restaurant
3501 Guandongdian Nanjie, West Gate, Chaoyang District
Tel: 6508-9186, 6594-2455
Hours: 11:30 am-2:30 pm, 5:30 pm-9:30 pm
Food: ** Ambience: ** Service: ** Cost: YY

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