What: For food lovers throughout China, this is the most famous meal in Beijing–after Peking duck, of course. Zhajiang mian, or “fried sauce noodles,” is a noodle dish, with a salad-like variety of raw, sliced vegetables sprinkled on top–usually including string beans, cucumbers, and radishes–mixed together with a soy-based meat sauce. Lighter than most of Beijing’s typically rich and heavy fare, it’s usually only eaten in the spring and summer. The noodles are served warm or cold, according to the weather, and additional vegetable toppings may be present depending on what’s seasonally available. It’s the kind of simple, comfort-food dish that’s easy to make at home, so restaurant varieties are usually served with a little more ceremony–a colorful array of vegetables served in individual bowls, the waiter tossing them onto the noodles with a flourish.
Where: With a sign out front boasting that it’s the “King of Zhajiang Mian,” Hai Wan Ju (海碗居, 2 Huayuan Lu, 花园路2号, map) is our go-to spot when we get the craving for noodles. Step in the door and you’ll be welcomed by a chorus of waiters barking out a welcome that echoes through the dining room, making deep dinnertime conversations something of a challenge on busy nights. While the wait staff’s long red robes and black Mandarin caps may look a bit gimmicky, this is a thoroughly local establishment, with a location that’s picturesque (beside a park built along Beijing’s 13th-century Yuan Dynasty moat) but far from the usual tourist path.
When: Mon-Fri, 11am-9:30pm; Sat-Sun, 11am-10pm
Order: A bowl of zhajiang mian costs 26 RMB here. If you find Beijingers’ love of sesame sauce has rubbed off on you, you can order majiang mian (麻酱面), a vegetarian alternative featuring this local favorite in place of meat sauce. Just be warned, you’ll probably give your chopstick skills a real challenge–and your fingers a workout–trying to eat the heavy, sticky mix.
Good to know: Don’t be surprised if you find yourself eating alongside a birthday party or two–in Chinese tradition, long noodles are a symbol of long life, and a must-have when turning another year older.
Alternatively: Another reputable chain offering this with locations around the city is Lao Beijing Zhajiang Mian (老北京炸酱面), including convenient spots like Chongwenmen (崇文门, 56 Dongxinglong Jie, 东兴隆街56号, map) and Wangfujing (王府井, 227 Wangfujing Dajie, 王府井大街227号, map).