Friday, December 6, 2013

No Brown Door in Sight

There are moments in life when you almost don’t want to share your findings. You have fallen upon a hidden gem, so close to the fake diamond that is so popular, yet so far away. And the chances are, if you share your find with the masses – will it remain the same or change into obscurity?

The Hong Qiao market area (aka Santa’s workshop at this time of year) is a constant hive of activity. Shoppers from all around the world pull their hair out at the “old” pearl market trying to negotiate a good deal from the seasoned (and very rude) vendors – hoping that the t-shirts, blue tooth speakers and iPhone covers do not brake until they get on the plane to go back to their home countries, at least. Seasoned shoppers such as Beijing expats and airline crews, knows exactly where to go and won’t even spare a minute walking through the same building. Well, maybe to whizz over to Starbucks for a boost of caffeine before continuing through the long list of must haves.

Since this is not a venue for shopping tips, I won’t even begin to cover where the real deals are to be made. Where the best quality leather is to be found, who makes the best watches and which store allows you to return if your new Louboutins break off the heal after one night of dancing.

No, this blog is about food and food only and for us, the most important moments of the day. Shopping is exhausting - you have to refuel and the most popular dive in the Hong Qiao area is The Brown Door. The Brown Door serves cheap Chinese food catered to foreigners and foreigners only. They don’t even bother with locals and do the very best to make them not even get in the door. And it is working. It is always full and it is satisfying. Everyone we have taken there visiting from elsewhere loves it. Super cheap, no funky dishes (such as bull frog, turtle, snake, intestines, creepies…) and a little bit more authentic probably than almost any Chinese restaurant overseas but still, not quite right.

One beautiful spring day after a very satisfying shopping experience two blocks north of the market, two floors down in an apartment building, through a bomb shelter and into a storage room (not telling a tale!) we stumbled upon a Sichuan restaurant only a few hundred yards away from the market and decided to try it. It was a sunny and pretty clear day; there were tables out on a patio-like area, shaded with trees and staff very curious to serve strange laowais.

We have no idea what it's called - just that it's good!

The menu was in English and, where the translations lacked common sense, there were pictures to help. As always we were starving (funny how that happens after shopping) and ordered randomly from the menu. When the items on the menu go for around 10 rmb (about USD1.5) you can afford to over order. The dishes began to arrive and they were all way over expectations. The vegetables were fresh and crisp (you have to try the mint salad), the seasoning just so, the fried chicken (without bones!) with chills and cumin seeds so good I am salivating right now because I know I will get to have it again soon, the tofu chilled and smooth and the cold Yanjing refreshing as as it slipped down our throats effortlessly.

Slurpy, spicy cold noodles

The best beans

Who doesn't like there veggies with vinegar and garlic?!?!?

Lovely spirals of eggplant
Silky soft tofu with preserved egg
Meltingly soft bbq beef

Fabulous cumin and chili chicken ever - and no bones!

A refreshing mint salad - perfect to cleanse your palette

We have been back time and time again and shared our find with a few selected friends who have all loved it as well and now, we believe it is time to share it with the world. A gem like this is not to be hidden but to be enjoyed and shared among friends.

Not that we really want to share, but, if you want to try something different from The Brown Door, simply walk down that same street, past the new Hong Qiao building.  The restaurant will be a little ways down on the left side of the street.  


  1. Very intrigued to hear your shopping tips! But also to understand where this restaurant is...not being familiar with the "brown door" or exactly where two blocks north of the market means. We're planning a trip to the area tomorrow. Please share!

  2. Happy to share! Start with the Temple of Heaven on your left and Hong Qiao (where Starbucks is located) on your right. Turn right just past Hong Qiao. The Brown Door will be on the left just past the corner. You can't miss it. If you continue down this street for a few blocks you will find the Sichuan restaurant we wrote about on the left side of the street as well. Happy shopping and eating!!!