It’s a Sunday night and after agreeing to dinner with friends, you meet and begin pondering the age old question, “Where do you want to go?” Someone will mention pizza, as they always do, which is met with mumbles and someone is quick to ask “What else?” And so it goes until a mutually agreeable option is laid on the table and in Beijing, it’s usually “Chuan”. Cheap barbecued meat, cold beer, and some rice & vegetable dishes to suit those uninterested in grilled animal flesh. Someone always knows “The best” Chuan place and you take it on faith as you walk to the restaurant.
You are welcomed at the door and led to your table past a myriad of people as the smell of bbq and cigarettes teases your nostrils. The fúwùyuán (服务员） hands you a menu and stares at you while you ponder over its twenty pages, thankful that it has pictures. You have an urgency to tell the fúwùyuán to give you some time but it’s China, staring and waiting is custom. So you order. “Chicken wings, kimchi wrapped pork loin, sweet bbq pork, a banana, some part of a cow, a seasoned bun (mán tòu), fried rice with beef, spicy radishes in vinegar, grilled mushrooms, three cold beers, and lamb” the question in the back of everyone’s mind is “Will that be enough?”
Each person has their own mini-plate while the shish-kabob style Chuan is placed on a central community plate. Some Chuan has bone but don’t worry, when you’re finished you can just toss it on the table somewhere. This is China. As dinner wares on and the lingering spices continue to tease your tastebuds, you remember how goddamn tasty Chuan is. You’re also thankful that your friend didn’t take you to a place on the side of a road where the cook doesn’t know the difference between a rat and a chicken. So if ever in doubt as to what sounds good on a cold night in Beijing, go for Chuan, it’s almost better than pizza.