Our friend Ellie admitted she had an illness. “Mention-itis” she called it. Apparently she’d been telling anyone and everyone about this great hole-in-the-wall Sichuan restaurant near her house in Yonghegong. Now Ellie is a great cook, but luckily for us, she also loves hunting out new places around Beijing for great food. And also luckily for us, she took us to this new favourite place of hers, Zhang Mama.
Although tiny, the place already has a loyal following of fans who will happily line up in Fensiting Hutong to eat at this uber-spicy joint. We got there early, as Ellie had predicted it would fill up quickly on a Saturday night, and still waited for around 20 minutes. When we were finally seated, we were offered big bottles of 4rmb Yanjing beer served in wooden cups…quite medieval I thought. The décor was nothing fancy, and the floor was already littered with cigarette butts, used napkins, and dare I say it, spit globules. But, not to be put off, we sat down and Ellie ordered for us.
A palate cleanser/cooler came first – delicious garlicy broccoli. In hindsight we should not have wolfed this dish down so quickly, and had we known the spice that was to come next, we would have saved more of it. Next up was shangxin liangfen, thick jelly-like noodles that were smothered in chilli and hard to get from the bowl to our plates, and huigourou pork with pepper and cabbage in a drypot.
Dan dan mian noodles didn’t look like much, with yellow noodles and a bit of topping, but once mixed through the flavours were great. Chicken in chilli was a little like gong bao ji ding, but hotter and no peanuts.
Every new dish that came we remarked on how delicious it was, and how much hotter it seemed than the previous. We knew we’d probably be feeling this meal in the morning! But we were happy Ellie came down with “mention-itis”, as we’d never have got to go there with her, and enjoy the authentic Sichuanese spice and flavour. Oh, and the price…it was so cheap we couldn’t believe it!