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>> Kejia Cai
Southeast bank of Qian Hai,
Back Lakes & Dong Cheng
The Hakka, or "guest people" (Kejiaren), are Han from central China who migrated southeast generations ago but never managed to integrate. Forced by discrimination to live in isolated communities in poor mountainous regions, they kept to their separate culture -- and cooking traditions. A historically marginal cuisine, Hakka food has over the past 2 years become the center of epicurean fashion in Beijing. The owner, a local artist, designed the space with a rustic motif: thick wood tables, stone floors, crinkled character-laden wallpaper next to patches of exposed brick, and waitresses in peasant garb. Enjoyable as the dining rooms are, it is the kitchen that keeps lines of customers winding out the door. The cooking style is hard to define vis-a-vis other cuisines available in the city, but ask regular patrons to explain the difference and most give a quick answer: It's better. The yanju xia (shrimp skewers served in rock salt) and lancai sijidou (diced green beans with ground pork) are both divine, as is the chicken with tea-mushroom soup (chashugu bao laoji). The one dish you'll find on every table is mizhi zhibao luyu, a "secret recipe paper-wrapped fish" -- tender and nearly boneless, in a sweet sauce you'll want to drink.
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