Lánzhōu Fēngwèi Niúròumiàn | 兰州风味牛肉面

Yieryi dajie 236  一二一大街 236

Shabbiness: 3 laowais

Food: 3 laowais

Mood: Zergling pit

Concept: Hajj fundraiser

This place’s strategic location just off the bridge from Wenlin jie makes it a favorite haunt of not only university students tired of inedible canteen food, but legions of kids from the nearby school(s), who descend on Lánzhōu Fēngwèi Niúròumiàn like a large scale zerling rush at lunchtime. (Consequently, this place might be better suited for a dinner time visit, though now that they have the barbecue grill open already at noon, it’s less of a dealbreaker). Among the many fans have always been a select part of this blog’s crew, though we’re slowly getting a little disillusioned regarding the food. There’s no question about the happy happy joy joy:ness of Lánzhōu Fēngwèi Niúròumiàn‘s crew, though; they’re basically the nicest guys in town, despite a sometimes insane workload, so we find ourselves returning over and over, hopefully financing the laoban’s future journey to Mecca.  It should be noted that while the crew are awesome dudes (and dudette), at least the laoban is also somewhat devout; don’t bring alcohol into his restaurant, and don’t photograph him (therefore, we have less pictures of the restaurant itself than normally when we do a review, go see it for yourselves instead).

“I’m a little teapot, short and stout…”

The cramped kitchen is remarkable for its blackened walls and lack of visible storage space; we’ve often wondered if they keep all the food ingredients in some magical muslim hammerspace. The previously epic windowlessness has been somewhat mitigated since they punched a hole to the kitchen through one of the interior walls, though this mostly serves to give you a better view of the horror inside. The eating area, however, is quite clean for being a hole-in-the-wall, with walls that you actually dare lean against and nice-looking wooden tables. (We should also mention the soy pots in low-quality plastic, who against all odds manages to be cute). The wall posters are the epically kitschy ones you see in all muslim restaurants; the exact same picture menu, a bird’s eye view of Mecca, and some  praying girls in hijab who looks rather drugged. It all serves to create a very genuine halal-hole-in-the-wall-feeling.

As for the food, the menu is nice andvaried, but we tend to find the dishes too oily and in some cases rather flavourless (though superior to the nearby university canteen food, of course). The big plate of Xinjiang chicken is always a treat if you’re a large group, though bony and rather non-laowai friendly, otherwise the homemade noodles are generally a better choice than the rice dishes, with a nice texture to them. The fried rice is also quite good, not oily at all, well seasoned, and cheap. The barbecue skewers are a good complement to most anything, never bony, rather big, and delicously seasoned, actually among the best we’ve had in Kunming. On a good day, the food here might deserve a better grade, but in general it’s solid but doesn’t stand out; some dishes might be welcome surprises, but others just rather tasteless and way too moist.

Go here to chat with the staff, have some meat skewers or noodles, but don’t expect anything out of the ordinary. The large customer base and good location does, however, make Lánzhōu Fēngwèi Niúròumiàn one of Kunming’s better people-watching spots.

Hóng Jī Shānzhuāng | 鸿吉山庄

Xishan Maomaoqing Ma’an Shancun

西山猫猫箐马鞍山村

Shabbiness: 2 laowais

Food: 3 laowais

Mood: Abandoned Mediterranean resort

Concept: Adult playground

Three stars in Guide Rouge is supposed to mean ‘worth the trip’, something few restaurants in the world have amounted to. Paradoxically, though, this one just might. Maybe because the trip, or rather the trek, is quite short and inexpensive. Even so, this place basically made our day as we crossed the Western Hills, to end up in that intriguing place which some signs point to, but never explains: Maomaoqing. All we had to go on beforehand was a short comment by chinese people coming from there: “好吃”. To get chinese people to go anywhere, we figured, the food has to be good, and to get them to walk across a fucking mountain…that has to be haochi indeed. So we went viking to Maomaoqing, rowdy with anticipation.

Turns out Maomaoqing is quite a spread-out place with several dining options, so we’ll never know what the particular “haochi” refered to was. (Some of us had hoped for something fucked up like cat meat, given the name of the place, but were sorely disappointed). In the end, we headed towards an imposing, mediterranean style building that didn’t look too shabby, but had that third world-style concrete rural toilet that’s always an adventure, a rabid dog, and a rusty old gate that filled no discernable purpose, given that the walls were a low row of concrete bricks.

‘A’ is for awesome.

The main feature of this place is its godawesome outdoor seating, complete with ping pong table, pool table, hammocks, a swing, and a several meters long metal pole hanging from a bar between two trees; the (at the very least 50 years old) laoban can (and will) climb the entire length of this pole without using his feet, a feat so awesome it defies description. Even zombified vikings like us were dumbstruck, something that in itself should earn this restaurant five laowais in “awesome” if there was such a rating. Unfortunately for Hóng jī Shānzhuāng though, there is not. Still, the outdoor seating in itself does lower the shabbiness rating; while the kitchen is moderately horrible, and the indoor seating area so depressing we cannot fathom how anybody would ever elect to sit there, the outdoors area is just plain…nice, like a small oasis of green and beauty in the middle of a derelict junk jard. We could have stayed there for hours, and one of us almost refused to leave.

The food is very much not expensive, but fails to impress. We order a large selection of dishes, that we are then supposed to carry out to the tables in the outdoor green area by ourselves (probably, the staff cannot understand why on earth we would prefer to be there, rather than face the gloom inside, and thus came completely unprepared for this turn of events…)
It should be said that there’s some disagreement among our impressive host of guest reviewers as to the actual quality of the food. The meat dishes are definitely not bad, one even impressive, with a hearthy sauce and no bones or fat. The cabbage is plain and boring, as are, some of us think, the diced cucumber, mashed potatoes and most other vegetable dishes. Some speak in defense of the diced cucumber however, and the omnipresent egg-and-tomatoes is quite popular, quickly disappearing into our stomachs.

The truth of the matter is, however, that after 12> kilometers of walking up a mountain, all food is good food, and none of us leave this place unsatisifed. But we had higher expectations of the mysterious Maomaoqing, and the food alone in Hóng jī Shānzhuāng is not worth the journey. Seeing the ape-man-laoban being awesome though, most definitely is. In the end, one of us has almost been offered to marry his 180 cm tall daughter…

Apartment Restaurant No. 1

112 Jianshe lu 建设路 (ask the locals)

Shabbiness: 1 laowai

Food: 2 laowais

Mood: Awkward

Concept: Mama’s illegal cozy kitchen

Guest reviewers: 龙伟 and Sau

Have you ever been dining at restaurants that were not particular bad, but still left a sour feeling of anonymosity? Who are these people cooking my food, doing the dishes, choosing the music? Good food but an unpersonal experience. BOOORING! is what the Heaven in Hell-crew are shouting in unison. Look no further. We’ve found the perfect place for those of you who want to have an experience, rather than just have a meal.

This is where it happens.

Four floors up in an apartment building, just behind Jianshe Lu, mama will make you feel at home (well if your mom usually cooks Chinese!) with her buffet-style home-cooking ready with classic Chinese staples. In her apartment, that is. When restaurants and pubs in the west are trying hard to be like your “other livingroom”, this is the real deal. If you are lucky you get a seat in the sofa, in front of the huge flat screen (momma makes sure money keeps on rollin’ in) so you can watch the latest TV-series. The “restaurant”-part of her apartment is just a living room, but quite a lavish one that screams “new money”. It has a huge poster covering the wall (of a sandy beach paradise in some part of the world), a giant aquarium that looks squeaky clean and matching furniture in dark wood. And mama are into details too. We are especially impressed by the veil around the water dispenser and we wonder if it is the same one she wore to her wedding in the 80’s. It must also be said that this is one of the cleaner (chinese) apartments we’ve seen.

And what about mama’s food? Like in the school canteen of your childhood (or if you are studying in China at a university), the food is served by mama herself. You point, she heaves it in a take away box. The array of dishes stretches to about ten different and you can mix and match as you like until the box is full. Sometimes mama objects: “You can’t eat all that!”, and then it is up to you to convince her. As a local patron says; “she really looks in your box to see if it’s empty”, before said person quickly puts some leftovers in the trash bin.

We are trying the Yunnan-style mashed potatos, fried chicken, fried pork, cauliflower and the ever so popular, 西红柿炒鸡蛋, stir-fried tomatos with eggs. And while we don’t consider it bad in anyway (some of us stamps the chicken un-laowai-friendly with rich amounts of bone) we don’t feel impressed either. The food is nothing out of the ordinary; the mashed potato is mashed like it should, the cauliflower is crisp. This is once again a place you wouldn’t visit for the food; but for the mere experience of sitting in someones living room and having your meal. We agree that going here to watch tv and drinking beer (bring your own!) would be a nice second visit, occasionally chatting with mama and her family about the latest from the European Championships.