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  Beijing Scene




Love Noodles

On the Island of Longevity off the coast of Japan, multiple generations of families live together in peace, miraculously immune from the aches and pains of aging. The secret to their long and fruitful lifespan lies within the pork bone soup that they regularly imbibe. That, in any case, is how the legend goes and the story of how and why the Mian Ai Mian (lit: Noodles, Love Noodles) restaurant in Beijing was founded.

The Japanese-style fast-food restaurant chain, which opened in 1995, now has seven shops around the city. Mian Ai Mian is the perfect place to get a quick and tasty cheap lunch or dinner for under RMB20.

The decor in the Wangfujing branch is simple and stark. The white walls and bright lights lend little atmosphere to the two-storey eatery. But mod decor is not Mian Ai Mian's selling point anyway. The appeal lies within the highly nutritional Pork Bone Soup - a self-proclaimed Ambrosia of the East.

I begin my lunch with a number of xiaocai (snacks) from the menu, which includes photos for those who can't read Chinese. A salad of crisp, raw vegetables covered in Thousand Island dressing comes first. While perhaps not very Japanese, it makes for a good, healthy snack and sets me back only RMB5. The rishi yupai (Japanese-style Fried Fish), a kind of Japanese version of fish and chips minus the chips, is very good and costs only RMB10. Tudouni (Fried Potato Balls), comes with a mildly spicy sauce and also makes for a good appetizer.

When it comes to noodle soup dishes there are a number to choose from. I opt for the weiceng lamian (Flavorsome Noodles) for RMB15. The noodles, akin to angel hair pasta, are cooked in a Japanese miso (soybean) soup. While not bursting with flavor, the soup is tasty and refreshing. A meal at Mian Ai Mian would not be complete, of course, without a dram of the famous gutang lamian (Pork Bone Soup), which goes for RMB8 a healing bowlful. The broth is slightly salty, but palatable nevertheless. In addition to the noodles, the dish comes with Chinese mushrooms, egg, scallion and tender pieces of pork.

Whether eating at Mian Ai Mian will ensure I live to join the other centenarians on Longevity Island remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, it's worth stopping by one of the branches for a quick, healthy bite. Even if the longevity lore isn't true, one thing is for certain - eating here often should extend the life of your paycheck.

A Cure for Beijing's Italian Curse

Italian food as we know it reputedly derives from the culinary genius of China. Marco Polo returned to Venice from legendary Cathay with recipes for pasta, pizza, and a mean tiramisu. It is therefore somewhat ironic that Beijing has few Italian restaurants, and even fewer authentic ones. We've all experienced it. Entrees that taste a little too much like stir-fry. Cheese that is soggy and tasteless. Even pasta (miantiao by any other name) prepared badly. But don't despair, Annie's does Italian cuisine justice. With a great location and good prices, your search is over.

For starters try the bruschetta, a slice of toasted bread piled high with fresh tomato, herbs, garlic, and olive oil for RMB20. The succulent flavor and silky texture melts in your mouth. As an appetizer for red sauce pasta, it whips your tomato-craving appetite into a frenzy.

As for pasta dishes, the carbonara - a white sauce with bacon, eggs, cream and parmesan cheese - is right on the mark as far as consistency and close to what one would expect for bite and flavor. Although the cheese could stand a little more aging, it complements the pasta well. Don't expect real bacon either, although most long-term Beijingers are used to this shortcoming.

Annie's also serves up gourmet pizza. There are over 20 varieties, including the choice to make your own. The house special, Annie's Pizza, is a carnivore's delight, combining sausage, bacon (the Canadian variety), grilled chicken and chili.

You can watch your pizza being prepared in the traditional fashion - with lots of dramatic spinning, flipping and sprinkling. They are fired in a traditional brick, wood-burning stove. This is a nice touch, but the crust tends to be too light for this treatment and not crispy enough. But it's definitely a preferable alternative to the manufactured mediocrity of Pizza Hut.

Annie's ambience is cozy. Warm earth tones lend a relaxing aura, and comfortable Mediterranean feel. There is a bar in front with moody dim lighting and a proper, small caf-like setting in the back. So there's a place to sit, relax and enjoy yourself no matter what your mood.

Restaurant Guide


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Southeast Asian Sojourn

Dai Family Village

Savory Silk Road

Hearty Healthy Winter Fare

Uncle Khang Fishing Village

Flavors of Africa

Beijing's Best Brunches

Arisu Korean Restaurant

Sipping and Swinging
Taiwanese Tea-Shake

Book's Cafe

French Cuisine en Chine

Green Tianshi Vegetarian Restaurant

Smoothly Sweet
T-Bone at St. Mark's Steakhouse

Imperial City Old Mom Chafing Dish

Celestial Court

Red Capital Club

The Blue Lotus

Club Vogue

Le Beccassine

Triumphal Arch

Hotline 1950

Timbuktu

Coffee and Books at Sculpting in Time

Rotary Sushi

Jintaiyuan Restaurant

The Mother of All Theme Restaurants

Waterside Cafe

Sushiya