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
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
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 café-like setting in the back. So
there's a place to sit, relax and enjoy yourself no
matter what your mood.