How to Ruin a Diet: Dining Locally in Inner Mongolia

How to Ruin a Diet: Dining Locally in Inner Mongolia

You know that term, “You’re paying for the environment.” people use when referring to restaurants or bars? This place is like the opposite of that.

Describing this restaurant as authentic is an understatement.

It’s cutthroat, but with a charm.

Think of the busiest place to eat where you live. There’s probably a hostess and the tables go to a specific server. You might even be able to make reservations. Hell, it might be reservations only.

When you pull up in the shady alley this little hole-in-the-wall is located in, be prepared to push and shove. If you don’t have a loud voice or a mean mug, you could end up waiting an hour to get a seat.The first time I came here, someone even tried to steal my boyfriend’s chair while he went to the restroom!

There’s never a time when it’s not busy. The server screams your order over bottles clinking and noodles being slurped to the chef in the back after each dish you order. He screams back, “What?!”, and the waitress rolls her eyes as she has to holler it back again.

There’s no, “How may I help you?” You’re definitely not getting a, “Thanks! Come back soon!” A picture menu doesn’t exist and if you don’t know what you want when you sit down, be prepared to wait for the server to make their rounds again before coming back to you.

A place like this would never work in the west. And by “work” I mean Yelpers would tear the staff to shreds and the FDA would kick in the door.

You’re probably wondering why I choose to spend my hard earn money here, considering I can go to the hundreds of other restaurants that are friendlier, cleaner, and less populated.

Four words: Sweet and Sour Ribs.

We went with a couple of our friends who would shortly be leaving to both the UK and America for Masters programs. They ordered this since they’re not big drinkers like the boyfriend and I. Yikes.

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Dà Yáo 2RMB ($0.33)

Because the food from this joint is local Hohhot cuisine, this not-so-tasty carbonated beverage comes from the city as well. It’s like drinking diet cream soda, but worse. I can’t stand it, but my Chinese pals chug away.

Business as usual, the cold food arrives first.

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Yóu Miàn 8RMB ($1.30)

This is yóu miàn. When I first came to China, I was so not down with eating my noodles cold. But what can I say? I live like a local now.

The noodles are made from oat flour. Every restaurant has their own variation and ingredients that go in to yóu miàn, but there are a couple consistencies like boiled potatoes, and a spice that looks like a sichuan pepper called huá zhōng. The flavor of huá zhōng is mild and almost smokey. Although not much is used, these starchy noodles could definitely be considered incomplete without them.

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Tû Dòu Piàn 17RMB ($2.76)

This is a classic Dōng Bêi (Northeastern) dish that comes from Harbin. It gained so much popularity that you can get it almost any restaurant. It’s like what a hamburger is to American food. Everyone has had it and everyone can make it.

Tû dòu piàn basically just means thinly sliced potatoes and pork. Lots of ginger goes into this deep-fried dish complimented with soy sauce and garlic. If it’s done right, the potatoes come out crispy which pairs perfect with the lightly cooked bell peppers.

Uh oh. I’m starting to get hungry again.

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Zhá Zhū Ròu  22RMB ($3.58)

Deep-fried pork. I love how shamelessly unhealthy the Chinese can be. I could feel a double chin forming with every bite I took.

Some people find this dish to be boring. I really like that there are similar flavors between this and barbecue. Cumin seed, chili powder and salt unite together and end with a crunch, crunch, crunch.

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Hui Shao Miàn 10RMB ($1.63)

Believe it or not, these noodles are the star of the show. Each patron has a small bowl of these on their table, despite how many other dishes they ordered. I didn’t know any better, so I kept stealing from my friend’s bowl.

These doughy noodles are made in-house and are known throughout the city. There are similar flavors between this dish and the tû dòu piàn mentioned above. Pork and ginger both make an appearance but instead of being deep-fried, they’re pan-fried tossed around in all kinds of other sauces and oils.

Notice that both of the noodle dishes have the word “miàn” in them. That’s because “miàn” means “noodle”! Where do you think “chow mein” came from? Look at you, learning Chinese and stuff.

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Tián Suān Pāi Gû 30RMB ($4.88)

While the locals are craving noodles, I’m feigning for meat.

I introduce to you… sweet and sour ribs.

I was more of a lady back home. If I was eating meat, you’d only catch me eating chicken breast with a knife and fork. In China, I’m a menace to society that tears into animals (and pizza) like a T-Rex. You’ve been warned.

I must say that America did nail it when it comes to the sweet and sour sauce we think all Chinese food is made of. I took one bite of these pressure-cooked ribs and everything fell right off the bone!

I tried to pull a, “Hey, look!” to my friend so I could steal the last one off the plate. Didn’t work.

So what’s it cost for the worst service and best food in town? Less than 100RMB. That’s around 15USD to splurge on a cheat meal when you’re mostly trying to cook paleo throughout the week.

Seriously, guys. Get over here now and eat some of this greasy food with me!