Another foodie favourite experience of mine (I see a theme developing here) was at the Black Sesame Kitchen in 28 Zhong Lao Hutong, which is kind of walking distance from the Forbidden City. It was again one of those tucked-away places you would never mind unless you were in the know.
At Black Sesame Kitchen, I attended their communal ‘wine and dine’ event but they also host other activities like cooking classes. The basic concept is you come to enjoy a 10 course meal that’s cooked in front of you, along with approximately 11 other people, mostly strangers.
In my group we had:
- An American couple, Chris and Lydia, who lived in South Korea and were on holiday with Lydia’s parents, Bob and Nancy. The next day they were even going to the same section of the Great Wall! We didn’t see each other there though.
- Two Americans who were in Beijing on business and worked for Ernst & Young: Sharma and Mac.
- A group of 6 twenty-somethings who were old university friends and had all gone to SOAS, University of London and were travelling through China together as Julia, from Brazil, had previously lived in Shanghai for 7 years. They all still lived and worked in London but came originally came from all over the world: Brazil, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and trusty old England.
Our host for the night was the lovely Coco. She talked us through each of the dishes and gave us some facts about Chinese cooking. Each region of China has a particularly type of food taste. Eg: in Beijing it’s salty and in Sichuan it’s spicy. To make spicy Sichuan dishes, they use lots of chopped chilies as you would expect but they also use a type of peppercorn (I can’t remember the name!) that actually just numbs your mouth when you eat it. Coco let us try a couple of those peppercorns by themselves and it’s a really bizarre sensation. It kind of tastes like lavender but then your tongue/mouth starts tingling and eventually goes a bit numb, like when you’ve been to the dentist. So the numbing sensation along with the chili gives the impression that the dish is spicier than it actually is!
The chefs are to one side of the table and there’s a handy mirror on the ceiling so you can all get a good view of their cooking. Below was our menu for the evening. I honestly couldn’t pick what was my favourite dish. Perhaps the most unusual was the black sesame ice cream, which was actually made out of black sesame. It also came with caramelized banana fritter-type things. They were pieces of banana in a bit of batter but cooked in caramel which was super tasty but very messy! The caramel strands went everywhere but that’s what’s meant to happen. If you leave the banana fritters, the caramel starts to cool and harden so best eaten hot.
It was quite tricky trying to ensure you didn’t fill up on one particularly dish! You had to pace yourself leave room for all 10. The whole event was such a great concept and I really couldn’t say what was better – the food or the company! Such yummy food and interesting people. Overall, we each paid 300 CNY for the evening which I think was a fair price considering how fresh and well cooked the food was, how much of it there was plus we got free-flow wine.
When the evening came to an end, I really didn’t want to leave. The whole communal concepts is such a great idea and is set in a beautiful location. Of course, the food was really yummy and authentically Chinese, although sometimes with a bit of a twist. Make sure to check them out! Again, link is here.