Sichuan Winter Warmers
Banischu and Haidilao
Many shudder at the mere prospect of winter in Beijing with its glacial temperatures and biting winds, but this icy season has an often-overlooked, mouth-watering saving grace; culinary winter warmers which will have you switching chilly for chilli quicker than you can say f-f-f-freezing!
First stop, the sizzlingly hot Banischu (aka Chuan Ban), hailed as the most authentic Sichuan cuisine in the city and hidden within the Sichuan Provincial Government Headquarters. With modest décor and a spice-laden menu that’s off the Scoville scale, the long queues at peak times are testament to just how addictively tasty the hua jiao (flower pepper) tongue-numbing must-tries are, particularly the mapo tofu with minced pork and chilli, scorching laziji chicken and the shuizhuyu broiled fish with peppercorns.
For more delicate palates, try the popular huoguo (hotpot) hotspot Hai Di Lao, as famous for its entertainment as it is for its iPad-presented menu of Sichuan simmering stocks, enriched with beef balls, oysters or streaky pork. To liven up what could be a regular (albeit delicious) dining experience, waiting patrons are treated to manicures, massages and shoe-shining while nibbling a fruit plate and watching in awe as waiters perform hand-pulling noodle tricks and boil tabletop aroma-rich hotpots. Sich-what? Sich-wow!