Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu was locally famous in Beijing for years, then U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew turned the sprawling dumpling house into a Chinese viral sensation when he lunched there in 2013.
The modest meal came just weeks after Xi Jinping became the President of the People’s Republic and launched anti-corruption campaigns that tried to eliminate extravagant dinners replete with sea cucumbers and Moutai baijiu. The meal for three at Baoyuan came to just RMB 109 (US$16) – a jaw-droppingly low number for a lunch for officials in China.
Netizens around the country hailed the secretary for his low-key, local choice. Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu became so popular that it absorbed the seating and kitchen from the next-door restaurant a couple of years ago to keep pace with demand. Located just around the corner from the embassy district, it packs out both dining rooms with locals and diplomatic expats craving an authentic Dongbei (northeastern Chinese) meal.
The restaurant’s vivid dumplings come in five colors (五彩饺子, wǔcǎi jiǎozi), dyed with vegetable and fruit juices: purple (grape and blueberry juice and purple rice), red (tomato), green (spinach juice), orange (carrot) and yellow (orange). While the kitsch of the multi-hued dumplings would be a temporary draw, the delicious fillings of the boiled dumplings make this homely restaurant a dining destination.
Creativity abounds here, with must-orders including dishes like orange wrapper dumplings stuffed with kung pao chicken (宫保鸡丁饺子, gōng bǎo jī dīng jiǎozi). Don’t worry, this is not your typical Chinatown’s kung pao. The cooks play with texture here too, stuffing crunchy rice, purple cabbage, minced pork and bean sprouts into dumplings before boiling (紫甘蓝锅巴馅饺子, zǐ gānlán guōbā xiàn jiǎozi).
The fillings vary drastically, sometimes subbing in red meat for the traditional pork, like in the mutton with fennel (羊肉茴香饺子, yángròu huíxiāng jiǎozi), or forgoing meat entirely. Dumplings stuffed with cod, shrimp, seaweed, egg, mushroom and numerous vegetables are on offer in tried-and-true combinations listed on the menu. If you’re eating meat though, definitely get at least one liǎng (the minimum order of six dumplings) of the preserved pork and chili pepper variety (腊肉类椒, làròu lèi jiāo).
The Chinglish menu is easily decipherable, thanks to lengthy ingredient lists and colorful pictures. There is plenty to order that goes beyond dumplings – the dry-fried green beans (干煸四季豆, gān biān sìjì dòu) and shredded potato (土豆丝, tǔdòu sī) are a sure bet – but the dumplings are the real draw here. Plus they’re so cheap, you might be able to try them all if you go with a big group.