The Southern Fish (渔芙南)
Location: FuChengMen, XiCheng District
English Menu: Yes
English Service: No
Hunan cuisine (湘菜) ranks as one of my absolute favorites. I was somewhat dismayed when one of my Hunanese friends told me that Chinese people mostly consider it low-brow. “Why?” I asked startled. “It’s viewed as too oily, not healthy.” Well, that was precisely what drew me to it in the first place.
I’ve had many friends describe to me over the years the differences between Hunan, Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou and some of the other regional variations in spiciness. To me, I’m drawn to the fact that many Hunan dishes seem like dishes that could be served on a farm. Sometimes Sichuan dishes are so spicy that you never taste anything but the burn. With Hunan, I get the kick, but I can also taste the underlying vegetables used in many of the dishes.
I often go to Shenzhen on business, and I love the large variety of Hunan restaurants there because more Hunanese are working there. Unfortunately, Beijing doesn’t have a lot of proper “Hunan” restaurants, especially as healthier options such as Yunnan have become trendier. One of the best in Beijing is called The Southern Fish. Originally located in the Qianmen/Dashilianr neighborhood, it has now relocated to Xicheng district on the west side of the city.
My first trip to the original location was about four years ago, and I was blown away by both the restaurant and the dishes. When they relocated earlier this year, I took a taxi to check it out. The good news? The food hadn’t changed at all. It was as spicy as ever. The bad news? I didn’t like the physical environment of the new restaurant. It was like eating in a cold modern art museum – precisely the opposite of what Hunan food represents to me!
One advantage with Hunan food is that it doesn’t really matter what you order. The spice is the key factor. Many dishes include some bits of pork, but vegetables are the main ingredient in many of the recipes. You can just randomly point at the menu and chances are that it will be excellent.