YANG TUI

Lamb.

It has long been one of my favorite foods. I mean, as a tiny human I would run around clamoring for my dad to throw on a couple pieces of lamb when he went on one of his grilling evenings, lamb filled shepherd’s pie is one of my winter specialties (and I can eat a whole casserole dish of it) and a perfectly cooked, tender lamb chop seasoned with just the right amount of salt, pepper, mint and garlic? Excuse me, I think I’m having a crisis.

The lamb in China seems very wasteful to me. They chop it up in such a horrible way, serving chunks of ribs, tiny pieces of meat overwhelmed by thick, chewy, glistening fat, and unedible tendons, and half the time it’s boiled. I rarely order lamb here.

But I’ve found a new favorite top 5 restaurant in China. Lamb leg. How have I not discovered this before? How have the boys been hiding this from me? Way back in March, when I went to Korea, apparently they had dinner with some friends and discovered this yangtui ingeniousness.

We sit outside, it’s hot and humid, like most days in Beijing. We are surrounded by raucous, heavenly drinking folk, one old man walks back and forth chest bared, a withered skinny thing. We order. We want some vegetables, but there’s no real menu, so Bambi braves the back kitchen to pick out what we want (remember, please, rule #1, don’t ever look into a Chinese kitchen). A small, short man, with preposterously ripped arms and a large scorpion tattoo comes over, wielding a lamb leg in each hand, asking us to choose. It goes on the fire, which is only about a yard away from our table. I try not to look up at the lanterns that were once red, but now covered in a grimy layer of soot and dust that sometimes drops spiderwebs down to the table.

Our lamb leg being delivered


After a short time our lamb leg, skewered and still roasting on a transportable bed of coals, is deposited on our table. We’re issued knives and small, two-pronged forks that are easily 18 inches long. Allie and I share a little laugh when I say “i’m stabbing it with my steely knives but we just can’t kill the beast” the reference is lost on the boys.

Long cutlery for attacking the beast

Om Nom Nom lamb


Stabbity stab hacking off little bits of juicy, soft melting meat. The first mouthful is hot, a little greasy, absolutely amazing. To make it better, three steel pots of seasoning–a little salt, red chili powder, and some powder that looks like a mix of cumin and something else. We sprinkle it on the edge of our plates and dab each bite size morsel we hew off. We wash it and the spicy cold vegetable accompaniments-julienne carrots, spicy cabbage, peanuts, edamame, celery and tofu skin-down with swigs of icy yanjing. Coals crackle and shift in the brazier. They bring out a dish of nan, and we toast that over the embers, and make the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

Lamb and grilled nan. Heavenly.


Between the four of us, we decimated the leg. If there had been five of us, or we had ordered less sides, we should have gotten 2. Before the leg could fall apart completely from our combined efforts, the waitress took it and cut the rest for us, and we tore bits from the bones with our fingers. I felt like a hungry Mongol, tearing into such a primal meal and loved it. A smudge of soot on my cheek, hands coated with grease and red chili powder. Pleasantly full, almost too warm. It was an amazing evening. The hutong was lively with the restaurant patrons and neighbors wandering around. One woman was walking her dog, and the master of the fire asked us if we were done with our bones, and tossed them to fat little Fido. I think he was stunned with his good fortune–he looked at one bone and then the other and tried to eat one and then the other, his tail wagging furiously enough to wiggle the fat rolls at his hips.

We finished up the evening watching a friend’s band at a bar. What more can a girl want besides good food, good music and good company?

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