Not all restaurants come in pretty packages, and Northern Chinese Countryside Restaurant is one of them. The storefront is crowned by what once was a sign (of a previous business), that’s been stripped down to an indecipherable mess. To the right there’s construction, so the front door is hugged by a roughly built wooden barricade. There isn’t really any indication as to the restaurant’s name, but the red paper lanterns and OPEN sign do suggest one should venture inside. So I did, and figured I’d find out the name once there.
Northern Chinese Countryside Restaurant is long and narrow, with tables lined up against the wall and covered with red and white-checkered tablecloths. My server was friendly, and left me with a menu and cup of tea while I decided what to order. One thing I noticed immediately was that alongside the more traditional meat and noodle dishes, the menu also listed polenta and orecchiette, both of which are Italian. No, I am NOT used to seeing those on menus in Chinese restaurants, and was too curious not to try them.
I asked for vinegar peanuts as a snack to start (my first time trying them), pork belly in brown, sweetened sauce, a plate of pan-fried house-made orecchiette, and polenta. They didn’t have polenta that day, however, so I asked for millet congee instead, another dish I haven’t had in Richmond.
The vinegar peanuts arrived immediately, and this popular Beijing snack quickly won me over. According to most recipes I’ve looked up, the shelled peanuts (with their skins still on) are fried in oil, then soaked in Chinese black vinegar, a few spices, and some sugar to cut the acidity. They’re served with fresh cilantro on top, and are uber-duper, sweet-and-sour, crunchy-tart delish. Good new find.
The chunks of low and slow-braised pork belly came covered in a sauce so dark it was nearly black, with an umami-rich flavour to match its colour. This dish was extraordinarily good, and exactly how I like pork belly. It had been cooked until much of the fat was rendered, but there was still plenty of soft layers between the tender meat. The sauce complimented the meat wonderfully, and I ate far more of this plate than I should have. I did eat all the steamed pak choy surrounding it too, however, so score one for veggies.
Now, onto this quirky little find of orecchiette in a Chinese restaurant. In Italian, the word orecchio means ear, and because these small, round, indented pieces of pasta look like tiny ears, they are called orecchiette .
At Northern Chinese Countryside Restaurant they were freshly made, and stir-fried with slices of cabbage, onion, chicken, chili, and a few slices of green onion. They were a little thicker and doughier than orecchiette should be, but not bad at all, really!
The millet congee was very plain. It was far less starchy and thick than its rice counterpart, and also less flavourful. I think I’d stick to rice congee next time (or just plain white rice with this meal), but I’m still curious to see what their version of polenta is like.
Northern Chinese Countryside Restaurant may not be very handsome from the outside, but this modest little place is a good one to try.
Especially if you’re craving some good, old-fashioned Chinese-Italian food.
Vegetarian options available