Look at the average Chinese menu, and you’ll find dish after dish made with pork. But in China’s western regions, where there’s a significant Muslim population that avoids pork for religious reasons, the meat of choice is often lamb – stuffed inside dumplings, tossed onto hand-pulled noodles, or slathered with cumin and grilled on skewers over the coals.
In Richmond, lamb takes center stage at several local eateries. Here’s a lamb-filled round up.
Hao’s Lamb Restaurant
When you sit down in the small dining room at Hao’s Lamb Restaurant (11800-8799 McKim Way), decorated with Chinese prints and pretty blue and white ceramics, the question you quickly have to wrestle with is, “How many lamb dishes can we eat?”
Because, as you might guess from the restaurant’s name, lamb is the specialty here. Even more unusual parts of the animal turn up on Hao’s menu. Although our group of four adventurous eaters discussed sampling the “Griddled Ovine Giblets” (ominously marked with three chili peppers), “Sizzling Ovine Kidney with Cumin,” and “Fried Ovine Genitals” (aka lamb penis), we ultimately chickened out. Besides, we didn’t feel we had to start with organs when we saw so many other delicious-looking lamb options on the nearby tables.
As soon as we sat down, a waiter strode across the room, balancing a massive platter of meat on his shoulder, causing several diners to stand up for a better look. This show-stopping dish, which would easily serve several hungry meat-lovers, is discreetly listed on the menu as Roasted Lamb Leg, only its price ($78.99) indicating that it might be out of the ordinary. Dusted with cumin and other spices, it won a “Critics’ Choice” honor in this year’s annual Chinese Restaurant Awards. Alas, our server informed us (while we might have been drooling) that you have to order this beast in advance.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of other lamb options, as our helpful server quickly pointed out, recommending the New Zealand Lamb Ribs ($32.99). This dish turned out to be a shareable rack of lamb, partially pre-cut between the bones, the buttery meat swathed under a thick savory sauce that tasted of soy and black beans.
“You like spicy food?” our server inquired, as we asked for other suggestions. When I said, “Sure,” she suggested the Spicy Sautéed Mutton ($23.99), a hearty plate of tender meat served on the bone and liberally seasoned with a mix of moderately hot chili peppers and mouth-tingling Sichuan peppercorns.
She also recommended the Pan-Fried Sliced Mutton with Green Onion ($16.99), a mild but still flavorful preparation of tender, thinly-sliced lamb stir-fried with scallions, as well as the steamed lamb dumplings ($10.99), the juicy meat rolled into nearly translucent wrappers.
“That won’t be too many lamb dishes?” I asked.
Smiling, she shook her head, as if to say, “Silly girl. You’re at a lamb restaurant, remember?”
Hao’s does offer dishes without lamb. You can start with a selection of cold plates, many of which are displayed in a case just outside the kitchen that you can peruse before you order. When we asked for garlicky cucumbers and “Crunchy Chinese Radish Salad,” our server suggested ordering a plate that was half and half – an excellent idea that gave these crunchy appetizers more variety.
We also loved the Stir-Fried Cauliflower ($12.99), crisp and flavored with bacon, and the House Special Eggplant ($14.99), thin Asian eggplants cooked until their interior flesh was rich and creamy, with a bit of chili heat and vibrant green cilantro for contrast.
The baked sesame cakes ($2 each), doughy golden flatbreads generously sprinkled with sesame seeds, make excellent accompaniments to any Hao’s meal. You could share these little buns, but trust me; everyone will want at least one of their own.
If you haven’t had enough meat (and of course, you haven’t), you can order these sesame breads filled with thinly sliced lamb ($4.99 each), like a Chinese deli sandwich. The menu calls these Baked Sesame Cakes with Mutton with Mustard.
Because at Hao’s Lamb Restaurant, the answer to the question “How many lamb dishes can we eat?” is always “one more.”
Silkway Halal Cuisine
Silkway Halal Cuisine (110 – 8188 Saba Road) is popular with local Muslim residents for its halal meats, prepared in accordance with Islamic religious guidelines (though not all its dishes are halal). It also attracts plenty of other diners looking for foods from China’s western regions.
The menu lists an entire page of lamb dishes, from dumplings (Silkway is on Richmond’s Dumpling Trail) to skewers to hot pot.
One of the more distinctive regional dishes to sample at Silkway is the Fried Sliced Lamb with Diced Xinjiang Naan” ($16.95): cubes of lamb spiced with cumin and pepper, then stir-fried with cubes of flatbread. The bread almost melts into the meat, like a spicy Thanksgiving stuffing.
More Richmond Lamb Plates
Once you start looking for lamb, you’ll find it on menus across Richmond. At casual Old Xian’s Food, on the upper level of an Alexandra Road mini mall, try the lamb burgers or several varieties of noodles with lamb.
Chuan Ku BBQ Restaurant cooks up lamb many different ways, from grilled skewers to hot pot to cumin-crusted barbecued loin.
And Xi’An Cuisine, a deceptively basic-looking stall in the Richmond Public Market, tops its handmade noodles with lamb in soups and stir-fries, and grills spicy lamb skewers.