I remember eating Shuizhuyu (水煮魚 Sichuan-style fish in hot chili oil) for the first time in Beijing.
What do people usually expect to be eating when they are in Beijing? Kung Pao Chicken, dumplings, fried rice…and what else? Often, stereotypes about Chinese food are formed through experiences with the “American Chinese food,” which many native Chinese people refuse to approve of. Some people have a basic understanding of Chinese culture, some have been in an indirect touch with the culture though learning the language or befriending locals, but many people do not anticipate to discover the whole new part of the Chinese cuisine – the fish.
I remember eating Shuizhuyu (水煮魚 Sichuan-style fish in hot chili oil) for the first time in Beijing last summer. My friend and I were getting very tired of all the intense flavors of stir-fried or soy sauce-dipped everything, so one day we just started walking down the street in search of a nearby Pizza Hut. Bad idea. We didn’t even know how to say Pizza Hut in Chinese and our stomachs got to the point where we held absolutely no interest in whatever we chose to eventually eat. We decided to walk into the next restaurant we would see, order anything and stuff our faces with it. It happened to be a Sichuan restaurant in the neighborhood. We pointed at a spicy fish dish on the menu, and the next thing we saw was the waiter bringing a gigantic live fish in a net to make sure that we liked the size of it. Thirty minutes later, the whole fish came in a large rectangular plate covered with different types of peppers and hot chili oil. As spicy as the sauce was, the white part (inside the fish) was preserved from the influence of the sauce. After a brief dip into the sauce, the extremely fresh and tender slice of fish meat immediately disappeared from the inside of my mouth.
This summer, as I made my way back to Beijing, I have been more than ready to explore the Sichuan fish recipes from day 1. Thankfully, Sichuan cuisine has become especially popular in Beijing recently, and numerous restaurants now serve tasty Sichuan fish well within a reasonable price range (around $4 to $16 depending on how fancy the restaurant is, but not necessarily how tasty it is). Aside from Sichuan recipes, which are best-known for their fish hot pot (火锅 huoguo) dishes, it’s hard to go wrong with a steamed fish dish basically anywhere you go for dinner in Beijing, as long as you make sure that they have their own aquariums from which they can retrieve the fish immediately after you order one.
Yu Shifu (鱼师傅) is located on the path down from Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Specializing in various rural Chinese fish dishes based on Sichuan cuisine, it has its own little outdoor fishery, and the freshness of the fish dishes are amazing enough to wash away all the fatigue you feel after climbing the Great Wall.
Article written by Hyerin Park.