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Friday, January 11, 2019, 11:53
Food for funny tastes
By Li Yingxue
Friday, January 11, 2019, 11:53 By Li Yingxue

A dish made with mashed potatoes resembles the Beijing rabbit god. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

Chinese cross-talk (xiangsheng) artist Guo Degang often jokes about "dark cuisine", such as pig-intestine sashimi and steamed pig heads with rock candy-and now his jokes have come true.

Juqi's 20 branches in Beijing have served over 30 million people since its founding in 2014, the company claims

Guo's xiangsheng club, Deyunshe, and Juqi restaurant have teamed up to open an eatery in Beijing's Xinjiekou area last month. The new spot combines traditional fare and comedy created in the classical style of the capital.

Juqi's decore presents Beijing's old hutong (alleyway) culture. The Deyunshe branch also infuses xiangsheng elements, with a small stage and displays related to xiangsheng.

A dozen dishes mentioned in Guo's and his apprentices' xiangsheng are on the e-menu. Each is accompanied by a short video of their provenance, presented in xiangsheng.

"We used creativity to develop the dishes mentioned in the cross-talk skits," says Juqi's executive chef, Liu Xinliang, who designed the menu.

"It's only the 1.0 version. We'll continue to upgrade."

Guo often makes fun of his partner, Yu Qian, in his xiangsheng skits, teasing him about his three hobbies-smoking, drinking and perming his hair. The menu's first signature dish is based on this gag.

Liu dyes instant noodles black with squid ink and adds mushroom sauce. It's served in an opened baijiu (white spirit) bottle with dry ice.

"We've also designed an edible perming iron made of candy and silk noodles," Liu says.

"It's one of our most popular dishes."

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The newly opened Juqi restaurant's Deyunshe branch infuses xiangsheng elements, traditional fare and comedy created in the classical style of the capital. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

Liu's pig-intestine sashimi is actually lightly stewed to appear raw. It's drizzled with mustard sauce.

"We experimented dozens of times until the sauce was good," Liu says.

"Most dishes' names are abstract. So, we used our imaginations to make them real."

Smashed tofu with eggs is easier for Liu because Guo already features the recipe in his xiangsheng.

Liu improves upon the dish by adding turnip sprouts and fried dried sea shrimp.

He also upgrades the steamed pig head with rock candy by using northern Chinese meat-stewing techniques in which the sugar caramelizes and changes the pork's color.

The drinkable pyramidal steamed buns stuffed with brown sugar took Liu a long time to figure out because the sugar is too hot to drink directly.

Liu's answer is to add a dollop of pork jelly to decrease the temperature and the sweetness.

"We're still working on the 'meatballs thrown by the master's wife'. It takes too much time and effort to make the dish. One chef can only throw enough meat to make 10 meatballs at a time, which takes three hours."

Juqi's signature dishes are also on the menu along with the Deyunshe branch's specialties.

The newly opened Juqi restaurant's Deyunshe branch infuses xiangsheng elements, traditional fare and comedy created in the classical style of the capital. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

The eatery asks diners to write on the duck with edible ink before roasting so they can be sure the duck that ends up on their plate is the one they selected.

Liu used to work for China's celebrated Quanjude roast-duck restaurant.

He has designed an oven that simulates traditional charcoal-fire roasting and controls the temperature to ensure ducks are tender inside and crispy outside.

Juqi fried rice is one of the chain's signature dishes. Liu has developed five versions.

The dish is shaped like a honeycomb briquette, which were commonly used in Beijing before the 1980s.

"I used black rice in the first version," he says.

"But the texture wasn't satisfactory. So, I used squid ink to dye regular rice in the second round."

He now instead colors the rice with a black tree sap. Two versions are available-a saccharine option with chopped fruit and a salty kind with sausage and other preserved meats.

The newly opened Juqi restaurant's Deyunshe branch infuses xiangsheng elements, traditional fare and comedy created in the classical style of the capital. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

The Beijing rabbit god-shaped mashed potatoes have a bacon-salad filling with mustard and pickled cucumbers. It's colored with pumpkin puree.

"Each dish is a puzzle for me," Liu says.

"I enjoy solving them."

Juqi's founder, Beijing native Han Tong, presents these riddles for Liu. Han is a fan of Deyunshe's xiangsheng and is familiar with his food jokes. The restaurant's name comes from a word in the Beijing dialect that means someone who follows the rules.

The newly opened Juqi restaurant's Deyunshe branch infuses xiangsheng elements, traditional fare and comedy created in the classical style of the capital. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

"Juqi means to always think of others, even at your own expense. To call someone juqi is a compliment. This spirit is vanishing. I hope my restaurants and I can sustain this traditional ethos."

Juqi's 20 branches in Beijing have served over 30 million people since its founding in 2014, the company claims.

The cooperation with Deyunshe is Han's first experiment in combining traditional cultural elements.

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Juqi's executive chef, Liu Xinliang, has designed the menu. (LI YINGXUE / CHINA DAILY)

He's also planning on working with more Beijing cultural symbols, such as the Palace Museum and Beijing Guoan Football club.

"Cultural crossovers are trending," Han says.

"We want to do more to promote Beijing's culture and incorporate different elements into new dishes."

Contact the writer at liyingxue@chinadaily.com.cn

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