The name Dong Bei Ren basically means "Northeast people" also known as Manchuria, a geographical region of China spanning over three provinces. China is already a massive geographical landscape and there are two prominent traditions about the Manchurian cuisine that I find interesting:
- They would eat wearing gloves to protect their hands and keep them warm
- Due to the cold climate, the Manchurians would sit on benches with their feet buried underneath the table where the smoke would rise up from the kitchens below
Those two facts are reflected in this restaurant - you've got boxes of plastic gloves available to eat the pork legs at your disposal. And if you're smart and booked a reservation in advance, you might get to sit at a low table and tuck your feet under, to get that real Manchurian experience.
The stir fried potato and celery coated in white vinegar could pass off as a Plain Jane at first sight, but don't let your eyes fool you, for it tastes far better than it looks. The strips of potatoes are carefully shredded under water to get rid of the starch, leaving you with a texture as robust as shredded carrots.
Another notable dish is the caramelized yam dessert. Once you dip it in water it crystallizes into cubes of sweet candy yam. Make sure you go for the tender braised pork ribs (a crowd favourite especially among kids), you'll be grateful to have a pair of plastic gloves handy because all manners aside, this requires you to embrace your inner caveman self and just dive in to a big hearty drumstick. One of my favourite past times, of course.
If you're an adventurous eater, try the egg and tomato dumplings - I'm inclined to know what you think! The tomatoes and eggs are diced up into little bits and assembled into velvety dumplings, making them delightfully juicy. We also ordered the pickled vegetable dumplings as a safe option in case the egg and tomato didn't really resonate well and to be honest, I preferred the pickled vegetable.
The knockout specialty is the sweet and sour fish, which arrives at your table with a group of servers singing and clapping as they light up the fish head with a flame. This 'dragon fish' is traditionally fried instead of steamed, to maintain the freshness factor in cold climates.
All the dishes are reasonably priced and primed for sharing so it's very much affordable (about less than 99 yuan for two people). The dollar stretches far in Chinese Yuan compared to Canadian dollars so you'll be happy to know that you walked out of the restaurant with more bang for your buck. The food portions are monstrous, so beware.