Most of your fellow expats have never heard of it. Your Chinese friends know what it is, but chances are they haven’t tried it. There’s not even a Wikipedia page for it (which may not seem that impressive until you consider that there are over 750,000 articles in the simplified Chinese Wiki). Most importantly, you have never had it. So what exactly is Huang Men Ji?
Put simply, it’s a bowl of chicken and vegetables braised in fermented yellow bean paste (trust me, it tastes much better than it sounds). Like most Chinese dishes, Huang Men Ji gets its name from the way that it’s cooked and the ingredients used. Here’s a breakdown of the name for the linguistically curious:
黄焖鸡米饭 (huángmènjī mǐfàn)
黄 huáng – Stands for 黄酱 (huángjiàng) aka fermented yellow bean paste
焖 mèn – Braised, the cooking method.
鸡 jī –Chicken, the main component of the dish.
米饭 mǐfàn – Rice, the one and only side to serve with the dish.
Many restaurants recommend that you dump the rice in and mix it around to soak up all the liquid, but it’s equally delicious to just eat it with the grain on the side.
For this article, I’ve translated Huang Men Ji as Braised Chicken Stew, since that sounds native and is also fairly accurate. Huang Men Ji is a bit different from your usual stew though. While most stews focus on the thick broth as much as the ingredients, it’s the braised chicken that makes this dish memorable. Braising is one of the best techniques for rendering your proteins as soft as they can be, and the chicken in Huang Men Ji is as tender and flavorful as any I’ve had in China. Another difference is that the savory broth that is in this dish is nowhere near as thick as a normal stew, and is best consumed in combination with the rice.
Many Huang Men Ji restaurants serve nothing but this one dish, the same way that many dumpling joints sell dumplings and not much else. There are generally four levels of spiciness available, from 不辣 (búlà) aka Not Spicy to 爆辣 (bàolà) – literally, Explosively Spicy. At certain locations, you can get extras like potatoes or mushrooms thrown in the pot for a few yuan.
Huang Men Ji is originally from Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province, and has only become popular over the past several years. Recently, Huang Men Ji restaurants are popping up all over China, but the best that I’ve had in Qingdao is at the little strip above the underground walkway immediately to the west of Carrefour. Huang Men Ji restaurants are generally BYOB, and since nothing goes better with this dish than a cold bottle of Tsingtao, make sure you drop by the 7-11 before you head out.
黄焖鸡米饭 Huang Men Ji Mifan
Address: 香港中路 Hong Kong Middle Rd., Directly west of Carrefour
Hours: Seven days a week, 11 am – 8:30 pm – But be forewarned, they only make a certain amount each day, and if you show up after the lunch rush, you might be out of luck.
Price: Small – 17 元, Large – 23元, Extras – ~3 元 per veggie