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Forbidden City Food

Sometimes when a Chinese waiter says "not for you," he's right

The stewed pork intestine is cut up into pieces that resemble tortellini floating in a promising-looking orange sauce. The round chunks are soft and rubbery as you chew them, but they yield nicely to a steady application of the molars. They don't smell bad at all -- which is unfortunate, as far as Qiuyue is concerned.

"I like them better when they are smellier," she says. We also try the pickled tuber soup, which tastes like pork broth with pickles but is not nearly as exciting as the hot and sour soup. Fu qi fei pian turns out to be a delectable cold dish made of pieces of beef heart, beef stomach and beef meat tossed in hot chile oil. The texture of the offal is much softer than you might imagine. I'm quite taken with the stuff, but our friend Debra won't touch it.

Debra Bailey and Darayus Kolah are friends of Qiuyue's who have given her a lift out here to Peking Cuisine. Debra is a Southern girl, and Darayus is a native of India. Like me, Darayus is fairly fond of the stewed pig's intestines and the mélange of cold beef parts. While Debra isn't going for the cold salad, she bravely puts a piece of the stewed pork intestine in her mouth and gives it a few tentative chomps. Then she spits it politely into a napkin.

"I like them better when they are smellier," says our Beijingian guide of the stewed pork intestine.
Troy Fields
"I like them better when they are smellier," says our Beijingian guide of the stewed pork intestine.

Location Info

Map

Peking Cuisine

8332 SW Freeway
Houston, TX 77074

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Outer Loop - SW

Details

713-988-5838. Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Lunch special from: $3.25
Hot and sour soup: $3.95
Pickled tuber soup: $3.95
Deluxe hot and sour soup: $4.95
Fu qi fei pian: $4
Peking meat pie: $4.35
Moo shu pork: $7.95
Beef with scallions: $7.95
Stewed pork intestine: $8.25
Sichuan fish: $13.95

8332 Southwest Freeway

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"Sorry," says Debra. "I can't get past the texture." But she turns out to be a huge fan of wiggly la pi, an appetizer I find utterly without merit. La pi is made from the same paste as bean threads, Qiuyue tells us. It's formed into a layer about a half-inch thick and then cut into long rectangular shapes that look like giant noodles. The slippery, transparent bean stuff is seasoned with soy, rice wine vinegar, chiles and cilantro, and while the sauce tastes fine, the tooth-clingingly chewy la pi tastes like absolutely nothing. "It kind of reminds me of Gummi Bears," says Debra.

The one appetizer we all love is called Peking meat pie. It's a couple of thin, flaky pancakes sandwiched together with a spicy pork paste filling inside. "Back home we call it Peking pizza," our food expert says. And there are quite a few "Peking pizzerias" where young people go to eat meat pies and hang out, Qiuyue tells us.

A Beijing native studying at Rice University, Qiuyue has been in Houston a little more than three months now. So far, her favorite local restaurants are a couple of Taiwanese places over in Bellaire Chinatown, but Peking Cuisine is making quite an impression on her.

Their Peking noodles are perfect, she says. The yellowish wheat noodles -- a little thicker than spaghetti -- come with a pile of cucumber slivers and other vegetables on top and a dark black sweet pork sauce on the side. Qiuyue mixes the whole thing up for us and takes a big serving. "These are really typical," she says. "I will be coming back here for these." While I'm delighted to have introduced Qiuyue to a place that serves her home food, I can't get excited about the noodles. They seem plain compared to the Vietnamese noodle dishes I'm used to.

An entrée called Sichuan fish is a big disappointment for all of us. "This dish is supposed to be served completely covered with whole peppers," says Qiuyue. "And then the waiter spoons them off the top and serves the fish." Here, big fish chunks are served in a chile sauce with lots of crushed peppers sprinkled on top. The peppers make the dish hot and bitter, but otherwise it's curiously lacking in flavor.

This is one of the most interesting meals I've eaten in a long time. Which brings to mind an old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." Unless you happen to be visiting from Beijing, I can't really recommend anything we ate besides the Peking meat pies and the innocuous noodles. I know there must be a balance between the General Tso's chicken and the stewed pork intestine at Peking Cuisine. But until I hit upon it, I highly recommend the good old lunch special with the non-deluxe hot and sour soup and the homemade egg roll. It's not very adventurous, I'll admit. But sometimes when a Chinese waitperson says "not for you," you just have to accept that he's right.

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