Beijing's 798 Art District is a unique neighbourhood of decommissioned military factory buildings that now hold a network of art galleries and small shops. There's plenty of public works and free exhibitions, but also a scattering a large galleries well worth the price of admission.
On our first visit we wandered without much purpose, falling upon a noodle shop when we were hot and hungry. Then, sated, we walked some more and came upon a sign reading Vegetarian food (it's photographed below). Well, damn. When Michael and I returned to the District a few days later, we carefully retraced our steps and made sure we ate at Zen Beans/Chán dòu.
While the staff weren't fluent in English, they've made excellent accommodations. The menu includes English text and enormous colour photographs of all dishes. The young man serving us didn't hesitate to pull out his phone translator to check that we understood that the mock meat we were ordering wasn't real meat at all. Yes, we grinned back at him.
The finely chopped and steamed Chinese broccoli was served with blanched walnuts (31 yuan ~ AU$6.20), a simple start before those rich mock meats arrived.
We'd noticed a few interesting ham and bacon-based plates, and picked out the braised pork in brown sauce. The mock meat cubes had lean and fatty layers and a sweet sauce. I was surprised to see it served with mango, and saved my share of the fruit until the end of the meal.
The spicy mock chicken with mushroom (43 yuan ~ AU$8.50) was definitely more spice than mushroom, and I had only a few pieces before conceding most of the plate to Michael. There was still mango, complimentary watermelon, and my cup of tea to soothe my palate.
The 798 Art District is a must-visit for anyone in Beijing. And for veg*n eaters, we'd recommend seeking out Zen Beans for a full lunch in a comfortable, welcoming setting amidst all the walking - check our Google map to ensure you don't pass it by as we initially did.
Zen Beans/Chán dòu
Qixing East St, 798 Art District, Beijing
Ingeneous Mushroom, by Zhang Gong