Going Home of Ci Xi

Now what you see in the picture is the house where the Empress Dowager lived as a girl before she married into the Forbidden Palace. But now it is home to just memories and fine cuisine. Ci Xi (29 November 1835 – 15 November 1908), who was a member of the Manchu Yehenara clan and often was depicted in Chinese films as a cruel, bad-tempered, powerful old woman controlling the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China for 47 years, from 1861 to her death in 1908.

Beijing has numerous restaurants housed in the traditional Chinese courtyard homes, but Guigong Fu is probably one of the biggest of its kind. It is said to be the only existing courtyard house where a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) empress had once lived.

Beijing’s courtyard houses share a lot of similarities: They are usually quiet and comfortable. They are beautifully built, with grey tiles, huge columns in dark red paint, and colorful motifs of bird, flower or scenery on the eaves, which is a typical Chinese architecture feature. This is vividly embodied in Guigong Fu, Duke Gui’s Residence. The former owner, Duke Guixiang, was the second brother of the powerful Qing Dynasty Empress Ci Xi.

Today the once royal home is hidden among residential buildings in the winding hutong near Nanxiaojie, with its ownership having changed hands several times in the past years. It was first a restaurant offering dishes made with tea, then it became a roast duck restaurant. Now, an experienced businessman from Shantou in Guangdong province has just taken it over, and plans to promote a main menu of imperial cuisine based on historical research, with satellite offerings from the Chaozhou and Shantou in Guangdong.

There are many stories, and waitresses clad in colorful Qing Dynasty costume will patiently explain how a pork meatball was adapted using fish to please the empress Ci Xi, and served in a porcelain platter beautifully decorated with flowers. The meatball is made with tender cod and crunchy diced water chestnut, bathed in a broth made of ham and chicken.

“Clear-water cabbage” is another traditional dish from the royal kitchens. The soup looks clear, but has actually undergone a complicated filtering process to clarify the intensely tasty chicken broth.

The furniture is traditional Chinese style, and paintings and calligraphy works hang on the walls. In the evening, there are Chinese instrumental performances, including the guqin, a very relaxed and soothing style of music.

The owner of the restaurant is a big fan of Chinese teas and the restaurant offers almost every style of Chinese tea. The peaceful courtyard environment is an ideal place to sip a cup of tea and enjoy some leisure time after a meal.