Chili lovers often lament the lack of spicy food in Paris, that the butter and cream rich French dishes are too bland for them, and that the seasoning at ethnic restaurants have been dialed down to appeal to local tastes. All true observations, though encouragingly, as the ethnic food scene expands, there are more and more restaurants, such as Le Bistro de Pekin, that serve authentic flavors to makes one sweat.
Perhaps Le Bistro de Pekin did specialize in cusine from the capital many moons ago, though the menu has now become hybrid of various regional cuisines with an overweight on the fiery Sichuan genre. For those who like things hot, start with the peppery sour and spicy soup that warms from inside-out, and continue with the stir-fries (façon Sichuan), a simple but addictive dish that fries up your meat of choice with a melange of fresh, pickled and dried peppers.
Another very successful dish is the marmite of spicy prawns, again cooked with a generous amount of dried chili peppers and oil. The strong aroma of fried garlic and peppers is indeed as fragrant as its Chinese name “喷喷虾” suggests, and the spice-infused sauces livens up even the plainest bowl of rice.
And if you still want to test your spice tolerance, go for the spicy cumin lamb, which incidentally is not a Sichuan dish but instead hails from the Chinese Islamic (Hui) community. The hotplate of meat hit our table still sizzling, the powerful scent of cumin and pepper permeating through the dining room, smelling so good our neighbors felt compelled to order this dish for themselves. The flavors were as strong as the perfume, and numbingly spicy.
To moderate one’s spice intake, order some of the chili-free dishes from the non-Sichuan part of the menu. Some dishes, like the Northeastern vegetable trio of aubergines, potatoes and peppers, and a classic Shanghai “lion head” meatballs were pretty good though not as memorable as their spicier counterparts. Skip the fish, overcooked and muddy tasting.
While most of the other more authentic Chinese restaurants are tucked in the grittier corners of Paris, Le Bistro de Pekin is located right smack in the city, just off Champs Elysées, and has an attractive and comfortable setting to boot. Isn’t it comforting to know that one can sightsee/shop/museum-hop and then go eat some Sichuan dry-fried chicken or water-cooked beef without having to cross town?
Le Bistro de Pekin
38 Rue Ponthieu, 75008 Paris