Bourgeois decadence at Serve the People
August 27, 2011
BEIJING, CHINA – You can be excused for thinking that Serve the People might dish up the simple peasant fare eaten on the Chinese Communists’ Long March or have wait staff dressed as People’s Liberation Army operatives–after all, it is named after one of Mao’s favorite catch phrases. But in hipster haven Beijing, Little Red Books are as passé as boot cut denim (no offence to anyone who’s not a skinny jean convert), so Serve the People’s trendy young staff have their tongues firmly in cheek as they dish up decadent portions of exotic Thai treats to their decidedly bourgeois clientele. Goodbye “iron rice bowl”, hello ornate silver pot of fragrant basmati.
And that’s just fine by us. Frankly, we don’t care what their politics are–we just want more of that lip-scorchingly spicy pomelo salad and that luscious green curry. And if we score a seat under a shade tree on one of the cushy sidewalk banquettes, all the better. Of course, the tempting eats and tranquil alfresco set up (a rarity in this go-go-go city) mean the place is usually busier than a proletarian canteen, especially on sunny summer days when off-duty diplomats from the nearby embassies flock for leisurely lunches or post-work R&R.
Never fear though, you shan’t go hungry–they really do serve the people here–you just might not get a prime seat. That said, the handsome Thai-accented interiors are equally as inviting as the sidewalk, and there are always tables available in there. In fact, if you’re here for a romantic tête-à-tête or want a more formal spot to talk business (or if you come on a chilly winter day for that matter), the inside tables are actually probably a better choice. (If you absolutely must be outside, book in advance–day-of reservations are usually fine.)
On a more pragmatic note, delish eats and serene surrounds aside, another Serve the People plus for China first-timers is the cutlery. Thailand is one of the few Asian countries where chopsticks aren’t commonly used, so Serve the People keeps things authentic by offering heavy Thai-made spoons and forks instead. It may seem like a small thing, but after you’ve been clumsily dropping rice on your lap for a few days as you battle with slippery chopsticks, the idea of supping with a spoon seems, well, positively revolutionary.
And so, with our bellies blissfully full of exotic salads, fiery curries and fresh rice noodles (ok, and maybe a rich coconut milk dessert too…), we salute our comrades at Serve the People. This may not have been what Mao intended, but we sure like it.
Serve the People
1 San Li Tun Xi Wu Jie (Sanlitun)