Zhengyanglou Restaurant, a restaurant seated on the eastern side of Qianmen Street, opened during the reign of Emperor Daoguang during the Qing Dynasty, as one of the eight famous restaurants in ancient Beijing.
Zhengyanglou Restaurant was at first simply a booth selling liquor, whose owner’s name was Sun Xiaobian from Ye County, Shandong Province. He came to Beijing to seek his fortune after a serious drought struck his hometown. In the daytime, he went out to do some part-time jobs, and in the night he sheltered himself in the shabby temple of a grinding factory in Qianmen Street. As time went by, he got acquainted with several town-fellows, with whose help Sun Xiaobian opened the liquor stall on the eastern side of Qianmen Street. Several years later, Sun Xiaobian had some savings and wanted to find a storefront. As chance would have it, a tavern in Qianmen Street was to close its business, so Sun Xiaobian entrusted a friend to rent the tavern and renamed it Zhengyanglou (the sun at noon), following the name of Zhengyang Gate, wishing that his business could be as thriving as the sun at noon and never decline.
After Zhengyanglou opened, seats were available both upstairs and downstairs. Besides the commonly seen boiled peanuts, rose dates, fried ginger-slice cakes, small crisp fish, spicy cabbages, lamb-head meat and sliced pig tongue with chili oil, fat crabs were also available here in autumn. The liquor and rice wine sold in it were never adulterated. Thus, business here became better and better. In the years of Emperor Guangxu, Sun Xiaobian’s son Sun Xueren inherited the tavern. He invited several chefs from his hometown who were adept at cooking Shandong cuisine. This contributed to the shift of Zhengyanglou from a small tavern to a restaurant.
Later, Sun Xueren opened a steamed bean-cake shop named Zhengming House in a meat-selling street alongside Qianmen Street, and entrusted the restaurant to one of his family members called Sun Xueshi. In the late Qing Dynasty, Sun Xueren and Sun Xueshi came into conflict and resorted to the law to resolve their issues. After the mediation, Sun Xueren left Zhengyanglou Restaurant to Sun Xueshi who was very sociable and had friends in all circles. In the period of the Republic of China, Sun Xueshi became a celebrity in business circle and joined the Chamber of Commerce. In the twelfth year of the Republic of China, he was elected the President of the Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. He was influential not only in the business circle but also in the military and political circles. With the enhancement of Sun Xueshi’s social status, Zhengyanglou Restaurant gained an unprecedented impetus in development. Back then, Zhengyanglou Restaurant was full of customers every day. Many important military and political figures such as Yuan Shikai, Li Yuanhong and Duan Qirui were also regular visitors. Some important banquets were even held there.
The popularity of Zhengyanglou Restaurant at that time should not only be attributed to Sun Xueshi’s superior status and good social network, but also to the good taste of its food. The big crabs and instant-boiled mutton were especially preferred by the customers. It is said those who loved eating crabs would come here to taste the steamed crabs every autumn. As is known to all, the crabs in autumn are the fattest. When autumn came, Zhengyanglou Restaurant would send people to buy crabs in the Tianjin coastal areas. They bought the biggest and most active ones from local fishermen and transported them to Beijing in specially-designed baskets. The crabs were left to disgorge for a couple of days, and then they were washed and had their claws tied with hemp strings. Then they were put into a bamboo steamer. When people ate crabs, they dipped the crab meat in bruised ginger and vinegar for dispelling the coldness and improving the flavor. Zhengyanglou Restaurant was also said to have prepared small hammers, small pinchers, small tweezers and small boards to facilitate people’s eating of crabs.
From the first official day of Autumn, instant-boiled mutton would be available in Zhengyanglou Restaurant. The lambs used were purchased from the area to the north of the Great Wall by an appointed person. Sheepfolds were also set up nearby Yongding Gate, where the lambs were first raised for some time and killed after they gained weight.
After the lambs were killed, they were flayed and pressed according to different parts, namely, the parts were put on the ice with another piece of ice laid on it. After a whole day, the rammish smell would be gone and the mutton became easy to chop. According to the old people, it was the readiness of all condiments that mattered when people had instant-boiled mutton there.
Because of the quality of the thin mutton slices, readiness of all condiments and fresh soup, Zhengyanglou Restaurant was widely considered to be one of the best restaurants in Beijing in a short period of time.
In the early 1940s, like many other restaurants in Beijing did, Zhengyanglou Restaurant closed down. In 1986, at the call of the government to boost the development of the market and revitalize the time-honored brands in Beijing, Zhengyanglou Restaurant reopened on the eastern side of Qianmen Street, and changed its name into Zhengyangmen Restaurant.