Being the capital of the country,
Beijing has foods from all over China. There are quite a few types
of foods which are unique to Beijing, and while you are here you
should try to sample as much of the local cuisine as you can.
Chinese Dining Custom
The main difference between Chinese and Western
eating habits is that unlike the West, where everyone has their own
plate of food, in China the dishes are placed on the table and
everybody shares. If you are being treated by a Chinese host, be
prepared for a ton of food. Chinese are very proud of their culture
of food and will do their best to give you a taste of many different
types of cuisine. Among friends, they will just order enough for the
people there. If they are taking somebody out for dinner and the
relationship is polite to semi-polite, then they will usually order
one more dish than the number of guests (e.g. four people, five
dishes). If it is a business dinner or a very formal occasion, there
is likely to be a huge amount of food that will be impossible to
A typical meal starts with garlic.
These are followed by the main courses, hot meat and vegetable
dishes. Finally a soup is brought out, which is followed by the
starchy "staple"food, which is usually rice or noodles or sometimes
dumplings. Many Chinese eat rice (or noodles or whatever) last, but
if you like to have your rice together with other dishes, you should
say so early on.
One thing to be aware of is that when
eating with a Chinese host, you may find that the person is using
their chopsticks to put food in your bowl or plate. This is a sign
of politeness. The appropriate thing to do would be to eat the
whatever-it-is and say how yummy it is. If you feel uncomfortable
with this, you can just say a polite thank you and leave the food
there, and maybe cover it up with a little rice when they are not
looking. There is a certain amount of leniency involved when dealing
with Westerners. So you won't be chastised.
Traditionally speaking, there are many taboos at Chinese tables, but
these days not many people pay attention to them. However, there are
a few things to keep in mind, especially if you are a guest at a
1) Don't stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. Instead,lay
them on your dish. The reason for this is that when somebody dies,
the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks
of incense stuck upright in it. So if you stick your chopsticks in
the rice bowl, it looks like this shrine and is equivalent to
wishing death upon a person at the table!
2) Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. It is
impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is facing towards
somebody. The spout should always be directed to where nobody is
sitting,usually just outward from the table.
3) Don't tap on your bowl with your chopsticks. Beggars tap on their
bowls, so this is not polite. Also, in a restaurant, if the food is
coming too slow people will tap their bowls. If you are in someone's
home, it is like insulting the cook.
You can get expensive, delicious meals in any of the large
hotels, but if you are looking for atmosphere, you have to go to a
local joint. Not only is it cheaper, but you can get a good look at
the locals and what normal people are like. And what the food lacks
in presentation is made up for in the taste. Some restaurants have
English menus, but don't count on it. A good way to choose dishes is
to look at what othes are eating and point at it for the waitress.
The other option is to play "Myatery Dinner," where players randomly
point at items in the menu and wait for the surprise dishes to come.
Whoever orders the braised dog heart with scallions in shark vomit
sauce wins! If you bring your Guide with you, however, you can use
the food guide in the back of the book to choose some safe and
delicious fare. Also, be sure to sample the local brew, Yanjing
Gan Bei! (Cheers!)
Alcohol is a
big part of eating in Beijing. Especially when dining with Chinese
hosts, you can expect the beer to flow freely and many beis to be
gan-ed. (Gan Bei literally means "dry the glass") besides beer, the
official Chinese alcoholic beverage is bai jiu, high-proof Chinese
liquor made from assorted grains. There are varying degrees of bai
jiu, and some are quite good. The Beijing favorite is called Er Guo
Tou, which is a whopping 56% alcohol. More expensive and less
formidable are Maotai and Wuliangye, which go for about 300-400 yuan
per bottle. In comparison, Er Guo Tou costs a modest 4or 5 yuan per
ping(bottle). If you are not a drinker, or don't feel up to the
challenge, just say "wo bu hui he jiu"(I don't drink). It is
generally acceptable to use Coke or tea as an alcohol substitute.
Best Beijing Food
Peking Roast Duck
Peking Duck has the
reputation of being the most delicious food Beijing has to offer.
Some find it a bit too greasy, but others get hooked after one
taste. In any case, a Peking Duck dinner is usually a fixed item on
any Beijing tour itinerary, Eating Peking Duck is also one of the
two things you are absolutely supposed to do while in Beijing. The
other one is climbing the Great Wall.
The place that offers the best Peking
Duck is the Quan Ju De Restaurant, which has outlets at Qianmen,
Hepingmen and Wangfujing. It was established 130 year ago and, if
you count from the time when founder Yang Renquan began his duck
business, it is 160 years old.
At Quan Ju De, ducks are immersed in
condiments unique to the restaurant and are roasted directly over
flames stoked by fruit tree wood. The best roasted duck is date-red,
shining with oil, but with a crisp skin and tender meat.
The chef then cuts the meat into thin
slices, each having a piece of skin. Then the meat is served with
very thin pancakes, Chinese onions and special sauce. The way to eat
it is to coat the thin pancake with sauce, slap on a few pieces of
meat and roll up the pancake. Chopsticks are optional;it is much
easier just to grab the thing with your bare hands.
Another famous restaurant offering
Peking duck is the Bian Yi Fang (Cheap Restaurant). Which opened in
1855, nine years earlier than Quan Ju De. At Bian Yi Fang. Roasting
is done in an enclosed container fueled with crop stalks.
There are now hundreds of restaurants
serving Peking Duck all over the city. Most of these restaurants
offer ducks for 38 yuan a piece.
Imperial Court Food
Imperial court Food is a style of Chinese food that has its origins
in the Imperial Palace. It is based on the foods that were served to
the Emperor and his court. Now, it has become a major school of
Chinese cooking and there are several places where you can sample
this unique flavor. Fand Shan in Beihan Park and Ting Li Guan in the
Summer palace are the best ones. 150 years ago you would never have
been able to eat this stuff, so give it a shot. It is a little
Imperal Official Food and
This first type of
food is particular to Beijing. In the past, Beijing officials were
all very picky about what type of food they ate. The most famous
type of Official food is Tan Family Food, which can be had in the
Beijing Hotel. This is the preferred food of the Qing Dynasty
official Tan Zongling, and was later introduced into restaurants.
Another type of food is that which is described in the classic novel
Dream of Red Mansions. The author, Cao Xueqin, described a number of
dishes in the book and now there are several restaurants which serve
this style of dish. The most famous place is the Beijing Grand View
Garden Hotel. This hotel is right next to the Beijing's Grand View
Garden which is modeled after the garden described in the Dream of
Red Mansions Other restaurants featuring this novel type of food are
the Jinglun Hotel and Laijinyuxuan Restaurant in Zhongshan park.
There are hundreds of dishes that are
medicated with such choice tonic materials as ginseng, deer musk,
bear's paw, Chinese wolf berry and soft-shelled turtle, the cream of
the crop of Chinese medicine. The "Yang Sheng Zhai" Restaruant of
Xiyuan Hotel has the best reputation among such food. Although it
has been changed to Sichuan Restaurant, it still offers medicinal
There are basically
two kinds of hotpot restaurants in Beijing: mongolian style and
Sichuan style. The staple of both types of hotpot is mutton (yang
rou). The meat is usually sliced frozen so that it curls up into a
tube shape. Then you place the meat into the hotpot, which is a
copper pot containing a boiling soup base. After a few seconds the
meat is cooked and you dip it into a sesame butter sauce. The verb
describing the action of cooking the meat this way is called "shuan."other
shuan-ables include beef , frozen tofu, Chinese cabbage , bean
sprouts , and glass noodles . spicy Sichuan hotpot has a soup base
which can be described as either superspicy or mildly radioactive,
but the pot is often divided into half spicy, half nonspicy soup
pots. The soup base for Mongolian style is not spicy, and usually
consists of some vegetables and seafood.
Famous Mongolian style hotpot
restaurants are Neng Ren Ju at Baitasi, and Dong Lai Shun to the
east of Tian'anmen Square. The most well-known Sichuan style hotpot
restaurant is Jin Shan Cheng. Of which there are many scattered
throughout the city.
Recently there has been an explosion
of buffet-style hotpot restaurants. Generally you pay a set price
(often around 38 yuan ) for an all-you -can -eat meal.
All-you-can-drink beer is included in the price too!
Beijing has over 250
types of traditional snack foods. Many of them are made of glutinous
rice,soy beans or fried materials. The king of all snack foods is
called "dou zhi." This is a strange-tasting, greenish-grey,
fermented bean porridge, and if you can manage to eat a whole bowl
of it you will earn great respect from your Beijing friends.
Supposedly it is an acquired taste, but who wants to acquire it? For
a taste of snack foods from outside of Beijing, take a trip to Snack
Street, just off of Wangfujing Street. Starting from about 5:00pm,
the vendors line up in their stalls and start selling foods from all
parts of the country. You can have an entire meal's worth of food
walking from one end of the street to the other, trying this and
that along the way.
Cuising from Other Regions
A huge chunk of
Chinese culture is devoted to food and drink. There are hundreds of
different dishes, and each region has its own distinctive flavor.
The majority of Chinese restaurants in Beijing feature what is known
as "homestyle dishes,"which are basically the most common types of
food that any self-respecting Chinese can make at home. These dishes
are usually a combination of the spicy Sichuan style and the more
hearty Shandong. True Sichuan style restaurants have a special type
of tea called Eight Treasures Tea. This tea is poured from a kettle
with a yardlong spout, which the boy wields skillfully. Aside from
jia chang cai restaurants, there are also many places that are
devoted to a certain type of food. Specialty restaurants include
such classics as Donkey Flesh King, Dog Meat City and Fat Sister's
Shanghai style tends to be sort of
sweet and features lots of seafood. Shanghai restaurants have been
quite popular for some years now. guangdong eaters have a reputation
for eating "everything with four or more legs except for the table,
and everything that has wings except for airplanes." All of the
really funky dishes you hear about like live monkey brains and raw
rat babies are Guangdong style dishes. However there are lots of
excellent, non-scary Guangdong dishes, and the seafood is especially
tasty. Northeastern dishes are usually composed of large quantities
of meat in thick, fairly saltysaues. Potatoes also feature heavily
in dongbei cai. This is a great style of food to have in winter.
Other famous schools of Chinese food include Huaiyang and Shanxi
styles. There are also a number of regional minority cuisine.
Uygur Food The Uygurs are a Muslim
minority from Xinjiang Autonomous Region in the Northwest. There are
Uygurs all over the city selling lamb shish kebob, but there are two
places where they are fairly concentrated together, one is tempted
to call them ghettos. These two locations, weigongcun and Ganjiakou,
abound with Uygur restaurants. If you are walking by around dinner
time, prepare yourself to get accosted by "grabbers,"sort of like "greeters"at
other restaurants, except these guys tug on your sleeve and try to
drag you into their place. Nothing hostile, just very persistent.
The best thing at these restaurants is the roast fried spicy mutton,
square noodles in tomato sauce, and the roud nang bing, a type of
bread which is scrumptious whencool. There is also a smaller,fatter
type of round bread which can satisfy a bagel-craving. The
streetside shishkabob can be delicious, too, but is not always the
paramount of sanitary foodstuffs.
In addition to the
thousands of Chinese restaurants, there are also lots of places
serving foods from all over the world. You can basically get any
type of food you want here , if you know where to find it. For years
the only thing missing was an American-style deli, and now there is
even one of those. These are also tons of fast food restaurants,
including almost 50 McDonald's and a mess of Pizza Huts, KFCs,
Dunkin'Donuts, A&W's and Kenny Rogers'Roasters. Roasters is the only
fast food place in which smoking is allowed and beer is served. One
of these places used to have an electric rodeo bull. For a complete
list of international restaurants, see the Beijing Directory in the
back of the Guide.
There are also several non-western
fast food restaurants, the most famous hailing from Taiwan: the
24-hour Yonghe Doujiang. The mascot of this chain is the Colonel
Sanders-esqe head of an older Chinese man, presumably Mr.Yonghe
himself. Yonghe serves traditional Chinese breakfast food like fried
dough, soy milk, and steamed meat buns. Yonge and its imitators are
perfect for post-Sanlitun Bar Street munchies.