Food culture

Aside from the sights of the city, one will find that the culinary traditions of Beijing to be an eclectic mix of tradition and modernity. The city retains some elements of ‘wildness’ too as we shall share with you if you read on.

The first time we were in Beijing, the economic superpower was still yawning from an awakened slumber. The city was full of bicycles, though cars were also a plenty. And yes the air was already smoggy with almost perpetual “cloudy” skies. Yep. It has changed all that much. LOL

But this essay is about the eating that one can do while here in Beijing. After all, what else is one to do besides doing all that exploring? You need to nourish yourself too right?

Cultured eats

Dinner with Dan Dan aand family11
This is the prize

Who would not love to eat fabulous tasting food? And while in Beijing how can one miss out on the iconic dish that is named after the very city itself! Yep, we are talking about Beijing duck.

Duck Dinner 2-6
Modern chic

We make it a point each time we get into Beijing to make our way to the nearest restaurant serving this delectable dish. Now there is this chain 大董 restaurant that has a number of branches. It was just a short walk from across the Regent hotel adjoining the Park Plaza where we stayed.

Duck Dinner 2-10
Traditional cooking method

A fusion restaurant, it had modern décor serving traditional fare. We had to finish our meal within 1½ hours as the restaurant was fully booked for the night. A quick order later, we began to see the food coming in.

One thing to note: it is only possible to order half a duck because there were many other couples also dining in, otherwise you’d need to consume the entire duck… And don’t let the size of the duck fool you. It looks rather small, but sure packs a lot of content.

Duck Dinner 2-18
The beautiful ducklings

Wrap each slice of cut skin with an assortment of salad such as sliced cucumber, radish and scallion with some sweet sauce. Wrap it up like a taco and home away. It’s real delicious! We almost swear by 大董 restaurant and one can choose different sets of dishes each time round. You’re never tired for choice.

Dinner with Dan Dan aand family9
Wild but beautiful!

Duck was still the central dish, but made in sweet and sour style. The little duck pastries on the plate are made using yam and so delectable to eat… and so was the cubic made from wild yam!

But Beijing cuisine is not just symbolized by these signature dishes.

Street food was an option when we first visited in 1998. In fact, we recalled these long line of stalls with the men and women in white coat aprons and hat, cooking away and dishing out servings of local specialties along the side streets of the city. And because it was (still is) a communist state, where one could set up stall was heavily regulated. Hence these food streets.

Well, the streets of Beijing have really changed as the city has literally transformed! Even the ‘food street’ with lots of small vendors looks different. Though this is still one place where one might encounter the

Scary stuff

Beijing Alley food street1
You don’t know what you’re in for

One of the mornings we took a walk out to the shopping district of Wangfujing (王府井) for a last minute Beijing experience. This road was historically a commercial area, but its name was derived from the fact the area was originally the site of numerous noblemen’s homes (王府) during the Qing dynasty. The discovery of a well (井) with sweet water completed the context of how this street came to be given its name.

We found in one of the alleys a local food street, where a lot of small vendors thrive.

Here you can have all kinds of exotic local specialties.

Exotic Food Street delights2

From grilled scorpion and centipedes to starfishes and beetles, those brave enough will have a field day. LOL. Who said only folks in southeast Asian countries eat bugs? Well, at least they were affordable if you noticed the prices listed. Then there is the “less” exotic – like cow stomach stew and stinky tofu. Yeah, all kinds of offal were available too.

We don’t know about you. But we have decidedly made it a point to try something more conventional and headed back to the restaurants on the main street…

However if one really liked it so much, walk further up along Wangfujing to Donghuamen (东华门) and one will find an even larger street market at night.

Obviously there are so many good restaurants that we cannot write about them all. Besides we have barely touched the surface of the culinary scene in Beijing. Obviously, we are not paid to advertise for any establishment. However, if one looks up trip adviser, one will find so many to try. Those who are looking for English speaking employees in the restaurants, your best bet remains those in the malls or hotels. But that might not be so if you head out to the local ones. Perhaps some Chinese phrases would help, along with a lot of gesturing. Remember that the translated menus are atrocious!

If you have limited time, some foods to sample while in Beijing include:

  • Beijing Roast duck (北京烤鸭), a must try.
  • Chinese dumplings (饺子) northern style. Not your average dim sum.
  • Sea Cucumber braised in thick sauce. The species in colder waters of the north pacific has spike like tentacles which is harmless. No cholesterol!

Rule of the game: if there are many people lining up for it, it’s probably good. This does not seem so different from Singapore or any other part of the world does it?

Story extracted from Journeys in 1998, 2011 and 2016

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