I have been calling for collaboration posts to my fellow bloggers, and we have already covered a few amazing food capitals in the world: New York, Rome, and Paris. I have updated my own Yummylicious in Tokyo, Seoul, Macau, Hong Kong, and many more!
Now, it’s time for Beijing. To me, Chinese cuisines would probably be the most diversified and complicated in the entire world. Just think about the Eight Great Cuisine: Sweet Cantonese Food, Spicy & pungent Sichuan and Hunan Food, Shangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui… it would take 100 posts to cover each dish of all. The Peking duck is a must-try for all first-timer in Beijing; so, I have a few recommendations myself, and then, let see what my fellow bloggers have to say!
Nan Men Shabu
Delicious Chinese Shabu Shabu
Hot pot is not exactly new and unique in Beijing – there is a wide range of choices and variations in a different region of China, Taiwan, and Japan. Typically they are differentiated by the food and broths. Sichuan hot pot, which is getting very popular around the world, is famous for its pungent, numbingly spicy broth that has an insane amount of chili and flower pepper floating on it. The intense taste could be a challenge to foreigners and you will either love it or can’t stand it. Cantonese (or Hon Kong style) hot pot, on the other hand, celebrated its diversity of soup base and ingredients, from tomato, pumpkin, seafood, soy, miso, pork bone, Chinese herbs, to so, so many more. I highly recommend you have a taste of the soup before dipping the food in the pot! The list goes on to Manchu hot pot, Hubei hot pot, Hainan hot pot, Japanese shabu shabu…
Back to North China, it’s different from the others as the soup base is not a broth but hot water (decorated with garlic, jujube, wolfberries, and onion). The key ingredients are thin-cut meat like mutton (and now also beef) that only take an instant to cook. Originated in Inner Mongolia, this way of cooking is called “shuan”, meaning eaters just briefly dip and rinse the meat in hot water and the meat should be ready to eat. Nan Men Shabu is a chain restaurant in Beijing that kick it up a notch with high-quality mutton and beef in good value. It has a simple menu serving different parts of a cow or mutton.
I visited Nan Men Shabu’s Houhai chain which is within walking distance to Wudaoying Hutong – this hutong is close to Yonghe Palace with lots of boutique stores and restaurants. King’s Joy (Jing Zhao Yin) is a high-end restaurant that serves flavorful and toothsome vegetarian cuisines that tempted even the most hardened carnivores. I stayed near the area when I was in Beijing and since I love Hutong so much. I ended up having meals in different restaurants in the area – from Vietnamese to Japanese barbecue. There are a few bars and cafes in the same street and stop by and explore it yourself if you are staying close to the area as well!
Peking Duck at Siji Minfu
If you are a Beijing first-timer, it must be insane that you leave the city without a taste of a Peking Duck. While Quanjude is probably the first that comes to mind (if you ask any local or travelers in-the-know), there are quite a few famous Peking Duck restaurants in the city; and before I move on my fellow blogger’s sharing on Quanjude… I would like to mention Siji Minfu first 🙂
Siji Minfu is also a chain in Beijing. Amidst a raft of duck restaurants, this chain strikes a balance between traditional techniques and mass appeal. It celebrates North China cuisine with a wide range of dishes on its “tick” menu, with a clean and modern interior at a middle price range. That’s why the restaurants are packed most night (and there was already a line outside the restaurant – even I arrived at 5:30 pm)
The tender roasted duck, of course, is a must-have (order with a hollow sesame cake to wrap the duck as well); don’t forget to dive into some unforgettable Beijing Cuisine like their appetizer platter, stir-fried chicken, roasted lamb, and crispy pork stew. If you are adventurous, try the fish head, boneless pork trotter, salted duck liver, and marinated Duck tongue.
Peking Duck at Quanjude
The dish that is truly native to Beijing, Peking Duck
When visiting Beijing, there are many dishes you have to try: hot pot, dumplings, Zha Jiang noodles, and the flatbread called Bing. However, most of these dishes are “imports” from Chinese minorities and peoples all across the country. Yet, there is one dish, that is truly native to Beijing: Peking Duck. It has been a local’s favorite since the imperial era because of its thin and crisp skin. Wandering through the streets of Beijing, you’ll notice many shops and restaurants showcasing their proudest ducks hanging roasted in the shop’s windows. These ducks are specifically bred for the traditional dish and are slaughtered at around 65 days old.
Traditionally, the duck is served as a whole and cut into pieces in front of the guests. Then, the meat is eaten with spring onion, cucumber, and a sweet bean sauce and rolled up in a small pancake. The skin, however, is dipped into sugar. An absolute treat!
Quanjude is often referred to as the king of Peking Duck. The chain has grown so big that it has now several outlets all over Beijing, from Wangfujing and the Silk Market to Shuangjing and the Qianmen branch. However, local Beijingers have complained about the decreasing quality of their favorite dish due to mass tourism.
A much better – and more authentic alternative – is Country Kitchen. Here, you are not only able to taste real Peking Duck, but also an array of other Beijing and Northern Chinese specialties. Chef Leo Chai is a Beijing native who combines fresh, local ingredients and his unique style of cooking to create amazing local Beijing and Northern Chinese food.
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Peking Duck at Da Dong
the place for a more sophisticated roast duck experience
Beijing Duck is not always an obvious dish when initially hearing it, but given the former name of China’s capital city was Peking, it is therefor one-and-the-same as the ubiquitous Chinese dish “the Peking Duck”. And I think it is fair to say that the world’s best Beijing duck is going to be found in Beijing, where it is found common to most restaurant menus, alongside an ongoing argument of “where to find the best Roast Duck in Beijing”. And while there is one famous name and chain brand in Quanjude (Quan Ju De), it has been a tourist favorite for a long time, and has become somewhat fast-foodish, and diminished in the name. Meanwhile, for a more sophisticated roast duck experience, Beijing’s Da Dong is the place to be. A restaurant we visited to celebrate New Year’s Day (which is otherwise not celebrated on the Chinese calendar) and is famous for its ‘Superlean’ Roast Duck, that costs around 268 Yuan per duck (around $40US). The duck comes served with pancakes, and an almost chocolatey hoisin sauce, as well as thin cuts of cucumber and shredded spring onion. Wrap them together, and eat, for a food experience that may be best described as phenomenal. Undoubtedly unforgettable. The duck, however, is one of the cheaper items on the menu, and it feels almost like a loss-leader, to an otherwise vast, exciting, and at times unusual high-end menu. But we did not explore any further, as we were more than happy with just the Beijing Duck experience.
Crepe with egg, pickled vegetables, savory sauce, chili paste, and …
These fried crepes, known as Jian bing in Beijing, are one of the city’s greatest street food inventions.
Jianbing is a made to order a crepe with egg, pickled vegetables, savory sauce, chili paste (if you want), chopped green onion, cilantro, and a giant crispy fried noodle inside. The whole thing is folded up and fried on the griddle.
Jianbing has been around the block a time or two and takes the cake when it comes to both popularity and longevity. The dish originated some 2000 years ago in China’s Shandong province. The story goes that a Chinese general was faced with the issue of how to feed his soldiers without a wok. To solve the problem, he had the idea to make a batter out of flour and water and use the soldiers’ shields as the cooking surface. Low and behold, it worked, and not only did his soldiers have the sustenance they needed to help them win on the battlefield, but the general created a dish that would live on for thousands of years and become a staple throughout the country.
Nowadays, Jianbing is typically eaten at breakfast time, but more specifically it’s a street breakfast food, so look for vendors making these fried crepes as you walk down the street in the morning. I got my Jian bing fix from a little hole-in-the-wall shop just outside of Lama Temple, but you can find them throughout the city. The telltale sign is if the shop has a flat circular griddle sitting out front.
To order, ask for “yi ge jian bing” (1 Jian bing) pronounced “ee guh jian bing”. You can then point to which toppings and sauces you want. The chef will ask if you want it spicy, which is “la jiao” and hold up a can of pepper paste. Simply gesture yes or no according to your preference.