Explore the capital city’s culinary delights
Beijing is the gateway to China, often the first port of call for intrepid travellers and hungry adventurers. Luckily it is also one of the epicentres of delectable Chinese cuisine. Ever wondered what Beijing food is like?
Bejing showcases cuisines from a wide range of cities, as well as neighbouring countries. The flavours here are powerful and daring, using garlic, fermented pastes and all kinds of chillies and spices, often all at once. Eating here is not for the unadventurous, but all manners of palettes are accommodated with the vast selection of regional options.
Rice, considered the staple of the Asian diet is frequently eschewed here for starch and grain, dishing hearty dumplings into soup bowls and stretching hand-made noodles out of wok-fried dishes.
You couldn’t deliver a respectable list of Beijing’s best cuisines without mentioning the infamous Peking Duck. Named after the old imperial name for Beijing, it dates back to the 13th century but only became prevalent at the turn of the 20th century. The meat is slowly roasted until the thin skin is curled and crispy. The outside of the bird often dipped in sugar to slowly brown and caramelise the coating. The meat is then carved or shredded at the table and served most frequently with warmed rice pancakes, fresh spring onion, cucumber and a sauce: often plum or fruit based to complement the rich, hearty flavours of the meat.
This local favourite is served in a number of provinces across China but the Beijing hot pot is arguably the most famous. More modern eateries serve the hotpot divided into two halves, often one sour or spicy broth and one mild and fragrant. More traditional hotpots are served in a large brass pot, heated by coals underneath and a central chimney. Dipped into these hot soups to cook are raw lamb, beef, fish balls, seafood and a variety of vegetables. The food simmers away at your table and you can pluck out the perfectly cooked morsels with your chopsticks.
A variant on the Beijing hotpot is the Yangxiezi hotpot, which is also famous in the capital city. It is filled with tender lamb, and later pancakes and other vegetables that can be added to the simmering pot.
Dumplings – Jiaozi
Typical Beijing style dumplings are served in a hot broth and filled with a pork, vegetables or prawns. Different variations can also be found in Beijing, served crispy and fried or lightly steamed and chewy. The thin wheat dough outer shell has a texture akin to the Japanese Gyoza or even like a stretched pasta. These are served with a spicy, sour or salty dipping sauce and a bowl of broth to cleanse the palate.
Found all over Beijing in restaurants and street vendors are little spikes with an array of different vegetables, meats, fish and seafood ready to purchase and have grilled on the fire in front of you. Most hawkers have a wide selection, from lotus to prawns, fish balls, beef, to chicken or mushroom.
Immensely popular with both locals and tourists are the steaming plates of spicy crayfish, covered in chilli and peppercorns. To protect your hands, restaurants give out gloves to help pull off the shells, but your mouth is less protected by the onslaught of flavours and heat!
These colourful sticks of sugar coated berries are famous in Beijing. They are sold in particular at the traditional temple fairs and are considered an auspicious symbol, bringing luck and prosperity for the new year. They can be found all over Beijing, and with their distinctive appearance interested foodies can follow the crowds touting their red, sugared swords back to a stall with rows of these treats layed out for display.
Where to eat?
Nanluoguxiang Alley has many unique little stops and an impressive range of street food vendors dotted along the alley. Here you can enjoy traditional Beijing dishes, as well as try delicacies from other regions and neighbouring countries without leaving the street.
Shichachai Lake is a wonderful place to while away an evening, enjoying the bars and cafes surrounding the water hosting live music and traditional dancing. If you’re looking for the best hot pot in Beijing, you will also find it here at the famous, Nan Men Shuan Rou, but be prepared to wait around an hour for a table as it is understandably popular.
Guiji Street (or Ghost Street), tucked behind Dongzhimen Gate is widely considered to be the biggest “foodie street” in Beijing. There are over 100 restaurants, serving hungry diners long into the evening. If you’re looking for new food trends, casual drinks or somewhere to soak in the atmosphere Guiji Street is the place to be.
The best way to try Beijing’s food offerings is to take a food tour. There are many choices, walking tours trying dishes from street vendors with an expert in tow, to cookery classes or even cycling food tours!