Home>>>Chinese culture>>>>Chinese Cooking

Beijing Food

Page 1 of 2 Previous| 1 2    Next

Beijing is rooted in the broader tradition of north Chinese food. As the capital of China for most of the last eight hundred years, Beijing has been the beneficiary of two additional forces. First was the development of an imperial court cuisine perhaps unrivaled in the world. Second, as political center of China, Beijing has been a magnet for people from all over the world. Inevitably, they bring their foodways with them. The Mongols who established their court there in the Yuan dynasty brought barbaric delicacies such as wolves and swans, and today MacDonald's hamburgers are familiar.

Beijing occupies a dry, dusty region, oppressively hot in summer, bitterly cold and windy in winter. Nearby hills give relief from the summer heat, but there is no escape from winter's chill. Today, and even to some extent in the historic past, smoke and soot densely cover the city, adding to the discomfort. The familiar foods of China's warmer, wetter regions, such as rice, fish, and subtropical fruits and vegetables, were rare luxuries until very recently.

Beijing's basic foodways can stand as exemplar for the north Chinese style of cooking. This style is found throughout northern China, with outstanding substyles in Shandong and Hebei as well as Beijing. It is China's simplest, and in the northwest!Shaanxi and Shanxi especially!it can become very simple indeed. These areas were, and in some areas still are, hunger zones, hard hit by famine. Often, only two meals a day are eaten, and coarse grains (maize, sorghum, buckwheat) are often important foods. Even so, they have their specialties, including Shanxi's outstanding vinegar.

North China produced very little rice until recently. Wheat and soybeans are staples. In early times, millets, especially foxtail millet (Setaria italica), were staples. Millet has now been almost entirely replaced by maize. This New World crop came north from southern China in the Qing dynasty, but was rare and unpopular. People correctly saw that millet was much more nourishing. In the twentieth century, however, vast increases in the productivity of maize have tipped the balance; foxtail millet has not benefited significantly from Green Revolution research. However, maize is still unpopular as a human food, and is largely fed to animals. Today rice is also produced well north of its historic range, and has become more familiar in the area. At the same time, the traditional oilseed, oil cabbage (rape cabbage), has been supplemented by sunflower, maize, and soybean. Vegetables, until recently, were also rather limited. In winter there was little beyond the Beijing cabbage!the cylindricalheaded form of Chinese cabbage, with pale leaves and greatly enlarged, crisp leaf bases. A conscious effort has recently been made to diversify winter vegetable availability. Melons were major fruits, especially the watermelon, extremely popular in summer for its cooling and diuretic qualities as well as its sweet taste. Their seeds were a popular snack, to the point that some varieties of watermelon were bred only for seeds, having many large seeds and very little flesh. In season, peaches and jujubes ("Chinese dates," Zizyphus Ziziphus chinensis) were common. Walnuts, lotus nuts, and other fruits and nuts were luxury items.

As in most of inland China, the pig was the main meat source, but beef and even lamb (or mutton) were frequent!the latter especially in Hui (Chinese Muslim) neighborhoods, which are extensive and are famous for their food. Chicken and duck were common, but the ordinary citizen saw them only at very special events.

Standard northern flavorings are ginger, sliced scallions, garlic, sesame oil, Chinese "wine," and soy sauce. Spices were traditionally quite rare. Coriander leaves (cilantro), introduced from the Near East in early medieval times, are a frequent flavoring or garnish.

The long, harsh winters forced the development of a sophisticated pickling and preserving industry. Pickled vegetables, sausages, dried meat, salted foods, and preserved fruits are important.

The court, of course, had far different fare. Exotic delicacies were the rule. Perhaps only the Mongols actually ate wolves. According to a more authentically Chinese tradition, the "eight delicacies" were served!the list is variable, but includes such things as camels' humps, apes' lips, and bears' paws, as well as various mythological animal parts. At least the bears' paws were in fact eaten; they are cooked long, into a gelatinous state. The appeal of such items is their rarity rather than their taste, but bears' paws are relished also by actual bear hunters in Siberia and north Canada. More prosaic but presumably much more common were rare species of mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and other vegetable foods, as well as complex and detailed preparations of ordinary animals such as chicken, duck, and fish. Dishes from the remote reaches of the empire, such as central Asia and Tibet, often graced the table, especially when dignitaries from those areas were being entertained. From southeast Asia came preservable exotica such as birds' nests (edible nests of swifts of the genus Collocalia) and sea cucumbers. Thus the court showed its cosmopolitan, world-ruling power as well as its hospitality. Many imperial recipes are preserved, and restaurants occasionally arise that re-create them.

History records that many emperors ignored the elaborate dishes and preferred simple fare. This is a formula, meant to indicate the virtue of the emperor; simplicity, indifference to vain show, and empathy with the ordinary people are virtues in all Chinese religious and philosophical traditions. However, the story is told circumstantially enough of some emperors to be apparent literal truth. In these cases, it stands as a telling comment on the quality of the formal service. Kenneth Lo, in Peking Cooking, records some imperial menus and other lore, including cutting remarks on the quality of the pompous feast fare. The last emperor, Aisin Gyoro Puyi, commented: "One big tasteless spread. All show and no flavour!" (1971, p. 24).

More usual fare!the fare of the vast majority, including, perhaps, those emperors!was based on wheat products. Noodles in soup, large steamed breads, and filled dumplings were staples. The large breads, usually chemically leavened, were called mantou, which means "barbarian heads." Forms of this word are used from Korea to Greece; the word may actually be from an Altaic language, or it may be Chinese from the start. It used to refer to filled dumplings, and still does everywhere except in China, but at some obscure time the Chinese term came to refer to solid wheat loaves. Today, large filled dumplings (typically with leavened dough) are paozi. Smaller filled dumplings are jiaozi, a term limited to China, but denoting dumplings

Beijing is the Capital city of many dynasties in the history of China, and many nomadic populations once lived in Beijing. Today, Beijing cuisine is refined from a combination of Shangdong cuisine and the Imperial cuisine, and formed its unique characteristics. Many Beijing dishes primarily comprise of meat, as a result of eating habits of the royals. For example, the Mongolian rulers during the Ming dynasty favored mutton, while the Qing dynasty rulers preferred pork. Bejing chefs generally put more effort into the method of cooking, and uses very common ingredients. Deep-frying, roasting, instant-boiling, stir-frying and stewing are among the most common methods of cooking. Because of its more northerly location, instead of rice, which is the staple diet in southern cuisines, noodles, buns, or jiaozi(dumplings), are preferred by the local people.

Peking Roast Duck:
The most famous dish associated with Beijing is Peking Roast Duck. The origin of the Peking Duck dates back to the Ming Dynasty, about 600 years ago. Cooks from all over China travelled to the capital Beijing to cook for the Emperor. It was a prestigious occupation as only the best chefs could enter the palace kitchens. A top cook was even able to reach the rank of a minister! It was in these kitchens where dishes of exceptional quality such as the Peking Duck was first created and crafted to perfection by palace chefs. However, many of the recipes for such "foods of the Emperor" were later smuggled out of the kitchen and onto the streets of Beijing. With the eventual fall of the Ching dynasty in 1911, court chefs who left the Forbidden City set up restaurants around Beijing and brought the Peking Duck and other delicious dishes to the masses. The crisp skin of the duck is the most prized part. To achieve such crispness, the duck is air-dried, then coated with a mixture of syrup and soy sauce before roasting. When ready, it is presented ceremoniously and the skin deftly carved. These pieces are wrapped in thin pancakes with onions or leeks, cucumber, turnip and plum sauce. Some restaurants also serve up just about every part of the duck, from the webbed feet to the beak and liver. On request, the remainder of the duck meat can be sauteed with bean sprouts, and the bones made into a wonderful soup with cabbage.

Imperial Court Cuisine

Imperial Court Cuisine is a style of Chinese food that originated at the Imperial Palace. It is based on the foods served to the emperor and his court. Now, the cuisine has become a major school of Chinese cooking and there are several places where one can sample its unique flavor. Fang Shan in Beihai Park and Ting Li Guan at the Summer Palace are the best ones. Some 150 years ago one could never have dreamed of enjoying such delicacies -- which, however, come at a price.

  Imperial Official's Cuisine and Medicinal Foods 

Tan Family Meal

This first type of cuisine is unique to Beijing. In the past, Beijing officials were very picky about what type of food they ate. The most famous official cuisine is the Tan Family Meal, which is offered at the Beijing Hotel. As the preferred food of the Qing Dynasty official Tan Zongling, it was later introduced to restaurants. Another type is described in the classic novel "
Dream of the Red Mansion." The author, Cao Xueqin, described a number of dishes in the book, and now there are several restaurants that serve them. The most famous place is the Beijing Grand View Garden Hotel. This hotel is located next to Beijing's Grand View Garden, which is modeled after the garden described in the book. Other restaurants featuring this type of food are the Jinglun Hotel and Laijinyuxuan Restaurant in Zhongshan Park.

There are hundreds of medicated dishes that are infused with such choice tonic materials as ginseng, deer musk, bear's paw, Chinese wolfberry and soft-shelled turtle -- the cream of the crop of Chinese medicine. The "Yang Sheng Zhai" Restaurant at Xiyuan Hotel has the best reputation for such foods. Although it has been changed into a Sichuan restaurant, it still offers medicinal foods.


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. Then, the meat is placed into the hot pot -- a copper pot containing a boiling soup base. After a few seconds the meat is cooked and dipped into a sesame butter sauce. The action of cooking the meat in this way is called "shuan". Other "shuan-ables" include beef (fei niu), frozen tofu (dong dofu), Chinese cabbage (bai cai), bean sprouts (dou miao) and glass noodles (fen si). The spicy Sichuan hotpot has a soup base that can either be super-spicy or mildly less shocking to your taste buds, although the pot is often divided into spicy and non-spicy soup pots. The soup base for the 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 east of Tian'anmen Square. The most well-known Sichuan style hotpot restaurant is Haidilao, which has many branches 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 also included in the price.

Traditional Snacks
Beijingsnacks, combining varied flavors from different nationalities like Han, Hui, Meng, Man and court snacks from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), include many kinds and form the characteristic of their own.

It is said that there are over two hundred kinds of snacks in Beijing, including dishes going with wine, such as Quick-Fried Tripe (Bao Du), Boiled Sheep's Head (Bai Shui Yang Tou), Flour-Pastry desserts, like Pancakes with Meat-Fillings (Rou Mo Shao Bing) and some other snacks for breakfast or as midnight snack, like Sticky Rice with Sweet Fillings (Ai Wo Wo) and Rolling Donkey (Lu Da Gun). What local Beijing people, especially elder ones like most are Mung Bean Milk (Dou Zhi), Fried Liver (Chao Gan) and Filled Sausage (Guan Chang).

There are also lots of famous Restaurant selling snacks. Fangshan Restaurant sells Sticky Rice with Sweet Fillings and Pea-Flour Cake (Wan Dou Huang); Donglaishun Restaurant sells Cream Fried Cake (Nai You Zha Gao). In many Restaurant you may find some other things special.

In fact, there are too many places for snacks in Beijing for you to make a decision which one to go to. So my suggestion may be helpful for you to save some time. Generally speaking, there are four places popular of this kind. One is Duyichu Restaurant, sitting at 36 Qianmen Dajie, Chongwen District. It was opened in 1738, and is famous for its Shao Mai, which has both attractive appearance and delicious taste. Another is Nanlaishun in Xuanwu District, where you can find about seventy kinds of snacks. The third place is Longfu Temple (Longfu Si) Snacks Restaurant which mainly sell Islamic Snacks. The fourth one is Evening Market Snacks Street near Donghuaemen, Wangfujing. It is a place where most common people go to have snacks. Fangshan Restaurant is a place where snacks of royal family are available.

Apart from what are mentioned above in fixed places, you can find many other kinds along roadsides. For example, Sugar-Coated Haws on a stick (Bing Tang Hu Lu), which is sold everywhere in cold days and is one of the daintiest snacks. It looks brightly red, bearing a little sour and sweet. You can also try Roast Sweet Potato (Kao Hong Shu or Kao Bai Shu). Eat it when it is still hot, it is fragrant and sweet. I bet you will never forget it.

Shish kebab (Yang Rou Chuan) is another good choice. Xingjiang Shish kebab is a snack that is popular not only in Beijing but all over the country. Mutton is strung together on a skewer and roasted over a charcoal. It is continually turned and when it is done, salt, pepper and zi ran, which is a special Xinjiang seasoning, are sprinkled over it. It is a little salty, a little hot but hasn't any unpleasant taste.

If you have enough time you may saunter around and drop in small Restaurant, especially when the bigger ones have closed. You will find that it won't cost you much for your dinner, which is really good. You will find steamed bread, steamed dumplings, dumplings, noodles, and family-style dishes, which you probably couldn't see in bigger ones.Beijing Snacks

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 Restaurant. If you are walking by around dinner time, prepare yourself to get accosted by "grabbers", sort of like "greeters" at other Restaurant, except these guys tugs on your sleeve and try to drag you into their place. Nothing hostile, just very persistent. The best thing at these Restaurant is the roast fried spicy mutton (chao kao rou), square noodles in tomato sauce (chao pian'r), and the round nang bing, a type of bread which is scrumptious when piping hot, and hard as a rock when cool. There is also a smaller, fatter type of round bread which can satisfy a bagel-craving. The roadside shishkabob can be delicious, too, but is not always the paramount of sanitary foodstuffs.

Shuanyangrou (Lamb Hot Pot)
Another favorite Beijing dish, it is especially popular in the cold Beijing winter months. Lamb is typical northern food, and is generally not consumed in southern parts of China. It is favored by northern people as it warms up the body. Around the Chunjie or Chinese Lunar New Year, Shuanyangrou is consumed a lot. The way to cook the lamb is ridiculously simple. Lamb meat is first cut into very thin pieces. This was done manually and required great skill. Recently machines have become better at this job and many lamb are thus cut by machines. The lamb is put into a boiling pot for a few seconds with many other ingredient such as seafood or vegetables, and taken out immediately and consumed with sauces such as peanut sauce.

Bifengtang Prawns

Clean prawns, fry them with coil and take them out until prawns become golden red. Then prepare prawns with Hong Kong's Bifengtang cooking techniques. This dish is salty, delicious, aromatic and slightly spicy, with a garlic smell.

Donglaishun Instant-boiled Mutton

Donglaishun Restaurant mainly serves Instant-boiled Mutton, which is tender. delicious and refreshing, not greasy at all. It also offers various kinds of snacks to customers after instant-boiled mutton is served. Known as No.] Instant-boiled Mutton in China. Donglaishun Instant-boiled Mutton was named as a famous Chinese dish by the Domestic Trade Bureau in March, 2000.

Steamed Grouper in Clear Soup

Kill and clean the grouper, then steam it for seven to eight minutes. The ready-made grouper is delicious with tender and refreshing meat. It will be more delicious if you eat the fish with seasonings.

Butter and Large Shark's Fin

Prepare ice fish slices, place the slices on a plate in the shape of a flower, and steam it until the fish is done. Stew shark's fin with both traditional and Western techniques. This dish has a unique taste, with delicious shark's fin, chicken, milk, icefish and shrimps. This dish is prepared according to a folk legend about "Butterflies Love Flowers."

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 Meat Pies.
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.

Foreign Cuisine
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.

After tasting so many kinds of Chinese food, you might miss cuisine of your own country. Don't worry, you can find any type you want in Beijing. If you like fast food you can find that big yellow M in many places, or maybe you like KFC or Pizza, or whatever famous fast food Restaurant in your country, such as DICOS, Dunkin' Donuts, Pizza Huts, A&W Root Beer and Kenny Rogers' Roasters, the only fast food place where smoking is allowed and beer is served, they are available here.

Since Beijing is a charming city, it has attracted many foreign Restaurant. You can find all kinds of cuisine from France, USA, Italy, Russia, Japan, Korea, and many other countries. So it is also a good chance to come to Beijing and enjoy the food from all over the world.

French cuisine has always been favored by the world. It is thought to be the best cuisine in European and many chefs are proud of being able to cook French cuisine. In all dishes, raw materials are widely selected and finely cooked. Goose's liver and snail are the best ones of French dainties. Meat like beefsteak and gigot are usually half done and oyster is always eaten uncooked. Different wines are used as seasonings in different dishes to bring various tastes.

If you cannot resist the temptation, go and find Justine at Jianguo Hotel, the best French restaurant here.

If you are an American or if you like American food, go and find the best American restaurant Louisiana at Beijing Hilton Hotel.

If you prefer Italian food, go to Pinocchio Pizzeria in Holiday Inn Lido Beijing (Beijing Lidu Jiari Fandian) or go to Seasons in Kempinski Hotel (Kaibinsiji Fandian) in Beijing. Kempinski Hotel is also the most popular one where people enjoy German beer.

In recent years Korea barbecue has become one of Beijingers' favorite. You can find traditional Korea Restaurant at Beijing Landmark Towers (Beijing Liangmahe Dasha), Lufthansa Center Sorabol Restaurant (Salaboer Canting).

There are many other hotels that are famous for their foreign cuisines, such as China World Hotel (Zhongguo Dafandian), Kunlun Hotel (Kunlun Fandian), and the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel (Xilaideng Changcheng Fandian) etc. You have many choices.
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.

        Night markets line the sidewalks in busy shopping and hotel areas serving a range of snacks. You can find, among other things, Guangdong touming xiajiao (transparent shrimp dumplings), Xinjiang lamb kabob, Italian spaghetti, Japanese noodles, Beijing roast duck, almond tea, baked corn, and American hamburgers. Below are a few of the cuisines and restaurants, which have developed their own trademark in Beijing, the gourmet capital of China.          Beijing Food Streets                                             

Page 1 of 2Previous| 1 2    Next