When traveling in China, there are good food that locals enjoy, not including Beijing duck!
Note: While some of the following foods have been claimed to be from outside of Beijing, it is indisputable that these are some of the most delicious staple dishes to eat in Beijing besides duck.
7. “Baozi” (Steamed stuffed buns)
Easy on your wallet, hot and savory, and requiring only two fingers to hold, steamed stuffed buns are the ultimate foods to grab on-the-go. You can usually choose from a wide selection of pork and mushrooms, chives, pork and cabbage, to mapo tofu (a popular Chinese dish) stuffed in a bun. LOCAL TIP: Buy a tea-soaked egg (it looks dark brown and tastes saltier than a normal hardboiled egg) for an additional 1RMB.
6. Lamb “chuanr” (Seasoned lamb kabobs)
I love Beijing, but one of the things that annoys me is that there are fakes of everything, including lamb meat. Therefore, be picky about where to purchase your lamb chuanr. The best places to get them to ensure meat quality and sanitary food handling are at Muslim restaurants, where they are sold at a higher price per stick but worth every additional “mao” (ten Chinese cents). LOCAL TIP: When they ask you if you want your seasoning to be spicy, nod your head ‘yes.’
5. “Tudou si” (Stir-fried potato strips)
Great as a hot or cold dish, “tudou si” is always stir-fried in vinegar and salt. Sometimes chefs like to throw in carrots and celery for more color and more crunch. This is one of my favorite dishes of all time and, if made correctly, never fails to boost your appetite. You can find this almost at any Chinese restaurant in Beijing. LOCAL TIP: Ask for red hot chili peppers to be mixed in there as well!
4. “Zhajiangmian” (Black bean noodles)
Koreans have their own version of black bean noodles as well, which usually include onions and taste different. I asked a handful of Chinese people which came first: Korean zhajianmian or Chinese zhajianmian? You can guess their answer. If you are not feeling adventurous or if you have never tried the black bean noodles, I would recommend “Lao Beijing,” a chain restaurant famous for their black bean noodles and other Beijing dishes with locations throughout the city. Regardless of which branch, “Lao Beijing’s” black bean noodles are consistent in flavor and texture and are thus the safe choice. One bowl is more than enough for one person, so feel free to try other dishes on the menu. After placing your order, your waiter, who wears a traditional white “qipao” shirt with the traditional round black hat, will bring a bowl of murky-clear liquid to your table. This liquid is merely the water they boil the noodles in and is a Northern Chinese tradition to drink that water before eating to cleanse your system and prepare room for a good meal. LOCAL TIP: Eat the garlic. Yes, eat it raw. It is good for your digestive tract.
3. “Liang fen” (Cold noodles)
Transparent, flat, and made of starch jelly, these noodles are thrown into a bowl where the server then proceeds to pour in unknown liquids one after the other from refilled, unlabeled bottles. They toss in cucumber strips and green onions, and top it off with sesame seeds and chunks of chili pepper. The result? A perfect spicy and salty snack for a hot summer day in Beijing. However, in order to avoid rapid bowel movements and other unpleasantries, wait until your stomach has assimilated well to Beijing food and choose your “liang fen” stand carefully. Needless to say, avoid dirty alleys and lonely stands without customers. Go to stands that have high traffic flow to avoid “liang fen” and its ingredients that have been sitting out for too long.
Northern Chinese love dumplings. Dumplings, not to be confused with the fried, crispy pot-stickers, come in many different fillings but the most common, pork and cabbage, are the best. Dip these in a bit of vinegar with soy sauce and pop them in your mouth for a taste of fun.
1. “Jian bing” (Fried pancake)
This is Beijing’s ultimate street food. Even if you decide not to eat it, you can watch them make this at almost every street corner. First, after taking your order, the vendor scoops a ladle of batter into the middle of a hot circular metal surface stove. With a flick of the wrist, s/he spreads out the batter, which instantly cooks into thin layer of pancake. My favorite part comes next when s/he cracks an egg, like a professional, with one hand onto the middle of the pancake. S/he then spreads a sauce that is similar tasting to barbeque sauce on half of the pancake and adds lettuce and green onions to the other side. Lastly, after asking if you want sausages in your “jian bing” and before folding it into a square, s/he inserts the most important ingredient: a layer of crispy and flaky goodness that I do not have a clue what is it made of. This is the final touch to “jian bing” and makes the biggest difference when biting into it. You will understand when you take your first bite. You will thank me that I warned you to stay away from kungpao chicken. Enjoy!
Article written by Cherrie Chen.