Beijing has a variety of delicious foods waiting to be consumed. While some have a reputation of having tasty dishes, others maintain well-hidden and yet to be discovered. With thousands of restaurants in the city, ranging from little no-name stalls like xiaochi’s（小吃）, literally meaning “Little Eats” to well-known chains like Haidilao （海底劳）, Beijing offers countless options, both domestic and international.
So when it comes to writing about what to eat in Beijing, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Since most of us live in Haidian District, the foods I will be mentioning are not only worth a try, but are also relatively close to your home. Due to the massive surface area that is considered Beijing city, these places are in no means “conveniently” located and at most, require some form of public transportation and like all cities, a bit of walking. Below is a short-list of restaurants and descriptions of various Chinese cuisines.
Yunnan Cuisine – Known for its usage of southeast Asian spices such as red chilies and lemongrass, Yunnan food varies quite far from your typical Chinese food. From pineapple rice to fish cooked in a banana leaf, Yunnan food experiments with various flavors in their dishes that you may not be able to try outside of China. In addition, their “Under the Bridge” glass noodles (过桥米线）are great for Beijing’s cold and dry winter. (Note: Not every Yunnanese restaurant has “Under the Bridge” noodles! Make sure to check out their menu first.)
Best around: Dali Renjia 大理人家, (80 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng, Beijing, China)
Local alternative: Golden Phoenix 金孔雀德宏傣家风味餐厅, (Weigong Street, China, Beijing, Haidian)
Sichuan Cuisine – Ever eaten “Kung Pao chicken?” Well, it originates from China’s southwestern province of Sichuan. If you are a “spicy” enthusiast, you cannot leave the country without having tried Sichuan food. Often referred to as, “Sze-chuaun” in most places outside of China, the cuisine is known for their bold flavors including those derived from garlic, star anise, scallion, chili oil, and chili peppers – specifically the infamous Sichuan pepper, or Huajiao (花椒）.To give you an idea how spicy it is, truck drivers who often work around the clock chew on huajiao to stay alert. No need for caffeine here!
My personal favorite part of Sichuan cuisine is Malaxiangguo (麻辣香锅），which is basically hot pot, without the soup. You get to pick all the ingredients and the degree of spiciness you want. The kitchen throws it all together in a big wok, adds all the Sichuan spices, and serves it in a huge bowl.
Best around: Chuanban (5 Gongyuan Toutiao, Jianguomennei Dajie, near Chang’an Grand Theater). This restaurant is affiliated with the Sichuan Provincial Government Office and is known for its authenticity and spiciness. Using imported ingredients from the home province, this place is voted high for being one of the top Sichuan restaurant in Beijing.
Local alternative: Spice Spirit （麻辣诱惑）and Lao Che Ji（老车记) – Both restaurants are chains. The closest Spice Spirit to the school is on the 5th floor of the Xizhimen Mall, where the Xizhimen subway station is also located. The nearest Lao Che Ji is on the 5th floor of the U-Center Mall in Wudaokou.
Xinjiang/Uyghur Cuisine – As a highly Muslim-populated province, the food is predominantly halal, making Xinjiang cuisine truly unique to its region. The food is characterized by mutton, beef, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, peppers, chicken, and spices including cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper, and sultana. On the streets of Beijing, you’ll often see a red neon sign for kebabs in Chinese, chuan串. This is one of Xinjiang cuisine’s primary dishes. Because Uyghurs traditionally eat with their hands, instead of chopsticks, their primary staple is naan, a type of Central-Asian-style baked flatbread.
Best around: Crescent Moon 弯弯月亮 (16 Dongsi Liutiao, Dongcheng District, 东城区东四北大街六条16号）
Xinjiang restaurants are everywhere if you look carefully. The closest one to me is downstairs from my apartment complex, but it’s quite small and overpriced. So here is the alternative I would choose:
The Muslim Canteen (穆思林餐厅) at the Beijing Language and Culture University also known as BLCU. 15 Xueyuan Lu, Haidian District (inside BLCU south gate and to the left),海淀区学院路15号(北京语言大学内)
Cantonese Cuisine – If you have eaten in a Chinatown in a big North American city such as New York City or Toronto, you most likely had Cantonese food. Unlike Sichuan or Yunnan cuisine, Cantonese food relies primary on the flavors of the main ingredients, rather than spices. Cantonese food ranges from slow-cooked soups to dim sum （点心）, which literally translates to “touch your heart.” These hearty dishes are usually bite-sized portions; they are designed as such so a person can taste a variety of dishes including turnip cakes, dumplings, barbecue pork buns among other delicious treats. It is customary for Cantonese people to get dim sum and drink tea with their family and friends. This is known as “yum cha,” literally meaning “drink tea” in Cantonese.
A lot of the hotels in Beijing have Cantonese food, but most of them are insanely overpriced and at the end of the day, not really worth it.
Best around: Lei Garden (3/F, Jinbao Tower, 89 Jinbao Jie, 金宝街89号金宝大厦3层)
I’ve yet to try this place out because it’s in the Wangfujing area; however, many expat magazines and websites have rated this as one of the top places to go for dim sum, which is offered daily from 11:30AM to 2:00PM. Due to its popularity, you may want to make a reservation before heading here for the weekend.
Local alternative: Yue (粤) at the Sheraton Hotel (36 North Third Ring East Road, Dongcheng District, Beijing)
Although this place is by no means close to my home, I am willing to go a little farther for good dim sum. Being a Hongkie, I am quite picky about the quality of Cantonese food and am willing to travel a bit. While Yue is by no means the best in town, it has good quality food because it is inside a 4-star hotel. On the weekends, Yue offers an all-you-can-eat dim-sum buffet for 123 RMB. The amount served is usually based on the number of people in your party. So 2 people = 2 BBQ pork buns. This way, you don’t waste food! When you’re finished, just order more! The catch is the price of the beverages. Water is free, but be careful because there is a 15% surcharge for drinks. The last time I went, they had a special on tea: 10 RMB/person for 1 pot + the surcharge. Yum cha isn’t really the same without the tea….so treat yo’ self!
Since Beijing’s specialty dishes and restaurants are deserving of its own post, you will have to wait to read about it. If you have been wanting to learn Chinese or brush up on your reading skills, here’s your chance.
The website www.dianping.com is China’s version of Yelp! It has listings of restaurants by cuisine and by area in addition to hotels, shops, cafes, among others places of leisure and entertainment. It also provides important information including a restaurant’s phone number, delivery number, address, map, and reviews. It’s quite helpful when you want to try something new. If anything, it’s an incentive to learn Chinese!