Archive for the ‘Things to do in Beijing’ Category

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.

Served in a pineapple!

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)

Stir-fry galore. YUM!

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.

More chuar, please.

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)

Are you drooling yet?

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.

Looking for food?

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!


Read Full Post »

Spring is finally here and despite the occasional high pollution levels, Beijing is quite beautiful during this time of year. With leaves turning green and flowers blossoming, the sky is filled with white cotton fuzz. Beijing is known for its “Spring Snow.” Shortly after World War II, the government planted hundreds of poplar and willow trees because of their fast growth, heartiness, and ability to help reduce air pollution. These trees also grow well in Beijing’s dry climate. For those with bad allergies, the spring snow makes a second come back in May, releasing what are known as “willow catkins.” So beware! Although this year’s winter was more bearable, many of the old and the young stayed indoors. With temperatures rising up to the high 70s already, the streets are filled with people, especially on the weekends.

If you’re planning to do something for the upcoming weekends, this post will give you some ideas for places to shop until you drop. In the bustling capital of China, Beijing is known for its abundance of delightful shopping areas. However, they are known for their narrow aisles and lack of good air ventilation. Please be aware of  these factors before you enter a market! 

A search on Google will bring you to the more touristy places including Yaxiu [or Yashow] Market, Silk Street, Market, and Hong Qiao (Pearl Market) among various others. However, the vendors at these places expect foreigners and will make bargaining more difficult. On the other hand, I have an expat friend that swears by the Silk Market due to her long-term relationship with specific vendors. That said, below are markets that are frequently visited by locals and are lesser known to foreigners. 

The Zoo Wholesale Market (动物园服装批发市场) – Conveniently located across The Beijing Zoo, the Zoo Market is very popular among locals. Since it is a wholesale market comprised of 7 separate markets, many of the vendors from the more touristy markets get their products from here! The most popular ones are Julong, Tuanlegong, and Shiji Tianle. It is highly advisable to go on a weekday or very early in the morning on a weekend. This market sells everything from clothes, bags, shoes, to accessories for men and women. It is rumored that the Zoo Market will be relocated soon due to the overcrowding and traffic jams in the area. So it’s best to check it out soon!

Hours: 9:00AM-4:30Pm
Directions: Take subway line 4 to Beijing Zoo Station. Take Exit C and walk east about 100m towards KFC and McDonald’s.

Wudaokou Market (五道口服装市场) – Wudaokou is the heart of the university area, which means a cheap shopping place must be close-by. The market has four floors and is packed with a variety of trendy clothing. Many of the funky and flashier styles have been adapted from Korean and/or Japanese designs.  They offer clothing, undergarments, shoes, bags, accessories, cosmetics, and household trinkets. They’re expecting foreign students so make sure to bargain!

Hours: 9:00AM – 7:30PM
Directions: Take subway line 13 to Wudaokou Station. Take any exit and head northeast. It is on a the corner of Xueyuan Lu and Beisihuan Lu.(学院路和北四环路十字路口的东北角)

Xidan Commercial Street (西单商业街) – Xidan is one of Beijing’s most popular places for shopping because it’s a commercial and business center. It is an area jam-packed with malls, markets, restaurants, and of course, tons of people! This area alone can take you days to cover all of its grounds. So don’t be disappointed if you haven’t seen it all! After reading a few reviews, it seems the Minority World Market (西单明珠商场) is one of the more popular destinations. Don’t be fooled by the name; there are actually no ethnic goods sold here. It is actually a five-story market packed with clothes, shoes, bags, accessories, and of course, trinkets.

Hours: 9AM-7PM
Directions: Take subway line 1 or 4 to the Xidan Station. Take Exit A and walk approximately 5 minutes towards the Xidan Square, between 77th Street Plaza and Xidan Shopping Center (西单民族大世界商场, 西城区西单广场绿地北侧(77街和西单购物中心之间.

Panjiayuan Antiques Market a.k.a. the Dirt Market (潘家园旧货市场 ) -This massive, open air market sells everything from porcelain china, vintage photographs to life-sized statues. At 48,500 square meters, it is no surprise that it houses over 3,000 stalls and is one of the biggest markets in China and most likely, Asia.

It is very difficult to tell the difference between a fake product and a real one. Again, be sure to bargain hard! I found this website particularly helpful and informative in regards to bargaining and avoiding fakes.

Hours: Monday – Friday (8:30AM-6:00PM); Saturday & Sunday (4:30AM-6:00PM)
Directions: Take subway Line 10 to Panjiayuan Station. Walk east of the Panjiayuan Bridge on the Third Ring Road for approximately 100 meters. It is just east of Longtan Park.

For your convenience,  I have also provided some tips that you may want to be mindful of in order to make your experience more enjoyable!

  • Bring cash because most places do not take credits cards. Make sure you have some change so you do not need to pay vendors with 100 RMB bills.
  • Bargain for everything. – Try not to mentally convert prices into USD or CND! Prices will always be lower than prices back home. Always bargain for the “best” or “lowest” price.
  • Bring your own shopping bags; the bags that vendors often provide are cheap and prone to fall apart.
  • Beware of pickpockets; markets are infamous for inexperienced shoppers. For women, make sure your bag is closed at all times. For men, make sure to put your wallet in a safe pocket.
  • Keep in mind that the items at the markets are often reproductions, counterfeit, or pirated. If you are paying 60 RMB (around 10 USD) for a cardigan, it is highly unlikely that it is Zara.
  • Most “antiques” or “vintage” items are reproductions of the real thing.
  • You may want to learn simple Chinese phrases like “How much money?”, “What is your lowest/best price?” and numbers beforehand because most vendors will not speak English. The other option is to take someone who speaks Chinese. 
  • Go with an open-mind and low expectations. Going to a shopping market in Beijing is truly a cultural experience. You may be stared at for your foreign features and inability to speak Chinese. Don’t see it as an offense; people are merely intrigued and curious. They just express it differently.
  • Most importantly, have fun!

Read Full Post »