Thursday, 9 September 2010

Beijing Snapshots

Here are a few snapshots of the weird and wonderful food that caught my eye during my trip to Beijing.

The last thing you expect to see in Beijing is a churros stall. So it did come as a surprise to see a lengthy queue for these Spanish snacks when strolling along Nanluoguxiang Hutong (南锣鼓巷胡同). I gave these bad boys a miss, as I really couldn't squeeze them in. Proof if proof was needed that the Spanish and Chinese are kindred food spirits.

A Beijing must eat is the humble jiaozi dumpling (饺子). Simply boiled and served with vinegar, they come with a variety of fillings such as the everyday pork & chive, crab, and sanxian 三鲜 (pork, prawn & chives). Should you find yourself in the Xidan (西单) neighbourhood, pop into 天津百饺园 – there's no English signage but the name translates as Tianjin Garden of 100 Dumplings.

You always get more interesting dim sum in China like these baked bbq roast pork buns (cha siu bao 叉烧包) from Modern China (金满庭) in the Times Square mall. I've not seen baked cha siu bao served as dim sum in London but you can get a man-sized version at Chinatown bakeries like Wonderful Patisserie.

Mushroom 'pie' with dim sum? It's not a classic combo but one that you can put together at the Golden Jaguar (金钱豹) buffet restaurant located in The Place mall. In common with the rest of the Western selection, the 'pie' was no great shakes but the Chinese and other Asian food was of a decent standard with many dishes cooked to order.

Le Quai (有璟阁) has a stunning interior and this restaurant, located near the Workers' Stadium, offers a mix of classic and contemporary Chinese cuisine with a fusion touch. It sounds like a car crash waiting to happen but I needn't have worried; fusion dishes like tea eggs filled with foie gras worked just as well as traditional dishes like the steamed Mandarin fish (gui yu 鳜鱼).

Eating Sichuan food in Beijing is another must. We went to Yuxin Sichuan Dish (渝信川菜), which is found inside the Chang'an Grand Theatre. Our selection of old faves such as dry-fried green beans (si ji dou 四季豆) and more unusual dishes like bullfrog in chilli oil was all good. Be warned, Sichuan cuisine in Beijing is a lot more potent than its London counterpart.

Grand Steam (蒸) is a trendy Cantonese joint just off Financial St. As you might have guessed from its name, this restaurant serves mainly steamed food including dim sum and larger dishes. I adored dishes like the steamed cod & beans with garlic soy. Less successful were their wonton noodles (yuntun mian 云吞面), as they didn't use the proper fresh egg noodles (san mein 生面) – sacrilege!

As much as I liked the healthy concept of Grand Steam, it seemed the locals preferred the unhealthy TGI Friday's next door. I have no objections to Beijingers sampling Western food on a night out; I just wish that they had better options to choose from. Mind you, there's not much chance of that when Grand Steam's other neighbour is Pizza Hut with a KFC two doors down.


  1. Gosh,

    A friend of mine who has recently traveled in Korea said that there were T.G.I Fridays everywhere, what is the world coming to!!!!!, with so much good food about as seen in the above photos !!!

  2. Ruairi - I think TGI's is popular in East Asia because the locals buy into the 'otherness' of what they perceive Western food to be.

    Bob - point taken. I now refer to the puff-pastry topped concoction in the post as 'pie' in inverted commas.

  3. I need to go to Beijing.. tis on my long long list of places to go. Hilarious that you started your post with a pic of churros. And I have to say, that mushroom pie don't looks so Chinese either but hey!

  4. Gasp, simplified characters! (I see now that you used them in your previous post too, but I was too busy being mesmerised by the photos.)

    The Beijinger site seems to be having some problems, but I'm still excited by the idea of 蒸 :) An all-steamed meal sounds much healthier than the entirely deep-fried meal Bob had at Osushi in Croydon (deep fried squid, then deep fried Vietnamese-style fish with tempura vegetables, finished off with tempura ice cream).

  5. Catty - The locals were going churros crazy! You must go. Beijing is a wonderful foodie destination.

    Kake - I'm using simplified as this ties back to the actual name of places and dishes as you will see them in Beijing. By the same token, if I was to blog about places in Hong Kong or Taiwan then I'd use traditional characters.

    For UK based places, I will use whatever character set they use in their menu. So you'll see traditional characters on my recent post on the Phoenix Palace and my next post on dim sum in the 'burbs.

  6. Kake - In my haste, I forgot to respond to your other point. 蒸 is a great concept and I love the way that it demonstrates that Chinese food can be healthy. Bob's meal sounds scary. Are you sure, he was in Croydon rather than Glasgow!

  7. Re: Friday's - the worst is when you travel to a foreign country and your local hosts take you to Friday's thinking that's what would make you happy/feel "at home." : )

    Anyway, looks like a series of great meals in Beijing. I visited in 2002 and had a marvelous time, but from the looks of your post, I should be planning a re-visit asap.

  8. Okay, so Beijing is moving up the list of must-visit cities. Would you say better foodie destination than HK? Love the fact that churros are so popular, it's a bit like all those dim sum places over here.

    On that note, wonder if any Chinese visitors wander round London going "OMG, all they have is an HK Cafe, poor people" ;-)

    Great pics of the food, particularly like the look of those baked pork buns.

  9. A-in-L - It could be worse, I sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable when my well intentioned host wants to take me to a Chinese restaurant. That's fine if I'm somewhere where you can get decent Chinese food but you just know that place isn't going to be a business park on the outskirts of Prague! Do return to Beijing if you can, the food just keeps getting better and better.

    Gworm - Beijing v HK? Great question and one I'm gonna dodge by saying that they're different! Beijing's strength lies in its diversity, as you can eat Chinese food from all regions of the country (a theme I'm going to explore in future posts). In contrast, Chinese cuisine in HK is predominantly Cantonese and with the exception of Chiu Chow and Shanghai, other regional cuisines are poorly represented. Non-Chinese food is also far better in HK than in Beijing, in particular Japanese cuisine.

  10. A lot of people here in HK have mentioned that Beijing is probably a more serious foodie city. I have to say it just makes me very excited to visit.

    My guess is that it might have more of an independent type of food where HK gets everything and mashes it up. Still Cantonese food is not exactly shabby and you then also get all the other mish and mash ups.

    But every post like this sounds more and more exciting.

  11. Ah, I was just teasing re the traditional/simplified characters! Your policy is a very sensible one.

    Totally with you on the idea of pointing out that Chinese food doesn't need to be all grease and stodge. Did you see Fuchsia Dunlop's recent Guardian blog post on the subject?

    Funny you should mention Glasgow, since I'm spending a long weekend there at the start of November! Bob has been having great fun teasing me with talk of deep-fried Mars bars (he's not going, it's just me). I have managed to identify a potential venue for a dim sum lunch — I'm not expecting great things from this, it's just a nice way to top off a weekend spent with friends.

  12. Tom - if by independent, you mean distinct then I understand where you're coming from. Beijing is full of places that specialise in one type of cuisine usually set up from someone from a faraway province catering for his homesick brethen.

    Kake - I did read the piece in the Guardian; weren't the comments depressing? I hope you have a good one in Glasgow. I think you might be pleasantly surprised with the dim sum, as every biggish British city usually has one decent dim sum place where all the local Chinese congregate.