Beijing Eats for Culture Trip

My story for Culture Trip after the launch of Beijing’s first Michelin Guide with some of my old and new favourites. I also got to speak to Chinese food authority Fuchsia Dunlop who shed light on the rich offerings of Chinese cuisine.

Following the Guide’s China launch in Shanghai and Guangzhou, Beijing’s first Michelin Guide 2020 features 100 restaurants, with 23 Michelin-starred.

The first Beijing Michelin Guide 2020 awarded 27 stars to restaurants; featuring 1 three Michelin-starred restaurant, 2 two Michelin-starred restaurants, and 20 one Michelin-starred restaurants. Here is a shortlist from the guide, as well as a few off the beaten path the inspectors might have overlooked.

As the government seat, Beijing is home to some of China’s best regional cuisines. Restaurants listed in the guide run the gamut from Imperial cuisine to Huaiyang and Cantonese, it also includes a handful of Western dining options – Italian and contemporary European.

Best known for Peking Duck, it would be a cardinal sin to leave the Capital without trying the crispy, tender fowl wrapped in a paper-thin pancake along with pickled garnish. Noodles and buns are a staple. Forget about watching your calories as the Northern Chinese take pride in their carbs and serve a large variety of springy hand-pulled noodles along with jiaozi dumplings stuffed with a variety of minced meats and vegetables. 

Fuchsia Dunlop, award-winning author and cook specialising in Chinese cuisine, and expert guide at WildChina gives us an overview of dining in the Capital. “Beijing is particularly interesting because as well as having its local culinary traditions, you can almost literally eat your way around China without leaving the capital because so many regional cuisines are authentically represented there. In terms specifically of local food, Beijing cuisine is a fascinating mix of simple northern staples such as noodles and dumplings, classic Shandong cooking, Imperial palace food and Hui Muslim cooking.” 

World’s best Peking Duck 

Peking Duck is on everyone’s list on a visit to Beijing. Chef Da Dong’s two eponymous restaurants garnered a Michelin star each. Da Dong is considered an institution that has been serving one of the city’s best Beijing duck for over 24 years. Fat Duck chef Heston Blumenthal once took a trip to Beijing to pick up a tip or two from Da Dong and was told the secret lay in pumping air to separate the skin and the meat of the duck before it heads for the wood oven. Reserve your table at the Nanxincang branch for the best ambience. The restaurant is housed in a historic area that used to be royal barns during the Ming and Qing dynasties, dating back 600 years. The up-market restaurant also serves abalone, foie gras and caviar dishes, however, it’s best to stick with the Peking duck (298RMB) – what they do best. 1-2 Nanxincang Guoji Dasha, 22A Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng District

Jing Yaa Tang

This newly minted one Michelin-starred restaurant is helmed by Beijing chef Li Dong. His method involves putting soup into the duck before cooking it, so its flesh remains moist. The Peking duck is roasted with jujube wood, giving the subtle fruity smoky sweetness. Diners enjoy a full view of the wood oven and chefs in action. Begin with the cold dish of cherry tomatoes marinated with sour plums – a refreshing palate cleanser to balance the meaty richness of the Peking duck. Unlike most restaurants, they don’t do a second service with the duck bones – usually a soup or stir-fried mince to wrap in cabbage. Instead, duck soup is available a la carte, made from 20 ducks boiled over six hours, and worth a separate order. 11 Sanlitun Road. The basement of The Opposite House Hotel. 

Duck de Chine 

The beautiful regal traditional courtyard that houses Duck de Chine was the home of Cai Yuan Pei, the late Peking University chancellor and warrants a visit just for its décor and ambience. The imperial Peking duck (388RMB) is crispy and tender with sides of homemade sweet and rich hoisin sauce, cucumbers, pickled radish and leeks. The seafood rice and other dishes on the menu reflect regional flavours and well worth the calories. Duck de Chine, 1949 Club, 98 Jinbao Street, Dongcheng district

Hotpot was introduced to Beijing by the Mongolians 

“No one should leave Beijing without so-called ‘Mongolian hotpot’ or shuan yang rou (‘scalded mutton’), for which guests cook their food in a chimneyed copper hotpot at the centre of the table.” According to Fuchsia Dunlop. While no hotpot restaurants were awarded stars, Bao Du Feng Jing Sheng Long on the bib gourmand list is a traditional Beijing-style hotpot restaurant where you cook slices of lamb in a steaming copper pot filled with burning charcoal in its chimney. Here, lamb tripe is cooked in 13 different ways and the shaobing – fried wheat flour buns – are the perfect accompaniment to your meal. The bill at hotpot restaurants average 120RMB per person for orders of hearty portions of sliced fresh meat, tofu and vegetables to cook in the broth. 65-8, Ande Lu, Xicheng district 

Pristine Vegetarian haute cuisine

A meal at two Michelin-starred King Joy is a treat. There are only set menus available, the smallest at 738RMB. Located near the Lama Temple, the traditional courtyard restaurant with lush surroundings serves up organic produce and makes for an enjoyable discovery of edible botany from fox nuts to honeylocusts. High tea is popular here but go for lunch or dinner to enjoy a full experience. 2 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng, Beijing, China

Feast Fit for Emperors

Located in a traditional courtyard siheyuan and run by the fourth generation of chefs, Family Li Imperial cuisine has been a dining destination for foreign dignitaries and celebrities alike, from former US President Clinton to Jackie Chan and Bill Gates. Here, secret recipes from the Imperial kitchens live on. They were smuggled out by the founder Li Shanlin’s grandfather who worked in the Imperial court. Set menus begin at 298RMB, but choose the mid-range menu (600RMB) to enjoy the breadth and complexity of flavours. Pass on the luxurious ingredients of abalone, prized birds’ nests and shark’s fins, instead order the humble dishes: sweet and sour pork ribs, Beijing smoked pork, and fried egg custard – a favourite of Empress dowager Cixi. 11 Yangfang Hutong. Deshengmennei Street. Xicheng district.

Cantonese and regional flavours at Cai Yi Xuan

Tianjin chef Li Qiang of the one Michelin-starred restaurant at the Four Seasons Beijing Hotel is well versed in the different regional Chinese cuisine. Find Cantonese dim sum classics like the BBQ baked buns as well as chef Li’s signature wok-fried prawns with fermented black garlic and dried chillies. Order a Beijing Zhajianmian to polish off your meal, they serve a tasty posh version of the humble noodle dish. 48 Liangmaqiao Rd, San Yuan Qiao, Chaoyang, Beijing, 

Best Sichuan Flavours at Chuanban

Chuanban is cheap and cheerful and a perennial favourite, average checks at 50RMB. Follow the stars on the menu to gauge spice levels, and don’t leave without trying the classic Sichuan shuizhuyu – fish boiled in spicy oil – promise, it tastes better than it sounds. 

Chinese cuisine expert Fuchia Dunlop shares, “One of my favourite activities in Beijing is visiting the regional government restaurants. The best known is Chuanban, serving Sichuanese food, but many Chinese provinces and cities have their own offices and restaurants in Beijing, serving typical dishes from their regions. These restaurants are not always the most attractive in terms of decor, but many of them offer delicious and fascinating specialities.”  5 Gongyaun Toutiao, Jianguomennei Dajie, Dongcheng District. 

The only contemporary European Michelin-starred restaurant in Beijing

The Georg is Georg Jenson’s flagship restaurant. A modern Beijing siheyuan courtyard with glass ceilings furnished with Scandinavian minimalism – plenty of skylight and a live fireplace. Beijing chef Wang Bin trained in French cooking techniques, and his menu of fresh seasonal ingredients include Nordic methods of smoking and curing, seasoned with Asian touches. Delicate flavours allow its main ingredients to shine and the unobtrusive service makes it a perfect date night spot. 1 Jade River. 45 Dongbuyaqiao Hutong, Dianmen East Street. Dongcheng

Best traditional Beijing Noodles Zhajiangmian

Beijing Zha Jiang Mian is a traditional classic – cold wheat noodles cooked a perfect al dente served with a colourful assortment of fresh vegetables and a rich and complex fermented black bean paste with minced pork. Vegetarian variations are readily available without compromising on flavour. Bib gourmand local diner Fang Zhuang Chang No.69 Zha Jiang Mian serves only one thing on its menu, and they do an excellent job. The noodles are springy, tossed in the savoury-sweet fermented soybean paste and minced pork. Add cumin chilli sauce to the mix for that extra kick. 1 Fangzhuangchang Hutong, Dongcheng district

Beijing has plenty to offer in terms of dining and there’s something for everyone at any budget. If you’d like to venture beyond the guide, there are several tours to discover Beijing and Fuchsia Dunlop also recommends a visit to Huguosi street to investigate local snacks and street food, which is plenty of fun.

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