The final Beijing post! It’s going to be a little haphazard but I just wanted to remember the best of the rest of the meals I ate there. Not every meal was spectacular but every meal was at least good. However, some of the good meals had spectacular dishes as part of it. Nothing was bad (except for the smell of stinky tofu which I just couldn’t get over – someone, please teach me how to eat it!).

On Ghost Street

After a day in the calming environments of the Lama Temple and the Confucian Temple, Blai and I headed to Ghost Street, a street full of restaurants that open long and late hours. We stopped into one (I forgot to note down its name) and picked pretty randomly from the long picture menu. The fried mantou, here in a basket with steamed ones, were just… well, let’s just say it’s hard to fault deep fried things.

Steamed and Fried Mantou

The restaurant also specialised in grilled skewers and the best we tried was skewers of mushrooms, here shiitake mushrooms. When grilled, they were incredibly juicy and even better when sprinkled with a tongue-tingling chilli and cumin mixture.

Grilled Mushroom Skewers

At a random restaurant near our second hotel

We went to this restaurant the night we moved hotels. While all the other dishes were average (but still very good when compared to most of London’s restaurants), this aubergine dish was quite the stand-out. The silky vegetable melted in the mouth.

Aubergine

A dinner at Guolin Jiachangcai

A terrible downpour one night forced us to stick to restaurants near our hotel again. We entered one very crowded place which turned out to be Guolin Jiachangcai, a popular restaurant serving homestyle food from all over China.

The star of that meal was this Hakka meicai kourou, steamed pork belly with preserved mustard greens. I nestled slices of the rich pork belly and the vegetable into the accompanying steamed buns and thereby ate some of the finest sandwiches known to man.

Meicai Kourou

From Sichuan province, we had this excellent mapo tofu, cooked with a firmer tofu than usual but I quite liked it that way!

Mapo Tofu

At a Chinese fast food restaurant

After watching the crowds at Hou Hai on the night of the mid-autumn (moon) festival, we trawled the area looking for a restaurant that could accommodate us so late at night. We stopped into one place on the street leading down from the Drum Tower that turned out to be a noodles and food on skewers fast food restaurant. Apart from a few skewers and a plate of dumplings, we also ordered minced pork noodles. A deep bowl full of hand pulled noodles sitting in a savoury broth studded with minced pork, diced potato, chives, carrots, tofu, tofu skin, and pressed tofu was brought to us. It really hit the spot that night!

Minced Pork Noodles

We also had the opportunity to see the all the staff at the restaurant (along with the owners and their families) sit down together to share an extravagant mid-autumn festival meal!

A work dinner

All of us from our group who travelled to Beijing were gathered together one night for a group dinner at a restaurant whose name I forgot to note down but I did hastily scribble down what I think is its web address. It was a seriously extravagant meal with our boss taking care of the ordering and well, over-ordering.

The restaurant was quite unique, consisting of just private rooms, each equipped with a wide screen tv with karaoke capability (we opted out this time). During ordering, we were even offered a fresh fruit platter with these fresh dates. I’d never had them before and was surprised by their crunchy, apple-like texture and not very sweet flavour.

Fresh Dates

The roasted pigeons were just finger licking good. There was a fantastic skin to meat ratio on these birds and they were just so juicy and tender.

Roasted Pigeons

I had too much of this – braised beef slices with mung bean noodles. The mung bean noodles had been wrapped into little bite-sized bundles. I helped myself to at least three bowlfuls of this – it was just all gorgeous in its beefy broth.

Braised Beef with Mung Bean Noodles

This Shanghainese dish is steamed red dates stuffed with glutinous rice, not something I would order if I saw it on a menu but they really are fantastic. They’re sweet as you’d expect dates to be but they’re less sweet than the brown dried kinds you find here and they’re not served as a dessert. The glutinous rice stuffing has the texture of mochi. When steamed together, they meld together into quite the succulent mouthful.

Red Dates Stuffed with Glutinous Rice

These radish puffs might look familiar – they are available in a certain Taiwanese restaurant in London. However, these in Beijing were just amazing – so light, so greaseless, so flaky. I somehow managed to fit in two of them.

Radish Puffs

It was also quite interesting to see how, in such a large meal as this (there were at least 20 different dishes), to see the progression from cold dishes to hot dishes to the pastries and breads and finally, dessert (a fruit platter).

Lunch across from the Pearl Market

OK, I didn’t have the name nor the address of this place and so rather than have a post to itself, this, our last lunch in Beijing, got stuck here. After a quick visit to the Pearl Market, we needed an equally quick bite before heading back to the hotel and leaving for the airport. We came across this little place across the street from the north side of the Pearl Market – that’s the best description of the location I can give you!

There’s one picture in the window and that’s of the one thing they sell there – flatbreads filled with meat. You can see them being made fresh in the front of the shop.

Brushing with Oil

We split one made with pork (beef was also available), dipping them into our own made dipping sauces of black vinegar and chilli oil. So delicious, I loved the huge variety of breads I encountered in Beijing.

Pork Stuffed Flatbread

As everybody else was having it too, we asked for the accompanying soup. This soup turned out to be an extremely bland and thick cornmeal “soup”. I have no idea what the appeal is but it was quite novel!

Our Lunch

And that completes my final Beijing post. If you need more, all of my Beijing photos can be found in this Flickr photoset (two trips to the Great Wall, anyone?!).

I’ve been waiting for this post for a while! I love exploring the street food culture of any place I visit but I had the highest hopes for Beijing and luckily, the city didn’t let me down. Now, this is by no means a complete guide to the street food available in Beijing; instead, it’s what I encountered during my two week trip.

I’ll quickly start by saying that the two most famous streets to have street food in Beijing are located off the central shopping street of Wangfujing: Donghuamen Night Market and Wangfujing Snack Street. The former is known for its many insects and other unknown creatures on sticks while the latter serves more traditional street foods. I visited them both early in our trip and was not inspired by either of them; they’re extremely crowded with tourists and the food didn’t look that great either. Apart from one stick of candied fruit, we didn’t eat anything there.

Breakfast

My first breakfast in Beijing was found just down the road from our first hotel (a courtyard/hutong hotel right by the Forbidden City). Of the many places to eat, this one had a queue – a queue is always good! I came away from the queue with a hot shaobing nestled in an impossibly thin plastic bag. A shaobing is a flaky pastry topped with sesame seeds and mine was filled with a fried egg. It was a little too salty but the flakiness was delicious.

Shaobing with Egg

To go with my shaobing, I got a sealed plastic cup of hot sweetened soy bean milk. Jab your straw through the seal and your breakfast beverage is ready – and this turned out to be the freshest soy bean milk I’d ever had and the perfect complement to the salty shaobing. I saw many places offer this drink in the morning along with a very dark drink that I couldn’t identify.

Hot Soy Bean Milk

Another morning, I headed straight for the little hole in the wall where I’d seen jianbing being made. A very stern man and his jianbing pan (like a big crepe pan – pan may be the wrong word. It’s just a big, flat and hot disk) were framed by a literal hole in the wall and he was making them to order. First, the crepe batter was spread onto the disk, followed by a freshly cracked egg spread thinly on top. When the bottom was judged to be done, the whole was flipped so that the egg could cook some more and the top was spread with a hoisin-based sauce, a chilli paste, chopped spring onions, chopped coriander and finally, a sheet of crispy fried dough. The whole lot is folded together into a manageable square and placed into a plastic bag for you to takeaway. 3.5RMB (I hear this is quite expensive but this was near the Forbidden City). This was incredibly moreish – I love anything spicy for breakfast. I only just wish that the fried piece of dough in the middle would stay crispy; it tends to go limp in the heat.

Jianbing

There were a few places close to my first hotel with these steamers set up at the window but I never got a chance to see what was inside. I can only guess some kind of steamed bao.

Steamers

Lunch

Other than an overpriced yet very pretty jianbing at the Great Wall at Mutianyu, I didn’t eat any street food for lunch. However, many of those places that sell breads and pastries for breakfast continue into lunchtime.

Snacks

Snack Vendor

I saw one place just switch from freshly made pastries at breakfast-time to large bowlfuls of cooked dishes that were being packaged into ready-to-takeaway lunchboxes with rice at lunch-time. They looked fab.

Snacks

It’s snack time! You could have any of the small bites that were also available for lunch or breakfast or you could stop by one of the many candied fruit on a stick vendors to be found at most of the tourist attractions. Each stick is about 5RMB.

I first chose plums on our visit to the Wangfujing Snack Market. The candied coating was thicker than I expected and the sugar sticks something nasty all over your molars but there’s something quite addictive about it when paired with the juicy plums. See that odd looking plum at the bottom of the stick? Yeah, that’s because it was a cherry tomato. Candied tomatoes on a stick appear to be popular but it’s just not for me!

Candied Plums on a Stick

The original variation is tang hu lu, fresh hawthorn fruits coated in that thick, sticky caramel and when I saw them being sold near the Forbidden City on my penultimate day, I bought a stick and spent the next hour in a park gnawing away at them, the perfect way to rest my weary feet after a morning visit to Tian’anmen Square. They have a texture like floury apples with plenty of seeds inside. Spit spit spit.

Tang Hu Lu

I saw these pottery jars all over Beijing; full jars and empty jars were always stored side by side, indicating that there must’ve been some kind of deposit system going on or perhaps you had to consume the contents immediately upon purchase. We found that both were in effect when Mirna went to attend a Hutong Eats tour with Hias Gourmet. What’s inside? Fresh yogurt, lightly sweetened! You jab a thin straw through the paper covering and suck it up. If I remember correctly, they’re usually 2RMB if you drink there and then and return the jar immediately; 3RMB if you want to take the jar away with you.

Yogurt Jars

Dinner

Our second hotel, which was closer to my conference location, was situated right by the Olympic site, a place where there was quite the dearth of snacking foods (apart from a few western fast food joints) – quite surprising seeing that loads of Chinese tourists make a visit here. I did see one actual street cart that only sold grilled hot dogs on a stick: from what I gather, it’s a very popular street snack in Beijing.

Anyway, I noticed a few street carts adjacent to a random restaurant where we ate one night and I vowed to visit them after I’d given my presentation at the conference (I was watching what I ate up until that day). And one clear night, with Mirna, I had my chance.

This cart is the first sign that we were onto something good.

Street Vendor

However, we skipped that first cart and went for one further inside, mainly because he (of a husband and wife team) was rolling his flat breads from fresh dough. See the hot dogs? Told ya they were popular.

Street Vendor

We ordered one of these flat breads with an egg cooked into the bread, a sweet wheat sauce and lettuce, all rolled up. It’s quite the healthy little snack though not a terribly exciting one.

Egg Wrap

We also ordered chicken skewers from him, which were freshly grilled and then sprinkled with a magical powder of chili and cumin before being handed over to us. The recipe for the sprinkling powder seems to vary from stall to stall to restaurant; this man’s recipe was very heavy on the cumin I quite liked with the tender chicken. Both the skewers and the wrap came to 6RMB.

Chicken Skewers

We moved further past these two carts to find a few more. We stopped at a fried noodle setup run by what looked like a mother and her teenage son; she was frying noodles furiously over a flaming wok while her son was handling the orders and payment. From the variety of noodles available, we chose flat rice noodles and yes, we wanted them spicy and then we waited – that queue was long! After about 15 minutes, we got our little takeaway container of spicy noodles and I love that she fried in a lot of greens. Yum yum. 10RMB for the noodles, I think.

Fried Noodles

We took our noodle order over to some plastic garden patio furniture laid out by a chuan’r vendor – everyone else was doing it too! When there, we had a browse around their various raw skewers and chose a few (strangely, we didn’t order the classic lamb/mutton chuan’r). Our lack of a common language between us led to a hilarious exchange of bad sign language to establish our need for grilled chicken wings. Mirna, three people involved with the stall, and I, all flapping our arms and making chicken noises were quite the show for everyone that night!

Our charcoal grilled chicken wings were excellent. This vendor’s cumin and chili sprinkles were a more superior version as his recipe included toasted sesame seeds.

Chicken Wings

We also ordered some aubergine slices and rolls of tofu sheets filled with coriander. Unfortunately, the aubergine does end up a bit dry on the charcoal grill but the tofu sheets were lovely – tender on the inside, chewy on the outside, and all sprinkled with the excellent spice mixture.

Aubergine and Tofu Sheets

The skewers and a large bottle of beer came to 22RMB – bargain! And so much fun too! I really enjoyed our street food dinner and would have returned another night had the weather been better in the days following this one. And guess what? No dodgy tummies!

Dinner

One thing we didn’t try was malatang; these are various foodstuffs on sticks bubbling away in a fiery red broth. At our little street food area, there were a number of tables set up with a big rectangular pot in the middle. People were making up platefuls of dipping sauces before pulling up a stool to one of these tables. They’d help themselves to the sticks they liked, dipping them into the sauces and gnawing off whatever it is that they fancied. Great excitement would descend upon the table when the proprietor would come along with even more skewers.

Malatang

So, where is this amazing place? It’s right by the Olympic site and I can point it out to you on a map if you’re going to be staying in the area. However, I do encourage you to go an discover new stands and stalls and carts in Beijing – there must be hundreds if not thousands of exciting things to eat out on its streets!

This I can say about Shun Yi Fu: it was so nice I went there twice. And heck, I wish a place like this existed in London so I could have platefuls of excellent dumplings on a regular basis. This very centrally located restaurant is considered to serve some of the best dumplings in Beijing and of course, I had to try them at least once. I didn’t expect to go twice though but it was a great opportunity to sample more of their long menu.

The first visit was with Blai – we headed here after a morning visit to the Forbidden City and split two plates of dumplings (one boiled, one fried) and a salad. The fresh vegetable salad (10RMB) was dressed ever so lightly with a little vinegar and some sesame oil and was a very refreshing accompaniment to the heavier dumplings.

Fresh Vegetable Salad

It surprised me that boiled (pork and Chinese cabbage, 18RMB) just pipped fried (special soy sauce pork, 35RMB) to first place in my heart. The wrappers were thick Beijing style ones but were strangely light and were just better boiled than fried; that said, I wouldn’t turn down a fried one if you were to offer it. Of the fillings, I prefered the pork and cabbage (not Chinese cabbage as you get here but a vegetable that was more green – you could hardly make out the pork in the filling) while Blai enjoyed the special soy sauce pork (a very loose filling of pork with what seemed like chopped nuts) more.

Boiled Dumplings

Fried Dumplings

The second visit was with Mirna and Sasa and with the three of us ravenous that day, we could order a little more. We ordered a few dishes off the cold starters menu – we each chose one. The bean curd noodle salad (8RMB) was my idea. The ‘noodles’ were sliced pressed tofu sheets and were tossed with green chilli, spring onions, peanuts, and that salad dressing again.

Tofu Noodle Salad

The cucumber salad (8RMB) was roughly sliced cucumber in a garlic and sesame oil dressing. So simple yet so refreshing.

Cucumber Salad

Sasa’s choice of beef in soy sauce (28RMB) was cold slices of lean beef that must have been simmered for ages in a soy sauce mixture. Sliced against the grain, they were tender and toothsome.

Soy Sauce Beef

Of course, we had dumplings too: boiled special soy sauce pork (27RMB), …

Special Soy Sauce Pork Dumplings

… fried pork and Chinese chive (26RMB), …

Fried Pork and Chive Dumplings

… and boiled beef and green chilli (18RMB). Again, boiled won out over fried. Shame I didn’t get a photo of the dumpling innards – they’re starting to all look the same.

Beef and Green Chili Dumplings

From the ‘Terrines’ menu, we also ordered a small pork and pickled cabbage. We had absolutely no idea what was going to turn up but what they mean by terrine is a soup or stew in a clay pot. The soup was extremely comforting being full of pork belly slices and what resembled sauerkraut and apparently tasting just like a similar Croatian stew. I see they have one with meatballs and cabbage on the menu too which I suppose is like lions head meatballs.

Pork and Pickled Cabbage Soup

With over 30 diffferent varieties of dumpling filling to choose from (from haricot bean with pork to scallion with donkey meat), available boiled or fried, you’re sure to find one that’ll suit you. There are vegetarian options too. And it’s very centrally located, just off the main shopping street of Wangfujing.

Shun Yi Fu

Shun Yi Fu
36-3 Ganyu Hutong
(off Wangfujing)
Dongcheng District
Beijing, China

This restaurant recommendation came from one of Mirna’s husband’s colleagues, a native of Beijing. Unfortunately, his list of recommendations (all serving very traditional food from Beijing) were entirely in Chinese, meaning that we just picked the first one on the list and asked our taxi driver to guide us there. It was quite difficult to find actually as the entrance was quite discreet but if you need help, there’s a photo of the restaurant entrance at the end of this post. We got there quite early and so got a table but I’d definitely recommend making a booking: it filled up very quickly with groups queuing not long after.

Inside looks much bigger than you’d expect – there are both large main dining areas downstairs and up and off the courtyard eating areas are private dining rooms too. We sat upstairs.

Courtyard Restaurant

Once seated and presented with the huge pictorial menu, we had no idea what to order (the only thing Mirna’s husband recalled was the mashed potatoes) and so ordered whatever looked good, making sure though to get a good sampling of both the cold and hot dishes. It was only after I got back to London and did a bit of research did I find the official name of the restaurant and the fact that it serves Manchurian and Imperial cuisine, something I thought I’d missed when I was in Beijing. Whatever it was, it was delicious. Here’s what we ate:

A cold dish of fish and pickled garlic in aspic, served with a soy based dipping sauce.

Fish in Aspic

Steamed aubergine with chili shrimp paste. Gorgeous!

Steamed Aubergine with Chilli Shrimp Paste

Mashed potato with sweet bean paste. Hmm – very very challenging.

Mashed Potato with Sweet Bean Paste

Smoked duck with fried peanuts.

Smoked Duck

Goose with lotus root.

Goose

Stir fried pea shoots (here begin the hot dishes).

Greens

Stewed venison with a vegetable in there that I think is a gourd of some kind.

Venison Stew

Pork belly stewed (maybe steamed?) with dried red dates. The fat just melted on the tongue.

Pork Belly Stewed with Red Dates

Stir fried long beans with pork. The whole garlic cloves were beautifully sweet.

Stir Fried Long Beans with Pork

Homemade silken tofu coated in cornstarch and deep fried.

Homemade Tofu

Fried mutton, served with a dry dip of cumin, chili and sesame seeds. Oh yes.

Fried Mutton

Minced venison buns. They were presented all separately and the waitress took it away and came back with this. We couldn’t finish these; the rest were packed up and were our breakfast the next day!

Minced Venison Buns

A small fruit platter (for dessert).

Fruit Platter

My favourites? The aubergine, pork belly, fried mutton, tofu. I thought these were exceptional but everything on the table was excellent. However, the mashed potatoes, despite their popularity with the rest of the restaurant, were just too challenging for us – they were sweetened and served with a sweet red bean paste on top; I think it was just too difficult when they tasted more like a dessert than a cold appetiser.

As we were sitting there eating, we saw many platefuls of crispy fried prawns making their way to many tables – it turns out that this is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. If you do make it there, don’t forget to order those! The price? All of those dishes plus a few drinks (beers and Coke) came to about 600 RMB (or £60). Fabulous food and we definitely over-ordered for the three of us!

Najia Xiaoguan

Najia Xiaoguan (official site)
10 Yongan Xili, Jianguomen Wai
Chaoyang District
Beijing, China

The last day of my conference was a half day and once that was up, I ran out to meet Mirna for lunch and an afternoon of shopping. Our target that afternoon was the Yashow Market, billed as being much less touristy than the Silk Market. But first, lunch, and luckily, one place I’d marked was Bellagio, one in a chain of restaurants in China specialising in Taiwanese cuisine, and one that just so happens to be within walking distance of the market.

Bellagio

The room’s pretty glam, isn’t it? It wasn’t over the top crazy though and it certainly didn’t distract from the food. Do you see the waitress in the photo above? With the sash and the cropped hair? All the waitresses had cropped hair and I don’t think it’s a coincidence! Wow.

Their illustrated menu was the first I’d encountered that didn’t overwhelm me: it’s not too long. Still, everything looked so good that it was difficult to narrow down our choices. There were many drinks to choose from but we both settled for our usual iced lemon teas, Hong Kong style. I like the side of syrup they provide on the side: many cafes in London would do well to offer this with cold drinks.

Iced Lemon Tea

The Taiwanese stewed minced pork came in a little pot and we split a bowl of rice to eat with it. This was utterly gorgeous as the pork was mainly of the belly cut and it had been stewed in a mixture of five spice and soy sauce and was utterly scrumptious on top of rice. As a bonus, we found a whole hard boiled egg at the bottom! (If I had been eating there by myself, I would have just had this on rice… they have lunch sets with them at the back of the menu.)

Taiwanese Stewed Pork

Taiwanese Stewed Pork

After hearing Mirna go on about the delights of sweet and sour fish, I ordered one, hoping that it would taste just like the one my mother used to make. It wasn’t bad – the fish fillets had been twisted so that the crispy fish skin wouldn’t get soggy under the sauce and there was a nice scattering of pinenuts on top. The sweet and sour sauce itself was a little too red but the flavour was excellent – much smoother than the takeaway versions here.

Sweet and Sour Fish

For greens, we ordered the stir fried dragon beans with garlic, as recommended by Helen of World Foodie Guide. Strangely, I’d never had these beans (also known as winged beans) cooked but only raw and dipped in sambal in Malaysia. They’ve got a lovely crunch to them and I love anything with garlic.

Stir Fried Dragon Beans with Garlic

Our final dish was a Taiwanese cold noodles – a pile of noodles topped with shredded chicken and cucumber, to be tossed together with a sesame paste based sauce and chilli oil. While lovely, they got a little neglected on our table what with the pork and the fish.

Taiwanese Cold Noodles

Unfortunately, we didn’t have any room for one of their spectacular shaved ice desserts! They really were quite something to behold – gigantic mounds of shaved ice topped with various fruit and bean concoctions; most groups were sharing one. If you’re going to go, try to make space for one of these! I absolutely loved our meal at Bellagio and wish I’d eaten there more than once on our trip! Prices are reasonable for London again – I think the meal came to about £15-20 altogether.

Bellagio
6 Gongti Xilu
Chaoyang District
Beijing, China