I recently returned from a trip to Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai. Here I will give some comments on my 6 days and nights in Beijing. I will discuss the other two cities in subsequent posts.
I want to thank everyone here who was so helpful in planning my eating itinerary and in allaying my concerns about my lack of language skills. Those concerns proved to be unfounded; most places had menus in English (even if these were sometimes hilalriously translated) and where there was no menu in English, local people were most helpful. All in all I had a fantastic trip to China and cannot overemphasize how superb I found the food.
The one drawback to traveling alone in China was that dishes are often meant to be shared; being alone meant that I was able to sample a limited amount of plates at each meal. It also meant many dinners seated alone at large round tables with large expanses of empty white tablecloth... But I was always welcomed and never felt the slightest bit uncomfortable at my solo status. For most dinners I reserved in advance through my hotels and this proved to be wise, as I often saw people without reservations turned away or made to wait a long time to be seated.
Here are a few my Beijing meals:
BEIJING DADONG KAOYA DIAN.
I ate at the new Dongcheng branch of this famous duck restaurant. It is a huge place with a series of dining rooms spread over two floors. Decoration manages to be gaudy and elegant at the same time. This was one of my favorite meals in China. I ordered a half-duck (90 RMB) and it was carved tableside and beautifully presented on the white-linen clad table. In additiion to the accompaniments I was familiar with, there was a dish of white sugar and I was shown how to dip the crispy skin into the sugar. Amazingly delicious and addictive! Both thin pancakes and more doughy buns were served. Half the duck's head presented on the plate along with the sliced meat. Overall a stupendous meal. The menu here runs many pages and photos accompany the listings. While most people had duck, there are many many other tempting dishes and for tables of more than one person, these were on the tables along with the duck. No English spoken.
Fabulous. A nice touch was the stick of Doublemint gum served with the check. A++.
I had two dinners at this Sichuan restaurant downstairs in Oriental Plaza. (There is a Crystal Jade next door). Most of the diners were upscale-looking locals. The food was excellent although my first visit I neglected to notice the row of chili peppers that accompanied the listings of the dishes I ordered. As a result, the Ma Pa Tofu was almost too spicy for me to eat. I loved the spicy Sichuan beef dish. Another standout was a dish of mushrooms and bamboo shoots with the mushrooms thin sliced as on a mandoline. Superb..a must order. Sweet and sour fish, from the Cantonese part of the menu, was fried fish decoratively cut like flowers, but drenched in a goopy orange sweet and sour sauce familiar from back home. A reliable choice with several addresses in both Beijing and Shanghai. Menu with English translations. A-
MADE IN CHINA.
Another duck dinner at this restaurant in the Hyatt Hotel in Oriental Plaza near Wanfujing.
the duck was excellent and service was superb; several staff members spoke English here; this was the only place I ate with English speaking staff. The duck was excellent; a nice touch was the crispy half head of duck served on a separate plate. While the duck was as good as the duck at Beijing Dadong Kaoya Dian, I give a slight edge to Beijing because the atmosphere seemed more exotic and therefore more compelling to me. But for anyone concerned with lack of English, this would be the place to try duck. A+ and a half.
This Cantonese rstaurant in the China World Hotel was chosed by a friend who has lived many years in the city. The dim sum was superb. My favorite were the sesame bbq pork buns, a flaky pastry stuffed with incredible juicy and tender pork. Beef-stuffed rice pancakes were also superb, as was everything we ate. A must for anyone craving dim sum or Cantonese food in Beijing. Be sure to rserve in advance; the place was packed with business people at lunchtime. A+.
AH MEI (Or a similar name; lower level of Peninsula Hotel near Wanfujing; Cantonese)
I ate here twice, the first time for convenience as it was in my hotel, and the second because of those incredible sesame roast pork puffs. This is one place I was able to take a menu, so I have the listings and prices. To offer an example of prices in an upscale hotel, here is what I ate; everything was superb. (Prices are well above the average restaurant):
Sesame BBQ Roast pork puffs 26 RMB
Shrimp and pork Siew Mai with fish roe 28RMB
Crystal dumplings filled with baby cabbage and black mushrooms 26RMB
Steamed rice flour cake rolled with minced beef 26RMB
Baked crispy egg custard tartelets 28RMB
Although not local food, I would give this place an A+; the surroundings are beautiful.
WANFUJING NIGHT MARKET.
I was a little nervous about eating at these street stalls but soon put that aside as the food looked so delicious. Lots of odd things like centipedes, starfish, crickets and pig stomach share the stall with fried and steamed dumplings, noodle dishes, sir fried vegetables, sugar-dipped strawberries, etc etc. Most dishes are about 5-10 RMB, so less than $2USD. Many of the dishes looked familiar from chinatown back home.
The quality of the food (based on my tiny sampling, is good but not great) but this place is a must to see, even if you do not eat. There are two night markets in the immediate area, one just off Wanfujing on the street leading to the Forbidden City and the other just off the pedestrian part of Wanfujing under a colored arch. The latter also has a string of outdoor eateries in addition to the stalls. Worth exploring.
HAN CANG (aka HAKKA RESTAURANT). SE end of Qianhai Lake north of Forbidden City. No sign out front in English but everyone knows "Hakka restaurant."
I had a reservation here but it made little difference. The two-story place was jam packed at 7pm on a Saturday night. Tickets are handed out by the hostess as diners arrive and you wait in the small foyer. I asked for a ticket but was told I did not need one as I would be therefore be known as "Only Person" (single diner!!) After a short wait, I was given a (huge) rustic wood table to myself. Diners are a mix of expats and locals; the place is very noisy and convivial. Again, I was sorry to be alone since I was limited to the dishes I could try.
Apparently Hakka food is quite popular in Beijing; the long menu had lots of fish and shellfish dishes including a whole fish baked in paper that was on many tables. Also a good variety of snake, bullfrog and turtle dishes!!
Salt-baked rock shrimp (a specialty) served on skewers stuck into a salt-filled wooden bucket Excellent; very sweet.
Sliced Hakka pork with bamboo shoots. Excellent.
It is hard for me to rate this place based on two dishes; I would recommend exploring the menu, especially for seafood eaters and especially if you are a group of diners. A fun place and very popular. Very friendly service but little English; other diners were very helpful. A-
I will get to Shanghai next.....where the food was EVEN BETTER overall than in Beijing!!!!!