Gourmet--dining out tidbits to haute cuisine

As China's premier city, Beijing can boast the finest selection of national, regional, local and foreign foods at what might be the country's finest array of restaurants and food outlets. Whether it's served in a five-star outlet, a famous restaurant specializing in Sichuan, Cantonese, Shandong or Huaiyang foods, a neighborhood shop or street side stand, food is a number one consideration.

Beijing (Peking) Duck

Reputed to be the tastiest food in Beijing, in Mandarin or Cantonese, this dish is a must for all visitors, along with climbing the Great Wall of China. The best is said to be served at the three branches of the Quan Ju De Restaurant, whose founder began raising ducks 160 years ago and serving them 130 years ago. Another famous outlet is the Bian Yi Fang Restaurant, which opened its doors in 1855. Each has its own preparation method.

Imperial Court Cuisine

The Beijing, or Imperial, School of Cuisine is one of China's great cuisines, having been honed to perfection over the city's 800 years of dynastic rule. The only difference is that ordinary people can eat as heartily of these dishes as they can afford. Among the restaurants serving are the Fang Shan in Beihai Park and the Ting Li Guan in the Summer Palace.

Man-han Quan Xi

The "Feast of Complete Manchu-Han Courses" opened to the world al the Fang Shan Restaurant in early 1993, when 35 Chinese and invited foreigners dressed up as a Qing Dynasty emperor, empress, court officials and concubines.

They rose from the table three dinners and one lunch later, having sampled 130 courses that included bear paw, tiger's kidney, roasted David Deer, ginseng root, camel's hump, shark's fin soup, soft-shelled turtle and fish skin.

With many of the creature involved protected, the full menu will never be replicated. But the 134 hot and 48 cold courses at the Fang Shan Restaurant take a full six sessions to complete. The 88 course dinners at the Da San Yuan Restaurant include suckling pig, duck, eight cold dishes and 40 desserts and take four to six sittings.

Official Imperial

Court officials prided themselves on the table they laid. Today, their menus are available to everyone. One such repast, served at the pre-eminent Beijing Hotel, was developed by the family of Tan Zongling in the later days of the Qing Dynasty.

The Beijing Grand View Garden Restaurant and Laijinyuxuan Restaurant specialize in the "Food of the Red Mansions," as described in Cao Xueqin ' s monumental "Dream of Red Mansions" novel. The Sha Guo Ju Restaurant also serves dishes developed by the Qing Dynasty nobility.

Beijing Duck

One of the most famous dish in Beijing, whose thin slices are wrapped in thin pancakes with spring onions, leeks, cucumber, turnip and plum sauce.

Healthy Eating

There are hundreds of dishes that incorporated medicinal ingredients, among them ginseng, deer musk, bear paw, Chinese wolf berry and soft-shell turtle. The best is said to be served at the Xiyoan Hotel's Yang Sheng Zhai Restaurant.

Shuan Yang Rou.

This "instant boiled mutton in hot pot" wintertime dish consists of dipping paper-thin slices of mutton into a hot pot's boiling water and dredging them through a sauce whose dozen ingredients include sesame butter and salted leeks.
This cuisine has been added to in recent years by hot pots from Sichuan and Guangzhou province. Many hotel and independent restaurants offer serve yourself hot pot meals.

Beijing Snacks

Beijingers enjoy more than 250 kinds of snack foods, among them douzhi (a popular Beijing drink that's been made from fermented ground beans for a thousand years), pagao, ludaguner, chatang and guanchang.

A National Menu

There are few foods in China which are not served somewhere in Beijing, One favorite is Guangdong (Cantonese), a melange of light, crisp, refreshing seafood, vegetables, meats and dessert dishes. Served at the new Hong Kong Food Town, Beihai Yacun and Pearl Seafood restaurants.

Another cuisine is from Sichuan. Always spicy and sometimes hot on the tongue, Sichuan dishes can be found on the menus of many restaurants. The Sichuan Restaurant in the Prince Gong Palace specializes in the cuisine's finer aspects.

The light, refreshing seafood dishes "imported" from Shanghai to the Shanghai Jin Jiang Hotel group's Kunlun Hotel have proven very popular with Beijingers. Giant crab, fried eel and quick-fried yellow croaker in vinegar sauce are especially sought after.

Pre-eminent among the dishes offered universally are those from Shandong Served in large restaurants like the Jin Yang in Chongwen District and from carts in the various markets, many of these offerings are based on wheat flour, including a pancake soaked in a mutton sauce.

Finally, for those craving a different taste, may we recommend offerings from China's minority peoples, especially the Dai, Xinjiang Uygur and Inner Mongolia, w hick can be found in o number of specialty restaurants throughout the city.

World Cuisine

Beijing is well equipped to offer many foreign foods. Korean barbecue dishes are especially favored in winter, as served in the Landmark Towers, Beijing Lufthansa Center and Scitech Club. The spicy flavors of Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand have their aficiandos.

The Hofman Bar near the Third East Ring Road and Beijing Kempinski Hotel have German menus, the Jianguo Hotel is renowned for its French cuisine and the Beijing Kempinski and Holiday Inn Lido's Pinocchio Pizzeria share the limelight for medium-priced Italian meals. The Palace Hotel offers gourmet Italian meals, the Hilton Hotel is a mecca for American food and the White Cloud Restaurant is justifiably famous for its Japanese offerings.

For those wanting to "eat on the run," the Pizza Hut franchise operation serves up U.S.-style pizzas. The Beijing Hard Rock Cafe and Friday's attract the young and young-at-heart.

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