Originally published in The Age Good Food.
From spicy potato straws to sweetened sweet potato.
China was the seventh most popular destination for Australian travellers in 2017 according to the ABS, an increase of 17 per cent from the previous year, with China a more popular choice than Japan and India.
Travellers with Beijing on their China itinerary can count their tastebuds lucky. The capital has a strong cuisine of its own, while proudly showcasing what the broader country has to offer. Chinese food varies greatly from city to city, province to province. Don’t expect to find sweet and sour pork or lemon chicken that easily. Rather, get ready to get acquainted with the real China.
Navigating the Chinese food scene can be difficult. Here are 10 dishes to look out for in Beijing and where to find them. Cheers to less time Googling what to eat and more time eating.
1. Peking duck – Beijing kaoya
Best not to leave Beijing without indulging in its most renowned offering. Peking duck is roasted in such a way that it is succulent on the inside and gently crispy on the outside. The duck meat is served with thin flour pancakes, sliced cucumbers, spring onion and either plum sauce or bean paste.
Where to find it: Deyuan Roast Duck, 57 Dashilan xijie, Xicheng district, 西城区大栅栏西街57号
2. Mala crayfish – mala xiaolongxia
If you walk along the bustling Ghost Street strip at night you’ll find store after store selling mala crayfish – petite crustaceans prepared ‘mala’ style which translates as ‘hot and numbing’. The vibrant red-orange crayfish take their colour from being cooked in chilli and rice wine. Whack on your gloves and get ready to start peeling – and perspiring.
Where to find it: Hua’s Crayfish Restaurant, 5-8 Dongzhimennei dajie, Chaoyang district, 朝阳区东直门内大街5-8号
3. Lamb hotpot – shuan yangrou
You may have gathered that interactive food is big in Beijing. Such is the theatre of eating hotpot; a communal experience of cooking raw slices of meat in a bubbling broth-filled pot that sits in the centre of the table. Lamb hotpot is a notable specialty and flourished during the Qing dynasty more than 1000 years ago. Broths are available with different levels of spice; order some vegetables to accompany your meat and get cooking.
Where to find it: Laocheng Yiguo, 15 Nanlou nanlu, Chaoyang district, 朝阳区南湖南路15号
4. Spicy and sour shredded potato – suanla tudousi
This side dish originally hails from Sichuan province but is commonly found in Beijing. Shreds of white potato are stir-fried with green capsicum and chilli, served either hot or cold. Suanla tudousi makes the perfect accompaniment to meat and rice – it’s a must-try.
Where to find it: a commonly found side dish, test your Chinese and ask for it.
5. Zhajiang noodles – zhajiang mian
In China, noodles come in an endless variety of shapes and forms: long, short, egg- or rice-based, steamed, fried, or one enormously long noodle gloriously wound up into a bowl. Beijing’s signature zhajiang noodles are traditionally hand-pulled and fried, served with pork mince and soybean paste.
Where to find them: Old Beijing Zhajiang Noodle King, 56 Dongxing longjie, Dongcheng district, 东城区东兴隆街56号
6. Shredded pork in Beijing sauce – jingjiang rousi
Jingjiang rousi is everything you want at once – provided you are not vegetarian. The classic Beijing-born dish features sliced pork stir-fried in sweet bean sauce. The pork is rolled up in soya wraps, DIY-style.
Where to find it: Jin Ding Xuan Restaurant, 77 Hepingli xijie, Dongcheng District, 东城区平里西街77号
7. Savoury crepes – jianbing
Jianbing could qualify as the best Chinese breakfast there is; the large savoury crepes are cooked to order on a hot plate, and the street food can be found on the many Beijing footpaths. The crepes are brushed with chilli, garlic and soybean, have an egg cracked on top, alongside crispy broken up baocui (a fried cracker), before being sprinkled with chopped spring onion and coriander.
Where to find them: Keep your eyes peeled on Beijing’s street corners, jianbing are everywhere.
8. Barbecued skewers – chuan’r
Beijing takes to barbecuing food confidently. A traditionally Uighur way of eating, chuan’r refers to skewers commonly marinated in cumin and chilli. They come in the conservative forms of chicken or vegetables, but for daring eaters there are skewered silkworms, scorpions, and bovine hearts, too. Pair chuan’r with beer or cider.
Where to find them: Chuan’r Bar, 5-3 Dongzhimen nei dajie, Chaoyang district, 朝阳区东直门内大街5-3号
9. Pea flour cake – wandou huang
Wandou huang were a preferred snack of the Empress Dowager Cixi. Translating as ‘crushed yellow peas’ the chilled dessert combines sugar with yellow peas that are passed through a sieve. Simple in process yet imperial in colour, this dessert is usually found throughout Beijing during the warmer months.
Where to find them: Huguosi Snacks (various locations), 93 Huguosi dajie, Xicheng district (flagship store), 西城区护国寺大街93号
10. Candied sweet potato – basi digua
Continuing the theme of turning vegetables into desserts, basi digua is a popular sweet in northern China. Sweet potato is cooked and then submerged in liquid sugar. The dish comes out of the kitchen quite hot; pick a piece of sweetened sweet potato, dip it into a bowl of cold water so it cools, and enjoy.
Where to find it: Dongbei Ren, Dongzhimenwai dajie, 1A Xinzhongjie, Chaoyang district, 朝阳区东直门外新中街甲1号
Lead image: William Meppem.