Planning China trip...Beijing, Hong Kong, Xi'an, Turpan, Urumqui....
My family is traveling to China this summer and I'd love some good restaurant suggestions for these areas. (My mom spent quite a few years in Hong Kong, so I don't know if we'll need as much help there.) We're up for almost anything as long as it tastes good.
I'd especially love some insight on the food in the Silk Road region, as I really know next to nothing about it other then what my guide book had to offer. I'd like to try something new and really uniqe out there.
Also, I'm going to stay in Beijing to study Mandarin an additional few weeks, and would appreciate some good n' cheap suggestions somewhat near the city center!
I'm sure you'll get an earful of suggestions for Beijing and Hong Kong, but you might want to be a little more specific as to what you are looking for, whether it's the hottest new restaurant or street food...
As far as the Silk Road goes, I don't know what guidebooks you have, but the Muztagh Travel website seems to be a good resource for Western China (more so for those with a backpacker mentality than those with a business traveler mentality), and serves up concise nuggets of information and tips for lesser-known cities like Turpan:
For what it's worth, I put up a gallery of pictures of Xi'an snacks on my own website. Unfortunately, the link to the source I lifted them from doesn't work any more. (Cyberspace is a river, and "you cannot step in the same river twice....")
Where in Beijing will you be staying? That will help.
In Beijing, definitely try the Night Market in Wangfujing. It's has an interesting variety of food.
my only experience w/ food in the silk road region was in Xian. I'd recommend you eat at the many little places on the main street in the muslim quarter. it's bustling with activity. you'll find lots of skewers, and lots of mutton. xian is also famous for one particular dish (can't remember the name) that involves broken up flat bread, mutton, and noodles in broth. you eat it with whole pickled garlic cloves and chili. guidebooks can help you with this one. if you're interested in markets, there are amazing seafood, meat and spice markets directly across the street from the Hotel Nikko in central xian. Be warned though - 1) it transforms into a trinkets market at night, and 2) you'll see dogs for eating in this market.
Beijing, which isn't known for its food, had some good street food, in my experience there. I ate lots of a fried flat bread. Of course, you need to try the duck...
In Hong Kong, you must have the dim sum. Try Maxim's in City Hall, right near the Ferry Terminal. Make sure you go to the Maxim's for dim sum, upstairs - there's a regular Maxim's on the ground floor. We had great hole-in-the-wall wonton noodles all over HK. Look for the crowds...
We will be staying at the Beijing Hilton. The language program I want to do after my family leaves has three locations, unfortunately (and I don't know where I'll be yet....what a pain.)
I'm personally interested in street food and delicious meat preparations, if that helps boil things down any.
Xi'an has a wonderful night market near the central mosque that is a must-visit for a Chowhound. They have loads of stalls with interesting and unusual foods, including loads of good sweets that are sort of reminiscent of Middle Eastern things, with a lot of honey and sesame. Also, be sure to try bian bian mian, which you can find pretty easily if you look for what looks like the most complicated Chinese character you have ever seen. Also in Beijing be sure to have chuanr, skewers of lamb and other things that are cooked over an open fire. And visit the stretch of Dongzhimennei referred to as "Guijie" for hot pot and crawfish in hot and numbing sauce.
Besides the muslim street in Xi'an, I suggest you try to get up in the morning and visit the outdoor markets. There are lots of good food vendors there, and you don't have to deal with the touristy gift shops. Another place to consider is a supermarket-esq place called QIOU-LIN, which has two locations and has ROU-JIA MUO, LIANG FER, and other Xi'an specialties. If you are looking for a restaurant setting in Xi'an, try ZA LIANG SHI FU, which also has two locations and specializes in turning what used to be pedestrian, everyday chinese food to higher culinary dishes. HUANG HE LOU is considered by some locals to be the best restaurant in Xi'an.
Keep in mind the Xi'an is a city that prides itself on its food, and nearly every block has a some sort of a restaurant. The YANG ROU PAO MUO mentioned above can be found at a place across from the better known "LAO SUN JIA", called SHANG FANG REN.
Beijing didn't impress me as a food city - I was dragged to the official Peking (Beijing?) duck restaurant there, and I have to say the Philly Peking duck was much better. The deep fried scorpions at the Beijing restaurant was something I'm glad I tried once. Kind of like a potato chip with a venom kick at the end - my extremities and throat tingled for a while.
When you're in Xian, try the grilled lamb on skewers, I think it was called Shashlik (sp?). Probably the same skewered lamb that has been recommended a couple of times already. The restaurants that specialized in it tended to have charcoal grills outside with tons of lamb skewers ready to be cooked. Good stuff.
Second the yang pou mo rou. I think I had it with the shashlik.
Do a search! There are so many options. Made in China or Dadong Roast Duck for starters. Ding Ding Xiang for hot pot. Old Beijing Noodle King for zhajiangmian. Jiumen Xiaochi for old Beijing snacks... the possibilities for delicious meals are endless if you keep an open mind.
Gary Soup - I know you love to contradict me, but "yang rou chuan'r" will get you a lot further in Xi'an and the rest of China than "shashlik."
I can't be sure what they would call it among themselves, though I think it's a fair bet that most of the vendors in Xi'an have a first language other than putonghua. The most common translation is "shashlik" and many hawkers are astute enough to have learned a word or two that a lao wai will understand (probably including "velly good").
Typically you don't need to ask for anything at all, just hold up a finger or two, pull out your money and make the exchange. In Shanghai, though, they typically do skewers of more than one kind of meat, and you need to specify your preferred "nyok" if you want something other than "yang".
I spent several weeks this past August traveling around Xinjiang (Urumqi, Turpan, Kashgar and beyond). I had both Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide and they weren't terribly helpful with finding good places to eat. Here are my recs:
In Urumqi, check out the Wuyi Night Market - they have everything from yangrou chuar to hot pot and lamian (pulled noodles). It gets very lively (as the Chinese say, hen renao) and vendors set up tables and chairs on the sidewalks. Another option is to check out the restaurants around the mosque in the Uighur part of town (if a place is full, you can't go wrong). My favorite Uighur dish is dapan ji - basically a whole chicken chopped up and cooked with potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, to which you can have noodles added.
In the morning, grab some delicious nan bread hot from one of the many Uighur bakeries (there are quite a few new the night market). The traditonal round breads come flecked with bits of onion, salt, and sometimes fennel or sesame seeds. Some vendors even have bagels! Just make sure to get them when they're still hot - they'll be hard as stone otherwise. Also, you can try samsas, which are baked dumplings stuffed with mutton and fat. I was not a fan, but hey, when in Rome...
As for Turpan, my friend and I made up the rhyme that "zai tulufan, ren bu chifan" (in Turpan, people don't eat). Most laowai end up at John's Information Cafe across from the Turpan Hotel, but we were determined to eat somewhere more local. We searched for 2 hrs without finding a place that wasn't full of Chinese tourists. That said, we did find some delicious raisins and local wine.
there is some great food in beijing. sadly for the business travel, you will often be taken to places similar to the generic hotel restaurants with "continental" food that one can still find in this country.
the biang-biang mian is famous in Xi'an. The all=dumpling meals are also famous. There's a whole slew of dishes - some on gary soup's page. There's a website which I can't find right now that has some 12 or 14 xi'an specialties, like yangrou paomo, biang-biang mian, the sweet babao fan, and some others - like a shredded meat dish, wish I could find it.