Brief Beijing Report...6 days of Fabulous Food!
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!!!!!
Thank you for posting this. It was especially fascinating to me since I haven't visited China since just after the Cultural Revolution. In most cities, the only food you could get was dished out in dank, cavernous places with inspiring names like "People's Restaurant Number 6" Peking did have a few good places, and I ate Peking duck in one of them. The place was so crowded that a line of hopeful diners formed behind each seat. Many of the people had never had it before, they were poor and it was a big treat. I had to show the family at my table how to eat it! They were eating the duck, the pancakes and the sauce all separately and I thought the risk of offending them was less than the risk that their big night out would be spoiled. But the duck wasn't as good as Peking Duck House in NY, and they left the skin on the meat.
re: Brian S
Several restaurants in Beijing give diners the option of having the duck sliced with the skin attached to the meat, or separated from it. I have seen people go both ways, though I prefer to have the skin separate. The days of people waiting behind each seat in Beijing are long gone, though it's still the practice in some very popular places, particularly like Nanxiang in Shanghai.
re: James G
Yes, yes! The comptetion for a seat at Nanxiang in Shanghai was firece, with the less feisty dropping out after only a few minutes. But your faithful correspondent hung on and snagged a seat after about a half an hour. I will give the full report when I get to the Shanghai section very soon.
Brian, you would be amazed at the change! Dining in Beijing ran the gamut from very upscale to down home..I can't remember a trip when I have had better food!
I had never seen the skin dipped in sugar here in NY--have you? And I don't think they serve the half a duck's head on the plate here, either! I thought it was a pice of the thigh and took at nice bite before I realized it was the head, cut in half. Very crispy and chewy-good.
Honestly I could not get enough of DTF so I would go in each city. It is totally different than Jia Jia Tang Bao; a semi-glitzy upscale place whereas Jia Jia Tang Bao is more of a no-frills, no English place. Having heard reports of how crowded Jia Jia was, I went for breakfast and there were only a couple of other diners there at 8:30am. BTW, the concierge at my hotel told me that he went there every morning after he finished the night shift. He was surprised I had heard of the place. Be aware that there is no English sign out front and no English on the menu posted behind the cashier. But they are super-friendly and you will have no trouble. Is also costs about a tenth of what DTF costs. My breakfast was under 2USD and I was stuffed. Make sure to order the ginger along with the xlb s.
Xiaolong bao for breakfast is my idea of paradise. That was my regimen almost every day for three weeks in 1992 when I was staying at the Academy of Sciences Hotel on Zhaojiabang Lu (it had a great dining room). Between that place and the Nanxiang in its pre-redevelopment days, I became the XLB-crazed person that I am.
re: Gary Soup
Gary I toasted you at breakfast there (with my soup!) for alerting me to this place! And going early (I believe they open at 6am) was a good idea to avoid the lines. After doing battle at Nanxiang a few days before, I was happy not to have to enter the fray again..I will report in detail about Shanghai within a day or two.
Here is a small update about the prices at South Beauty, from my notes:
Prices begin at 20 RMB and rise to 980 RMB (for a half-kilo of Napoleon Wasse (a fish I saw on several upscale menus). I paid 22 RMb for Ma Pa tofu with minced pork; 48 RMB for spicy beef with healthy herbs, and 48 RMB for the chicken soup with mushrooms, which was enough to feed 6 diners!
Here is another place I neglected to mention in the report above. On the day I hired a car to visit the Great Wall at Mutianyu, we finished our visit in time for lunch. Although there are restaurants at the site, and more on the main road leading to it, the best eating according to my guide was in Huai Rou, a fairly large town a few minutes drive from the Mutianyu section of the Wall.
At one of the main intersections, we stopped at the Restaurant Family Reunion. There are no English characters on the sign but it seems to be very well known and it was packed for lunch. Without a doubt, these were some terrific dumplings. I had fried dumplings stuffed with leeks, steamed pork-filled dumplings, and an amazing dumpling dish which came to the table in one large sheet with all the dumplings fused together and browned on the top. So it looked like a large sheet of dough with bubbles where it had been stuffed with mushrooms, in this case. One of the best dishes of the week; Gary will know what this is called.
All of that food, together with a delicious stir-fried roast pork dish, cost 120RMB with tea, which is about 16USD. Highly recommended. Menu with English translations.
Familty Reunion Restaurant
HuaiRou district north of Beijing
Note: The toilet upstairs in Chinese style but very clean. Bring paper upstairs with you.
I'm guessing the restaurant was called something like "tuan yuan" which means both family reunion and is a reference to dumplings (you're supposed to make them together at family reunions). I'm not sure what the "fused dumplings" were, unless they were a house specialty to underscore the "togetherness." Of course, if you cook guotie close together they will stick to each other, and if you flip them over when you plate them they will be brown on top, but it doesn't sound like what you mean.
BTW, being a man, I never was put in a spot where I had to master a squat toilet, and am I thankful for that! In Shanghai, even some of the McDonalds have the squat toilets.
The type of dumplings you had were most likely what I've heard referred to as jian jiao (煎饺 - pan fried dumplings). The effect of having them stick together like that is achieved by adding potato starch water to the pan and cooking it off, leaving a crust on the bottom. A plate is placed over the pan, and everything is flipped, resulting in the browned, crusted bottoms facing upwards.
Here's a good blog post with pictures of the process(in Chinese):
Here's a (rough) translation of the picture captions:
1) Assemble the dumplings.
2) Take the dumplings and arrange them in rows in a pan
3) No caption
4) Use some oil to pan fry the dumplings. After one or two minutes, add water.
5) Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and slowly pan fry them. As soon as they've changed color, you can remove them from the pan.
6) Using potato starch water will allow the bottoms to stick together
7) - 9) No caption
10) Dip in some home made chili oil. Super yummy!
I'm not sure if jian jiao and guo tie are the same thing or not, because every pan fried dumpling fitting this description that I came across when I was living in northeast China was called jian jiao. I do remember coming across dumplings called guo tie further south (like in Shanghai) and in the U.S., but I don't ever remember them being all stuck together like that. I also recall the guotie skins being a bit thicker than the jian jiao skins.
They are probably just different terms for (basically) the same thing, used in different parts of the country, That blogger is from Guangzhou, though, so maybe not.
The way my wife uses the term, jian jiao are shui jiao (jiaozi) that are pan fried after being boiled (it's something she often does with leftover jiaozi that had been cooked but not eaten).
There's a slight difference in the making of jiaozi and goutie wrappers, even though they both may both be finished in the classic crescent shape. The dough for jiaozi wrappers is made with cold water, while warm water is used for goutie wrappers (to release a bit of the gluten beforehand).
JIaozi are also often made with a more casual shape, rather than the fussy crescent with the crimps typically used for guotie (almost always in the US). However, In Shanghai and probably some other parts, you see guotie that are cigar-shaped with open ends like the ones in the picture. Yum!
re: Gary Soup
I've only had jian jiao in restaurants, so I'm not sure if they were previously boiled or if they were steamed in the pan like in the blog post I linked to. At every place I've had them (all were in Shenyang), they did have that potato starch crust in the shape of the pan, binding them all together, which is why I think that that's what Erica had based on her description.
Then again the use of the term could be different in Beijing or even in HuaiRou.
It makes sense that guo tie and jian jiao dough are prepared differently, judging by the differing consistencies of the skins in my experience. It's interesting to know that the difference lies in water temperature.
Regardless of what they're called, how they're cooked or what dough is used, they are all very delicious members of the "dumpling" family.
re: Gary Soup
Kind of like the first photo but the ones I ate had no discernible space between them. And they were not in the crescent shape. I have a photo but have NO IDEA how to post it here. Next time my friend who knows how comes over I will have him do it....
I just re-read the above and realized I made a mistake in the name of the Peninsula Cantonese place. AH MEI is the Cantonese restaurant in the Royal Meridien in Shanghai, where I also had a great meal. The Cantonese place in The Peninsula is HUANG TING. I will be posting about Shanghai soon. I am so glad to post this and give some back after all the Help you all gave me with my endless questions.