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Nervous Newcomer to Beijing

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I will be working in Beijing for the month of May. Although I am an adventurous eater in the U.S., I am not familiar with Chinese culture or food at all. Plus, I don't speak or read Chinese.

So, I would really welcome some suggestions for easing into this experience... Where can I try good Chinese food, but still order in English, read a menu in English? I should add that I will be working with a moderate budget. An occasional splurge is OK, but most of the time I am just looking for an every day kind of place.

Also, where can I go for more recognizaeable food when I get homesick? :)

Finally, are there any notable food festivals or other events in Beijing in May that I should get on my calendar?

TIA!

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  1. If you're looking for a comfortable, funky spot with good western food with a Chinese influence (I had mutton pizza), in Beijing, search out the Pass-By Bar in the hutong area slightly north of the main part of town.

    1. as far as original beijing food goes, there's very little there to entice a foreign palate. they are usually either crude or boring. the infamous "soy-juice" both tastes and smells like week-old vomit. most chinese man (including me) wouldn't dare comsuming it. stay away or u will regret it.
      however, beijing being the capital of the country, all sorts of goodies are available from all over china. do go with your buddies to a skewers restaurant. they are all over the city and they serve various cuts of meat and offal roasted on coal. they go great with beer.i recommend pork kidney and flat tendon. if done currectly they are a true pleasure.
      as far as english ordering goes, most of the common people spots have no english menu. so do rely on your local friends when it comes to this.

      1. There is a restaurant just behind (east side of) the Regent hotel (corner of Dongdan Beidajie and Jinyu Hutong, just east of the Novotel and Peninsula hotels, a major block east of the shopping street Wangfujing Dajie) called Xiao Nan Guo which is very accessible to English speakers, not expensive at all (given the current exchange rate) yet upscale in service, decor and food. Earlier threads have also recommended places like Made in CHina in the Hyatt hotel, a few blocks SSW of there. you can also find fast food like Ajisen Ramen (extensive menu, try their tonkatsu curry), McDonalds, KFC etc.

        1 Reply
        1. re: barleywino

          I'd second Made in China, Grand Hyatt. It offers a gentle introduction to Beijingese street food, if you're wondering what those stuff peddled on the streets are like. Made in China also prepares a mean Peking Duck, and also Beijing-style spring rolls and various noodles/pasta dishes.

          If you're looking for some Americana when you tire of Chinese food, try (no brickbats, puh-lease!) Hard Rock Cafe on the Third Ring Road (near Great Wall Sheraton).

          Where exactly in Beijing are you staying? It's easier for us to give you pointers then.

        2. I was pretty much on my own much of the time when I first went to Beijing for about ten days some 20 years ago. I recall it as effortless and filled with great food adventures. It involved entering where other people were eating and pointing at their plates. Now much has changed. I haven't been back for a few years; but I know that much is now easier, while much has been lost.

          1. Ijust found out I'm going there for a 10 days on the 19th, so I'm doing my own research. A couple of links so far -- http://www.savourasia.com/content/vie... -- very good breakdown of the different types of food and example restos for each with suggested dishes to order.

            http://appetiteforchina.com/beijing-r... has some more and great food pictures and recipes.

            Some else posted this in the Ethiopian in Beijing thread and it is very useful - http://www.mobilenative.com/index.php - put in the hotel your staying at and it will tell you what is nearby.

            I'm trying to build up a list of places to cram into my GPS so that I can find them when I get there. This isn't that easy since the transliteration of street names and rampant construction make this dodgy at best. I'll be staying at the Shangri-la for half the trip and Raffles for the other half.

            Try Wikimapia for a good overall view of the city and places, it's the most useful map I've found on the web for Beijing. It's still horrible compared to what you could find for practically any other non-asian city in English.

            Anybody out there got GPS coords for a resto I shouldn't miss? Food markets? I'll compile and share them.

            I also just read on another board that they are banning smoking in restos as of May 1, just my luck it's happening after I go.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Scrapironchef

              Can you tell us which model GPS has street maps and addresses for CHina? I thought Garmin did not have it. TIA

              1. re: barleywino

                I'm using MapAsia Mapking on my PDA with a bluetooth puck, they've got maps for a few major cities with more coming. Relatively easy to add your own POIs.

                http://www2.mapking.com/en/EnglishInt...

                1. re: Scrapironchef

                  ok so if i understand you correctly, your maps are not integrated with a GPS, right? there is no map display which automatically displays where you are with a symbol, or how to get places?

                  1. re: barleywino

                    No, it works just like my TomTom software, current positiion and routing to destination. Color maps with 2d and 3d views, even a customizable position icon.

                    Hardware is an older but dead reliable Toshiba e755 PDA, CF bluetooth card and an iblue 737 GPS puck. I've used Ostia, TomTom and Destinator software, this will be my first trip with Mapking. Asia is the last great wilderness as far as electronic mapping goes, at least in English

                    Obligatory chow content - most of the resto POI's are useless in all these packages, they lean heavily towards fast food places.

                    If you've got any more tech questions we can take them off board, my same handle at gmail.com

            2. my fav place when i went to Beijing four years ago was a Muslim place by the lake in the NW hutong area called Kaorouji...we had better duck there than at any of the hallowed duck joints (e.g. Li Qun) plus succulent eggplant and shrimp, etc...a great place and very old...not sure how that whole area during the whole Olympic reconstruction...when i was there four years ago, the manager of the nearby NoName bar told me that the whole region was about to be turned into a parking lot...

              1. I don't know what your budget is, but I spent almost a week solo in Beijing last spring. I do not know a word of Chinese and had no trouble finding restaurants with menus in English. Everyplace I tried had some English on the menu. If all else fails, take a walk around the dining room and find something that looks enticing, then point it out to the waitperson. I ate at what are likely considered high-end places and I do not think I ever spent more than $22 or so USD for a meal and that would often include some alcohol.

                Here are my notes:

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/394247

                1. Thanks for all the good feedback. I have finally learned that I will be working and staying in the CBD, near Friendship Store. That might help to narroe down any suggestions.

                  Thanks for all the excellent feedback so far!

                  1. Too weird, just saw that someone else posted a link to my site's restaurant recommendations.

                    Anyway, if you're staying in CBD, definitely check out Din Tai Fung and Bellagio at Shin Kong Place. Din Tai Fung is Shanghaiinese-style soup dumplings (though it's Taiwanese-owned) and Bellagio is Taiwanese food. Both are very Western friendly, with English on the menu and nice atmosphere. Meals at both would run you about $15 US per person.

                    If you like Sichuan food, try South Beauty. There are a few locations around town. Rather upscale, but still inexpensive by Western standards.

                    Hope this helps!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: AppetiteforChina

                      Agree with Bellagio and Din Tai Fung. Another bonus for Bellagio is that it is open late. Yunnan is also easy for a western palate, and trendy in Beijing for some time now. You could try In and Out on Sanlitun Beixiaojie for this. It is relaxed, and while no English is spoken, there is a translated picture menu.

                    2. Hi xtian, Someone very kindly posted a link to my site already, but I wanted to suggest some of my favorites that span the range of regional styles: I also love Din Tai Fung (the original location off of Xin Dong Lu has a more relaxed environment); Qin Tang Fu is a wonderful Shaanxi place--tasty, cheap and with a touch of traditional Chinese atmosphere; Noodle Loft is a great place to sample a range of Shanxi noodles and there is an open noodle bar where you can watch the chefs at work; Yu Xin is consistent authentic Sichuan food. A couple options for good homestyle cooking that can introduce you to 'Chinese food' more broadly are: Xiao Wang Fu and Hua Jia Yi Yuan. A final suggestion is Dali Courtyard--it might not be the best Yunnan food in town but it is good, and eating at a table outside on a nice spring evening is a pretty excellent experience all around. And they only serve set menus (100rmb, plus drinks) so you don't have to worry about ordering.

                      I wouldn't expect much English to be spoken at any of these restaurants but all will have big picture menus with dishes translated (sometimes roughly..) into Chinese. All of these are moderately priced (DTF is probably the priciest among the list above and even then, you'll get out for about US$20 for one person (and progressively less the larger your party is). Do be aware that even 'cheap' restaurants have 'star' dishes/ingredients that are very expensive so always ask how much or have the waitstaff point the dish out on the menu to you if they make recommendation.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: huangsandra

                        Am vacationing in Beijing now and just tried Qin Tang Fu yesterday. It is very good, recommend the pork and noodle soup (there is picture menu, only 2 noodle looking dishes, it's the second one on the bottom left side of a page) and the bread in soup on the last page a specialty from Xian.

                      2. Forgot to add these, for when you want something familiar: Grandma's Kitchen, for a great diner breakfast; All Star Cafe for burgers and wings; Pete's Tex-Mex for serviceable Tex Mex; Bite a Pita for a great chicken shwarma.

                        You can find coordinates for these on the That's Beijing (English language weekly with events and listing) online directory--http://www.thebeijinger.com/directory...

                        1. Many thanks to all of you for your suggestions. My biggest discovery was how diverse the food is in Beijing (and I assume throughout China), so there is always going to be something that appeals to the tastebuds.

                          Hands down my favorite experience was duck at DaDong Restaurant. I also fell in love with the squirrel fish there too. I tried to get to Made in China to make a comparison, but unbfortunately i waited to the end of my trip and there were closed when I visited.

                          Two other favorites were the Sichuan food at Xu Shin and the beautiful rooftop deck at Xiao Wang Fu. South Silk Road was interesting and I found the ham and cheese dish suprising, but much of the food was too greasy for my tastes.

                          When I needed something more comforting, Hutong Pizza was a great spot to visit, as well as Baie des Anges. And I had a truly excellent Persian meal at Rumi in Sanlitun.

                          Stone Boat Cafe was my comfort spot for a great drink, dumplings, and wonderful live music. Grandma's Kitchen saved me with American breakfasts and an occasional BLT and milkshake. Peter's tex mex was super friendly and had the best COLD iced tea I found in town. GL Cafe was a saving grace when i didn't make it out to dinner until the wee hours.

                          Looking forward to coming back soon and expanding my horizons even more!