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Nov 10, 2008 04:08 PM

Beijing report

Some say that the food in Beijing isn't so great. After three meals and one snack here, you couldn't prove it by me. I've had some great stuff.

Yunnan food at In & Out (

Yunnan food is new to me. Ok, I know I love the ham, and I do own, and make chicken in, a Yunnan clay pot, but that's about the extent of my knowledge of Yunnan food. So this was going to be a revelation even if I didn't like it much. But it was great. Two different skewers of seasoned special mushrooms, so different from each other, so full of flavor and character that was different from any mushrooms I've ever had. I wonder if one can simply live on Yunnan mushrooms -- after this meal, I'm tempted to try. Also a beautiful comfort food dish of eggs and, I think, Jasmin buds. A dish of little tied parcels of fried tofu, with ham inside. At first they struck me as bland, but grew on me over time, and when the dish was gone, when I could no longer pick up one small parcel, dip it in the purplish mix of dried spices, and pop it in my mouth and feel it melt away, I felt that something important had gone out of my life. A fried and seasoned Tilapia was full of character and perfectly cooked to tender softness.

Beijing Duck at Made in China, Grand Hyatt

My first Beijing duck in Beijing, and it lived up to my highest possible expectations. Lunch was just that one dish, plus an astonishing appetizer: Chinese foie gras, a generous quarter-inch thick slice of melt-in-your-mouth fattened fowl liver with a crisp, flavorful, and chewy little sesame bun that showed beautiful scorch marks that made me wonder if it has been finished in the same wood oven, visible behind the glass that shields the open kitchen, in which the ducks hang and absorb wood smoke.

The duck itself, carved tableside, was amazing. Crisp skin that seemed to have completely separated from the meat, which had a more pronounced duck flavor than any duck skin I've had. The meat was juicy and equally full of flavor. We wound up with a plate of pure skin, a plate of pure meat plus the split head (which was yummy), and a place of skin-attached-to-meat. Plus a little oval steamer of perfect thin little pancakes, and of course the wonderful dark sauce and the white shreds of scallion and the cucumber (which I mostly skipped). And a little dish of sugar for dipping the occasional piece of pure skin. Typically they discard the less-refined pieces of the duck, presumably using them for stock or something, but we asked to keep them, and the resulting "trash plate" was not pretty, but was actually a highlight of the meal. Those ugly parts have some of the best textures, if you are not limiting yourself to the high refinement of the famous dish.

Sichuan food at Chonquing Hotel

We had a bunch of people for this one, and were therefore able to order a bunch of dishes. The prices were amazing – RMB840 for 6 people, and more than a quarter of that was the whole fish. They have many appetizers in the 8-12 yuan range. Some highlights:

- A cold dish of thin-sliced pork with a thin, lively dark sauce and a large pile of crushed garlic on top. This one was especially amazing.
- A dish of terrific pickle cubes.
- A cold appetizer of spicy chewy rabbit on the bone with lots of Sichuan peppercorns
- Some sort of raw lettuce in a sesame sauce. Sort of like A choy but I don't think it was
- Boiled beef, soft and tender, and appropriately intensely spicy, in a pot of hot and spicy liquid that also had some nice pieces of lettuce in there that softened and soaked up sauce wonderfully.
- Dry-fried chicken, firm bits of chewy chicken hiding in a massive heap of dried chilis and Sichuan peppercorns.
- the best Ma Po To Fu I've ever had, soft and melty and wonderfully flavorful and spicy
- Fried fat green beans, perfectly tender and well-seasoned. I did not notice the pork I usually see in this dish

Oh, and the snack I mentioned? A tasty skewer of chicken hearts skillfully fried on a griddle, and brushed with spices including chili. I got it from an extensive outdoor food market on a north-south street, the next block east of the huge Oriental Plaza complex.

There were also skewers of scorpions and what looked like bee pupae available, but I didn’t. taste those. Maybe that's what you have to do to have bad food in Beijing, because I haven't found any yet. Just one topnotch meal after another.

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  1. It's not that food in Beijing is lacking, it's Beijing food that's lacking. You reported on three meals, One of which was Sichuan Food, one of which was Yunnan Food, and the third Beijing Food (Beijing Duck). The powers that be, dating back to Imperial times and continuing through the Communist era, have in their wisdom imported chefs from other parts of China so they would have good food to eat.

    1. Hi SoupNoodles:

      I just came back from Beijing and I have to agree with you. I have been traveling to Beijing twice per year for the past 4-5 years and find the culinary scene to be quite interesting now. On my first two trips, I too lament the poor standard, going to tourist traps like QuanJiDe, DaDong, Courtyard, Red Capital, China Club etc. But I have been able to find more and more unique and refined Chinese food that are not available outside of China, even in places like Hong Kong or Singapore. Two interesting discoveries on this trip:

      1. Xigun hu tong 44 Private Kitchen,细管胡同44号北新桥南,平安大街北段东四北大街西侧,北京五中往西 a small cozy bohemian restaurant within the compound of Hu tong that serves Guizhou cuisine. Just like its Hunan and Sichuan neighbors, Guizhou cuisine tend to be more on the spicy side. Its sour and spicy river fish soup 酸辣念鱼汤 is simply awesome that I still cannot forget; its homemade rice wine complements well with the dishes too.

      2. Nan Men Hotpot at no.9 Ritan East Road, Chaoyang District. 南门涮肉日坛店 It is close to American Embassy, serves lamp hot pot that is a traditional winter cuisine in Beijing. They don't accept reservation so you have to go there early to get into a queue line. Not only I can try the premium slices of lamp, I always take the opportunity to order different types of local mushrooms that are not commonly available outside of China. And everyone is amazed at its artistic pots that are placed in front of the visitors.

      I also like to dine at Made in China, despite its appearance of a tourist trap. In my opinion, the roast duck is better than the well known Da Dong and Quan Ji De though there are some who will disagree with me based on the past reviews; the service is better too though you have to pay a premium price compared to the other two. Need to book early.

      And there are other old favorites that I have reviewed on past threads, such as Yue Lu that serves Hunan cuisine and Huang Chen Lao Ma that serves ma la hotpot. Beijing is becoming a city that I look forward to return for its diverse Chinese cuisine.

      5 Replies
      1. re: FourSeasons

        FS, that private kitchen sounds very intriguing. any contact details? min no. of diners? i'll be heading to beijing later this month - would love to try it

        1. re: e_ting

          Yes, I highly recommend the private kitchen that serves Guizhou cuisine. Reservation no: 6400-1280. I think the waitress said they opened even for breakfast with their own style of coffee, but I did not get the details. There is wireless broadband too!!! But warning: it is not easy to find this place on a narrow alley, especially at night since it can be quite dark. So make sure you have a map as well. Let me attached the name card, and the map behind for you.

          1. re: FourSeasons

            many thanks, will definitely try to check it out and report back!

            1. re: e_ting

              Just one more note, if you are not into spicy food, you will have to warn the waitress since some of those she recommend can be very spicy. Or you can ask her to cook non-spicy way (免辣) to suit your taste bud.

              1. re: FourSeasons

                They also have their own house-made plum wine. Ask the waitress for recommendation. They brought out a small bottle for us and it was quite tasty and complimented the meal very well. Also a specialty is the grilled eggplant rolls, although they misplaced our order and we didn't get to try it.

      2. For those a bit tired of Chinese food (many of us that live here on a full time basis) or just looking for something a bit different, I suggest Mughal's Indian. There are plenty of Indian choices here in Beijing (as demonstrated by the adverts on every Beijing English language website) but for me Mughals will always be my first choice. That’s not to say that I don’t like some of the others, just that I think as an overall package, Mughals is the best. First, I am convinced that their curry would beat any other in a side by side taste test. Each curry tastes different as it should. The only example I can think of is the difference, or lack thereof, between kungpao chicken and kungpao shrimp. The sauce tastes the exact same in both but it wouldn’t if the chicken or shrimp were cooked along with the sauce (instead of making batches of sauce and adding the meat as a last step.). When I order lamb I want lamb, and when I want fiery lamb vindaloo, I want spicy lamb vindaloo not spicy chicken vindaloo with “Chinese characteristics.”
        Second, unlike much of Indian cuisine, Mughal’s has cut down on the oil. I get enough oil in China without getting it again in my Indian food.
        Third, I like the new location on the roof of Nali Patio. It’s autumn and the time of the year for me to spend those remaining weeks outside before the harsh weather arrives. The roof of Nali Patio is the perfect place. They also have seating outside but under roof as well as indoors.
        My personal recommendations: samosas to get warmed up, lamb vindaloo for spice, garlic nan bread to dip in the sauce, mango lassis to cut the spice, and papaya kulfi dessert to finish the meal.
        For anyone looking for Chinese suggestions, my girlfriend works for a website mentioned above so I go out A LOT. Shoot me a message and I would be happy to oblige.

        Hope this helps