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"World's Best Chinese Food" in Beijng?

So sayeth Stan Sesser in the Asian Wall Street Journal.



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  1. Best! No way!
    'Chinese' is a very broad terminology. Different regions, province...etc have their own specialty cuisine. I don't think one can find Cantonese cuisine in Beijing that can surpass what Hong Kong has to offer?!.....

    1. The title is quite silly; it is obviously written by a non-Chinese. No Chinese, Mainland or oversea, would simply use a term like "Chinese food".

      Charles is correct; for Cantonese food, you just can't beat Hong Kong,not even Guangzhou. For me personally, I go to Hong Kong for Cantonese and Chiu Chow cuisine; I go to Shanghai for Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu cuisine; I go to Beijing for Beijing, Xinjiang, Hunan, Si chuan, Guizhou cuisine.

      1 Reply
      1. re: FourSeasons

        "There is no Chinese restaurant in China. Just restaurants." Where did this movie quote came from?

        The funny thing is, when we were in Beijing we walked across a big sign in English that said: Chinese restaurant.

      2. It is interesting that I just read an article too that is written by the famous "Choi Lan" celebrity gourmet. He is saying the opposite of the article above regarding the Beijing that was getting ready for the Olympic. He is saying there is conflict in the new and old style of cooking, the rich and money that throw in to Beijing, has lower the quality of food and changing the tradition there .....

        6 Replies
        1. re: skylineR33

          It is a matter of taste bud. I think for die-hard Cantonese, it is very difficult for them to appreciate Northern (meaning Beijing) and Southwestern (meaning Hunan, Si chuan, Guizhou) cuisine. I am not surprised "Choi Lan" will dismiss the standard of Beijing or anywhere else in China outside of Hong Kong and Guang Dong province. At most he will favor only as far as Shanghai cuisine. Generally speaking, Cantonese prefer food that is fresh and light; Northern food is too heavy and meat-based, Southwestern is too spicy. That is why there are very few authentic Beijing, Hunan, Si chuan, Guizhou, Xinjiang, Nortth East restaurants in Hong Kong.

          1. re: FourSeasons

            I do not see Choi Lan dismiss any of the standard in Beijing in his article, he is just saying what he found in Beiijing nowaday is not as good as what he found before. Also, if you see any of his TV shows, you will know he likes food that is fat, oily and heavy favour, and this is the what Shanghai cuisine (especially 本帮菜) is supposed to be in the old days.

            1. re: skylineR33

              Oh, I misunderstood your first statement then. But I still have the opposite view with "Choi Lan", I actually thought the dining scene in Beijing has greatly improved compared with five years ago when I first visited there. Maybe we tried different restaurants or perhaps like I speculated before, different taste bud.

              1. re: FourSeasons

                That's true since there are so many restaurants in Beijing. I am sure people have different experience with it.

          2. re: skylineR33

            who is "Choi Lan"? where can I find his writing? also, on my way to Shanghai and appreciate any tips.

            1. re: writebites

              As skylineR33 mentioned, "Choi Lan" is a celebrity gourmet, well respected (perhaps decreasingly so) in Hong Kong and Chinese-speaking communities in SE Asia. His name is officially spelt Chua Lam - he's Teochew/Singaporean. More about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chua_Lam
              He has food shows on HK TV every now and again, usually flanked by two waif-like Chinese 'actresses'. He's published quite a few books, most larger bookstores selling Chinese books will have his work. Apart from food writing, he is first and foremost a writer of modern Chinese fiction and non-fiction covering all sorts of topics.

          3. I concurr that there is no one best Chinese food---it all depends on what I'm in the mood for. I can see how there might be very good Sichuan restaurants in Beijing or Cantonese restaurants but the very best in the world????

            do like that duck place though. Glad to read that it didn't get hit by the reign of tear-down terror.

            1. I reckon this article was obviously another "jump on the Olympics bandwagon" travel piece... Better to blame editorial than the poor guy who was probably ordered to write it

              2 Replies
              1. re: e_ting

                Stan Sesser was at one time a highly-respected restaurant reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Whether the article represents his thoughts, or editorial direction, it pains me to see his name on such a shallow piece.

                1. re: Xiao Yang

                  Agreed. But then, Beijing dining has evolved incredibly in the last 8 years or so, and some of the restaurants there now really looked truly amazing. Just over a decade ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find decent places to dine in, except for the well-established Peking duck restaurants & a few gems like the now-defunct Louisiana at the Hilton. State-run restaurants then had atrocious service standards - you wait 3/4 of an hour to be served your first dish after ordering.

              2. I just glanced at the article. But this quote caught my eyes:

                "The steamed Reeves shad at Jade Garden. In Beijing, $41 for a half fish would be outright highway robbery if the fish didn't taste so wonderful."

                I don't know what a Reeves shad is. But any Cantonese would laugh out loud first at steaming a "half fish". Fish must be steamed whole. What's a half fish. And then $41 is not even approaching anything that can remotely be called expensive.

                6 Replies
                1. re: PeterL

                  I think it is talking about US dollar. Reeves Shad 鰣魚 is one of the most expensive fish in China as it is an endangered fish. It is available as half fish, steamed Reeves Shad is a famous dish that is usually found in Shanghai cuisine restaurant.

                  1. re: skylineR33

                    $40 US dollars is nowhere near "expensive". You can easily drop twice or even three times that much for a steamed fish in HK.

                    1. re: PeterL

                      I am just giving the information that Reeves Shad is one of the most expensive fish in China as it is endangered, it is very rare available as live as it usually die right away after it leaves the water. Also, fyi, there are other fish that is like Reeves Shad which are selling at a lower price as this kind of fish is getting less and less. There is an earlier thread on this board talking about this fish which can give you more information if you are interested to learn more.

                      $40 for sure is not an expensive fish, no one here saying it except the aurther of the article.

                  2. re: PeterL

                    Not necessarily! Depending on the size and type of fish, one would find quite a few Cantonese dishes involving only 'partial' fish. Steaming Carp fillet with julienne preserved vegetables and/or radishes is a prime example. As for cost, skylineR33 is right, the Reeves shad, with its tons of bones but very sweet taste and subtle texture happens to be the most expensive fish varietal in Chinese cuisine. However, it is not uncommon to find whole steamed wild Garoupa in some top Hong Kong restaurants costing over US$150 per regular size fish.

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      Fillet is different. I just cannot imagine any Cantonese restaurant will kill a fish and steam only half. What are they going to do with the other half? Sell it as a dead fish?

                      1. re: PeterL

                        Yes, they sell it as a dead fish. Reeves Shad mostly does not available live anyway.

                  3. Is there something similar "World's Best Chinese Food" in Shanghai?
                    Oh yes, where then in Shanghai is a restaurant that serves the best Reeve shad?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: towkay

                      Jade Garden is pretty well known for this dish.

                    2. No way! And food is expensive here!

                      1. Despite the majority of the recommendations that accompany the article being fairly crap, I can dig it. The diversity and quality of the Chinese offerings in Beijing is far superior to what you get in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

                        The only regional food that Beijing sort of struggles with is Cantonese, but there are still some excellent offerings. Beijing's local food options are incredible and when you break it down region by region, I think Beijing wins out for every one (exempting Shanghainese and Cantonese).

                        18 Replies
                        1. re: modernleifeng

                          Let me guess.... You are from Beijing?

                          1. re: Uncle Yabai

                            Haha, yeah, I'm from Beijing and while that may play a role in my opinion, I think there's a serious argument for Beijing. Beijing's local food is excellent and there are a number of restaurants that do an excellent job with it as well as the "unique to Bejing" Imperial cuisine. There are also 2-3 really good Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Sichuan, and Xinjiang restaurants that I can think of off he top of my head, whereas Shanghai and especially Hong Kong just don't have that diversity (and the few options in Shanghai can't match those in Beijing). There are also a few decent Zhejiang restaurants in Beijing and even some Shanghai offerings like the Shanghai high end chain Yuan Yuan. The one area where Beijing struggles is Cantonese food, but there are some halfway decent options, and every other category is nailed.

                            It's very hard to find another city that can match the quality and diversity of Chinese food you can find in Beijing.

                            1. re: modernleifeng

                              I think you miss a very important point which has been brought up again and again in this thread.

                              Chinese cuisine is a very broad cuisine with each region doing the "best" in its own cuisine. As you said, Beijing cannot match with HK in Cantonese cuisine, with cantonese cuisine being one of the biggest stream in "Chinese cuisine". Whereas Beijing is doing the best in the Imperial cuisine..... Furthermore, each city which are mentioned in this thread also has it's own regional, local food offering or/and nouveau varieties that cannot be found in other cities.

                              So how can Beijing be the best or the best in quality and variety for Chinese cuisine ?

                              1. re: skylineR33

                                There are 2 arguments here:

                                One is what you're saying, that it is impossible to determine because of the diversity of Chinese food and because everyone has their own idea as to what is the "best" of regional Chinese food.

                                My point, and what others have said, is that it is possible to determine which city is the best for overall Chinese cuisine. For example, while I'd definitely go to Sichuan for Sichuan food or Xinjiang for Xinjiang food, Beijing (more than Shanghai, and definitely more than HK) offers the best Sichuan or Xinjiang cuisine outside of those provinces. The same can be said about Beijing's offerings for other regional cuisine.

                                To put it another way, a foodie who cold only choose 1 spot to travel to and wanted to experience the full diversity of Chinese food, in my opinion, would be best served traveling to Beijing.

                                1. re: modernleifeng

                                  So it actually depends on what is the "best" we are talking about here. My foodie friends in US usually ask me where they can get the best "dim sum" as it is the most well-known chinese food to them, or the best fresh live seafood, or the best restaurant for some of the most expensive ingradient such as shark fin and abalone in the world, in this case, I usually tell them to go to HK.

                                  1. re: modernleifeng

                                    Hi modernleifeng:

                                    Are you arguing Beijing dining scene has superior "diversity" or "quality"? I would probably agree if you argue in terms of "diversity". After all, Beijing has many domestic immigrants from outside of Beijing; many government officials, college students, business people in Beijing are not natives. So you do get more varieties.

                                    But if you want to argue superior "quality", then it depends on the beholders. I think my favorite Hunan restaurant in Shanghai "Guyi" is better than my favorite Hunan restaurant in Beijing "YueLu". A few Sichuan natives told me they don't like the Si chuan food in Beijing. Beijing may have some well know decent Shanghai high end chains but certainly Zhejiang cuisine is more diversify than that, with Ningbo, Hangzhou, Shaoxing food much more represented in Shanghai than in Beijing. My favorite Si chuan private kitchen "Da Ping Hao" in Hong Kong is better than those Si chuan restaurants I have tried in Beijing.

                                    Don't get me wrong, I love the food in Beijing. I travel to Beijing twice per year for the last 6-7 years so I have a good idea of the dining scene, and I can't wait to get back there again for some of my favorite dishes. My point is, "Chinese food" is just a label brought out more by outsiders. As an oversea Chinese, I never talk about eating "Chinese food"; that is always a term more for 老外. I will be very specific to the type of regional food and the specific dish when I want to argue which one is the best. I don't believe there is such thing as the best in Chinese food.

                                    If one is a serious foodie, then instead of choosing just one spot, it is better to travel around to enjoy the diversity. Like I wrote on the above post, I go to Hong Kong for Cantonese and Chiu Chow cuisine; I go to Shanghai for Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu cuisine; I go to Beijing for Beijing, Shandong, Xinjiang, Hunan, Si chuan, Guizhou cuisine.

                                    1. re: FourSeasons

                                      中國菜 or Chinese Cuisine is not just a term for 老外! Cuisine is the important word here, not “food.” Let’s call 中國菜 the broad general description under which we can begin with four regions: Northern, Southern, Western and Eastern. Then breaking them down like this perhaps: (I am sure I left something out.)

                                      Northern: Beijing, Dongbei & Shandong.
                                      Southern: Cantonese, Guangxi, Fujian, Taiwan
                                      Western: Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan, Xinjiang
                                      Eastern: Shanghai, Zhejiang,Jiangsu, Anhui

                                      Then you have the further subsets like Chaozhou, Wenzhou, Shanxi etc. and however many you want to add.

                                      Is Beijing truly the best place for Chinese cuisine? That is in the mouth of the beholder! Has Beijing caught up and surpassed Hongkong, Taipei and Singapore in the past 25 years? Then there is the serious issue of overall food safety in China and pollution to consider.

                                      1. re: scoopG

                                        I had this discussion with you a long time ago. I am too lazy to repeat again. Your broad general description is laughable. Go and check if Cantonese and Fujian people think their "Chinese food" is the same under Southern category. Go and check if Dongbei people and Beijing people agree if their cuisine is in the same category. Shandong people focus on seafood and Beijing people focus on meat, and their food in the same category!!! And Xinjiang cuisine has no similarity with Si chuan, not even slight resemblance. And taste of Hunan and Yunan are so different as well. And you think Cantonese people will love la mien while Shanxi people will love wonton mee. Time for you to travel around China to witness yourself. And your stereotype image of food safety issue in Beijing is another joke...

                                        1. re: FourSeasons

                                          I think the problem is the word "food" here instead of "cuisine." Last time I looked on a map Guangdong and Fuzhou are in the south of China. These regions are geographical and it is not to say that Southern style is all the same. Who said Xinjiang cusine and Sichuan were simlar? Food safety in China a stereotype? It is documented that the mainland Chinese have been mixing melamine in food for forty years. There is no "farm to chopstick" food inspection (only the end product is tested) and lack of food safety standards and inadequate enforcement by the six different Chinese government agencies related to food safety.

                                          1. re: scoopG

                                            I think all CHers are here to check on information for food, not lesson on geography. What is the point of breaking them down to 4 different categories if you are not trying to convey the message that they are similar? The geographic position of the provinces are pretty common knowledge.

                                            As to "Chinese food" or "Chinese cuisine", I don't know what is the difference. To me, it is just a description of the style of cooking related to China. China is a big country, with many provinces, each with its own distinguish style. The restaurants will never market its food as "Chinese food"; it will be very specific as according to the province or city.

                                            There are some food safety issues but that does not mean that whatever food you eat in Beijing is poisonous. I have eaten hundreds of meals in Beijing for last 6-7 years and I have never got food poisoning. So instead of judging a place by reading news media, it is perhaps better if you come here and experience it yourself and check if the 20 million people living there are in health problems because of food issue.

                                            1. re: FourSeasons

                                              A claim was made by modernleifeng that the best (or best and most diverse) "Chinese food" is to be found in Beijing. I questioned that assertion on two fronts: a) that if that is true then Beijing has surpassed Hongkong, Taipei and Singapore in the last 25 years and b) current Chinese pollution and food safety issues. (We of course have our own food safety issues in the USA.) I said four basic regions, not categories. That is merely an Aristotelian classification. Cuisine = a characteristic manner or style of preparing food. Food = any material, usually plant or animal consisting of essential instruments such as carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins or minerals required by any organism for life and growth. Who said eating food in Being was poisonous? I lived in Beijing, Hongkong and Taipei for ten years (last there in 2005.) In Taipei, organic produce is now being grown and available in markets and hopefully that is, or will be the case in China.

                                              1. re: scoopG

                                                You already answered modernleifeng's claim from your statement "That is in the mouth of the beholder!" which I agree. But your post clearly aim at my statement that "Chinese food is a term for 老外" and whatever pseudo-intellectual reasons, came out with these 4 regions to justify your claim as though we need a lesson on geography. (And you left out 9 provinces, 3 autonomous regions, 2 municipalities) So far, I still don't get your point. If you have lived in Beijing, HK, Taipei as your claim, then go and look for a restaurant that marketed itself as "Chinese cuisine or food" then. You will be lucky to find one, most likely reserve for tourists or expats like you.

                                                BTW, next time you step into a supermarket in Beijing, please observe very carefully. Organic produce is widely available in China. China even export organic vegetable to Japan and other countries. (STATISTIC: China exports US$800Million of organic food in 2006; by 2007, China has world's 2nd second largest area of certified organic cultivation land (4.10 million hectares). Taiwan, in land area under organic management, is behind not only China, but Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Japan, Thailand, Pakistan. And market for organic food in China is growing at 30% per annum)

                                                1. re: FourSeasons

                                                  I'm not looking for the "best Chinese food in Beijing," but I am hoping this group of foodies can recommend a good roast duck. We'll be staying near Tiannamen Square and would like to find something no further than a 10 minute taxi ride. Reviews of Dadong and Li Qun sound touristy and disappointing. Made In China at the Grand Hyatt is a possibility, but it could possibly break the bank for a family of four adults. I heard some good things about Xiao Wang Home Restaurant. We'll be traveling with our son who speaks a passable Mandarin so we should be able to venture away from the typical tourist stops. I'm on a mission for good Peking duck and hope you can help me find it in its namesake city!

                                                  1. re: sadashek

                                                    I wouldn't call Da Dong "touristy", unlike Li Qun, you will find tons of locals eating there. It also does one of the best jobs with presenting classic Chinese food in a more modern way. It is hands down the best duck you will find in Beijing.

                                                    Made in China is okay, but its more a spot for a business meal as it is very expensive and the duck can't match Da Dong's, but its more intimate and has a better wine list.

                                                    Xiao Wang is okay, its not bad, but it really depends on which branch you go to. The Shichahai and Ritan ones are both very expensive and for the food quality, not worth it, whereas the Guanghua Rd one has no atmosphere, but it does one of the better ducks on the cheap.

                                                    1. re: modernleifeng

                                                      To each his own, but I think Da Dong is way overrated, not just its roast duck but all its other dishes. Made in China, in my opinion, is way better than DD, not just ambiance and the dishes as well. But it is true: MIC is more expensive.

                                                    2. re: sadashek

                                                      To sadashek:

                                                      My favorite is Made in China. Roast Duck at Xiao Wang Fu is passable but they are better know for other dishes. I went to the branch inside RiTan Park, cozy ambiance within a park (though it gets really dark at night). English menu should be available as it is quite popular with tourists/expats. BTW, "Roast Duck" (it is not called Peking Duck is Beijing, again another term more for tourists) is overrated dish, many topurists come here as though it is the only dish worth sampling in Beijing. There are certainly much wider availability other than this dish.
                                                      P.S: maybe you can get more responses from other threads that focus on Beijing dining scene than this one.

                                                      1. re: FourSeasons

                                                        Thanks to all. Your thread is certainly the most active I've found that seems to have a clear insight into food to be found in China. We'll be traveling with one son who's a culinary student, and the other is based out of Kunming providing health care in rural areas. His most recent meal included fried bees. If you have any favorite Beijing restaurants featuring any type of Chinese food (maybe not insects), we'd love to hear about them. Happy eating to all.

                                                        1. re: sadashek

                                                          I would definitely go to Da Dong and Na Jia Xiao Guan at Yonganli, also a dumpling spot like Bao Yuan at Maizidian. Other recommendations would depend on where else you are traveling to, what regional food you're most interested in, and what part of the city you're staying in.

                                                          Not sure if this is the right place for this discussion, but feel free to drop me a line and I'd give you more.