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May 15, 2009 09:10 AM

Beijing: limited carbohydrates and starches

I am taking an oppurtunity to visit Beijing this summer. For health reasons, I have not been eating any flour or starches and as a result feel like a million bucks having erased some health issues. If someone told me 6 months ago I would go to China and NOT stuff myself on dumplings and dim sum I would have thought they were insane....

Other than dumplings and DS I am not a huge sugar/starch fan, so it looks like I can get plenty of meat and veggies-roast duck, hot pot, street food meats on sticks seem plentiful. I am certain I will be trying some items with sugar and carbs, I just want to keep it to the very special items, b/c I will suffer for it.

What do you guys think that have been there? We will have a guide with most of the time, so they be able to help me order. Will it seem rude if I go to a banquet or dinner with many dishes and go easy on starches? Is the cuisine overly sweet (I can't seem to get a handle on that). Also would it be insulting to ask a native Beijinger to go to a Sichuan place?

Breakfast is a conundrum. They seem pretty starchy, sweet etc. Are there grocery stores or delis on nearly every block like many large cities? I was thinking I could get some kind if interesting smoked or dried meat , duck egg or something.

Any other good tips about street food or anything else? I know you should go to busy places where they cook things on the spot. Are the street food places with meat plentiful and open early in the AM?

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  1. Can't speak for Beijing in particular, but based on my dining experience in Shanghai you should have no problem avoiding significant amounts of starches in sit-down meals. In fact, the dining out game seems to focus on avoiding cheap fillers such as you might rely on at home for economy's sake; most of the time rice isn't even ordered. Sure, there will be minor quantities of starches used as thickeners, but the vast majority or restaurant dishes are of the protein-vegetable-oil-condiment construction.

    1. I'm most concerned with your line: 'We will have a guide with us most of the time." This sounds like you are going to experience only one or 2 facets of Beijing; that is, the ones that are deemed best for foreigners to see.

      Before you go, find out how to say IN Mandarin "I am allergic to bread."
      Don't try to get specific and learn the terms for wheat or gluten or carbohydrate.*
      Do NOT waver on your "allergy"... partial allergies are not understood well here [like yes to the ocacsional sandwich or doughnut would be accepted as your choice in The States] SO, don't say "it'll be allright" if it's even slightly not okay.**
      Do Not make a HUGE deal about this, but DO make sure that your guide genuinely understands what that means. "Yes, I understand" can often mean "Yes, I understand that you were telling me something."
      I am SURE that nearly all of the restaurants to which you will be guided will try to accommodate you, particularly if you can tell your guide up front that what you desire instead is dishes with vegetables. Be careful with that though -- if you mention a specific veg [say, broccoli for instance], you'll be sure to have it at every sitdown meal thereafter. Also, be sure to mention that those items CAN BE SERVED, only you won't want to eat them.

      Remember, the servers ARE trying to please you, they just have differing ideas of what's better and different approaches than the ones to which you are accustomed. And your guide will unquestionably be trying to make your stay as perfect as possible. If your guide is a paid one, then you will get the treatment that the company has defined as best for foreigners. If it is a friend, then there will be an even stringer desire to fulfill your wishes.

      Are you thinking that you will be eating street food on your own? A guide -- Particularly One Who Is A Friend-- will not want you to be disappointed so s/he will not want to allow you to go to places that seem [to him] unacceptable for foreigners. You may be told wild negatives about a place to keep you out-- dirty, illegal, unregistered, no good, unhealthy.

      Also be prepared for the "over neagitveization" of places where you decide to go-- if you are filled with the worst possible scenario and still allowed to go , then it is as if the guide is off the hook if you don't like it AND your impression of China is heightened by the "wow, if that's the Worst place wonder what the Best ones are like..." idea.

      *The Story part:
      I have travelled many times with friends from Pakistan who do not eat pork. I cannot tell you how many times we asked the variety of protein in a dish, only to be told "meat." If you say "we don't want pork," then you'll be told there's no pork. However, if you ask "is there pork in this dish?" you'll get either a yes or a no depending upon which answer the server believes will most please you!
      **Similarly, with alcohol-- there is no way to drink "a little" so it's considerably safer and better to completely abstain or be prepared to over indulge a time or two. This, however, is more true of going out with Chinese friends or associates.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Kris in Beijing

        wow thanks. interesting insights. I understand we will have a Chinese college student showing us aroung a bit. He is a student at an American university but is back in Beijing for the summer. The last thing I want to do it eat American food -well maybe some breakfast protein. Honestly I am open to trying anything, but prefer more protein and veggies than starches.
        thanks also about the alcohol advice. I only like "a little" especially when I travel. I do not like hangovers in international locals so maybe I should pretend i do not drink.

      2. Re: "ask a native Beijinger to go to a Sichuan place". It's perfectly fine! In fact, many Beijingers seem to like dining out in Sichuanese restaurants.

        Re: "Are there grocery stores or delis on nearly every block like many large cities". Yes, you'll probably find delis belonging to the popular "Lawson" (Japanese-owned chain) in most street corners.

        Re: "Are the street food places with meat plentiful and open early in the AM?". Definitely numerous street foodplaces which open early, but unfortunately, a lot of Beijing breakfast foods are starch-based, e.g. noodle joints, fried dough/breads, pancakes, etc.

        6 Replies
        1. re: klyeoh

          thanks for all the replies. I think there might be some kind of Breakfast at out hotel so I can make do. Very happy to hear I might be able to squeeze in some Sichuan

          1. re: lyn

            Breakfast...there are also the little cups of yogurt that everyone eats, though they are a little sweet. These are very Beijing to me; I didn't see them in Shanghai or anywhere in Sichuan.

            Really good, fresh soy milk is one of the best things in the morning and the soymilk sold on the streets is often too watery. I love taking visitors out for Chinese breakfast at the soy milk joints like Yong He King (永和大王) and Yong He Soy Milk (永和豆浆). You can ask them to leave the sugar out of your soy milk, or get the savoury kind. At these places they will have the tea and stewed eggs as well as things like chive scrambled eggs, over easy fried eggs, basic vegetable and seaweed soups, meatball soup, and soft tofu. Some of them have English menus but many don't.

            1. re: pepper_mil

              seaweed soup and meat balls would be tasty. I am thinking this may not be as hard as I think!

          2. re: klyeoh

            @Klyeoh With 5+ years in Beijing, I'm confused -- where and what are these "Lawson"'s? Is that a cultural reference to something that I didn't understand?

            @OP lyn -- fixed street food places that are near public transportation sites generally open around 6-6:30-7, and stay open until 10pm. Cart-based breakfasts arrive around 7am and are gone about 9am.
            How do you feel about boiled eggs? There are several varieties of "tea eggs," "100 day old eggs," "1000 year old eggs" that are quite good. Beware, however, as one style is a "love or hate" dish as the texture of the egg is COMPLETELY different than the expected boiled egg. Additionally, some of these are quite salty.
            There is also a "burrito-style" wrap where the outer layer is made of an omelette-type egg mix and the inside is stuffed with vegetables -- generally Korean-type pickled ones.

            @both OP lyn and klyeoh -- there are "mini marts" about the size of a closet which sell drinks and snacks all over the place in residential areas; practically as many of those as casual street-side restaurants. "IN Beijing" they are fewer and further between

            1. re: Kris in Beijing

              Answering my own question, via Wikipedia:

              >>Lawson is one of the top convenience store chains in Japan, second only to >convenience franchise giant 7-Eleven. All of the usual Japanese convenience store >goods such as magazines, manga, soft drinks, contraceptives, onigiri, and bento >are available.
              >To date, Lawson operates in all 47 prefectures of Japan as well as in Shanghai, >China.

              There ARE 7-11's here in Beijing, but their "deli" sections carry only half a dozen or so hot items, and maybe 2 soups, a cooler with shelves of 1/2 sandwiches, plus the "stuff on a stick" which is akin to "do it yourself hotpot."

              1. re: Kris in Beijing

                Oops, you're right - I was thinking of Shanghai! It is 7-11s in Beijing.