Best Beijing dishes

The capital dishes that you simply shouldn’t miss out on.


Bubble tea



These hot or cold drinks with chewy pearls of tapioca are Taiwan’s gift to the world. You’ll be tickled by all of them, but we especially recommend going for the classic milk tea (5RMB). It’s guaranteed to make you smile.

iTea

Roast chestnuts



There’s always a long queue for these hot nuts at Fragrant Autumn Chestnut. Here, noisy machines roast petite chestnuts (15RMB per 500g), from nearby Huairou County, that are golden sweet and peel nice and easy. No English menu.

Fragrant Autumn Chestnut (秋栗香)

Stinky Tofu



Owner Lady Wang sits watching that no one cuts the line to her fried golden cubes (4RMB) with chilli sauce and a sprinkle of cilantro. This is your ticket to try some great chou doufu. The dirty scent may drive you away (just as the whiff would drive you away from most good cheeses), but the deliciously mild flavour is much better than the smell suggests. No English menu.

Mao family Stinky Tofu (毛家臭豆腐)

Grilled Chicken Wings



Lili and her husband Liu Peng, together with old friends, run this joint with generosity and smiles that keep us coming. A couple of wings run to 4RMB, there’s no minimum order, and they come in a champagne bucket. Find them along the ‘hot bean’ (chaodou / 炒豆) hutong and go early before things sell out.

Hot Bean Cooperative (炒豆合作社)

Zhajiang mian



When you enter, servers announce the number in your party by shouting like an army brigade. Have a bowl of zhajiang mian (18RMB), the Beijing must-have noodle dish made with handpulled wheat noodles served slightly warm (or room temperature) with a tangle of shredded cucumber bean sprouts, bright radish, and soybeans. Stir in the little dish of oily brown bean sauce and toss to coat for a taste of Beijing. Other locations available.

Old Beijing Zhajiang Noodle King (老北京炸酱面大王)

Mala xiangguo

Some say mala xiangguo is a Beijing interpretation of Sichuan food, while others say it’s actually called gan guo, a dry hotpot from Hunan where you can choose from a kitchen sink of ingredients by portion. Choose your heat level from wimpy to nuclear and, soon enough, a big black bowl (from 50RMB) will show up with an alarming pile of two types of red chillies, Sichuan peppercorns, star anise and other spices, and everything you ordered. Use the wooden paddle to toss the ingredients occasionally to mix up the flavours and dip in.

Lao Chef Ji (老车记麻辣香锅)

Milk custard



There’s an obsession with yoghurt and milk custard in Beijing. While we love the yoghurt at Kashgar, this place vies for our attention too and also does nailao (奶酪), a milk custard made from rice wine that translates as cheese (10RMB). Wen Yu is the third generation in his family carrying on the tradition and has made folks line up for seven years in the trendy hutong heartland of Nanluoguxiang. Imitators encroach on all sides so beware and make sure to go early – it sells out in the afternoon, and you have to see the queues to believe them.

Wen Yu’s Milk Custard Shop (文宇奶酪店)

Roast fish



Rumour has it this dish was created near the university campuses of Haidian. Grass carp (36.8RMB per 500g) is the fish that’s usually used here. It’s butterflied, roasted, set on a shallow chafing dish and simmered with your choice of sauces: mala; spicy hot pickled; or black bean. There’s also a choice of additional vegetables, including asparagus, lettuce, lotus, celery, smoked tofu and more (10RMB each). It’s best to reserve, if you can.

Zhu Yu Fang (竹鱼坊)

Chuan'r



If a flight to Xinjiang isn’t in your plans, make your way over to the brand-spanking new Muslim canteen at the Beijing Language and Culture University where you can order a choice of cuts, including roast mutton chops, shashlik, and halabi kebab (like a long meatball). The cheapest standard chuan’r will set you back 5RMB, and the roasted balls aren’t testicles, but really just a meatball of ground lamb (5RMB). For those who prefer a more meaty bite, roast mutton is just 10RMB.

BLCU Muslim Restaurant (穆思林餐厅)

Niuroubing



This is dangerously good Xi’an-style street food and the perfect on-the-go snack. A snail of dough is coiled around ground beef, leeks, medicinal spices and Sichuan peppercorns, then shaped and cooked on a giant griddle press until it’s deep golden and crisp outside with chewy layers inside. At 3.5RMB, what could be bad about that?

Xi’an Imperial Fragrant and Crisp Niuroubing (西安宫廷香酥牛肉饼)

Roast leg of lamb

Pay 32RMB per 500g for a seasoned leg of lamb (younger than most mutton) that’s spit-grilled over glowing coals. Use an extension-length knife and fork to slice hunks of meat off the bone and finish grilling on the rack below, then dip charred slices into the addictive, crunchy peanut spice seasoning and alternate bites with snacking on the gratis cold dishes. No English menu.
Roast Leg of Mutton

Hotpot



A favourite, and with good reason: heaven and hell divided moats, which are great; plus a secret chilli spice pouch and a milky broth that balance like yin and yang. Order the hand-pulled noodles – complete with a private hip-hop table dance.
Haidilao (海底捞)

Shanxi noodles



Get your knife-cut noodles or steamed oat rings par excellence at this Shanxi noodle joint, where it’s generally hard to go wrong. Watch cooks toss, pull, scrape, slice, dip and dunk almost every kind of noodle (15-28RMB).

Noodle Loft

Dumplings

Everyone has their favourite dumpling place, but one thing that shoots any dumpling onto a higher pedestal is the option of frying. Here’s where Mr Shi, an earnest English speaker, is happy to oblige. His three-sided fried potstickers will rock your world. Choose your filling and get 15 per order (50RMB-85RMB).

Mr Shi's Dumplings (老石饺子)

Madoufu

This local snack, made from fried mung bean pulp, is the comfort food your grandma would make if she were from Beijing. The madoufu (28RMB) is traditionally cooked in lamb fat spiced with chilli and scallions, and looks like a plate of goop, but don’t judge by appearances, it is delicious. For vegetarians, a vegetable oil version is available.

Xian Lao Man (馅老满)

Yoghurt

Local, homemade yoghurt seems to abound everywhere, but too often it’s sweetened. Try a 6RMB bowlful here for the real deal: topped with tart raisins, sesame seeds, peanuts and drizzled with honey if you choose.

Kashgar

Beijing Roast duck



Da Dong is the undisputed king of kaoya, Beijing’s roast duck. Smoky flavours and deep mahogany crisp skin come from roasting over sweet date wood. A special farm to raise the ducks doesn’t hurt either. It’s a splurge at 198RMB per duck and an additional 5RMB for the fixings.

Da Dong (大董烤鸭店)

Chinese vegetarian feast



Order from set menus (168-368RMB) or à la carte at Samadhi for clean tastes and textures without any mock meat. It won our best new restaurant award in 2010. Call for lunar calendar discounts.

Samadhi Vegetarian Teahouse (三摩地素食茶艺空间)

Roasted Sweet Potato



The metal drum roasters are plentiful on the streets, but there are also shops dedicated to all things sweet potato like this aptly named shop. Best bets are bags of crunchy chips (10RMB), and if you get there from 8.30am to any time before about 6pm, you’ll get a roasted sweet potato at 5.8RMB per 500g. Call to reserve. If you’re having a party, give notice three hours in advance and the shop will deliver to you locally.

Digua Fang (Sweet Potato House)

Soy shakes

Imagine freshly made soy milk that’s thick and warm – a comfort for locals. Glug on healthy shakes made with straight soy, or combine with black sesame, dates, corn and other grains and flavours made on the spot. Sold for between 5RMB and 10RMB, they’re very easy on your wallet as well.

Big Bean House

Sweet date bread



Zao gao (枣糕) is sold in large hunks by weight (8.8RMB per 500g), the perfect finish to stinky tofu from the next window. Green mung bean cakes, also sold, give the shop its name.

Lu Dou Bing (绿豆饼)

Roujiamo

These are sit-down-style roujiamo, sans chopped green peppers (that you’ll find mixed in on street versions). The ‘pork burgers’ here are worth the visit for a mere 8RMB. Pay an extra 2RMB to have it double stuffed with a little more fatty goodness.

Qin Tang Fu (秦唐府)

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