February 6, 2008

Dining out in Beijing

Beijing chow

It must naturally follow that a country as diverse in ethnicity, geography and climate as China, would have an equally diverse cuisine. I'm no expert, but it seems that there are about as many types of cuisine as there are subcultures. Among the most popular are Cantonese - which is the most widely known and loved for it's dimsum and stir-frys; Sichuan and Hunan - loved by those who like it hot, the abundance of chili and peppercorns make for fiery dishes; Shanghai - dominated by fresh seafood and usually employs the method of slow-cooking it's meats in stock and wine; and of course, Beijing cuisine whose claim to fame are the hotpot, dumplings and roast duck.

I don't have a favorite from the four types mentioned above, I like them all. And I think we can all agree that Chinese cuisine is one of the finest and most popular in the world. Come to think of it, I haven't been to a country that does not have it's own little Chinatown or at the very least it's pick of Chinese restaurants. While in Beijing, we managed to sample all sorts of regional cooking. All but one lunch was part of our tour package and we were taken to a different restaurant everyday. The menu was always pre-set (see collage above) so we had no control over what we were served which kind of worried me a little. But turned out pretty good and we always had a nice variety of dishes: soup, rice, beef, fish, pork and vegetables.

A Brazilian-Chinese Churrasco

We had come to expect this every noon time, so we were quite surprised when we walked into an all-you-can-eat Chinese churrascaria. Skewers of every meat known to man, and then some!, were brought to our table and carved onto our plates. The long buffet table was filled with both western and oriental fare to accompany all that protein being heaped into our tummies. I was eyeing the fruit section from the onset, making sure I had enough space for all those lovely fruits! I love fruits. They make me happy. I love fruit for dessert, (I can hear some of you gasping!), in fact I have fruit for dessert more often than cake or ice cream. I crammed my tiny plate with plums, dragonfruit, longgan, melon, peaches, hawthorn (oops how'd that piece of white chocolate get in there?) Sweeeeeeeeeet! And this was just the first plate. :)

Fruits in China

But for dinner we were on our own and I looked forward to this everyday. It was always so much fun, hieing off to a new place every night where we indulged in good food and some wine and recapped the day's events. We dined in the following:

The Green T House: Luxe warned us this place was hoity-toity, so I knew I had to restrain myself from taking pictures of the food. Fine with me. But to not be allowed to take pictures of each other? Hmm, that's a bit much. But sshh... I managed to snap a couple of shots of the interiors here and here. heehee. I took these before I was told I wasn't allowed. The food was good, I'll give them that and the dessert was stunningly presented - in a bowl with dry ice and twigs, but we were uncomfortable the entire time. And the worst part? It was probably the most expensive meal I've paid in, umm, ever? At least we enjoyed making fun of the condescending staff when they weren't standing within earshot.

Red Capital Club - No. 66 Dongsi Jiutiao, Dongcheng District, Tel.: 86-10 8401 6152 , 86-10 8401 8886

Now this place I highly recommend. I loved the concept, service, food, and ambience. We stepped back in time when we entered the circular doorway, it was 1950's communist China. The menu read like a stately dinner with names like: Dream of Red Chamber - an eggplant and peanut ensemble cooked according to a description from a classic novel of the same name; South of the Clouds - fish in braided bamboo steamed over an open flame; and the Monk's Meditation - fusion of vegetables and mushrooms. Everything was elaborately presented with intricate vegetable carvings.

Red Capital Club courtyard

Hunan food at Red Capital Club

The mood oozed nostalgia in the cigar room where it was underscored by old over-stuffed leather armchairs - all original, dusty communist manifestos that lined the shelves, portraits of Chairman Mao that hung from the walls, memorabilia crammed into every nook and cranny and staff dressed in Red Guard uniforms. I lifted one of the vintage phones and was surprised to hear the Chairman himself on the other end. Nice touch!

Dongjie Xiyuan -76 Dongsi Bei Dajie (tel 6405 5568).

B suggested this place for our last day, she had read about it online and we all agreed it sounded intriguing. It took us a while to find it because we missed the sign which was in Chinese characters. But it was worth the trouble. This hole-in-the-wall turned out to be a breath of fresh air after all those large and crowded establishments, themed restaurants and pretentious waitresses. The specialty of the house is the dalian huoshao or Beijing-style pot-stickers filled with either pork, lamb, or beef mixed with a combination of chives, peppers, scallions or gourds. These were excellent! And we ordered more even before we finished our first plate.


Zhou Lining, the proprietor herself, had taken our orders and we were relieved she spoke some English. In addition to the potstickers, we had the mapo tofu - one of my favorite Chinese dishes and this one was up to par; the zha guanchang or fried “sausage” (photo on bottom right of collage) - both its looks and taste were forgettable, and the suanni qiezi - mashed eggplant with garlic which was loved by all. All in all, an extremely reasonable yet delicious and satisfying meal. Good call, B! :)

And this concludes my Beijing series at last! Phew! I can finally work on the backlog of posts on my dashboard. Thank you for putting up with me! :)


hiteleconsultdirectory said...

Wow. For someone who grew up with Chinese restaurants on the agenda, your pictures say a lot. I've never been to Beijing. The food is certainly a reason to go.

Socky said...

Getting hungry just looking at the pics! Never had such as feast when I was in Beijing. I just remember walking a lot.

Sidney said...

I love Chinese food. Whenever I go to Binondo I try to eat in a Chinese restaurant.
Of course it would be still better to go to China...

Anonymous said...

Yum! Now I'm craving Chinese (which by the way I haven't had for a long time!) :) The photos are mouth-watering and the dishes sounds so delicious....MMM!!!

christine said...

Hi Em! The Peking duck is enough reason to go. But of course, you can't miss all those beautiful sights while you're there. :)

Socky, all the walking made all the eating guilt-free! :) At least for me, hehe.

Sidney, Binondo has some fantastic Chinese restaurants. There's one particular one that Carlos recommends which I'd like to try. The name escapes me right now, but you walk by it during his Bindondo tour. He says it's better than President's which is the more popular one. :)

Speaking of which, Jo, do you remember the name of that restaurant? You were with me during that tour, so you might have caught Carlos' rave.

MikeMina said...

Reading this post makes me want to go back to Beijing again for the yummy food . . . :-)

This also reminds me to start posting my backlog of foodie adventures :-)

Finally it was a really nice surprise bumping into you and Joey in Ilocos Norte during the weekend :-)

Oggi said...

Delicious, I think I gained a couple of pounds just looking at the first collage!D
Churrascaria in China, now that's something, and the server/carver looks so cute too.:)

Anonymous said...

i'm with oggi-a churrascaria in china?! Those are very popular in California too. Was it the same type of deal where they have red and green placards on the table to signal the servers when to stop serving you meat?

christine said...

Mike, it sure was! :) The chat session with you and your group over biscocho, hot chocolate, impaltaw and coffee was one of the highlights of my trip.

Marvin/Oggi, wierd no? I thought so too. But it seemed to be extremely popular, the place was packed! Marvin, they didn't have those signs, just a piece of paper where they would check if theyd already visited the table. Each item was only brought to your table once, but there must have been like 50 items!

Pam said...

That's it. I'm booking myself a trip to China. Thanks for showing the way! : )

Unknown said...

The food looks sooooo good! Am hungry now.

princess_dyanie said...

Mmmmmm Yummmmmy! I'm hungry na tuloy hehe ;)

amazing pics Christine! :)

christine said...

Go Pam! Book that trip! And then tell us all about it. :)

Ginny/Dyanie, me too actually hehe. And it's midnight so that's not a good thing. :)

iska said...

i can totally relate to your post having lived in China's capital for 5 years! agree... the peking duck is reason good enough :-)

Rasa Malaysia said...

Sichuan is not Hunan food, they are completely different, and are from two different states...just FYI.

christine said...

Hi Iska! You must be missing the food. Are you still in NZ? What's the food there like?

Bee, thank you for the correction. I can't tell the difference in cooking method/ingredients between the two. Red Capital Club is said to be Hunan cuisine, but some site called it sichuan too. So I'm confused. :)

christine said...

Ok I did some research and here's what I found. They're both very similar cuisines with the main difference being:

Hunan - more elaborate in preparation and appearance; use fresh chilis peppers

Szechuan - more simple; uses chili bean paste

Reference: http://chinesefood.about.com/od/regionalchinesecuisine/p/hunan.htm

Didi said...

Love this post!!! Makes me reminisce so much!! Argh.. I truly miss Beijing!! Miss the cheap Peking Duck!!

mlm said...

I love love love this post. I wanna go to China after reading this.