Juicy slices of duck wrapped in thin pancakes: what could be better than indulging in Peking Duck when in Beijing? A lot of things, actually.
Peking duck inspires tourists in Beijing to shell out plenty of yuan, and rightfully so; after all, the dish is pretty good. But all too often, misguided Westerners leave their culinary exploration of China’s extraordinary capital at just that.
We’re here to help. Lesson number one: just because a dish doesn’t have the city’s name in it (“Peking” is Beijing’s historic name) doesn’t mean it’s not a Beijing dish. And while Da Dong Roast Duck and Duck de Chine are certainly worth trying, Beijing’s culinary scene has so much more to offer than that.
But enough explaining. Let’s get into the meat of things (pun intended). Check out these nine dishes you should try in Beijing… besides Peking duck.
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At first bite, you might think something’s wrong. But zhá jiàng miàn, a noodle dish, is meant to be served room temperature, especially in the summer when the sun regularly pierces through the humid, smoggy air to push temperatures over 90 degrees F. Vendors garnish wheat noodles with thin cucumber slices, chunks of pork, and a light brown-bean sauce. The resulting dish is both subtle and refreshing, a welcome change from Beijing’s fiery cuisine. You can grab a plastic bowl of zhajiangmian at stalls along Beijing streets for 5 RMB (less than $1), or you can enjoy it restaurant style at noodle houses like Old Beijing Zhajiang Noodle King.
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As if the bustling shopping street Nanluoguxiang isn’t busy enough already, Wen Yu’s Milk Custard Shop draws crowds in its own right. The shop has sold its trademark creamy, milky custard — which is made from rice wine and referred to as “cheese” — for three generations now. The snack sells out by mid-afternoon, so get there early (a good strategy if you’re going to try to shop in the busy hutong (neighborhood) anyway).
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While Shanghai’s dumplings are better known, Beijing expats swear by Mr. Shi’s. The foreigner-friendly spot (Mr. Shi speaks English), serves up pan-fried dumplings in a charming hutong setting. Fillings include pork, seafood, and vegetables.
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This one’s a major jump from the Western palate: pork livers, intestines, and lungs hang suspended in a goopy brown broth spiced with hunks of minced garlic. Still, the line at Yao’s Chao Gan often reaches out the door, and Vice President Joe Biden once ate here on a state visit.
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This may seem counterintuitive — America is where we think of as the place to get craft beer — but Beijing has played host to numerous quality craft breweries over the past decade. Great Leap Brewing offers over 20 varieties of local beer, and local Slow Boat Brewery distributes throughout the city. Beijing has also staged several craft beer festivals in recent years, not to mention the only Munich-sanctioned Oktoberfest outside of Europe.
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Hot pot isn’t unique to Beijing, but there are enough hot pot varieties in the city for a foodie to sample many. The concept is simple: customers order a large pot of steaming broth and then choose which meats and vegetables to cook in it. Hai Di Lao is a national chain that offers free manicures and shoe shines to customers waiting for a table. You can also kick your hot pot experience up a notch on Ghost Street, where spicy hot pot reigns supreme.
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If you’re feeling adventurous, bullfrog is a Beijing specialty also on Ghost Street. In just a quick stroll along the busy road, you’ll pass multiple restaurants emblazoned with a smiling-frog cartoon logo (bizarre, we know). The dish is served spiced and fried, often as part of a culinary potpourri called “dry hot pot.” Try Wa Wa Jiao, although it may be hard to get a table.
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As China’s administrative capital, Beijing hosts an official bureau for each of the country’s 22 provinces, each of which has its own restaurant. This is the perfect opportunity for travelers to Beijing to experience other regions’ cuisines without leaving the city. The restaurants are often cited as the most authentic places to sample China’s diverse cuisines in Beijing.
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Are bullfrog and pig livers simply not adventurous enough for you? Then you have a friend in donkey burgers. The dish originates from smaller cities in surrounding Hebei province. The meat, leaner than beef, is usually served at room temperature on a plain white bun.