No longer outshined by culinary capitals like Shanghai or Hong Kong, Beijing has grown into a culinary powerhouse all its own. China's capital city has, as any capital should, gathered restaurants and the talented gastronomic minds to man them that showcase the best from China's myriad of regional styles. From high-end restaurants to classic hole-in-the-wall joints, the city of Beijing provides an exciting eating adventure for visiting foodies both on and off a budget.
Duck de Chine
Anyone who has visited the various Chinatown's of the world will know that duck is a staple in Chinese cooking. It comprises some of their most famous dishes. Even in a city that has always been famous for its roast duck, Duck de Chine still stands feathers among the rest. Originally from Hong Kong, but spending the last decade cooking in Beijing, father-son team Peter and Wilson Lam have created what they believe to be the perfect Peking duck. At two kilograms in weight and aged exactly 43 days, the bird is roasted longer than usual over 40-year-old jujube wood. It is carved up at the table and served beside the house-made hoisin sauce where diners can roll it in a gently steamed pancake. The results make it hard to deny their claim. While the duck is a must, they're supporting dishes of primarily Cantonese cuisine provide a unique adventure all their own as well.
With the number of upscale modern restaurants, much of the Beijing food scene has lost touch with a lot of tradition, but Chuan Ban hasn't. This canteen-style restaurants serves the most authentic and spicy Sichuan fare in town. For those that have a passion for spicy food or just need to burn a fever or cold away from within, Chuan Ban is the place to eat. Their food, true to traditional Sichuan style, is heavy on numbing peppercorns, rich hot sauces and oily spice broths. Dishes like the tingle-pepper chicken (the cuteness of the name belittles the fire within) or the shuizhuyu (fish boiled in a spicy oil broth) perfectly utilize the depth of flavour and subtlety under the spice that accompanies the oft-feared Sichuan cuisine.
The nightly queue outside this restaurant suggests something good is inevitably going on inside. For many diners at Da Dong, it is all about getting some of Beijing's signature Peking duck. While chef Dong Zhenziang boast a super-lean roast duck that is less oily than his competition, it is certainly not the only thing to try on his menu. With a crew of 300 chefs Zhenziang is able to churn out more than 200 different dishes that represent his artistic conception of Chinese cuisine. Essentially, foodies could spend their whole visit to Beijing exploring it. With noodles made of delicate lobster meat, steaks blowtorched tableside and stunningly tender braised sea cucumber, a fine dining adventure awaits.
Most diners are either intrigued or put off by the burly, albeit well-dressed, doorman that guards the entrance to Tiandi Yijia. It is a prestigious VIP restaurant, but while it will cost foodies a pretty penny, each cent is worth it. Inside Taindi Yijia, diners feel like they are part of the Chinese elite. Chef Zhang Shaogang mixes classical Imperial-style techniques with unusual ingredient pairings, creating a uniquely contemporary experience. This forward-thinking chef is renowned for putting new spins as well an upscale presentations on classic Chinese dishes like deep-fried spare ribs with chili and garlic or fillet of fish and bamboo shoots in wine sauce.
Mr. Shi's Dumplings
Ah, dumplings. Beloved by Chinese nationwide and visiting foreigners that think they know a thing or two about them alike. The latter will quickly learn that the dumplings of China are much different from those found in their local Chinese restaurant - different, yet always much better. Mr. Shi's Dumplings are the best in town while still hosting the affordable price that aids to the popularity of the dumpling. Made fresh to order, the dumplings at Mr. Shi's resemble miniature, greasy fried tacos that are held together seemingly by their own juiciness. The crispy, yet tender little dumpling are stuffed with beef, coriander and celery which become dangerously addictive when sloshed in their garlic and chili dipping sauce.
Lei Garden is lauded for its pristine preparation of both classic and modern Cantonese fare. However, dinner at the restaurant can be pretty pricey. Most visiting foodies head there for their special (and more affordable) lunchtime dim sum. With fluffy pork buns, dainty egg custard tarts, an a whole army of little treats traditional to dim sum, Lei Gardens serves up the best Cantonese cooking outside Guangzhou. Those who do head to the restaurant in the evening for something more substantial will want to give their mains like braised spare ribs, lobster clay pot noodles or stir-fried oysters in XO sauce a try.