Follow Me Foodie to Beijing, China!
Hello! Or 你好 (nǐ hǎo)! Welcome to Beijing! Well, technically I’ve left Beijing already and I’m in Hong Kong right now, but I’m still absorbing all of what Beijing had to offer. Unlike many of my food trips this one was a little bit different. It was my first time in Beijing and there was so much culture and history that it ended up playing as important of a role as the food. This time I had a set itinerary and my hosts arranged everything so I didn’t have much control… much like many of the people in China… j/k (sort of). Anyways food did come secondary on this trip and I didn’t get a proper representation of Beijing or “Jing” cuisine, but I still learned lots and had a few meals that were definitely worth reporting back on! So grab your chopsticks and Follow Me Foodie to Beijing!
Honestly my 5 days in Beijing barely scratched the surface of what the city offers. China is massive and “Chinese cuisine” is a huge umbrella topic. Every region has its own cuisine and the origins of a dish can start a shouting match. There is Cantonese, Shanghainese, Szechuan, Hunan and Beijing styles of Chinese food just to name a few and each one is quite specific. I’ve visited a couple cities in China, but it was my first time in Beijing and it was a whole new ball game.
Beijing is the capital of China and it specializes in Chinese Mandarin cuisine. Most of what we have in North America is Chinese Cantonese cuisine which is different. Beijing is located in the North where noodles are preferred versus the Southern (Canton) parts of China where rice is the staple. Beijing does not have the ideal climate to produce rice and although transportation of goods is common nowadays, the main diet still consists of noodles.
When it comes to eating, the Chinese eat everything and waste nothing. The streotype that “Chinese people eat everything that moves” is generally true. It’s a waste not want not culture and with a population of 1,344,130,000 (current statistic) it shouldn’t be that surprising.
I haven’t visited every country in the world yet, but so far I think Chinese food is one of the most carefully thought out cuisines. Most of the time Chinese food does not look appetizing and the family style presentation isn’t too impressive, but there is so much more than meets the eye. Many of the dishes have a purpose and even the selection of ingredients are chosen for a reason. Quite often it’s chosen for health benefits and at times it’s for symbolic reasons. Of course flavour, aroma and colour play a role too, but it’s all of the above combined that make it so much more complex.
This was at The Summer Palace which is the largest royal park in China. So instead of gold detectors and sandy beaches I watched retired Chinese men practice Chinese calligraphy on the cement floors of the park. They carry around these sticks with giant sponges on the tip and most of them do it for pleasure and not for money. It reminded me of the Italian street artists drawing murals on the floor.
So what are some characteristics of Beijing cuisine?
Peanuts and sesame. If you have peanut or sesame allergies then China will be a challenging place for you. Peanut oil is an expensive oil and it’s quite highly prized in China and used in many restaurants. It has a high cooking temperature which is ideal for the wok so the majority of dishes are cooked in peanut oil especially at the nicer restaurants. Peanut allergies are actually very rare in China, which is one of the reasons that makes me believe that allergies are created. Sesame oil is also very popular and it helps give the dish aroma.
Dairy allergies on the other hand are common in China because rarely is butter, milk or cheese used and eaten in Chinese cooking. There are many lactose intolerant Chinese people, but that’s not to say dairy isn’t used at all. Most of the time they prefer soy milk or almond milk, but yogurt and milk still show up. I actually came across Mongolian yogurt quite often in Beijing which is derived from Mongolian cows.
And speaking of Mongolian cows, Mongolian cuisine was more popular in Beijing than I thought. During the Yuan dynasty (A.D.1280-1368) China was ruled by the Mongolian people and Mongolian flavours and cooking styles are still existant in Beijing. Beef and lamb are not that common in Cantonese cuisine, but it was quite popular in Beijing and there was a significant amount of Mongolian influence and Mongolian dining selections.
When it comes to farm to table, it’s more tank to table in Beijing or Asia in general. They love seafood. The whole local and organic is sort of how things are done in China, but also not really. I can’t deny China’s reputation for creating GMO foods and even to the degree of making fake eggs and soy sauce, but they also have fresh seafood and meat everywhere. Many restaurants have their own tanks and you can find fresh chicken eggs and livestock being sold on the streets. Although some fruits, vegetables, and animals are grown and raised on “organic farms”, China’s standard for “organic” may not meet the US standards for organic food. These farms may be located by factories and the pollution in China is awful so this naturally will affect the soil and water.
The Great Wall of China. A must visit. Postcards and photos do not give it justice. I walked up one of the steeper parts of it and after just a few flights my legs were like jello and shaking for three days. It’s hard! I had to see a massage therapist after who said my legs were put into shock… shows my lack of exercise :S
This is a very typical Chinese breakfast. It’s soy milk and Chinese doughnut or “you tiao” or “yàuh ja gwái”. The history and etymology behind it is fascinating – see my post for it here. (Photo from Fotothing.)
$1 CAD is $6.20 RMB, so that’s $3.20CAD for a Tsing Tao beer. This is considered pricey too because walking down the streets of another area in China it was $.80 for a bottle. You can drink on the streets as well. For North American standards food is generally dirt cheap in China, but if you live there it might not be so much since the wages are much lower. The rich are extremely rich and the poor are pretty poor, so the dining options and prices can get just as extreme.
And dog. Just kidding! I didn’t eat dog. For any of you wondering (I know there are at least some), yes there are parts of the world and not just China that do eat dogs. It isn’t common and I haven’t come across it out of the handful of times I’ve been to China, but I know it’s available.
According to this article the Chinese were the first to domesticate dogs as pets and at the same time they were first to see them as a source of food too. This dates back to ancient history, but China isn’t the only country consuming dogs. There are still thirteen countries eating dog meat which include: China, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Philippines, Polynesia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Arctic and Antarctic.
There are so many more characteristics of Beijing cuisine so let this give you just a rough idea. There are so many more dishes too and the diet isn’t just noodles, peanuts, bugs and seafood. There is so much more to try and more to come!