Once the stronghold of Imperial China, Beijing revels in the ghost of the Forbidden Palace and dusty hutongs while giving way to new skyscrapers. But when it comes to food, there is a more dynamic relationship. Old family-owned restaurants run alongside new dining destinations, each with a commitment to preserve Beijing’s rich plethora of dishes.
Expect Northern Chinese fare here, defined by starchy and meat-heavy dishes in large portions. Mongolian influences from way back in Beijing’s history are also etched deeply into the cuisine here. Then, there’s the famous Imperial Chinese cuisine that continues to be the highlight of Beijing. This is where the world-famous Peking duck originates, perfected by imperial cooks and served to emperors and now a staple for locals and tourists alike.
It is impossible to cover Beijing’s culinary scene in just a matter of days. Still, there’s no reason not to check out the best restaurants and eateries around that share a considerable sliver of this ever-evolving history.
Duck de Chine
Authentic Peking duck is one of the most common offerings in restaurants here. But when it comes to the best, locals would point you to the signature dish at this modern restaurant. One caveat: Duck de Chine’s version is not the most traditional in the city. As its name implies, there’s a mix of Chinese and French cooking techniques. Instead of wood from peach or pear trees, the restaurant roasts its duck with fire from 60-year-old jujube wood for a fruitier flavour and crispier skin.
Address: 98 Jinbao Street, Dong Cheng District, Beijing, China
Opening hours: 11am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm
Koufuju Hot Pot Restaurant (口福居火锅店)
Each province and city has its own take on hotpot and Beijing’s version is possibly one of the first iterations that sparked a country-wide craze for the communal dish. This old-school hotpot eatery offers traditional shua yang rou (read: instant-boiled mutton) — a dish that’s said to have Mongolian origins. Here, diners simply swish thin slices of meat in pots of light broth or spicy soups before dipping them in sauces. If you’re not a fan of mutton, worry not as the homemade lobster balls and fresh prawn paste are signatures here too.
Address: 5 Huayuan St, Xicheng, Beijing, China
Opening hours: 11am to 10.30pm
Fangshan Restaurant (仿膳饭庄)
At Fangshan Restaurant, diners get a taste of imperial cuisine. The restaurant was opened in 1925 by master chefs who have cooked in the royal kitchens of the Qing Dynasty. Today, there are a whopping 800 dishes on the menu, which can be overwhelming for those unfamiliar with the cuisine. To get the best of what the restaurant offers, order the Manchu Han Imperial Feast set menu, which is said to resemble an emperor’s indulgent feast that features items like bird’s nest soup and sesame cake with minced pork.
Address: 1 Wenjin Jie (inside Beihai Park, enter via east gate), Xicheng District, Beijing, China
Opening hours: 11am to 2pm, 5pm to 10pm
King’s Joy (京兆尹)
In this meat-loving Chinese capital, vegetarian restaurants are few and far between. Even so, this award-winning restaurant shows that it can convince the appetites of ravenous carnivores. King’s Joy is a project of restaurateur David Yin and a former-monk-turned chef Pan Jianjun who made it their mission to prepare elegant Chinese cuisines revolving fresh and nutritious vegetables. The cuisine isn’t as strict as those followed by monks as shallots, onions and garlic are still added in their dishes. In place of meat (and mock meat), the restaurant uses soy and mushroom in their recipes.
Address: 2 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng, Beijing, China
Opening hours: 11am to 10pm
Huguosi Hutong Snack Street
Those who prefer to explore Beijing’s culinary traditions a little more (and perhaps on a more wallet-friendly budget) can consider taking a stroll down the Huguosi Hutong Snack Street. Along this ancient street are many stalls and casual restaurants serving up some of the city’s most delectable street food. This includes anything from chuan’r (skewers of meat and offal) to the more familiar soybean milk with youtiao (dough fritters). At the end of the gastronomic journey, consider having a beer or two at nearby craft breweries or sip on traditional yoghurt kept in ceramic jars.
Address: 68 Huguosi Street, Xicheng District, Beijing, China
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore