Thursday 31 July 2014

Spices: Eating Through BEIJING, CHINA

Before leaving for Beijing, I got in touch with our cousin achi Ivy to plan our itinerary. One of the things I requested from her is to bring us to places where we can partake on the local cuisine. Having spent more than a decade in Beijing, she exactly knew what and where to eat. This is one of the trips that we were able to totally engrossed ourselves with the local flavors.

Beijing Roast Duck

On our first morning, Beijing greeted us with a very gloomy and cold weather. We headed to a hole-in-wall stall for breakfast. Tables and chairs were placed on the sidewalk and a good number of locals were eating. Our breakfast consists of hot steaming Jiao Zi or dumplings and Bao Zi or meat buns. Together with the delicious dimsum, we also had a oht bowl of the nutritious  Zimi Zhou or purple rice porridge.

Jiao Zi

Zimi Zhou

Bao Zi

As a welcome gesture, achi Ivy treated us to Quanjude. When in Beijing, it's a must to try Beijing Roast Duck or more known to us as Peking Duck. There are two famous restaurants to have roast duck, it's either Da Dong or Quanjude but since it is said that the owner of Da Dong learned the art of roasting duck in Quanjude, achi Ivy wanted to let us try the original.


You can watch the chefs at work as they meticulously roast the ducks in the brick ovens.

I was surprise to see that you can order any part of the duck, from its internal organs to its web feet. Nothing is wasted. To start we had Duck Liver, I sort of expected it to taste like foie gras but it's didn't. What was I thinking? The liver tasted how it should taste like, bitter and had mineral-y. What's nice about the liver is that it didn't have a rubbery texture.

Duck Liver

I like to eat chicken gizzards so the Spicy Duck Gizzard was such a treat. The duck gizzard was tougher in texture but it had bolder flavor.

Duck Gizzard

Just like having Peking duck here, the roast duck is presented to the diners and carved table side. Usually only the duck skin is taken off and served, I was really surprise when the chef  presented us with two plates. The first plate consist of few slices of glistening duck skin. While the second plate had pieces of duck meat with skin on.

Carving the Duck Table Side

Crispy Duck Skin

Duck Meat with Skin On

The way of eating it is basically the same as here. Get a piece of the thin Chinese crepe, add stalks of spring onions, put a piece of duck skin/meat, add hoisin sauce, roll and eat. The duck meat had a more gamey and richer flavor compared to the ones I tried here.


....Roll and Take a Bite

The resto really pride themselves of the quality of the duck they serve. After eating, the server presented us with a certificate that contained the code number of the roast duck we had.

Quanjude Duck Certificate

We made our way to the Drum and Bell Tower area to have dinner at a famous local restaurant. Yao Ji Chao Gan became really popular when current U.S. vice president Jo Biden ate here when he visited Beijing. The relatively small resto serves authentic traditional local delicacies. When we entered the very first thing that hit me was the 'rotten fermenting' smell, I must admit, it wasn't appetizing.

Yao Ji Chao Gan

The resto is known to serve Chao Gan which literally means fried liver. The weird thing about the dish is the liver isn't actually fried but boiled in a soup stock. The soup had a really thick consistency, if you're familiar with the Chinese maki soup dish, it was like that.

Chao Gan

The next local dish made our stomachs churn. The Dou Zhi or fermented soy bean soup was served with a side of Jiao Quan or fried dough ring. The soup smells really unpleasant, it smelled like something is rotting. We didn't want anything to do with the soup anymore after taking a little sip, it was so sour and taste rotten. We had to placed the bowl on the far right corner of the table. I guess the soup is an acquired taste,

Dou Zhi and Jiao Quan

The Luzhu Huoshao is another favorite local dish, almost everyone has this on their tables. It is a soup stew that contained pig's intestines, pig's lungs, tofu and boiled wheat dough. The stew had a fishy or malansa taste, I'm not much of a fan of this either.

Luzu Huoshao

I have to admit I didn't enjoy dining here. It might be the overwhelming rotten smell or it's just really not my cup of tea. But what I'll remember about this place is that it sort of gave me a general idea of Beijing's food culture. Meat was scarce before so the locals had to make do on whatever is available which was innards The process of fermenting food was I guess a way for them to preserve food.

While walking around Houhai, we spotted a food shop with a long queue. People are lining up for Yang Rou Chuan or lamb kebab. Achi Ivy mentioned that ever since the economic boom, the locals went crazy for meat since it wasn't really available during the hard times.

Lamb Kebab Stall

Grilling Lamb Skewers

I got in line, the locals where buying five to ten skewers while I just bought one to try out. The lamb skewer smelled of cumin and black pepper. Meat was tender but it had a strong unpleasant gamey flavor which we didn't like.

Yang Rou Chuan

After walking the path of the Sacred Way the next day, we stopped by at one of the 'family owned farm restaurants' that lined up the area. If I remember it right, most of the ingredients used in the dishes were personally grown and harvested by the owners from their own backyard.

I'm really not familiar with what kind of vegetables we ate, we had two vegetable dishes. The first vegetable dish was coated with flour or cornstarch then deep fried. It was a delicious crunchy treat, among all the dishes we enjoyed this the most.

Crispy Fried Vegetable

The second vegetable dish was stir fried greens that had garlic and taste of soy sauce, vinegar and rice wine.

Stir Fried Vegetables

For our meat dish, we had Stewed Native Chicken. As expected, meat was tougher and leaner as these are native free range chicken.

Stewed Chicken

We also had a Spring Onion Omelette where the eggs came from free range chickens.

Spring Onion Omelette

To go with the meal, we had two kinds of buns, the plain flat ones and the vegetable stuffed. After having a good number of meals, I started wondering why I still haven't seen rice. I was so surprised when achi Ivy explained that rice isn't part of the daily meals, bread or buns are more common. The locals would have rice during special feasts and occasions. This is the first Asian country that I've been to where rice isn't a staple. During our whole stay we didn't eat or encounter any rice on dining tables.

Bread Buns

Vegetable Stuffed Buns

While walking around the Olympic Park, we saw a lady selling Roasted Sweet Potatoes on her bike that has a side car attached to it. I was amazed when she took the top off the wooden crate and saw that she was actually roasting more sweet potato inside.

Roasting Sweet Potatoes on the Street

The sweet potatoes was moist and hot though it wasn't as sweet like the ones we had in Taipei.

Sweet Potato

We always see a lot of these empty ceramic bottles of what looked like milk. We decided to have one and it turned out to be a yogurt drink, it had thick consistency and it had a tinge of sourness.

Empty Ceramic Bottles of Milk/Yogurt Drink

Milk/Yogurt Drink

After watching the show at the Bird's Nest stadium, we decided to have dinner at the food court at the Olympic Park. Good thing that the numerous stalls inside were mostly selling local snacks.

Olympic Park Foodcourt

To start we had Niu Ro Bing or Beef Stuffed Bread. A simple tasty snack.

Niu Rou Bing

The next snack bun had a really funny name, the Gou Bu Li Bao Zi literally translates to 'dog's don't pay  attention buns'. But don't be fooled by its name because the steamed mini meat stuffed bun tasted really nice.You can pop the whole thing in your mouth and once you do, you'll want another one.

Gou Bu Li Bao Zi

Zha Jang Mian means Fried Sauce Noodles. The  noodles are topped with a sauce that consists of ground pork and fermented soy beans paste. The paste is salty to eat on its own so usually it is used to top a dish or mixed with something. I'm familiar with the soy bean paste, I've seen it used in HK, Taipei, Singapore and Korea. We even usually have the paste with steamed tofu at home.

Zha Jang Mian

The last dish we tried at the food court was Bao Du. Bao Du is basically boiled beef tripe, this is more commonly known as tuwalya back here. The difference is the color, the ones in Beijing was color black while the ones that's common here is white. The strips of tripe was served with chopped wansoy and sesame paste on top.

Bao Du

The next morning, we headed to a local neighborhood breakfast place which was near achi's appartment. There were food stalls set up right on the sidewalk. First thing that caught our attention was the couple who were making Jian Bing. It was amusing watching the cook spinning his skillet as he pour over the batter for the crepe.

Jian Bing Stall

Jian Bing or also known as Beijing Crepe, is a fold up piece of crepe filled with vegetables, spring onions and a crispy fried dough. There are a lot of varieties for these grab and go street food, it is found everywhere in Beijing. The first one we tried was so simple as it only had lettuce, spring onions, crispy fried dough and slightly doused with a sweet salty savory sauce. I fell in love with this upon first bite, it was so good. This is one of the things, I would miss about Beijing. When we saw another stall who was making Jian Bing but sadly it wasn't as good as the first one we tried. So better ask the locals first where they buy their Jian Bing before buying. Must Try!

Jian Bing

Right beside the couple was a guy frying You Tiao or fried crullers or known to us as bicho-bicho. He was selling two types of fried bread, the common long strips variety and the rectangular block shaped.

Frying You Tiao

You Tiao

Together with the Jian Bing and You Tiao, we also had Wonton Soup and a Savory Soybean Pudding Soup that has a thick mushroom broth.

Wonton Soup

Savory Soybean Pudding Soup

After walking the huge grounds of the Summer Palace, we had lunch at a restaurant that was recommended by a local who was driving us around. The restaurant was known to serve great tasting Jiao Zi or dumplings. We got to try dumplings with different kinds of fillings, you can always choose what meat and or vegetables combination you want.

A Basket of Steaming Jiao Zi

The dumplings they served were huge, usually dumplings are about as big as golf balls but these were way bigger. When I took a bite, I was surprise on how thick the dough wrapper was and it was packed with so much filling. Usually dumplings are steamed but these are boiled in water.

A Huge Piece of Jiao Zi

Packed with so much Filling

We are used to dipping our dumplings in mixture of soy sauce, citrus and chili. But in Beijing, dipping it in black vinegar and garlic is the standard way.

Black Vinegar and Garlic

One of the interesting dishes we tried is the Xi Hong Shi Ji Dan Tang. The tomato egg drop soup is interesting because this soup was consider as the poor man's meal during the hard times in China. The local who was driving us around told us that this simple soup was even being rationed before.

Xi Hong Shi Ji Dan Tang

The commoners would make pellets of dough out of wheat flour then boil it together with tomatoes and as the soup boils, they'd drop an egg to the soup. They considered the soup as their full meal, it had vegetables, carbohydrates from the dough pellets and protein from the egg. Wansoy is also added to add flavor to the simple sour soup.

A cup of the Xi Hong Shi Ji Dan Tang

Being a lover of anything spicy, one of the things I requested from achi Ivy is that we have a meal at a Sichuan Hotpot restaurant. Luckily for us, one of achi Ivy's local friends wanted to meet and treat us. We met up with ahia Andy and his son, Gelo at a famous local hotpot restaurant.

Sichuan Hotpot

On the middle of the circular table was yin-yang steel pot. On the left was the fiery red spicy broth and on the right was the milky white non-spicy broth.

Half Spicy - Half Non-Spicy Broth

It was a feast, our spread consists of different meats, seafood, innards and vegetables.

The experience was totally different from what I've experience in hotpot restaurants here. Here we usually dumped everything in to the broth then fished out what we want to eat. In Beijing, the term 'shua rou' is use when having hotpot, this means 'rinse meat'. Using your chopsticks, you'd get a piece of meat and dip it in the broth for a couple of seconds, you never let the piece of meat fall off from your chopstick. You take your cooked 'rinse meat' then dipped it in sauce and eat.

Shuan Rou

The resto has a make your own sauce bar outside but the standard sauce is sesame seed paste mixed with garlic, spring onions and wansoy.

Make your own Sauce Bar

Chili Oil and Garlic & Sesame Paste with Garlic, Spring Onions, Wansoy

I got so excited when I saw the spicy broth bubble, the broth base contains chili powder, doubangjiang (fermented soy beans) and lots and lots of Sichuan peppercorns.I got a piece of meat and did the 'shuan rou' routine and without any sauce I put the whole piece in my mouth. I expected an immediate burning sensation but there was none. The spiciness wasn't an assault on your mouth, it just gave a warm tingling sensation. After eating piece after piece of everything, my mouth started to feel numb and I slowly felt that 'spicy hotness'  making its way down to my throat and body. It was a fun experience and I understood the reason why the locals love to have this during to winter.

Between the spicy and non-spicy side, I enjoyed the spicy broth the most. Thank you ahia Andy for the treat! As promise, when you come to Manila, it's my turn to treat you and your family.

The next evening we went to Wangfujing area for the sole purpose of trying out exotic street snacks. Aside from the 'exotics', there are also numerous food stalls that were selling local snacks.

Wangfujing Food Street

The Wangfujing food street was mostly packed with tourists, most of them were curious on how the fried exotic stuffs tastes like but they weren't adventurous enough to try them. So every time I got a fried 'exotic' skewer on my hand, they would flock towards us and ask us how it tastes like. As I've read even locals wouldn't try out these stuffs, the 'exotic' skewers are made for tourists to buy and try.

Exotic Stuufs

Believe it or not, I was so excited to try out every little 'exotic' food that I found. Big and small scorpions, grass hoppers, star fish, beetles, silk worms and small worms were placed beside each other.

Grasshoppers, Scorpions and Worms


The common thing about eating these stuff is everything is deep fried and salted.

Fried Worms

Fried Starfish

Fried Worms and Fried Big Scorpion

Our favorites would be the small scorpions and grass hoppers. Crunchy and salty, just like eating potato chips.

Fried Grasshopper

Fried Small Scorpions

Worst texture and flavor would be the silk worms. As you take a bite out of it, a gooey thick 'I don't know what' substance comes out of it. It tasted salty and bitter but still it wasn't totally awful as I was able to finish the whole thing.

Fried Silkworm

Aside from eating the fried insects, we also got to try the Pissing Balls. It was named as such because of the broth that comes out of it when you take a bite.

Pissing Balls

After snacking at Wangfujing, it was off to dinner. We already experienced Sichuan Hotpot the night before so this time around we were going to experience the second type of hotpot in Beijing, the Mongolian Hotpot.

Mongolian Style Hotpot

The broth was placed inside a unique looking Mongolian style copper pot. Smoke was coming out of the funnel in the middle of the pot, when I took a look, there was actually coal inside of it. I checked the broth, it seem that it was just plain water with chopped ginger, spring onions and fennel.

Copper Pot

Coal in the Middle

With Yang Rou or mutton meat as the most common meat used, this is also called Mutton Hotpot. We went all mutton for this meal. From lean mutton meat,  mutton meat with fat and mutton fat only.

Lean Mutton Meat

Rolled Mutton Meat with Fat

Mutton Fat

With our mutton meat, we also had a side of tofu and lettuce.



The process of eating uses the same 'shuan rou' process. The dipping sauce was also the same sesame seed paste. The chopped garlic, wansoy and spring onions are placed on the side, it's up to you how much of each you wanted to put in your sauce.

Shuan Rou 

Sesame Seed Paste with Chopped Garlic, Wansoy and Spring Onions on the Side

After trying out the two styles of hotpot in Beijing, I preferred the Sichuan style better as it has more flavors and the spiciness is a big factor for me. Though the Mongolian style was blander, it tasted fresher and cleaner plus it also felt healthier having it. Experiencing both styles of hotpot in Beijing is definitely a must try!

Having Hotpot in Beijing

On our last day in Beijing, we stopped by at a food court to have lunch. As I walked around to look for something to eat, I saw two things that caught my attention. The first of which are two ladies making Jiao Zi, one of them was rolling dough and the other was putting the filling inside the dough. Right then and there I knew I had to have the delicious dumplings again before I leave.

Jiao Zi Making

Jiao Zi with Black Vinegar

The second thing that caught my eye was happening inside the kitchen. A chef was holding a huge elongated ball of dough on his left arm while he was holding a huge knife on his right. Using the knife, he was shaving off strands of dough in to a pot. He was doing this fast, really fast. I asked achi Ivy what he was cooking and it turned out to be Dao Xiao Mian or knife shaved noodles. This is the first time I've heard or seen noodles made like this. I couldn't get a picture of the noodle making process as there were a lot of kitchen staff blocking the my view.

Dao Xiao Mian

Compared to hand pulled noodles, the strips of knife shaved noodles were uneven. But I love how thick, hard and chewy it was.

Knife Shaved Noodles

As a farewell treat of achi Ivy, we went to a type of resto that is gaining popularity in Beijing. It was like a Korean barbecue type resto where you grill hte meat right on the middle of the table.

Korean BBQ Type Restaurant

Grilled Meat and Onions

The Beijing twist to the experience was dipping the meat in sauce. The sauce consists of light soy sauce, garlic, sesame seeds. There was also a sauce bar where you can make your own dipping sauce.

My ideas and expectations on how the local food would taste like totally came out differently. I would always associate Chinese food with being greasy and salty but after eating through Beijing, this has completely changed. Compared to other Chinese cuisine in countries like Hong Kong or Taiwan, the food in Beijing is less greasy and not as flavorful. But this doesn't necessarily mean that food in Beijing is boring, it tasted simple and healthier. What I'll remember most about the food in Beijing was each dish has a very interesting story and history behind it. Even through their food, the rich culture of the city is so evident. As they say, when you want to know the culture of a place, you have to try their food.

Eating Through Beijing China

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