The Chinese are a nation of foodies: even pleasantries revolve around the subject. One
way of asking “how are you?” - nichīfàn le ma? - translates literally as “have you
eaten rice yet?”, and they talk food like the British talk about the weather, as a social
be rènao - hot and noisy. Given this obsession with food it follows, perhaps, that China
boasts one of the world's most complex cuisines, with each region presenting a host of
intricate varieties. The culinary wealth of Beijing is unique; it encompasses every style
It's no surprise then that, for some visitors, eating becomes the highlight of their trip.
Every corner of Beijing is filled with restaurants, though their nature changes as you shift
throughout the city. A few areas have become quite trendy, especially around Sanlitun and
Yonghe Gong areas to the northeast of the centre and the Drum Tower in the north, which
boast a cosmopolitan range of places to eat. Wangfujing , east of the Forbidden City, caters
you'll find good duck south of Qianmen and Muslim food around NiuJie Mosque ; up near
the university in the far north of the city, Wudaokou is a mini Koreatown.
Pity the poor emperor. At mealtimes he wasn't allowed to take more than one mouthful
of any one dish for fear that if he showed a preference a poisoner might take advantage.
As a lowly citizen however, you are under no such compunction, and the city has some
great places where you can indulge in the imperialcuisine that originated in the Qing dyn-
asty kitchens. As well as meticulously prepared dishes created with extravagant ingredients
such as birds' nests and sharks' fins , imperial cuisine is noted for fish that's so fresh it's
still flapping (it's all about keeping the nerves intact) and fine pastries such as pea-flour
cakes and kidney bean-flour rolls. Although you'll find dishes made with exotic meats such
as boar and camel , these days you won't come across bear or wolf on the menu. Thank-
fully, one other ingredient is also no longer included: traditionally, imperial food always
came with a strip of silver inside, as it was thought to turn black in the presence of poison.
Beijing's most famous food - Peking duck - is actually not eaten that often by locals, but
you should certainly give it a go while you're here; the same can be said for elaborate im-