Beijing: Fact Sheet
China is famed world wide for its cuisine and there are few
countries where it has not become part of the established dining
We travelled to Beijing, China's political, cultural and gastronomic capital where imperial cuisine, Peking duck, hotpot and dumplings are the main items on the menu.
The main external influence on the food of Northern China has been the Muslim cooking of the Mongol invaders who broke through the Great Wall from the North and brought their hotpots and BBQ's. We visit a famous hotpot restaurant by Tiananmen Square for a lesson in how you eat one.
Contact: Donglaishun Restaurant
East Side Tiananmen Square
Tel: +86 10 6524 1042
Beijing was the centre of power for most of China's long imperial history. The presence of court not only encouraged a huge diversity of cooking styles in the city from every province in China but also elevated cooking to a standard probably not seen anywhere else in the world. Food was as important to the myth surrounding the emperor as his armies and he employed hundreds if not thousands in his kitchens. There are now a few restaurants in Beijing that specialize in imperial cuisine; the very grand Behai Fangshan Restaurant is one such spot. The restaurant was founded 80 years ago by cooks who had worked in the imperial kitchen. All dishes are elaborately prepared and range from delicate pastries to sea cucumber with deer tendon peppery inkfish's egg soup and camel paw with scallion. There are also rare delicacies such as birdsnest soup, abalone, turtle meat and of course shark fin soup.
Contact: Fangshan Restaurant
1 Wenjin Street
Xi Cheng District
Tel: + 86 10 6410 1879
The complex recipes of the imperial kitchens date back many hundreds of years as does the recipe for Beijing's most famous dish; Peking Duck.. It is said that the original recipe was scribed over three hundred years ago and ran to 15,000 words. What we do know about the preparation is that the duck is blanched and marinated in a mixture of malt honey vinegar and corn flour before it is roasted in a hot oven to make it crisp. Serving the duck is also conducted in a time honoured way. First the bird is ceremoniously wheeled out to the table by the chef. The skin is carefully sliced with the merest sliver of flesh and rolled in a pancake accompanied with spring onions and hoi sin sauce. For the authentic experience there are a number of specialist restaurants in Beijing.
Wang Fu Jing Night Market
For its sheer spectacle a visit to Beijing's nightly food market is a must. Amongst the barbeques, pancakes and stir fries you'll find all manner of weird and wonderful delicacies to tempt the more adventurous diner. There are charred locusts with gossamer wings, spiny scorpions, silkworms in corkscrew cocoons and tiny whole but headless frogs cooked in oil with star anise and chilli powder. The market is open daily from 4.30pm to 10.30pm.
The Chinese have been perfecting the art of making dumplings (jiaozi) since the sung dynasty so naturally they've become masters of the art. In a country were geography dictates the cuisine dumplings are the culinary ambassador across all ethnic groups and religions. In Northern China dumplings are essential holiday fare. As the spring festival marks the start of a New Year the Chinese eat dumplings to connote their wishes of good fortune for the New Year. Traditionally family members make the dumplings together on New Years Eve - sometimes they will hide a coin in a dumpling and whoever finds it is assured good fortune for the New Year.
Most Chinese learn the art of dumpling making as children so by the time they're adults they're experts, particularly at making the wrappings which can be the most difficult part of the process. In Auntie Liu's hutong home Peta learns how to prepare the dough and make two different the fillings and most importantly how to wrap each dumpling.
AUNTIE LIU'S DUMPLINGS
Cabbage and Mushroom Dumplings
Pork and Celery
Celery stalk and leaves
Mix the flour and water together to make the dough. Roll the dough into a sausage and cut into small pieces. Roll each piece until you have a circle about 7cm in diameter. To make the filling, finely chop the rest of the ingredients and combine with a little peanut and sesame oil. Place the filling in the centre of each circle and fold the edges towards each other to make a crescent or 'cornish pastie' shape. Dumplings can be steamed, fried or boiled but Auntie always boils hers for 3 to 4 minutes until they're done.
Red Capital Club
Discretely located in an immaculately restored hutong is a very unique bar and restaurant called The Red Capital Club. Step through the doors of Red Capital and you're transported to 1950's China when the country was driven by the sweeping idealism of the Cultural Revolution and Chairman Mao. The furnishings are genuine pieces from central government and the offices of Madame Mao. The menu is comprised of the favourite dishes of the party elite and each has its own story. There is Chairman Mao's favourite meal of red roast pork with bitter melon and Deng's family recipe for chicken which comes with black and white cat sculptures carved out of beets and turnips, in honour of Deng's famous economics axiom 'it doesn't matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches the mice'.
Contact: Red Capital Club
66 Dongsi Jiutiao
Tel: 86 10 8401 6152
Time for Tea
In this city of sweeping change, one thing has stayed the same, the ability to enjoy a cup of tea in a traditional setting. At the Lao She Teahouse customers relax in an old world Beijing setting, enjoy the finest teas in China, watch traditional Chinese performance art and are treated to delicious traditional snacks and delicacies the likes of which were eaten by the Emperors of the Qing Dynasty.
Contact: Lao She Teahouse
Qianmen Xi Dajie Bldg 3, 3rd Floor
Tel: +86 10 6303 6803
In a country so steeped in the traditions of tea the search for a good cup of coffee can be tricky, but we found one at a café called Club Lush. Owned by kiwi entrepreneur Jade Gray, Club Lush is a haven for expats seeking a taste of home. The menu is classic kiwi café food meets American diner fare with familiar staples such as burgers, bagels and breads.
Contact: Club Lush
2nd Floor, Bldg#1, Huaqingjiayuan, Wudaokou,
Tel: +86 (010) 8286 3566
The Great Wall
Jade joined our crew for a day to take us on a special road trip. We hadn't travelled far from Beijing before we encountered the most scenic countryside and meandering through the landscape was the Great Wall. In the valleys below the Great Wall are many unspoilt and rustic villages including one called Jian Kou where Jade has made his version of the kiwi bach. The view of the wall from Jian Kou is spectacular although you won't find many western tourists here. Most head to the public section at Mu Tian Yu where visitors can access the wall via a cable car and have the option of descending by a toboggan.
Trout is a popular specialty in this region and through the river valley on the way to Jade's village are dozens of trout farms which are collectively called the Golden Mile. Here diners catch their meal before it is roasted whole with chilli powder and spices.
TOFU AND CHILLI STIR FRY
Jade introduced us to Mr Lu the village's best local cook who prepared for us one of the most incendiary stir fries we had encountered. Simply fry whole chillies in soya oil. Add tofu, peppercorns and finally soy sauce with corn flour to thicken.
DEEP FRIED AUBERGINE
Mr Lu's cooking was so good we asked him to share the recipe for another of his specialties; deep fried aubergine.
Eggplant peeled and chopped
Green pepper (chopped)
Pinch of MSG
Pinch of salt
Soya oil for frying
Heat oil in a pan. Dip the aubergine in water then roll in corn flour before deep frying in the pan. Add green pepper and carrot to the pan, when the vegetables are cooked, strain them and set to one side. In the pan stir fry the spring onions, garlic and ginger. While these are cooking make a sauce by combining the corn flour, sugar, soy sauce, MSG, salt and water. Add the sauce to the spring onions and ginger then toss through cooked vegetables.
Travel specialists Adventure World assisted the 'Taste' team with their China arrangements. Adventure World is a niche travel company with an in depth knowledge of less traditional tourist destinations. For more information about their products and tours contact Adventure World at:
Contact: Adventure World
101 Great South Road, Remuera, Auckland
PO Box 74008 Market Road
Tel: +64 9 524 5118 or 0800 ADVENTURE (0800 238 3622)