Beijing has a a lot of “fast food”. Yes, it has McDonalds, KFC, Burger King and their own local fast-food restaurants. But it also has a preponderance of street fast food–vendors selling items grilled on sticks that people can eat while walking down the street. Some are targeted strictly at tourists, such as scorpion, sea horses, star fish, cocoon, beetles and spiders on a stick. And, yes, the scorpions were still moving—at least until they were put on the grill. Being more adventurous than Joyce, Tom tried the scorpions while a crowd of people watched. He said it tasted like something fried but one couldn’t distinguish anything else. Then there is the stuff that the Chinese eat such as tripe and chicken or meat on a stick, grilled corn, dumplings, roasted chestnuts as well as soup bowls (similar to what we have in the US).
While many Chinese are content eating their meals while walking down the street, we generally prefer sit down meals at restaurants that have menus with pictures of food so that we know what we are eating (most also have English subtitles). Many of these types of restaurants catered to tourists. Some will say the food is better and some will say it it not. But we were tourists, so why not. Being in Beijing, we had Peking Duck 3 times (although it is called Roasted Duck here). Is is so different from the fatty duck one gets in the US. The skin is crispy and the duck lean and is served in multiple ways:
- On pancake (which we prefer to San Francisco’s use of steamed buns), along with the traditional hoisin sauce (not as sweet as in the US), cucumber, melon and onions
- With sugar to dip the crisp skin in to
- With hollowed out sesame “buns” into which you can put hoisin-coated duck instead of using pancakes
Dadong Restaruant was our favorite place for duck as much for the atmosphere, as for the food. Duck de Chine was second. Both places have more items than duck, but duck seemed to be the primary dish that people ordered.
Other Beijing restaurants include:
- Hua Restaurant. A very popular, very entertaining seafood restaurant on a festive, neon-lit street. The street was especially festive as it was decked out for National Week with Chinese Lanterns. Visitors and passers-by were welcomed with a fun, outdoor song-and-dance routine by a large portion of the restaurant’s staff. Inside, the entertainment continued with entertainers singing, chefs making noodles and other routines. Dinner began with a relatively tasty (but unusually textured) sautéed foie gras, followed by a tasteless sautéed shrimp (Joyce) and a chili crab dish (Tom) that was very good, but a lot of work. If you think that cracking and eating crab with chopsticks might be difficult, the Chinese have a solution. They give people disposable plastic gloves to allow people to eat crab with their hands.
- Kaorno Restaurant. This restaurant, in the Hougulouyuan Hutong, provided Tom with yet another opportunity to sample the type of unusual fare that he can’t get in the U.S. His meal began, when he briefly suspended his opposition to aggressive shark hunting, to have a small bowl of shark-fin soup (the second and last time in his life). Then, for the main course, sea cucumber, a surprisingly expensive delicacy. Although he enjoyed the taste of the soup, the shark fin itself, had little if any of it’s own discernible taste. It was distinguished primarily by its slightly crunchy texture. The sea cucumber came with less guilt, but even less taste (other than for, to his taste, the too heavy sauce). It too had a distinctive texture. It was as soft and squishy cooked as it is in real life (as we discovered on a previous nature tour of a tidal zone). And as in real life, it does not submit to being fondled without defense–in its case a squirt. When picked up and gently squeezed in the wild, it squirts a dark ink. On the plate, however, when it is cut, it only squirts a bit of the cooking liquid that is trapped inside its hollow gut. Joyce had some very salty herbs with tofu and very good sautéed prawns.
- Capital M. Our concierge recommended this restaurant, so we went without looking at the menu first. We were surprised that this was more European food, versus Chinese, but we were game. Joyce ordered King Prawns with Fresh Clams. The seafood was very fresh and tasty but the dishes flavors were not well integrated. Tom had the crispy suckling pig. Both dishes would have been good at $20-25 each, but each cost $45. Way too much money for mediocre food. We would not recommend it. The service, however, was excellent and the view was spectacular—especially with buildings like Forbidden City all lit up for National Day.