Obviously, for someone who loves Chinese food as much as I do, one of the main attractions of a vacation to China was the food — and it certainly didn’t disappoint. A couple of general observations about Chinese food in China before I list some of the restaurants we liked the most:
– as my sister observed, it’s sort of surprising how much Chinese food in China is like Chinese food at home. That sounds strange to say, but I somehow expected that it would be radically different or more authentic tasting or something.
– Chinese food in China is NOT less greasy than Chinese food in the U.S. — if anything, it has more oil in it
– there’s a lot of fresh cilantro in Beijing style food. We love cilantro, so we were pretty happy about that, but it initially came as a bit of a surprise.
– vegetables are incorporated in a lot of dishes, but there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of just raw vegetables or vegetables without sauces. I was sort of craving a salad by the end of the week.
– Chinese people do eat pretty much everything with chop sticks, but they also “cheat” a lot by doing things like bringing bowls right up to their mouths and sort of shoveling things like rice in, instead of trying to pick it up and bring it to their mouths like we tend to do when eating with forks. I’m sure there were plenty of people laughing at us while we tried to sit up straight and not drop rice grains all over the table until we figured that little trick out.

It would be an exercise in futility to try to write about every place we ate, so I’ll just hit some of the highlights:

Makye Ame: This is one of the first restaurants we went to in Beijing, maybe even the very first, although I don’t remember now. It’s a Tibetan restaurant, and we had read about it in our guide book. The food was really good — we had mushrooms and a mutton dish that was cooked with hot stones in a chili sauce. The fermented barley drink that Danny ordered was quite funky, but everything else was really very good. The ambiance was the best part — it’s on the second story overlooking a park, and the inside has exposed wooden beams and traditional Tibetan textiles and things on the walls. There was a musical group there practicing while we ate, and whatever song it was that they played about nine hundred times periodically got stuck in our heads for the rest of the trip, usually because Danny would start singing it to drive me crazy. 🙂

Xiao Wang’s Home Restaurant: There are two branches of this restaurant in Beijing, but the one we ate at is located in a park that was right near our hotel. We ate on the roof, so got to enjoy the perfect weather while we ate. The food was fantastic — I had a fried tofu dish, Danny had some sort of beef something (I really shouldn’t have waited this long to write this…), and we also got some really good sauteed greens. We decided to try something different and order a Chinese white wine, which was actually pretty good, although neither one of us are so into white wines that we really know the difference.

Green Tea House: This was one of two restaurants that were recommended to me by someone who used to live in Beijing, and it was amazing. The sort of restaurant that I would expect to find in New York — very hip and stylish, with everything presented in some really unique way. The menu is arranged like a play, with various acts, and the restaurant is very theatrical in the way it’s decorated — white floors, ceilings and walls, with stark black furniture. There was a seating area up next to the windows that was basically like a really wide window seat with padded cushions and low tables, which is where we sat. It was definitely a wee bit on the pretentious side, but the food was phenomenal. I’ve attached a link to the website so you can check it out:

Courtyard: This was the second restaurant that was recommended to us, and it too was well worth finding. It overlooks the walls of the Forbidden City, and has a sort of nouveau French/European cuisine. The restaurant is also a gallery, and the wine list was incredibly impressive. The most memorable part of the meal for me was the foie gras brulee, which I’m now obsessed with getting our chef friend to recreate for me some day. It was basically a chilled layer of foie gras on top of a piece of some sort of bread, and on top was a layer of caramelized sugar just like a creme brulee. Sounds a bit strange probably, but it was so silky and rich and the crunch of the sugar was a great contrast.

Tiandi Yijia: This was one of the last restaurants we ate in, and the only upscale Chinese restaurant. We tried an aged rice wine, which was interesting but not something we’d probably do again. We also tried shark fin (the texture is a lot like glass noodles, actually, which was not what I was expecting) and abalone (not bad, but definitely not worth what they charge for it, the texture is sort of like a rubbery scallop). The inside of the restaurant was really beautiful, though, it’s a traditional courtyard-style setup with fountains and potted plants and statues scattered throughout.

Niuge Jiaozi: This is the place that got Danny totally hooked on jiaozi. They had a huge selection, we had one with egg and vegetables inside, one with beef and one with lamb, and all of them were made fresh in the kitchen after we ordered. They were really very good — very fresh tasting and not so doughy that we were full after only a few. A dumpling lunch is definitely not something I’d want to do if I had to work afterward, though…we were walking around all afternoon and were still pretty sleepy for a while.

Beijing Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant: This was the second of two duck restaurants that we ate in, but of course I can’t remember the name of the first one. The first one was a pretty typical touristy duck restaurant, except that it didn’t have English menus. We also ended up on the fast food side, which we realized later, and that may have been why it was sort of a utilitarian experience. The duck was definitely good, but I liked the duck at the second restaurant, Beijing Dadong, better because they somehow trim most of the fat out before they cook it. It still has a really crispy skin and a rich flavor, but my mouth didn’t feel coated with duck fat the way it did after the first place. The other interesting thing was that at Beijing Dadong they brought out a little bowl of sugar as one of the condiments (along with the traditional duck sauce and scallions and such), and told us that it was traditional in the imperial court to dip the crispy skin parts in the sugar. I have to admit, even though it sounded strange at first it tasted very good — the crunchy skin and fat and the sugar somehow made a very good combination.