No visit to Beijing is complete without dining on Peking duck. An imperial delicacy made popular during the Ming Dynasty, the perfect Peking duck combines a moist, tender flesh with a crisp, slightly smoky skin and perfectly caramelised fat. Sliced tableside, enjoying the chef's measured strokes slicing up your steaming duck is half the treat. Make sure to sample a morsel of crispy skin before wrapping your duck in thin wheaten pancakes with thick hoisin sauce and slivers of cucumber, scallion and melon.
A combination of working man's breakfast staple and late-night reveller refuel, the jianbing is one of Beijing's best loved street foods. A thin batter of wheat or grain flour is cooked on a circular grill then topped with an egg, chopped scallions and cilantro, sweet soy bean paste, a touch of spicy chilli paste if you fancy it and a sheet of crispy wonton, wrapped up burrito style and served in a paper bag. The variations on this theme are as common as the street carts selling them are ubiquitous so you'll never be bored with this Beijing fave.
Douzhi is a fermented dish which is similar to soy milk but made from mung beans and with a more pronounced flavour. For first timers, the smells rising from the steaming cauldrons might be off putting. Doled out at Beijing breakfast stalls and mum and pop shops, the fermented bean drink packs a similar tangy punch to other fermented products like stinky tofu, but it's a great starting point for first timers. Old school Beijingers swear by their morning cup of douzhi.
FRIED BEAN-PASTE NOODLES
Fried bean paste noodles are almost as iconic as Peking duck and the jianbing, if less well known to non-Chinese speakers. Freshly cooked or cooled wheaten noodles are topped with sliced cucumber, radish, bean sprouts and leek among other fresh vegies. Then a thick pork and soy bean-based paste is ladled over the noodles. The noodles always arrive unmixed so you get to enjoy the bright colours of the vegies before mixing in the savoury sauce.
Perhaps the most challenging of local Beijing delicacies is luzhu – and this is a real love it or hate it sort of deal. Locals can't get enough of the barnyard funk while even out of town Chinese turn their noses up at the stuff. A pork-based stew of offal including lung, brain, liver and intestines to name a few, luzhu can be found in Beijing old neighbourhoods and old-school canteens. Popular in winter for its meaty heft and warming quality, if you like it, it's a treat any time of year or else something you'll be glad you only ever had to try once.
A traditional winter sweet that can now be found year round in Beijing, tanghulu are skewers of fruit coated in a thin layer of molten sugar that hardens into a thin, mildly sweet candy skin. Traditionally you could only find Chinese hawthorn and chestnut variations but these days anything from strawberries to pineapple and grapes make the cut. Cheap, highly portable and popular with children, you can find these sweet pick-me-ups anywhere people gather in large numbers from market streets to city parks.
LU DA GUN
Lu da gun is an old school Beijing traditional dessert that is still widely popular today. It's made from sheets of steamed glutinous millet or sticky rice that are filled with red bean paste and rolled up and chopped into roughly one inch cubes. The bites are rolled in crushed sweet green soy beans and sugar giving the outside a crunchy bite while the inside is soft and chewy. The Chinese roughly means "donkey rolling in the sand", which should be obvious, right?
Li Dong is the chef de cuisine of Jing Yaa Tang, the acclaimed restaurant of the Beijing boutique hotel, Opposite House. The restaurant was designed by restaurateur Alan Yau, and presents a selection of dishes inspired by the famous Peking duck. Originally from Beijing, Li Dong's 20-plus years of experience includes his early training and cooking in different Chinese cuisines and most recently at the Horizon restaurant in Kerry Centre Beijing. Li Dong's passion lies in making authentic Chinese regional dishes. See theoppositehouse.com