The confluence of numerous cultures and peoples over a period of centuries has made Beijing one of the biggest foci of Chinese cuisine. Characterized by a typically distinct culinary style, the dishes have their own lineages, often dating back to several hundred years ago. And the cooking is more art than technique, with chefs, known and unknown, constantly innovating to come up with even more variety. So if you’re planning to visit Beijing, you will most certainly have to immerse yourself in the city’s glorious food heritage.
And the best way you can do that is by tasting the famous Pecking Duck. Legend has it that in 1330, Hu Sihui, an inspector of the imperial kitchens in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing, first recorded the recipe of this royal dish. As the capital moved to Beijing, so did the dish. The chefs of the new capital refined the recipe further and made it into what is today known as the Pecking Duck.
Apart from the duck, a true reflection of Beijing’s food culture can be found in its streets and local restaurants. And none’s better than Gui Jie or “Ghost Street”. It is so called because earlier, stall holders in that street would sell their groceries from late night till dawn, their kerosene lamps forming ghostly shadows on the walls. There you’ll find the numerous restaurants illuminated with red lanterns, reminiscent of its ghostly past. Beijing also has its fair share of restaurants that cater more to tourists, offering both western and traditional Chinese.
But, perhaps as tricky as cooking Chinese Cuisine is ordering it. And if you want a complete experience, mastering yourself in that art will prove useful. Acquainting yourself with some of the dishes through a good guidebook is definitely a positive start. However, for the complete experience, attending a few cooking lessons will equip you with all the terminology you need. Such lessons are offered in many places in Beijing, and will even teach you how to shop for the best and freshest vegetables, and the strongest spices.
Alas, despite all your training in the fine art of Chinese cooking, even a month’s time in Beijing won’t be enough for you to experience the city’s food heritage in its entirety. Centuries of evolution and contributions from hundreds of local cultures to the age old recipes of the city’s imperial past have resulted in a gigantic variety of the tastiest of foods. But this much is certain: if you really want to experience true Chinese food, Beijing is definitely the place.
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