The vastness of China’s geography and history echoes in the Chinese cuisine. Climate zones expanding from the subarctic to the tropical, providing different ingredients and cultures with unique cooking traditions of their own give Chinese cuisine several styles of cooking. And some of these cooking styles have become very popular. Beijing cuisine in particular has patrons in other parts of the world – from the United States, Australia, Western Europe, Southern Africa, Indian Subcontinent, as evidenced by the number of Chinese eateries that have emerged over the years. The history of Chinese cuisine stretches back for many centuries and is marked by both variety and change. In particular, the Chinese pride themselves on eating a wide range of foods. A combination of many centuries of love of good food, a tradition of open hospitality and endless experimentation with nature’s bounty has gone into making the rich and vibrant feast that is the colorful culinary heritage of China. The Chinese cuisine is full of exquisite flavors as well as fiery and subtle seasonings that have been perfected over thousands of years. Beijing Cuisine traditionally represents the flavor of the ancient imperial court. The city was the gathering place of the literati and officials and many skilled chefs followed these people. These chefs brought the different cuisines and enriched the flavors of Beijing cuisine by absorbing their specialties into the local cooking technique. Beijing cuisine mainly consists of the cooking styles of the Muslims, imperial recipes from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, seafood from the Tan family cuisine and specialties from some northern provinces.
Beijing Peking Duck – Considered one of China’s national dishes, the Beijing Peking Duck or Peking Roasted Duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that has been prepared since the imperial era specially for the Emperor of China in the Yuan Dynasty. Originally named “Shaoyazi”, the name ‘Peking Duck’ was only fully developed during the later Ming dynasty. By the Qianlong Period (1736–1796) of the Qing Dynasty, the popularity of Peking Duck spread to the upper classes as the wealthy believed that if it was good enough for the emperor, it was definitely a must have. Ducks bred specially for the dish are chosen right after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. Prized for the thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat. The cooked Peking Duck is traditionally carved in front of the diners and served in three stages. First, the skin is served dipped in sugar and garlic sauce. The meat is then served with steamed pancakes, spring onions and sweet bean sauce. Vegetables are provided as an accompaniment, typically cucumber sticks. The diners then spread sauce, and optionally sugar, over the pancake. The pancake is wrapped around the meat with the vegetables and eaten by hand. The remaining fat, meat and bones may be made into a broth, served as is, or the meat chopped up and stir fried with sweet bean sauce.
Imperial cuisine used only the best ingredients and was characterized by complex preparation techniques and elaborate presentations. Regarded as the pinnacle of Chinese cuisine, it was the foundation of Beijing cooking and was created solely for the emperor and the royal family. Manhan Quanxi, literally Manchu Han Imperial Feast was one of the grandest meals ever documented in Chinese cuisine. It consisted of at least 108 unique dishes from the Manchu and Han Chinese culture during the Qing Dynasty, and it is only reserved and intended for the emperors. The question that everyone is probably asking now, is how did they eat 108 dishes at one sitting? Well, they didn’t. The imperial feast was spread out over three whole days, across six banquets. One of the most famous dishes in the Manhan Quanxi is one that has quite a fancy name – Buddha jump over the wall.
Created during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912), Buddha jump over the wall is a variety of shark fin soup in Cantonese and Fujian cuisine. Considered as a Chinese delicacy, this dish is known for its rich taste, usage of various high-quality ingredients and a very unique cooking method. The next question that begets is, what’s with the name? Well, the name is an allusion to the dish’s ability to entice the monks (who have taken a vow to abstain from meat) from their temples to partake in this dish (which has meat). This dish consists of many ingredients and requires one to two full days of preparation. A typical recipe requires a myriad of ingredients including quail eggs, bamboo shoots, scallops, sea cucumber, abalone, shark fin, chicken, Jinhua ham, pork tendon, ginseng, mushrooms, and taro. There are certain recipes that require up to thirty main ingredients and twelve condiments.
While this dish may have been considered a delicacy in ancient times, today it is controversial for a couple of reasons, one for its use of shark fin, which is usually harvested by shark finning – a fishing practice considered by many to be destructive, inhumane and unethical. Another reason is that the name of the dish is considered a blasphemy to Buddhism, the suggestion that a monk or even Buddha himself would abandon his vows just to eat this dish has incensed many devout Buddhists. Regardless, this dish was a regular fixture on the imperial menu and no imperial feast for the emperor and his dignified guests would be complete without it.
Snacks (finger food) are a big part of Chinese and Beijing cuisine and there are probably over 200 different varieties of snacks in Beijing and can be found throughout the city. Here are some of the places you can go to sample the local Beijing flavor.
This photo of Donghuamen Night Market is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Donghuamen Snack Night Market – From a distance away, visitors can smell the delicious wafting aroma of Beijing cooking and that’s how you know you’ve arrived at the right place. Located at the northern entrance of Wangfujing Street, Donghuamen Night Market is the most famous snack street in Beijing, popular with both locals and tourists. Earlier, in addition to foot traffic, motor vehicles were also allowed but due to safety reasons, the street became exclusive to pedestrians. And right after, Donghuamen Snack Night Market became the No. 1 snack street in Beijing. Visitors can sample an assortment of tasty treats from both northern and southern China and the bustling crowds and festive-like atmosphere makes for a great time!
This photo of Ghost Street (Gui Jie) is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Gui Street – If you are more of a nocturnal person, Gui Street in Dongzhi Gate, is perfect for you. Most restaurants in the street are open until the wee hours of the morning and often the late hours of the night are usually the busiest times. When you are there, be sure to try the most famous dish in the market – the Spicy Lobster.
Guanganmen Snack Street – Starting from Liuliqiao in west to Hufangqiao in east, Guanganmen Snack Street is the only snack street in the southern part of Beijing. Renown for its hot and spicy flavor dishes, Sichuan cuisine is a specialty of this street. Li Lao Die Xiang La Xie (Father Li Hot Crab) and Tan Yu Tou (Fish Head Tan) are some of the more popular dishes here.
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Located in the midst of Beijing’s invigorating Chaoyang district, Fraser Residence CBD East-Beijing provides easy access to a wealth of leisure and entertainment facilities. Close by is the SOHO New Town, which has a cinema, outdoor tennis courts, children’s playgrounds and a plethora of restaurants, teahouses and cafes. Sample Beijing’s delicacies or browse quality retail items at Shin Kong Place or Central Place Shopping Mall. Also within the vicinity are the Olympic Park and colourful markets like Panjiayuan Antique Market, Silk Street Market and Laitai Flowers and Plants Market. Sanlitun Street, one of Beijing’s most popular places for its vibrant nightlife, is a short distance from your apartment. Travelling in, out of and around the area is a breeze, with easy access to the 4th Ring Road (Si Huan Lu) – an express road which runs around the Beijing city. Surrounded by international schools, international clubs, foreign-related business areas and service facilities, foreign ministries and embassies, Fraser Residence CBD East-Beijing is an unmatched domicile for savvy business travellers.