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Food & Loging --- Dining

Brief Introduction Beijing Cuisine Peking Duck
Court Cuisine Sichuan Cuisine Chaozhou Cuisine
Canton (Guandong) Cuisine Jiangsu Cuisine Shanghai Cuisine
Shandong Cuisine Hunan Cuisine Korean Cuisine
Tonic Pot Hot Pot Nostalgia Cuisine
Snacks Drinks Tea

 

BRIEF INTRODUCTION

Dining in China has long been looked upon as a combined pleasure and cultural experience. In Beijing alone, a plethora of tasty dishes awaits both the adventurous and the "homesick" hungry traveler.

There are thousands of eating places in Beijing, serving more than half a dozen different Chinese cuisine. And thanks to the proliferation of modern hotels and international restaurant chains, the city now boasts kitchens that prepare food from all parts of the world. One can taste genuine French, Russian and American cuisine, as well as Japanese, Korean and Thai food cooked by native chefs.

There are also outlets of the world's most popular fast food, such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dunkin' Donuts and Kenny Rodgers' Roasters.

Hotels serve some of the best meals and normally have the best service. Local restaurants are more crowded and noisy, but they portray a fuller sense of local flavor. Lunch is between 10 am and 2 pm and dinner is traditionally from 6 to 8 pm. However, dining habits are changing and more restaurants are staying open after 9 pm.

The best known places have bilingual Chinese-English menus, and there are usually one of two English-speaking waiters. Visitors can use credit cards or travelers' checks in restaurants within hotels.

Sometimes eating out becomes a form of entertainment in itself, especially when sampling such Beijing snacks as dumplings (jiaozi), noodles and family-style dishes in typical, homely Chinese restaurants.

Chinese cooking often uses MSG (weijing) in preparation. If you are allergic to this substance, ask for your order not to contain it.

The biggest difference between Chinese and Western food is that soup is served last in China. The dishes are normally served in the order of cold dishes -- hot dishes -- soup -- snacks -- dessert -- fruit.

Below is a list of the major styles of Chinese cuisine.

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BEIJING CUISINE

Many of the dishes classified as "Beijing" style originated in the Imperial courts, which had at their command the best of all the food in China.

Beijing cuisine makes liberal use of stronger flavored roots and vegetables such as peppers, garlic, ginger, leek and coriander (Chinese parsley). Because of its more northerly location, the Beijing food tends to be more substantial, to keep the body warm. Instead of rice, which is the staple diet in Cantonese cuisine, more noodles, dumplings (jiaozi), and bread (baked, steamed or fried) are served in Peking-style restaurants. Demonstrations of the highly skilled art of turning a lump of dough into even-sized noodles can be observed in some noodle restaurants.

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Peking Duck

The most famous dish associated with Beijing is Peking Roast Duck, of which the crisp skin is the most prized part. To achieve such crispness, the duck is air-dried, then coated with a mixture of syrup and soy sauce before roasting. When ready, it is presented ceremoniously and the skin deftly carved. These pieces are wrapped in thin pancakes with onions or leeks, cucumber, turnip and plum sauce. Some restaurants also serve up just about every part of the duck, from the webbed feet to the beak and liver. On request, the remainder of the duck meat can be sautd with bean sprouts, and the bones made into a wonderful soup with cabbage.

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COURT CUISINE

Two restaurants offer meals fit for an emperor, in brilliantly restored rooms where the court of the Qing Dynasty used to dine. They are Fangshan, set below the White Pagoda in Beihai Park, and Tingliguan, literally "Listening to the Orioles Pavilion", formerly a theater in the Summer palace.

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SICHUAN CUISINE

The food of China's largest province is distinguished by the clever use of spices, resulting in dishes that are usually very hot. Their distinctive flavor is culinary evidence of the mountainous province's long geographical isolation. The fascinating variety and subtle use of flavoring additives in the region's cuisine helps to explain its appeal. One favorite starter with many visitors is a dish of curling, crisp, super thin slices of beef impregnated with the truly tangy peel of "golden orange" (the kumquat).

Chicken, pork, river fish and shellfish are all popular ingredients and noodles or steamed bread are generally preferred to rice. That staple gets a very special Sichuan treatment in "crackling" or "crispy" rice dishes, (guoba) in which the deep fried dried scrapping from the bottom of the rice pan is brought to your table and then covered with a rich, spicy sauce of seafood, meat or vegetables. The resulting sound effects are a culinary chorus of "snap, crackle and pop" unlike any other!

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CHAOZHOU CUISINE

Chaozhou is renowned for its seafood cooking, which creates unforgettable fresh flavors. The mouthwatering prawns, oysters, crabs and eels, combined with family-style pickles, play a symphony of traditional cuisine. The ingredients, such as shark's fin and edible bird's nest, are cooked in a unique way with special seasoning juice. The famous dishes include salt-baked goose with vinegar juice, steamed shrimp with orange juice, and fish rice with bean sauce. A tea ceremony is held during the serving of dishes, not just for performance but to aid digestion.

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CANTON (GUANGDONG) CUISINE

Cantonese cuisine is known for its fresh and delicate flavors. Freshly bought ingredients are prepared the same day and cooked just before serving, using little oil or spicy seasonings. Seafood is so fresh that it hardly touches dry land before it arrives on your dinner table. In many seafood restaurants, you can actually choose your own fish swimming live in the restaurant's tanks.

Frozen and processed foods are not usually found in Chinese kitchens. However, dried seafood, like shark's fin and abalone, are often used.

Dim sum, a special Cantonese snack not to be missed, is served in many Cantonese restaurants.

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JIANGSU CUISINE

Jiangsu specialties are West Lake fish and Beggar's Chicken, where the chicken is baked in lotus leaves and clay. Legend has it that Beggar's Chicken was invented by a Hangzhou thief. The story goes that because the thief had no stove, he wrapped the stolen bird in clay and baked it in a hole in the ground; another version explains that he was a hungry thief who found a way to cook his bird and keep it and its aroma secret!

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SHANGHAI CUISINE

Shanghai, the major seaport in the estuary of the Yangtze River, does not really have a cuisine of its own, but successfully refines all the work of the surrounding provinces. The flavors are generally richer, heavier, sweeter and oilier than those of Cantonese Cuisine.

More use is made of preserved vegetables and pickles (pao cai), and salted Meats (xianrou) are a feature. Lime-and-ginger-flavored "1000-year-old" eggs (pidan) are perhaps Shanghai's best-known culinary preservation work. Its best-known delicacy is "hairy crab" (dazha xiei)Other popular dishes include "eight treasure" duck, "drunken" chicken, braised eel and yellow fish.

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SHANDONG CUISINE

The cuisine of neighboring Shandong Province is a dominant factor in Beijing's home cooking. There are more restaurants in the capital serving Shandong cuisine than any other. Thanks to its coastline the province excels in fish and seafood dishes, such as sea cucumber, "squirrel fish", jumbo prawns, crab and eel.

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HUNAN CUISINE

Sometimes called Xiang Cuisine, Hunan's culinary specialties are akin to those of the chili-rich Sichuan dishes. Chili peppers (hua jiao), garlic (suan) and an unusual sauce, called "strange-flavor" sauce (guai wei jiang) on some menus, enliven many dishes, with a somewhat drier intensity than that of their Sichuanese counterparts. Sweetness, too, is a Hunanese culinary Passion, and honey sauces are favored in desserts such as water chestnut or cassia newer cakes.

Rice is Hunan's staple, but northern-style side dishes and fillers are also popular: bean curd "bread" rolls or dumplings and savory buns. They are further signs that Hunan is one of China's culinary heartland, incorporating many flavors and regional influences.

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KOREAN CUISINE

Beijingers have gradually grown to like the spicy and sweet taste of Korean dog meat noodles, dog meat soup, roast fish, and pickles. Most Korean restaurants have Korean waitresses and an amiable environment

Chinese Muslims, of the Hui Nationality, have a strong presence in Beijing so that Muslim restaurants enjoy brisk business. There are several large Muslim restaurants and many hundreds of small "snack bars" on the street offering the spicy "yangrouchuanr" (mutton) and "jirou chuanr" (chicken) on a stick for as little as 1 yuan per serving Xinjiang Street, in a lane in the Weigongcun area west of Beijing, near the Friendship Hotel, has many small restaurants specializing in Muslin cuisine.

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TONIC POT

According to traditional Chinese medicine, those dishes cooked with ginseng, pilose antler, bear's paw, soft-shelled turtle and the fruit of Chinese wolf berry are both delicious and nutritious.

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HOT POT

Hot pot is a winter favorite in Beijing. The traditional Mongolian hot pot has been augmented by Cantonese and Sichuan-style hotpot. The ingredients for hot pots of different styles are mainly beef, mutton, seafood and vegetables. The boiling stock of Cantonese hotpot is light in taste, while the Sichuan hotpot features hot and spicy stock to enhance the flavor of the meat and vegetables. Diners choose their own selection of meat and vegetables and dip them into the boiling pot at their table.

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NOSTALGIA CUISINE

Also called Cultural Revolution cuisine by some foreigners. The eateries, named after old revolutionary slogans such as Black Earth, Old Three Grades, offer a culinary trip back to China in the '60s and '70s.
These dining places are more like venues "in remembrance of things past" for those nostalgic "re-educated youth"

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SNACKS

Chinese snack food is varied enough to constitute a cuisine of its own. Zhong Gu Lou snack market, which has more than 20 snack shops, open for lunch and dinner. As the name Zhong Gu Lou suggests, the market is located right between the clock tower (Zhong Leu) and the drum tower (Gu Leu), near Xinjiekou. A more transient market for traditional snacks operates In Donghuamen Street (next to the East Gate of the Forbidden City). Donghuamen Street in the Wangfujing area also features snacks in the evening and is usually very crowded.

Western and Chinese fast-· food is a rising star in the domain of everyday cuisine. McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut have been widely accepted by Beijing consumers, especially the young. There are also many Hong Kong, Singapore and Western snack food bars opening up almost every week. Hong Gao Liang (Red Sorghum) a fast-food noodle restaurant in Wangfujing just north of the Beijing Hotel, is one of the most famous Chinese diners. There are also dozens of jinozi (dumpling) restaurants dotted around the city.

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DRINKS

In restaurants and bars you will find European and Chinese grape wines, beers from China (including the famous Tsingtao and local Beijinger favorites - Five-Star and Beijing Beer), Hong Kong and Japan; imported and domestic spirits (Chinese vodka is excellent); and Chinese traditional baijiu (white spirit) drinks such as the very powerful Maotai and Er Guo Tou, and the less potent Shaoxing rice wine. Bottled mineral water and colas are also available. There are small private bars which offer drinks and loud music, opening around the city. These bars cater to young, cosmopolitan professionals, while the elderly still prefer to sip tea in the traditional teahouses.

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TEA

Drinking a cup of fragrant tea and enjoying its delicate aroma, is one of life's wonderful pleasures. The Chinese have been drinking tea for almost a millennium and a half, not only for its medicinal and health-giving properties, but also for its fragrance and flavor.

Most restaurants offer different kinds of tea, including jasmine tea, chrysanthemum tea, green tea (Longjing is among the best), and woolong. The skills and manner in which different restaurants offer tea may also vary. Typical Sichuan restaurants usually offer tea in cups with lid and saucer. The waiter or waitress who serves tea usually does so using a long-neck copper tea pot and pours water from high above the cup -- without spilling a drop.

Most traditional tea houses offer both tea and folk performances. Some new ones, however, serve only tea -- with their quiet and amiable atmosphere. An increasing number of Chinese go there to meet friends or for business negotiations. It can be a great pleasure to sip tea, listen to classical music, smell the scent of incense in the air, while appreciating the different types of teapots and watching the waiters and waitresses make tee in the Way of Tea. Guests are not supposed to slurp but should sip to taste the special Chinese tea culture.

As an international metropolis, Beijing boasts delicacies from all over the world. Continental cuisine, among others, is the generic word for: Western cooking encompassing European and North American countries. Each country has its own culinary tradition and specialties.

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