Adventures of Life in Beijing

In Chinese, the word 好吃 (hao chi) means tasty or delicious,  and is made up of two characters:  good and eat.  And let me tell you I have been doing a lot of good eating since I arrived in Beijing.

The variety is endless.

Within a 15 to 20 minute walking radius from my apartment I can have it all. I can eat any kind of western food you can imagine (with the accompanying price tag).  There are two or three Starbucks on every block, good European bread, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut,  and fine dining restaurants.

Far more interesting and less expensive are the endless options of Chinese food.  I don’t know where to begin to describe the variety of dishes and restaurants we’ve experienced in the last week.  It’s so easy to try new foods when the choices surround us and it is very inexpensive.

Noodle dishes with various sauces are popular for lunch.

Most subway stations have snack shops next to them  and this is where many people grab breakfast on the way to work. You can buy three meat- or  vegetable-filled buns or grab a Jian Bing (one of our favorites) for less than a dollar.

Snack shops near the subway are a convenient, cheap option for breakfast. This one sells a variety of buns and congee.

Jian Bing, a popular street food item, is A savory pancake with an egg, sauces and various toppings. The average price is about one dollar.

Most  shopping malls have food courts which is also a great way to try a number of dishes for a small amount of money. Most of the time we don’t know what we are eating but it doesn’t really matter –  we just choose whatever looks good and share it.  After a while some of the dishes begin to look familiar and you can find your favorites.

Lunch or dinner in a food court is a great way to try many dishes and costs about 2 to 5 dollars per person.

Wok-fried cauliflower, beef and green peppers and Cantonese-style eggplant are a few of the popular dishes we have come to like. I’ve even tried to cook a few things myself.

Trying to replicate our favorite eggplant dish.

 

Cooking is fun with so many fresh ingredients.

Sometimes we prefer a sit down meal,  which is also very affordable.  There is no tax or service charge so it works out to about 5 to $10 per person for lunch or dinner.  Sometimes the menus have English translations which may or may not be helpful. Sometimes there are pictures.  Sometimes we just guess  and point to things on the menu.

At lunch yesterday they brought a timer to our table after we ordered. We weren’t sure if this meant the amount of time we would have to wait for the food or that’s how much time we had to eat before we were supposed to leave.

The timer arrived shortly after we ordered.

A friend later explained that some restaurants do this and if they don’t bring all of the dishes out before the timer ends, your meal is half-price.

In Beijing there are certain streets that are called snacks streets because they have many little shops selling all kinds of different snack foods. These are really fun places to explore. Some of them have hundreds of years of history behind them.

The signs on this snack street illustrate the various trades of the food vendors.

Popular snacks include yogurt, candied or preserved fruit, and freshly cooked breads and buns.

My rudimentary Chinese skills have come in handy.  I am able to ask a few basic questions.

What is this?  Is it sweet?  Can I taste it? What kind of meat is this?

Donkey meat-filled buns are popular and actually quite tasty.

There is so much more to tell you about the food scene here but I’m getting hungry.  I hope I’ve given you a taste of the magnificent variety of food here in Beijing.  Exploring all of these options has been one of our favorite things so far about our new home.

Comments (10):

  1. Susie

    June 25, 2019 at 6:46 am

    Wow! Way to be super adventurous with your food!!! Do you think you will eat out a lot more in Beijing because food is so much less expensive or are you hoping to start cooking more? Does the Western style food taste the same as here in the states? Are the boys just as adventurous? Last question…I know this is your blog.., 😊 Bit will you ever be able to share any of Michaels experiences of doing work there? Hugs! Susie

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      June 25, 2019 at 11:25 pm

      Hi Susie, I am trying to cook more but we are in a temporary place where cooking is challenging. We are trying though because by the time Mike gets home if we go out it can be quite late. But yes I’m sure we will eat out more especially at lunch while the boys are on summer break. They are super adventurous eaters! I’ve only eaten at Subway because I’m not a fan of fast food but it tasted pretty good.
      I will post more about Mikes job when information becomes public. Right now everything is kept pretty quiet. Thanks so much for following our journey.

      Reply
  2. Alison Madrid

    June 25, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    This is so interesting and exciting! I’m in awe that you have figured out how to order and I love the adventurous eating! Wow

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      June 25, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      Thanks Alison. It helps that I’ve been here a few times and that the boys are willing to be adventurous too. It’s a pretty exciting place but overwhelming sometimes !

      Reply
  3. Evaleen

    June 25, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    Love reading about your adventures….especially all the yummy food! My daughter would stop at the noodle man three times a day if she lived there.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      June 25, 2019 at 11:16 pm

      Ha ha, I can relate. It’s a challenge to not overindulge! Thanks for following our adventures.

      Reply
  4. Terri Buzzard

    June 25, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    I bet it is amazing

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      June 25, 2019 at 11:15 pm

      Yes it is, so many choices.

      Reply
  5. Frances

    June 25, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    Are you keeping notes on the food? It will make a wonderful book to own and read! 🙂 Happy munching….

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      June 25, 2019 at 11:14 pm

      Thank you, trying to jot some things down here and there.

      Reply

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Snake Skin

I’m really sorry I let you down. I made promises I just couldn’t deliver.

If you recall in my last post Chinese Medicine I planned to drink a pot of Chinese herbal tea everyday to try and improve my reptilian skin, itchy scalp and overall parched demeanor caused by Beijing’s cold dry winter. I know you were hoping I could share the results of a miracle cure.

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine moisturizing tea

 

The concoction, brewed from a collection of beige roots and twigs, smelled a bit like a musty wool blanket that had been stored too long in a closet. It didn’t taste bad but as the holidays approached there was too much competition.

My first-ever  homemade eggnog with a splash of Captain Morgan’s did nothing for my skin, but it uplifted my spirits tremendously in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

 

You can’t buy eggnog in Beijing, but homemade was so easy !

 

Then there was the buttery yellow Chrysanthemum tea given to me by a friend. The color just made me happy, and I’d choose the floral aroma any day over the musky medicinal potion.

 

Chrysanthemum tea

 

And then there was the treasured Cadbury’s hot chocolate mix, which felt like such an indulgence topped with homemade whipped cream.
(Instant hot chocolate is a foreign luxury good, not readily available.)

Peet’s Coffee made its debut in Beijing this winter, and Santa brought me a shiny red mug for Christmas. It just didn’t seem right to fill it with Moisturizing Yam Tea.

 

 

With all of the competing beverages, I just couldn’t face another cup of astralagus root and dried yam tea.

In an effort to soothe my winter-weary skin, I turned to another (this time external) popular Chinese remedy: snake oil.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s what those fly-by-night traveling salesman used to sell at carnivals in the early 1800s, right?

Actually, it turns out that snake oil has a long history of popularity in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Made from the oil of water snakes, this omega-3 fatty acid rich substance has been used to soothe skin, cure dandruff, relieve split ends and reduce arthritis.

A quick visit to Wal-Mart and I strike gold: there’s snake oil cream right next to snail slime extract. Maybe these cold-blooded creatures can help.

 

 

Online shopping offers more choices, from Snake Oil exfoliating gel to Snake Oil hair removers and whitening creams.

 

I’ve ordered a moisturizer and a scrub. I passed on the snail slime. I’ll check in again in a few weeks and let you know things are coming along.

 

 

Pick up Sticks

Who Says You’re too Old to Play with Your food?

From meaty, cumin-scented lamb skewers to sweet, candied hawthorns, Beijing is filled with food on a stick. These fork-free dishes are perfect for strolling, sharing, dipping or indulging. If you’ve ever cooked over a campfire or savored a popsicle, then you remember that hand-held food is fun for all ages.

Local Flavors

Head to Qianmen or Nanluoguxiang to start, and grab some lamb skewers, “whirlwind” potatoes, squid or sausages on a stick.

 

Cumin-rubbed lamb skewers are a must try.

 

Called “whirlwind” or “cyclone” potatoes, think of them like fresh potato chips on a stick, seasoned with salt and pepper.

 

Choose your squid and have it cooked to order.

 

For the truly adventurous, there are scorpions, silkworm larvae and tarantulas, perhaps best left for capturing with your camera and not your taste buds.

 

They’re mostly a gimmick, but you’ll find scorpions and tarantulas too. See the starfish in the back?

 

For an experience that’s a little more off the beaten path, head to Xinmin market (subway stop Guloudajie) and spend the morning exploring the produce, spices and wet market. When hunger strikes, look for the ma la tang stand selling a variety of skewers including mushroom bundles, quail eggs, meatballs, broccoli, lettuce, noodles and much more. Don’t worry – there’s no menu to decipher; just point to a skewer that looks good and give it a try. For just a few kuai a skewer, it’s a fun, affordable outing.

 

Tofu, potatoes and broccoli are my favorites. Choose “spicy” or ”non-spicy.”


Travel the Globe

Don’t limit yourself to Chinese food. Beijing has a whole world of flavors just waiting for you to try. Grab a map and start checking off your destinations. At Athena Greek restaurant the Chicken Souvlaki comes on a suspended skewer.

Nearby Alameen offers a platter of mixed Lebanese kebabs, and a taste of Turkey is just a hop, skip and a jump away at Turkish Feast.

Branch out from curries at your favorite Indian restaurant with a skewer of cheese-like paneer or head to NomNom in Haidian District for Indonesian mutton or beef Satay with a side of Sambal Kecap, sweet soy sauce mixed with chilies and shallots. And of course, don’t forget to stop in Thailand for some peanut-y Chicken Satay.

If you’d rather take cooking into your own hands, Café Zarah offers Cheese Fondue every evening after 6pm. Each bowl of melted cheese-y goodness comes with crunchy cubes of bread, vegetables, cornichons and a bowl of pineapple.

 

A cozy evening at Cafe Zarah.

 

Cheese fondue.


Sweet Endings

Winter is the season for tanghulu, those shiny, sugary fruit sticks decorating the city like ornaments.

Round red hawthorns are the most popular, but you’ll also find grapes, kiwi slices and Chinese yams. There are even some Santa-themed ones with marshmallows and strawberries.

 

Freshly dipped in molten sugar water gives fruit a crackly, sweet finish.

 

Santa-themed fruit skewers.

Keep an eye out for purple sticky rice dipped in sugar or waffles on a stick that spell “I Love Beijing” in Chinese characters.

 

Warm glutinous rice dipped in sugar makes a filling snack.

 

Waffles on a stick make it easy to snack and stroll.

 

Find your zodiac sign fashioned in sugar candy or grab a stick full of sweet-and-sour shan zha (dried Hawthorn).

 

Floral scented gui hua cake drizzled with syrup beckons with its golden yellow hue, derived from Osmanthus flowers.

 

 

For a more interactive experience, head to Qianmen Kitchen restaurant  to make some S’mores. Roast American marshmallows over your own charcoal brazier, add some Lindt Chocolate and sandwich it all between Biscoff cookies and digestive biscuits.

 

Lastly, don’t rule out ice cream just because it’s winter. Beautiful rose-shaped ice cream and vibrant fruity popsicles (at Nanluoguxiang) will make you forget how cold it is outside, even if just for a moment.