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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.