I wasn’t prepared for the food on menus in Beijing. Sauteed bullfrogs legs. Braised duck blood with pork intestines. It does sounds suspiciously like something out of Macbeth (“Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog”).
Some of the street food looked so intimidating I’d be scared to touch it – like starfish, scorpions, a bat, and something with spikes. The scorpions were still alive and wriggling, despite being impaled on a skewer. So wouldn’t they sting you inside your tummy?
I take my hat off to all seasoned travellers who can eat this stuff. I’m all for experiencing other cultures, but I am too much of a wimp to eat live venomous creatures. I can’t stomach fish with eyes (despite eating the very same in Japan) or birds with heads. And I run a mile when confronted with a spider, even if it’s a pathetic English type which couldn’t harm a fly (well, technically probably could as that’s probably what they eat isn’t it?). But I couldn’t imagine eating a tarantula. Each to their own. If some people like that, that’s great. “Let them eat tarantula”, as Marie Antoinette probably didn’t say. Me, I’m mostly vegetarian, apart from the occasional lean, rather clinical slab of meat from the supermarket, completely removed from the actual animal.
Luckily there was still a lot of good stuff to eat, even for the squeamish. In Japan we mastered the art of fast food, oriental style, and this was the same in China. Normally a meat or veggie dish in a tasty sauce, with rice. At home that is what I would class as a proper meal. Here, this is fast food! I cannot say enough how amazing this stuff is. Cheap, fast, and yummy. I wish we had this in the UK! And I must mention our old favourite, Yoshinoya.
The only negative experience was that I ordered duck and I SWEAR when the meal arrived it was beef or similar. I ate it and it was very tasty, but I was a bit miffed. But with the horse-meat scandal in the UK, who really knows what they’re eating anyway?!
We also discovered a new favourite… I don’t know what it’s called, so I shall mysteriously call it “the-one-where-you-choose-your-ingredients”. As the name might suggest, you choose your ingredients from an extensive array of veggies and meats and pay by weight. These are cooked to your taste and served with a small bowl of rice. This “designer meal” (Ok that was a MUCH better name – forget what I said before) was very popular with us.
The only downside for me was that smoking was allowed in the food court area. It’s hard to taste your food when you’re reluctantly inhaling second-hand smoke. I did not enjoy that.
In terms of breakfast food, we found a small Chinese bakery near our hotel which sold all types of croissants and pastries. We went there several times for breakfast and it was delicious! We also discovered a food section in a department store, so we were able to stock up on cereal bars and other breakfast-type items.
When we fancied a fix of Western food, we had pizza in a lovely pizza restaurant. It was interesting communicating that I wanted the veggie pizza but without the sweetcorn, but the very accommodating waiter delivered what we wanted! The usual western chains were also in attendance – for example Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Starbucks and Haagen-Daaz.
Overall, we found this easier than Japan. More of the writing was in English, which obviously made it easier as we could read the menu and prices! However, this may also be because we went to Japan first, so when we arrived in Beijing we already knew we liked Yoshinoya etc. That must have helped!
My only regret is that we didn’t go to a Duck restaurant. The ones we found were a tad expensive and looked like tourist traps, and the days went by and we never ended up going to one. If I go back to Beijing, I will be in a duck restaurant quicker than you can say “Scorpion”!
Has anyone else got any recommendations for food in Beijing, or China as a whole?
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