So, where were we?
Aah.. yes, we just finished the starters and soup. In case you missed it, click here.
(Don’t worry, there is plenty left for everybody. )
Let’s continue our journey…
If you are in Beijing, the obvious choice will be to try the famous Peking duck. If your pockets are deep, try the Da Dong restaurant chain which arguably serves the best ducks. My pockets weren’t, so I ordered half a duck from a busy local joint in Qianmen.
Peking duck is being prepared since the time emperors ruled China. Ducks are bred especially for this dish. They are fattened for about two and a half months before being killed and slow roasted with spices. It is served with steamed thin pancakes (like rotis), spring onions, cucumber and sweet bean sauce. The skin is crispy and the meat is soft.
Personally, I didn’t like it but I can totally understand why most people do.
(Prices can start from 50 RMB)
Another traditional dish that you might want to try is Paomo, which is a Xi’an speciality. When you order Paomo, the waitress will give you a bowl and two or three pieces of bread. You are supposed to shred the bread into tiny pieces (Smaller the better) and then hand it back to the waitress. Now you have two choices, beef and lamb. Depending upon the choice you make, the waitress will take away the bowl, put in a few soft pieces of meat, usually with fat clinging on it, and fill up the bowl with broth.
I tried the beef one and it was super good. They serve it with chili paste and garlic. Weird combination but totally works.
Word of caution, its filling. It fills you up so much in fact that you can skip the next meal.
(Prices from 25 RMB to 40 RMB)
Another Xi’an specialty is the beef burger. And the best thing about these burgers is, you don’t even have to find it. Just walk into the famous Muslim Street of Xi’an and you will see queues in front of many of the street stalls. They are all there for these burgers. Just stand in the queue and wait to be blown away.
Rule of thumb: Longer the queue, better the burger.
It’s spiced just right, you can taste the meat and you can eat it while walking. Also, it is super delicious and, again, quite filling. If I ever go back to Xi’an it will not be for the Terracotta Warriors, but for these burgers.
(Prices are around 10-15 RMBs.)
Try the caramelized fruits that are served on a stick or the traditional cakes. But they are so sweet that they get on your nerves after a while.
I loved the tea-flavoured ice creams, which is weird because I do not like tea. In Xi’an they also make these sweets made of nuts, a lot like the chikkis we have here in India.
You can also try the melon on a stick. It cools you down and is not too sweet.
(Prices are around 5 RMBs for any of these.)
Chinese beer tastes good and is pretty cheap. I particularly liked Hans beer. But compared to Indian brands, they are lighter. So, in case you want to get drunk, you may have to go with the local rice wine (Or have 5 bottles of beer).
You may also try the draft beer, which is tasty, smooth and goes down real easy.
Non-drinkers can try out the famous Chinese tea and different juices.
The Hot Pot
Hot Pot restaurants are all over the country, but they are a Beijing speciality. You are served with a spicy and a less spicy soup in a simmering metal pot. You put in vegetables, noodles, meat, eggs in it and wait for it to cook. Once you think the stuff is cooked just right, you pick them up from the soup, dip it in the sauce of your choice (And there are a lot of choices) and eat it.
In the end the soup gets the flavors of all the stuff you had put in it and tastes really good.
(Please note: Meat takes a bit more time to cook as compared to the vegetables.)
If there is one regret I have from my China trip, it’s that I did not try the Hot Pot. #SadFace
When in China, it will not take much effort to find something new. While reading through the menus in some of the restaurants, don’t be surprised if you find dishes made of donkey, cat or dog meat. Walking through the streets, don’t be alarmed if the smell coming out of the street stalls makes your stomach turn. They are probably just making stinky tofu. If you are in Xi’tang, you can even try some cat milk tea.
Just remember, many of the dishes you find weird are actually popular among the locals. So, be respectful and don’t make a face or go “Yuck!”
How will you feel if someone disrespected Butter Chicken or Cheese Burst Pizzas?
If you can’t handle the taste or the smell, choose to walk away. A McDonald’s or a KFC outlet is never too far away.
Before the trip I read a lot of articles and news reports pointing out the unhygienic conditions in which food is prepared in various restaurants and street food stalls. So, try to eat at places where the locals seem to be eating from as well. Don’t eat from shady places, no matter how cheap the food is.
Make sure the bowls and the plates look clean before you use them. Some of the restaurants actually provide you with cutlery that are packed inside a plastic packet.
Also the authorities conduct periodic food safety inspections of the restaurants. You may check their certificate, which the restaurants are required to put up on display, to know how safe the food is. There are three categories, Excellent, Pass and Fail. Don’t eat from the ones that have failed.
(Actually I don’t think they are legally allowed to operate if they fall in the “Fail” category)
Drink water from sealed bottles. You may buy them from any convenience store. Or boil the water properly before drinking.
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t be paranoid. Yes, you have to be a little careful but don’t let it ruin your time in the country. Chinese food is delicious. Relish it.
As Alex Garland once wrote:
“For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.”