Best of Beijing: Dumplings, Roast Duck, Hot Pot, Tanghulu

I didn’t do as much research as I normally did when it came to Beijing Restaurants because I knew we had to eat at certain restaurants to please my grandfather(I was traveling with my mom, my uncle J, and my grandfather). Since we only visited for 5 days and because we crammed so much tourists sites, I could only pick out three meals of my choice even though I was footing the bill for the entire trip. The 3 meals I picked turned out to be the 3 best meals of our entire trip. The rest of the meals were very average.

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When Shanghainese people think of Beijing, we automatically think dumplings and roast duck. For my dumpling meal I decided on Xian Lao Man. At least 30 varieties of various dumplings were offered at Xian Lao Man. That is in addition to another long list of cold appetizers and hot dishes. Good thing they put a star next to their recommended items or else I would have taken forever to order. I was slightly worried that the food quality would suffer because of the lengthy menu, but turned out I was worried for nothing. The dumplings were fantastic, much better than any dumplings that I have had anywhere else to this day. I also picked several of their recommended dishes and those were very good as well. Another plus is that Xian Lao Man was very clean with a clean bathroom.

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My mom posing with the roast duck. There are many many places where you can eat Roast Duck in Beijing with each restaurant claiming to be the best. We tried several outlets, but all four of us agree that the duck in Made in China was the best and Quanjude the worst. Da Dong and Duck de Chine was good but not as good as Made in China. I loved the roast duck at Made in China so much that it landed a spot on 10 of my most memorable dining experiences.

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I wanted to try a typical Beijing hotpot with the huge hole in the middle but was out voted by my relatives. They wanted high class so I picked 鼎鼎香. To date, this is still the fanciest hot pot restaurant I have ever been to. We each had our own pot that kept the broth at just the right temperature so that broth was always just slightly boiling. Their more expensive cuts of beef were shaped into roses. And their vegetables came in fancy glass vases. Prices were high and portions were small. But at least the quality of their food was excellent.

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I was suprised to see mangosteens being sold by many street vendors in Beijing because mangosteens only grows in tropical climates. Being that they are my favorite fruit, I had to buy some. 2 pounds of mangosteens are shown in the picture, but it is mostly shell weight. Be sure to try them if you get the chance, it has a clean sweet taste. Remember only the white part of the fruit is edible and be careful of ants. Only buy Mangosteens whose shell color are like those shown above.  Also though the shell should be firm, it should never be rock hard.

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Quanjude known as THE Beijing duck restaurant was not a good meal. If extremely fatty duck with lots of visible fat not to mention grease, your idea of Peking duck, then Quanjude is the place to find it. Our waiter pressured me to order a whole duck because we had 4 people. But I took one look at that duck and knew that it would be subpar and insisted on only ordering half a duck. My mom called me cheap and said that it looked bad for 4 people to order only half a duck and wanted to change our order. I stood firm and said I am not going to waste money like that. Once she bit into the fatty duck, she she stopped calling me cheap. Price of half a duck at Quanjude is about $40USD which is expensive considering I can get a entire Peking Duck in New York for $35. And tastier as well. Environment is also noisy with lots of tourists foreign and domestic. Quanjude has 8 locations in Beijing. Pricing is on the high side considering our meal at Made is China was about the same price for much higher caliber food, service, and decor. My grandfather was immensely disappointed with our Quanjude experience. He kept on shaking his head throughout the meal. The only thing he enjoyed at Quanjude was their duck tongue and this aspic of some sort, both of which I did not try because I hate those kind of textures.

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Growing up I heard so much about 狗不理包子 from my dad. This restaurant is famous for their 包子 aka steamed buns and has been in business since the late 1800’s. Maybe these buns were tasty back in 1800’s when eating meat was considered a luxury. These are just your run of mill steamed buns. I have had better from random street vendors in Beijing and Shanghai.

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Very thick doughy skin that does not have any bite to it. The meat filling was bland and did not taste fresh. I also ordered some vegetable buns just to see what it was like. Better than the meat but that is not saying much.

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Growing up in Shanghai I saw hawkers selling candied hawthorns quite often in the wintertime. Their cries of Tanghulu always called out to me but I was seldom allowed purchase one. My mom decreed that candy, chocolates, and anything sweet would rot my teeth so I can only recall eating candy a handful of times as a kid. To be fair to my mom, she was probably right as I have very straight teeth and never wore braces.) In Beijing in one of the tourist districts, I finally bought my first stick of Tanghulu after 20+ years of not having one only to discover that it wasn’t as good as I remembered it to be. Not that it was bad but the candy coating was so hard, I nearly chipped my front tooth. (2015 Edit: Turns out that one should never buy Tanghulu that has been exposed to the elements aka like the ones in the picture above. For the very best Tanghulu see my detailed review here.)

Impressions of Beijing: It’s HUGE

My first visit to Beijing was in 2008. My grandfather was 75 years old then and he had never been to Beijing despite living in China his entire life. It was a dream of his so I took him there along with my mother and my Uncle Jian. I never expected my grandfather to have so much energy. We woke up at 6am every morning and came back at 10pm every night for 5 days straight. My mom was sick with a terrible cough for almost a month after this trip, but my grandfather and uncle were fine.

Soft Sleeper Train

From left to right: my mom, my grandfather, my uncle Jian. And no my grandfather’s hair is not dyed. It is naturally that black! The four of us boarded the overnight soft sleeper train from Shanghai to Beijing. Trains are a very comfortable way to travel in China especially if you book a soft sleeper. Much more comfortable than an economy seat in an airplane. Pricing wise a soft sleeper bunk is about the same price as an economy plane ticket about $300USD roundtrip from Shanghai to Beijing.

Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square where I was surprised by how tall and handsome the policemen of Beijing were. This was right after the 2008 Olympics and I had heard rumors that only the tallest, fittest, and best looking policeman were transferred to Beijing. It was a treat for the eyes. =)

Forbidden City Beijing

Look how blue the sky was! During our 5 day Beijing Trip. It was like this every day. My grandfather even commented on how Shanghai’s sky was never this blue. Very crowded even though we visited at the tail end of the tourist season.

Forbidden Palace Roof

Forbidden Palace roof decor. The Forbidden Palace was not as big as I imagined. Rather small compared with say Temple of Heaven. I visited the replica of the Forbidden Palace in Hengdian World Studios and actually preferred the replica as the replica was set among mountains, and the original was surrounded by tall city apartments.

Great Wall of China

Of course we paid a visit to the Great Wall of China and of course we had to climb the wall for THREE HOURS STRAIGHT because my 75 year old grandfather insisted. It was like doing the stairmaster the entire time. I think this was the cause of my mother getting a horrible cold that lasted for a month because she was so worn out from this hike. My grandfather though was fine. As a life long smoker and alcoholic, this didn’t slow him down at all.

Summer Palace Beijing

Summer Palace Beijing. This is where the royals of the Qing Dynasty came to enjoy themselves. Kinda like a Hamptons getaway for New Yorkers. Very serene and vast. Lots of walking. Wear comfortable shoes.

Summer Palace Beijing

More Summer Palace. The weather and skies were very nice that day. Probably the best of our entire trip. Summer Palace is accessible by the subway and then a taxi transfer from city center Beijing.

Marble Boat Summer Palace

This is the infamous marble boat that the Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled money from the royal treasury to turn into her playground. She was cursed by the common people for this as the embezzled money was earmarked to build a royal navy so that China could prepare themselves against foreign invasion.

Temple of Heaven

I loved the Temple of Heaven. We spent 2 hours walking in one direction and didn’t even reach the other end of the park. That is the vastness of the place, much much much bigger than the Forbidden City. Also filled with Beijing Natives singing Beijing Opera, exercising, and playing sports. Beijing’s senior citizens are extremely active.

Bird Nest Stadium Beijing A visit to the 2008 Olympic Park was in order as I wanted to see the Bird Nest Stadium in person. Very very impressive. Water Cube, not so much. And did I mention the entire complex was ginormous? As everything else in Beijing, super-sized.

Overall Impressions of Beijing:

(1) Beijing is a city designed to impress and more importantly intimidate. Streets are incredibly long and wide. The block that my hotel was located on…it took me 24 minutes to just circle the entire block.
(2) People were nice to me. Seriously this is probably the first time that the people were nice to me in China. Everyone who I asked for directions, helped me. And I even got offered a seat in the subway several times.
(3) Forget taxis, it was hard to locate an empty one. Stick with subways, busses, or hire a private car for the day. Less than a $100USD for the entire day, especially worth it since we had 4 people.
(4) Food was very tasty if one stayed away from the touristy places. My recommendations here.
(5) I was astounded by the amount of domestic tourists visiting Beijing. When we visited Gong Wang Fu, I was shocked by the long line of domestic tourists all with various caps waiting to touch this stone tablet for good luck. Of course when my grandfather saw this, he was like I have to touch it too. End of line to front of line to touch a rock for less than 10 seconds. 1 hour and 9 minutes. Imagine wasting that much time standing in line to touch a rock.