With so much to do in this sprawling majestic city, I pity the traveler who has to make time for tennis (China Open 25th September To 9th October 2016 at the Olympic Green Tennis Center), but it’s a great excuse to travel to Beijing, easily one the most intriguing cities I have ever visited. China’s capital and second largest city is a feast for both the senses and the palette and our Eat, See Do will make sure you don’t have a minute to spare when you visit Beijing.
For a cuisine we love so much in India, it’s almost shocking how wrong we get almost everything about this wonderful food. Chinese food is as varied as it is ubiquitous and the language barrier makes it a little inaccessible but if you are patient and fearless, there is heaven at the end of this culinary tunnel. Let’s start with the most obvious of course – Peking Duck, a prized royal dish where the skin is glazed to such perfection that the skin melts in your mouth. The best Peking Duck can be found at Duck De Chin (1949 – The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Beilu). Food carts are everywhere but you have to be fearless. Those lacquered apples are not fruits but glazed pork and those fried legs are not quail but frog. And that bhajiya that looks like onion is Scorpion and they are all pretty darn yummy. Dimsum lovers should head to Du Yi Chu, a 300-year-old restaurant renowned for it’s shaomai (a Beijing-style dim sum with wrappers as light as air) that it is said to have been Emperor Qianlong’s favorite. Another favorite is Huajia Yiyuan at 235 Dongzhimen Nei Dajie. Granted it’s a little touristy but the food is wonderful even if a little pricey. Tuck into sweet pork in cold cucumber, Sichuan lobsters and stir-fried chili beans with minced beef and maybe a little wild turtle if you’re morally ambiguous about endangered species.
Where do we start? No, really. Our Eat, See Do’s tend to veer towards the alternative but in Beijing we would be amiss if we didn’t rattle off the must see’s. So spare one day for Forbidden City (do you really need an introduction?) in the morning and then gorgeous Behai Park in the afternoon and end it with dinner and twilight cycling at Hutong. Everything of note in Beijing is shut on a Monday, so use the Monday to visit the Great Wall and the Summer Palace. Now if you’ve done all that we recommend using the rest of the time to discover Sanlitun, the vibrant expat haven, the Beijing Art District (798 Art Zone) a mind boggling shopping and curated installation experience and finally the Olympic Park, especially the Bird’s nest which finally showed me that modern architecture can indeed compete with some of the world’s most beautiful ancient buildings.
Spend one afternoon exploring the erstwhile red light district Qianmen Diaje, you can spend the morning at Tiananmen Square and take in the endless but fascinating propaganda at the National Museum right across from it. Rent a cycle to explore Hutong behind Behai Park and maybe try your hand at some Karaoke. Do not visit the terrible mall in Sanlitun, but do explore the beautiful boutiques and visit the flagship Moleskin store. End your evening at Duck De Chin (see above).
For this and more tips on Beijing read Reshma’s culinary adventures at Helter Skelter and her review of Duck De Chine in India Today Travel Plus.