Temperatures in Beijing can drop quickly, and as autumn turns into winter, there is nothing better than experiencing Beijing life through its foods and restaurants — the absolute center of Chinese life. Here are some top Chinese comfort foods for when the weather turns.
1. Hot Pot
Hot pot is extremely popular, although the term 'hot pot' (火锅 huoguo /hwor-gwor/) is also very broad; there are many different types throughout the country. Some hot pot styles will include individual pots, whereas most involve sharing from one big pot, the steam rising from which is perfect to warm up during winter.
You can choose your soup base; spicy, tomato, chicken, beef, mushroom and other flavors depending on where you go to get your hot pot fix. Beware of choosing the spicy base as these generally contain chillies as well as sichuan peppercorns; not for the faint of heart, but super delicious and guaranteed to warm you up throughout even the coldest winter.
A great place to get your hot pot fix is in popular chain Haidilao, the Wangfujing branch of which is listed below, or on Ghost Street. Haidilao caters to tourists, meaning that there is also entertainment throughout the night, with dancers and chefs taking the central stage performing the famous mask dance and getting creative with noodles for a lot of fun. The staff here are also able to help you in ordering and how to eat the hot pot.
Ghost Street, one of the top food streets in Beijing, is a very popular option for food, especially at night. There are a lot of restaurants to choose from, the vast majority of them specialising in hot pot.
- Haidilao Hot Pot: 8F Tianyingtai Department Store, 88 Wangfujing Dajie, Dongcheng District; telephone: (010) 5762 0153
- Ghost Street: Dongzhimen Neidajie, Dongcheng District
2. Roast Leg of Lamb
Roast leg of lamb is exactly what it sounds like; a huge lamb on your own personal barbeque, beautifully marinated and spiced, with some side dishes of vegetables. The dish is inspired by China's northwestern provinces, where lamb is one of the most popular meats. Most restaurants that serve this will also serve other dishes to cater to anyone in the group who isn't interested.
The best place to find roast leg of lamb restaurants is in a hutong near Beixinqiao, not too far from Ghost Street mentioned above. You'll see the restaurants that serve up the lamb as you wander around this street. Best thing to do is to just pick a place and sit down, the staff will do the rest.
- 'Leg of Lamb Street': Beixinqiao Santiao, Dongcheng District
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3. Chuanr - Barbecue
Chuanr (串儿 /chwahrr/) is the Northwestern Chinese (usually from Xinjiang province) response to barbeque; anything you can think of on sticks, spiced beautifully and thrown onto the barbeque. Chuanr is a typical late-night snack, as the barbeque is generally on the outside of restaurants, with little chairs and tables outside for cosy dining with the locals.
To find a chuanr restaurant is easy, all you have to do is look out for the red lights in this character's shape: 串. It's easy to remember because the character itself even looks like skewers. Many of these types of restaurants are found in the hutongs throughout Dongcheng and Xicheng districts, but they generally only open up at night. Kuan Dian is one of the more famous ones located very close to the Drum and Bell towers, which specialises in chicken wings and is also popular during summer when they open up their rooftop.
- Kuan Dian: 135 Jiugulou Dajie, Xicheng District; telephone: (010) 8404 0523
4. Zhou - Porridge
Zhou (粥 /joe/) is a typical Southern Chinese porridge, and can be served with a lot of different toppings and fillings, most famous is the seafood variety, which comes with a bunch of different seafoods. It is perfect for winter as it will definitely warm you up.
One of the best places to get it is at Jindingxuan — a huge Cantonese restaurant not far from the famous Lama Temple which is open 24 hours a day, and surprisingly, busy 24 hours a day. The restaurant itself is an attraction; it looks like a temple with a lot of neon lighting. If you go during peak times, there is usually a bit of a queue with a number-ticketing system. You can wait outside with everyone else, they provide seating, tea, and sunflower seeds. Don't be surprised if you make new friends while waiting.
They do cater to tourists, as there is an elaborate English menu and quite an easy ordering system; you just have to write down the numbers of the dishes you want, and then hand the paper over to one of the many waiters or waitresses.
- Jindingxuan: Hepingli Xijie, Dongcheng District; telephone: (010) 6429 6699
We offer a wide range of Beijing tours, whether you are coming alone or with your entire family. To have any of these restaurants or cuisines especially fit into your itinerary, or to make your own, contact us.
- For a complete Chinese culinary experience, have a look at our article about the regional cooking schools. Easy to fit into your trip, and so worthwhile as Chinese food tastes much more 'right' when you are in China.
- To learn more about ethnic minority food, or to see which ones you would like to try, click here.
- To delve deeper into Beijing's food history, check out the oldest restaurants that the city has to offer. Going here would be an unbeatable dining experience.