Zhajiang Mian (炸酱面)
This is a classic Beijing noodle dish that all true Beijingers know how to make – and one that is associated with home cooking – as much as Peking duck is about eating out. The zhajiang bit means ‘fried sauce’, and refers to how the diced pork is cooked – first fried in a lot of oil before a salty black bean paste is stirred in to create a thick sauce. A dollop on top of fresh noodles mixed in with veg creates a dark coloured concoction that is mouthwatering.
Jingjiang Rousi (京酱肉丝 jīng jiàng ròu sī)
Fried pork slices are stir-fried in (a lot of) oil and a sweet bean paste to create a thick, savoury sauce. This is then served up with tofu sheets (see below) and freshly sliced spring onion, carrots and coriander. The ingredients are wrapped up in the tofu and eaten in the same way as Peking duck.
Lv Da Gun (驴打滚)
Translated as ‘rolling around donkey’, this sticky dessert is nutty with a hint of sweetness that’s not that sweet by western standards. A favourite with old Beijing families, it’s a staple half-way between a dessert and starter. It’s a roll-up of glutinous rice sheets with a filling of red bean (jujube) paste. The roll is then further ‘rolled around’ in peanut powder to create the dusty texture on the outside.
Shuan Yang Rou (涮羊肉)
While hotpot is not exclusive to the north of China or Beijing, the latter’s rendition of fast cooking fresh food in a giant bubbling pot comes from the Mongolians, who no doubt had to create an easy setup with lots of sheep and the ability to make a fire. Shuan Yang Rou means ‘swivel lamb’ and refers to the motion of dipping and swirling the thin slices of meat in the hot pot for a few seconds until it changes colour and is ready to eat. What makes the hotpot so special is the soup and the dipping sauces.
Dalian Huoshao (褡裢火烧)
No, it’s not something from the port city of Dalian, these are traditional Beijing fodder, consisting of long dumplings that are grilled, like guotie, so they are very crispy on the outside, even a little smoky.
Bingtang hulu (冰糖葫芦)
This is what sweet and sour tastes like in China. A childhood classic, these sour haw berries are coated with sugar syrup to make up the contrast in taste. These days, you can get sugar icing coated strawberries, chocolate coated strawberries and pineapples. These are usually only available in winter, though.
Ge da soup (疙瘩汤)
Ge da means spots, knots, or lump, so this dish consists of tiny dough lumps or even ‘dough pimples’. The closest thing it comes to is minestrone, except Ge da soup is always freshly made (they don’t sell soup in a can in China), and the pasta is in a fresh tomato and egg soup. This dish is commonly made at home or found in restaurants that specifically offer Beijing cuisine.
A decent Beijing shaobing is a sesame seed-encrusted round bread baked to crispy perfection on the outside, and moist and multi-layered on the inside. Each layer is a sheet of dough coated in sesame sauce that’s worked in during kneading. The whole thing has a toasted caramel colour due to the sesame paste and baking process.
‘Tofu Brain’ (豆腐脑)
Often, the round shaobing bread is stuffed in the middle with pulled beef, like a mini burger, and eaten with tofu-curd drizzled with braised sauce—a breakfast dish known as doufu nao or ‘tofu brain’. Yum.