Beijing’s food scene, along with the city itself, has been evolving at a rapid clip. Some say that there are 60,000 restaurants in the city, but a firm number continues to be out of reach as more and more restaurants open to cater to the tastes of expats and well-off locals who are now discovering the expanding culinary scene. If you are craving a certain food, there is likely a version available in Beijing.
Chinese cuisine is, of course, the most popular in the city, with restaurants and eateries serving all kinds of regional Chinese cooking. You can find authentic Chinese food from all provinces in Beijing, though some say southern Cantonese/Hong Kong food (what most westerners are used to when eating “Chinese” food in their home countries) is the hardest to find. Northern style Chinese food is often spicy, and many popular dishes are served cold. Beijing is known for its hotpot, akin to fondue-style eating. Hotpot eating involves sitting around a boiling pot of flavored soup with a heap of uncooked vegetables and sliced meat spread around the table. Diners (hot pot is usually best enjoyed in groups!) then place their selection of vegetables and meat in the soup to cook right at the table. Lamb, leafy greens, and different types of mushrooms are popular hotpot items. Hotpot eating can range from street stall style to swanky upscale restaurants with each diner eating from their personal boiling cauldron instead of the traditional shared cauldron in the middle of the table.
Another popular food here is dumplings filled with meat or vegetables. These dumplings are usually boiled or pan-fried and are served from street stalls to upscale restaurants. Dipped in vinegar, these make a tasty snack or appetizer. Frozen versions are also available in supermarkets.
Foreign food is very easy to find. Many western fast-food chains have outlets in Beijing. KFC, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and McDonalds can easily be found. In fact, McDonald’s now provides a 24 hour delivery service anywhere in the city for a mere 7RMB delivery charge.
Street food is still available in certain areas, but eaters beware! Sanitation is not on the top of the list for these eateries. The common fear is that unsanitary places reuse cooking oil, workers do not clean their serving ware well, and unknowledgeable cooks have poor sanity habits.
Upscale restaurants abound in expat-heavy areas. International food from almost every region you can think of is now available in Beijing, from Mexican to Ethiopian cuisine. Upscale Asian fusion is also a popular concept here, with creative eateries offering twists on Chinese food.