Jen and Christine are two foodie pals based up in Beijing who keep track of their culinary exploits on Beijing Haochi. The name could translate to "Beijing is delicious" or "Beijing loves to eat"... either way, it's a site that should come with a warning: "Beware, delicious and drool-inducing foods to follow." A collection of recommended eats, home recipes and (often ingenious) cooking tips for all kinds of treats from Beijing's best street eats to rice-cooker Peking duck l'orange, these girls have got it covered. Here Jen gives us a breakdown of some of her favorite foodstuffs and top tips for any tour of Beijing. >>>China Travel: Tell us a bit about yourselves and how you came to be in China.
Jen: Christine is getting her doctorate in Chinese art, and I'm a reformed corporate lawyer who wanted to work in the legal development field. Both of us wanted (and needed) to be in China for a few years and ended up in Beijing to study Mandarin at Tsinghua [University]. It's a fascinating place to live right now, given the near exponential speed of change and growth. Of course, while there are also a lot of little (and some huge) frustrations that come with living in Beijing, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now.
China Travel: Did either of you blog back home or was it something you started here?
Jen: Neither of us blogged before, but technology and the magic of Wordpress templates made it pretty easy to start things up.
China Travel: Were you foodies before moving to China or was it the challenge of eating here that inspired you to become so?
Jen: I wouldn't say we were foodies, but we are more than a little in love with food. We've both lived in San Francisco, a fantastic town for eating and cooking, and we come from families that are very serious about cooking. Christine's dad makes his own tofu and my father collects cookbooks. So we've always been obsessed with food. But eating in Beijing—such a variety of cuisines from many so different regions of China—has definitely been an inspiration. For example, I've never tasted Guizhou food before, and falling in love with those spicy/sour flavors has made me wax poetic more than once on our blog. Chinese food has much more complexity and variety than most people outside of China ever get to experience. So I'm grateful.
China Travel: What are your top 3 must-try Beijing specialties?
Jen: Well, we love street food, and the simple dishes that you can't really get anywhere else. So jianbing (jiānbing, 煎饼) is an obvious first choice—we are so in love with this crepe-like creature that we posted a four-part recipe on it. The dumplings at Baoyuan Jiaozi (Bǎoyuán Jiǎozǐ, 宝源饺子屋) with the crispy rice and red cabbage, are also fantastic—Beijing dumplings are famous for their wide assortment of fillings, and this one is quite possibly the best combination we've ever eaten. As for the third… well, good Peking duck is always a treat. It's a pretty obvious choice, but hey, it's not famous for no reason! Just don't go to Quanjude—hit up a good local place, where the duck is roasted to order and the meat is juicy and deliciously fatty.
China Travel: Have you had the chance to travel very much in China? Tell us about your best experience so far.
Jen: I've been lucky and had the chance to travel quite a bit all over China. The best experience? Probably a two-week road trip from Lhasa across eastern Tibet into Sichuan. The area had been closed to tourists before our trip, so it was vastly unspoilt and the people unbelievably warm. I've never seen such incredibly beautiful landscapes.
[pullquote]Our driver was a maniac who watched and sang along to karaoke videos while driving us along narrow dirt roads...[/pullquote]China Travel: And your worst?
The same trip. Our driver was a maniac who watched and sang along to karaoke videos while driving us along narrow dirt roads through terrifyingly steep mountain terrains. And then yelled at me when I suggested he actually look at the road. I've never feared more for my life.
China Travel: What are your top 5 recommendations for a first time visitor to get a real feel for life in Beijing?
Jen: 1. Skip the hutong rickshaw tours and just wander around them yourself. Go by foot and stay south of the crazy areas by Houhai and NLGX (Nan Luo Gu Xiang).
2. Go to a big wholesale market. The fabric market or pet market are so much more interesting than Yashow.
3. Stay in a courtyard hotel, not the big Western chains.
4. Eat hotpot on Guijie (Guǐjiē, 簋街), at some place ghetto without an English menu, at 5:00 in the morning.
5. Get on the Line 1 subway at rush hour. That's the only way to get a feel for how crowded China really is.
China Travel: What is the one thing you wish you'd known about China before arriving?
Jen: That they weren't kidding about the pollution.
China Travel: What do you miss most from home?
Jen: Trader Joe's! And good sourdough. There are decent cheeses and wines in Beijing now, even if they are expensive, but there still isn't much in the way of good, crusty bread. Since we both lived in San Francisco, we've been spoiled by the amazing quality of artisanal bakeries in the Bay Area. That being said, we bake our own sourdough now, so craving is contained, if not satisfied!
China Travel: What three words sum up your China experience?
Jen: Beijing Hao Chi. That's an easy one.
If that has whet your appetite (it certainly has ours) and you're already planning your next meal, check out Beijing Haochi for ideas on what to get your teeth into next!