The Travelling Teacher: Beijing bites – a taster of some yummy places to eat
Arriving in Beijing
When the 15 days aboard the train came to an end, it felt like it was here far too soon! I’d adapted to ‘train-life’ and loved waking up each day to a new moving window portrait. Beijing was the final destination for our train. It meant that we had officially finished our Trans-Siberian experience. Though sad that the time had come for us to leave the final train, it also meant our journey would continue. This was my first experience of Asia and I was excited at what possibilities it had in store for me.
We bundled on our bags and as we left the train and walked through the train door the heat hit us. I was shocked that it was so warm. It was a blinder of a day! Instantly I regretted putting my hoody on underneath my rucksack and all I wanted to do was remove it. Luckily, it was a short walk from the platform to exit the station. I was overwhelmed by both the heat and the crowds. Little did I know, crowds were something I was going to have to get used to during my time in China. You hear stories of how busy it is but I definitely did not appreciate how true these were until I was here for myself.
As you exit the station you walk into a large area full of people. It was so manic it took a fair while to even find the exit out! We managed to find our way to a carpark and found a couple of taxis in there. The taxi driver started his prices high so we bartered with him and got a far more reasonable price.
As many of you are aware, many services abroad will increase their fees for ‘foreigners’ so familiarise yourself with their currency and the exchange rate so you can ensure you don’t get ripped off! Don’t be afraid to make an offer, it’s likely they are not the only person offering this service or product to you.
This is where my Asian adventures begin. I visited so many remarkable sites whilst exploring here but first I’ll start with my first impressions and ‘need to knows’ and more importantly, my favourite thing, food! In this blog I’ll be sharing some of the top bites I had to eat. There are LOTS of tasty treats to be consumed here.
Luxuries in Beijing: Accommodation
Prior to beginning the trip, we’d arranged the accommodation for our first night in Beijing. We’d convinced ourselves that after 15 days on-board on a train we deserved some luxury and I mean, why not? So, we booked into a high-end luxury resort. This is by no means an everyday occurrence for me and I have to admit that I was a ‘high-end’ virgin before this. We didn’t quite fit in with the typical stereotype you’d expect to see here. Firstly, we were carting around gigantic rucksacks. Secondly, whilst travelling our attire is more practical than in-vogue. These factors had no influence on my time here and I am not going to deny this exclusive experience was thoroughly enjoyable.
My high-end hotel Highlights:
It was one of the best beds I have ever slept on!
The giant bed had the cosiest duvet that just engulfed me.
We weren’t here long so I made sure I made the most of it! I also ensured I took all the toiletries in the bathroom. I have found that these are a must have when travelling!
Do you want to know where I stayed? Email me at – email@example.com and I can send links as well as give you advice on the rewards service they offer which can get you some great discounts in the future!
‘Must know’ for Beijing
Even though I’d gone through my ‘pre-travel’ checklist of things to do and research before I visit a new place, I had not come across anything about the restriction of using and accessing anything Google related in Beijing. Which was a bit of a problem as I am an Andriod user and my phone is pretty much Google. After doing some research, I found that Google has been in a long running battle with Beijing over censorship hence not being able to use my phone. I couldn’t even access my ‘word’ documents on my phone as they are linked to my Google account.
Fear not, with the use of WIFI and the download of a Virtual Proxy Network (VPN) the use of my phone was resorted. Though this did cause some stress! There are many VPNs on the market and don’t be lured into paying for one. I found a great ‘freebie’ on the Play Store! If you’re a big social media addict you’ll definitely need one of these VPNs as social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are banned here too! However, if you work for IQBar you DO have access to WeChat so you can rest assure that you can still communicate with the team! The tight grip on access to media doesn’t stop there, if you opt for a night in and movie on the box, you may find that some of the film has been ‘cut’ as the government censor anything the Communist Party consider offensive or subversive.
Eating in Beijing
Beijing has numerous districts, 16 of them to be precise. We started in the ‘Central Business District’ (CBD) of Zhōngyāng shāngwù qū in Pinyin which was very upmarket and full of fabulous shops with fabulous price tags. For more affordable shops and food places the Shopping District ‘Dongcheng’ was not too far away.
Almost as soon our bags were in our hotel room at our luxury hotel we were out the door looking for food. One of the staff at the hotel at recommended a restaurant, BeiJing Yan, in the nearby Mall. We found ourselves in the lift heading to the 4th floor and as the doors opened we were greeted by a woman behind a desk. It was not what we had expected. She guided us through to the restaurant……which was huge! I felt like I’d just stepped into a wedding hall, the chairs were covered and tables prepped and set as if they were expecting a VIP event. We were the only ones in there – I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Is this what it’s like to be famous?”. As we looked through the menu we were like kids in a candy store and found it hard to limit ourselves. We were only supposed to be having a snack but we couldn’t resist! When you’re a massive ‘foodie’ it’s hard to resist many things whilst travelling.
Choice 1 - We opted for prawns with a wasabi sauce. Now I have tried wasabi before and wasn’t keen as I found it over powering but as with most things, when you find it done right and in the right balance it completely compliments the dish. The prawns were luscious, juicy, fat and burst with flavour as I bit into them. The batter golden and crisp. Not only was it a tasty feast but how it was served was a spectacle for the eyes! It had a net covering the prawns that melted away as you poured on the wasabi. They do say that you eat with your eyes and I was more than satisfied from this dish!
It didn’t end there. Choice 2 - We ordered some extremely tender Wagyu beef. This beef has to be one of the best bits of meat I have ever had. It was so tender and packed full of flavour with just the right balance of saltiness. As you put it into your mouth it literally melted away, forget chewing this meat did the work for you. This dish was the most expensive of the ones we ordered but a culinary experience to remember.
Even the drink that accompanied the meal was amazing ….and I only ordered an apple juice. The apple juice was fresh, slightly sweet and frothy. With this came Jujube, small green and brown Chinese apples/ dates, which made for a great pre-dining snack. They are tiny dates/ apples that are softer than a normal apple with a slightly furrier feel in your mouth. Though waterier than a normal apple, when you bite into them they have a completely different texture to a normal apple.
Eating in Beijing: Wanfujing Street
After a few days in Beijing CBD we moved closer to Wanfujing in the Dongcheng District. Here there was access to more affordable food places and a variety of more reasonably priced high-street shops. Though this place was just as busy as Beijing CBD.
We had read about the famed Wanfujing snack street and wanted to taste this for ourselves. We queued up with the crowds in the evening and it was similar to what a tin of sardines must feel like. If you don’t like crowds definitely leave it as late as possible to go. You are ushered through a crowded market area full of food stalls. It’s also not the nicest of smelling places in some areas. Once you’re past the main entrance there are different lanes you can venture down that are slightly less busy.
There is more than one way to enter Wanfujing snack street, rather than go to the main entrance head behind it. There are numerous ways to sneak in and avoid the crowds for a little while!
It would have been rude not to try the renowned crispy duck here. Whilst walking down Wanfujing Street one evening we saw a queue and being British, we joined in. To our delight, we soon realised it was a queue to a restaurant. It was for the famous Quanjude Roast Duck restaurant.
Once at the front of the building groups of you are sent in to a certain lift and told to go to a particular floor. This place literally has floors full of diners! We couldn’t believe the size of it. Here we experienced the traditional crispy duck. It is miles apart from the westernised crispy duck I experience at home in the UK. Here the duck is MUCH more tender and moist. The skin isn’t as thick and crispy as home instead it is more of a dark, golden brown and has more fat on it. It is accompanied with sugar, which they tend to dip the skin. As this was a new combination it was weird at first but I soon came around to the idea and found it complimented it. However, I also found too much of this became a little sickly – even for a sweet-tooth such as myself.
Eating in Beijing: Out and about
During one of our days out we were, as per normal, soon hungry and in need of a food fix. We ended up cycling down an alley and passed what we thought was a restaurant. We decided to go inside and try it out. We were more than pleased with the food we had here. This was just one of many occasions where I learnt not to underestimate the back-street restaurants here, many of the locals use them so as long as you have Google translate, or can talk Chinese…or can point to something on the menu, you’re going to be fine! The majority of the time the portions were more than generous and the food was so tasty!
What's up next?
Next, I’ll be exploring more of Beijing and telling you all about some of the amazing sights to see there and nearby. It’s a huge place and it has so many gems to discover.
If you’d like to know more about IQBar or have some travelling stories or pictures of your own from Beijing, please contact me at - firstname.lastname@example.org