Beijing is a wealth of eating and drinking possibilities. Food can be found from every street corner to Michelin star restaurants. Dishes that can be only found in Beijing and international fare are available. And one of the treats for people from the Western world is that almost everything comes in at rock-bottom prices.
There are different arenas of drinking culture in Beijing, including teas, coffee, and alcoholic beverages like wine, beer, and liquor.
China has a tea culture. Green tea is served for free in almost every restaurant. Shops can be found in malls or in dedicated tea houses. Different styles of tea ceremonies can be enjoyed at a range of quality and prices. Beijing's Wu Yu Tai is a popular chain. A free tea demonstration can usually be viewed at most Tenrenfu tea houses. Beware that some tea houses are tourist traps. You can clarify a price before ordering to avoid these traps. A private room or a quiet back table in a tea house with mid-range tea for two should cost RMB 100-200. After an afternoon in such shops, the remaining tea is yours to take home.
The emerging middle class, students, and expats are the primary coffee drinkers. Coffee is still not as easy to find in a tea-dominate China. However, there are 50 Starbucks locations in Beijing. Lavazza, Shangdao Coffee, UBC Coffee, Ming Tien Coffee Language, SPR, and Blue Mountain Coffee can also be found in the city. Western fast food chains are another option, as well as supermarket offerings of canned cold coffee and instant Nescafe.
Beer usually comes in large bottles and has 3.1-3.6 percent alcohol content. The most popular Chinese beer is Tsingtao which costs RMB10-20 in a restaurant, or RMB2-4 from a street vendor. In Beijing, the most popular is a homebrew called Yanjing beer. Beijing Beer and Beijing's first dedicated microbrewery, Great Leap Brewing, are also popular.
Chinese wine does not have a great reputation, but some quality brands are emerging. It is not uncommon to find that people are not accustomed to wine etiquette or appreciation, white wine is often mixed with Sprite. Imported red wines are usually of a better quality and can be found in big supermarkets. Great Wall is the most popular local brand of grape wine.
Liquor is usually served in very small glasses, but many liquors are especially strong. Unless you are used to imbibing heavily, be very careful when drinking with Chinese.
There are several notable Chinese liquors. The most common is Baijiu, made from distilled grain (usually sorghum) spirits. It comes in a variety of brands and generally for very cheap prices (RMB8 for a small bottle), but is very strong at up to 65 percent alcohol. Erguotou is popular and is sold in gallon containers, usually on the same shelf as water. Maotai is the national liquor and one of the more expensive brands.
A large selection of imported liquor can be found at most bars.
Chinese toast with the word ga-nbe-i which literally means "dry glass". During a meal, the visitor is generally expected to drink at least one glass with each person present. It can be considered rude if you do not make a toast every time you take a drink.
One is expected to drain the glass in one swig. If you would like to take it easy, you can say suibian before you make the toast and drink part of the glass. It may also be possible to have three toasts (traditionally signifying friendship) with the entire company, rather than one separate toast for every individual present.
4 Jiuxianqiao Lu
Cozy, modern coffee house, owned by artist Huang Rui. Serves Illy coffee in the middle of the arty surrounds of Dashanzi. Carved out of the factory space which preceded it, At Cafe retains the exposed bricking for a Bohemian feel. Bring a book or flick through one of their art magazines while trying the tiramisu.
The First Courtyard, Hegezhuang Village, Chaoyang District, Beijing
A little Bohemian oasis, this stylish restaurant-come-lending library is a popular spot. The main dining room has a glass roof and book-lined walls. There is a comprehensive drinks list with coffees at reasonably prices.
Le Petit Gourmand
3/F, Tongli Studio, Sanlitun
Extensive French and North African menu, caffeinated options, and a fireplace make this the cosy place to be. Waiting staff speak some English, and the menu and wine list is in Chinese and English. There is also free WiFi internet, and also stocks the latest Beijing magazines.
Water Nymph Cafe
4 West Houhai, Xicheng District
Relaxed waterfront location combines with a range of coffees.
Western style pubs are becoming increasingly popular across the country. Traditional Irish or English pubs can be found dotted throughout Beijing. Many of these pubs cater almost exclusively to the expat crowd so if you are looking for friends, these are a great place to meet one...or ten.
Some of the finest elements of Beijing cuisine are it's popular street foods. Fine dining specialties are also well respected and imitated around the world.
Tipping is not practised in China. Worse still, it can be insulting. Many service staff and taxi drivers are forbidden from accepting tips by their employers, and doing so may cost them their jobs. Even if your tip is accepted a restaurant, note that more often than not, it is the boss and not the waiter that gets to keep the tip.
Compliments are expressed in an implicit way. Treating someone, like a bartender or a pub owner, to a drink is acceptable.
Staff working in tourist industries with American tourists have started to expect tipping. If they were to get pushy, stand firm.
Etiquette is often related to using chopsticks. Chinese are generally tolerant to foreigners ignorance, but you should know these rules to avoid appearing ill brought up, annoying and offensive. Dishes are usually shared. You're expected to consult others before you order a dish.
Treating is a complicated social practice. Splitting the bill is becoming more acceptable among young people, but traditionally one group treats the other, especially when two are in obviously different social classes. Men are expected to treat women, elders to juniors, riches to poorer, hosts to guests, working class to non-income class (students). For friends of the same class, they usually trade off, i.e. this is my turn, and you treat next time.
How this practice is actually orchestrated can be quite confusing. Many diners compete to see who pays. One person will say they are treating and the other person is expected to fight back and say they'll pay. The smiling loser will accuse the winner of being too courteous.
There are no widely enforced health regulations in restaurants. However, most restaurants prepare hot dishes fresh instead of reheated preventing health problems. Street vendors can be more hazardous as many vendors don't have refrigeration. Visit stalls frequented by locals and look for plastic-wrapped disposable chopsticks. If you are concerned, avoid ordering risky choices like seafood.
You may experience an adjustment period of minor stomach discomfort from street food and restaurants, but this passes as you become accustomed to the local food. Ginger is effective against nausea, though it does not kill bacteria.
Most of China is a great place for vegetarians with many tasty options. Thanks to the influence of Buddhism, China has a 2000 year tradition of pure vegetarian food. Most cities have vegetarian restaurants and places offering "mock meats" which imitate the texture, shape and flavor of meat. Typical vegetarian dishes include crispy fried dumplings, spicy noodles with stir fried vegetables, smoked tofu topped sauce, and hotpot.
There is no particular word for "vegetarian" in Chinese, use the Chinese phrase wo chi su "I eat vegetables". Some people use the white lie of being a Buddhist the point across. It is in your best interest to learn the names of our favorite ingredients and dishes.
To find out more about vegetarian dining in China, consult Vegetarian China.
Some of the cheapest and most delicious meals can be found on the streets. Many of the above mentioned specialities, grill-it-yourself barbecues, and Korean shops are an inexpensive and fast way to catch a meal. And, of course, there are large international chains such as KFC, Sizzler, and Subway.
Numerous locations throughout Beijing, and offers an all-you-can-eat pizza/pasta buffet for RMB 39, including soft drinks and dessert bar.
Tim's Texas BBQ
If you're missing the sweet taste of Texas, this little shop offers a good replacement. Locate near the Jianguomen subway station.
A popular 24-hour place to get simple, but delicious dishes. There are many branches scattered around the city.
Mr. Tian's Bouilli
A Chinese fast food restaurant that runs around the clock. The dishes served with rice (Gai Jiao Fan) here are very popular. It is usually crowed with dinners on dining time.
Offers different curry rice dishes, including curry beef and curry chicken. Branches at Xintiandi, Xidan, Jinghui, Xinhengji, and Hengji Emporium.
Chain of fast food restaurants from Guangdong Province which serves Chinese health food. Branches at New World, Zhonguancun, Xidan, Anzhen Hualian, and Guoji Dasha.
All luxury hotels have at least one restaurant. Quality French, Italian, American, and Chinese food are available at different hotels. Abalone and sharkfin are considered some of the finest delicacies and restaurants serving these ingredients can be regarded as upscale. Expect to pay upwards of RMB 800 for a basic meal at one of these restaurants.
Ch’ienmen 23, 23 Qianmen Dongdajie, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Tel: 010 6559 1399
A glorious entrance introduces world famous Chef Claudio Sadler's cuisine. This is one of Beijing's most exquisite dining destinations with exciting Italian dishes with a modern twist.
Neng Ren Ju
5 Bai Ta Si, Xicheng District, Beijing
Tel: 6601 2560
This is the site of the most famous Beijing-style hot pot.
Guolin Home-Style Restaurant
118 Dong sitiao Dajie, Beijing
Tel: 6772 8900
This inauspicious restaurant serves some of the tastiest and most inexpensive ducks in all of Beijing. A bustling, noisy atmosphere alludes the places popularity.
Asian Star Restaurant
18 Yayuncun Rd
Specializing in Southeast Asian cuisine, this restaurant features such favorites as Malaysian satay chicken and Singaporean chili crabs. There are sweets available from a dim sum-style cart.
Bai Yun Japanese Restaurant
156 Dongzhimennei St. Beijing
Tel: 6772 1098
Extravagant Japanese restaurant that has an atmosphere for the spectacular. The location was once Chiang Kai-shek's residence in Beijing.
Ch’ienmen 23, 23 Qianmen Dongdajie, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Tel: 010 6559 9200
Three star Michelin chef Daniel Boulud leads this renowned restaurant. His restaurant, like Claudio Sadler, is housed within the majestic manor house setting of Ch’ienmen 23. French "soul food" is served.
Tel: 6890 0067
Home-style Italian food is served with an excellent array of cheeses. The owner also has Beijing's only dairy farm that specializes in European-style cheeses.
Le Pre Lenotre
Sofitel Hotel,Wanda Plaza, 6 F, 93 Jianguo Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing
Tel: 010 8599 6666 ext. 6528
This French restaurant has extensive experience in Paris and now works at this mouth-watering restaurant in Beijing.