For a few months now, I’ve been frustrated with the quality of reporting coming out of China. It isn’t so much the news writers, but sports and features writers are coming to the capital and filing reports for folks back home in preparation for the Olympics, all too often just offering a guidebook glimpse of the city and failing to understand it. This time, a food writer from the Wall Street Journal works his lazy best on Beijing’s food scene. His recommendations and comments are straight of a Lonely Planet, giving knowledgeable readers the feeling that he could have written the article without even setting foot in one of the hutongs he talks about so much.
The writer states that: "the city has something else to offer attendees willing to venture beyond hotel and tourist restaurants: some of the best food on the planet.” Unfortunately, with few exceptions, he focuses only on tourist restaurants. The article talks about the “extremes of Chinese food”, listing a Crystal Jade fish dish that costs US$41 as the “most expensive” dish. Well, while it might be the most expensive out of the restaurants he chose, that’s far from the most expensive dish one could find in Beijing. Further, to call the Peking Duck at Liqun as the “most delicious” dish in Beijing is going a bit far.
He talks to 3 “foodies” to get his 8 recommendations, but these “foodies” qualifications are questionable at best. Let’s look at the choices:
Peking Duck – Liqun
Liqun has long been an expat favorite, probably because its in a hutong and its “authentic” because it is very run down. The restaurant is tiny, “inelegant” (as the author puts it), and the customer base seems to be entirely foreign. The duck is good, but isn’t outstanding and for my money, even though it is high on pomp, Da Dong’s duck is still the city’s best (with City Hotel’s restaurant in 2nd and Bianyifang in 3rd). Compared to those, Liqun’s just average.
Beijing Snacks – Jiumen Xiaochi
Another very popular hutong spot on every tourist’s list. It is one of the few places around to still sample many of the local specialities. The problem is, this place really isn’t very good, there are much smaller local places around that offer some of these dishes, but not many options to find them all in one setting. I still prefer the area around Huguosi for my Beijing snacks, but I can’t really complain too much about this choice, though why not sample another Beijing speciality, zhajiang mian at one of the many good options (like Lao ZhaJiangMian Wang)? Or what about the local chicken wings for places with real personality?
Tan Family Cuisine – Guo Yao Xiao Yu
Another hutong spot, are you starting to see the pattern? I’ve never been to this spot so I won’t say much about it. From my understanding of “Tan Family Cuisine”, its an offshoot of imperial dining, and while the idea of this tiny restaurant in a hutong might be appealing to some, there are better choices that aren’t necessarily on the tourist path. For my money, I’d go with Na Jia Xiao Guan, an excellent restaurant with an interesting design and always a huge line out front.
Guizhou - Jun Qin Hua
4th pick and 4th hutong you’d be entering. He describes this place’s Guizhou style lazi ji as the spiciest dish in China， though I highly doubt it could compare to a Chongqing style hotpot at Hai Di Lao. He completely misses the fact that while Guizhou food is spicy, it is a very different spicy from what you’ll find at the Hunan or Sichuan restaurants that foreigners are more used to. Guizhou food often incorporates sour flavors to cut the spiciness, not mentioning this is sort of doing a disservice to the reader. However, I do give him credit for not going with the easy choice of 3 Guizhou Ren.
Beijing Dumplings – Xian Lao Man
What can I say, this place does offer excellent dumplings and so I can’t complain too much about its inclusion.
Beijing Congee – Hong Zhuang Yuan
I’ve never heard of “Beijing congee” before, and typically consider this a very southern dish. Never been to this restaurant and therefore don’t want to say too much about it, though it seems like he was just trying to mix it up by throwing in a cheaper restaurant.
Modern Beijing – Hua Jia Yi Yuan
This place is excellent and draws in a pretty Chinese customer base, I have no complaints with its inclusion on the list.
Hakka - Kejia Xiao Zhen
I’m not a fan of southern food and wouldn’t really choose to eat Hakka food in Beijing. I don’t have too much to say about this place except, you guessed it, yet another hutong restaurant
Sichuan – Fei Teng Yu Xiang
This is a place that is popular with foreigners due to its Gongti location, but does get a decent amount of locals as well. The food’s good, but for the price, I’d go to the much classier South Beauty or Yu Xiang Ren Jia, which are just as good, and of course, the always popular Chuan Ban. Then again, there are many great choices for Sichuan food in Beijing and it’s kind of hard to go wrong.
Actually, this article (and the overwhelming choice of hutong dining), is connected to Stuff Laowai Like. Laowai favorites included in the article are: hutongs (coming soon), authenticity (coming soon), "local specialities", and contrasts.