To say Beijing restaurants push the ingredient boundaries is a massive understatement. Initially, the sight of goose feet, fish heads and loofah on the menu will be arresting, but will quickly pale into the norm as more and more exotic temptations take their place. In fact, menus in this city flout the food rules at every sitting. Expect to eat steaks for breakfast, cook your own lunches and queue for the simplest – but best, noodle dish you’ll ever experience. Beijing food adventures aside, pleasingly, there’s always somewhere you can grab a simple plate of avo toast.
In Beijing, food comes at you at the most unexpected hours. And, while noodles for breakfast are quirky and a must try – at least once during your stay, there are times when only a croissant, continental breakfast or omelette will do. When those times hit, head to Cafe Zarah. With a decor that’s best described as minimalist hipster, there are sleek and stylish vibes landing, whenever you set foot through the door. At breakfast, you’re definitely looking at great coffee and a square meal, just don’t expect anything too greasy. The anti-stress breakfast might appeal to anyone who frequently loses a battle with will power. It starts out well: healthy muesli, fresh fruits, an egg served your way. And then the bread, butter, homemade jam and cheese roll in to quash all your slender hopes and dreams. And if you fancy changing gears a little for the first meal of the day? Cafe Zarah has an all too tempting breakfast pizza menu to tuck into.
Beijing restaurants make a big fuss over brunch. And, with fair warning to your waistline, they tend to be bottomless. But there’s only so many mornings in a row where you can face free-flow mojitos, steaks and carb-loaded plates. That’s when the healthy-but-delicious fare served at Moka Bros really comes into its own. Menu items are stealth-packed with nutrition to balance out the artery-busting combos you’ve chomped elsewhere. Naturally, avo toast features heavily. But there’s also the chance to taste some of the best coffee in Beijing with a slice of carrot cake, a crepe or a smoothie bowl and more. Best of all, there are four Moka Bros cafes across Beijing to nip into whenever that avo-craving hits.
Orbzii tip: Moka’s menu is very vegan friendly. If you’re looking for new plant-based experiences, they’ve been trialling JUST Egg, the scrambled egg alternative that’s made for light brunches.
This popular Chinese brand has more than a few restaurants for you to pop into across the city. And, while we’re not normally in the business of recommending chains, Little Sheep is one of the best intros into the Mongolian hot pot experience that’s become a Beijing food staple. Once inside, you’ll pull up a chair next to a hot plate and face a menu of broth options, raw meats, fish, and vegetables. Your mission? To gently cook up a hot pot entirely suited to your tastes. Play it safe with lamb, potatoes and asparagus, or delve into a pot of lotus root, bull frog and sea cucumber. There’s a myriad of meat, seafood and vegetables to choose from. And the fun of cooking your own lunch over a tabletop stove adds either an element of risk or foodie finesse. Depending on your cooking skills.
Orbzii tip: Brush up on your Chinese or bring a translation app to avoid making some best guesses at the pictures on the menu. Little Sheep’s more exotic ingredients aren’t for the faint hearted.
China Culture Centre
If you found the hotpot concept a little too much like hard work, we’ve bad news. At the China Culture Centre, you’re making your entire lunch, from scratch. More specifically, you can spend your lunchtime learning some noodle know-how from expert chefs. Pull, stretch and shape dough into the finest noodles and some tasty dumplings for a meal to remember. The masterclass can be scheduled just for you – so no need to worry about any embarrassing dumpling outcomes. Throughout the session, the centre’s team will be on hand to help you learn the skills needed to recreate China’s traditional staples back home. And, when your masterpieces are cooked, you’ll get to taste the meat and vegetable-filled jiaozi you’ve created.
Du Hua Jianbing
You won’t find the best jianbing in Beijing’s restaurants. To sample this grease-laden, street food guilty pleasure, you’re going to have to track down the top food truck in the city. And Du Hua’s jianbings are the stuff of legend. Don’t mistake these eggy pancakes for a new-fangled snack. Wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper, their history dates back far further than the stories they’re wrapped in. For over 2,000 years everyone from marching soldiers to office workers have been contemplating the fillings to wedge between the folds of egg and mung-bean batter. Stir fried greens add a misguided sense of wellness. But sweet hoisin and duck or anything deep fried will do. You’ll find Mr Niu, Du Hua’s chef, cooking up jianbing just around the corner from the Beijianzi Alley Vegetable Market.
69 Fangzhuanchang Zha Jiang Mian
With so many different things to do in Beijing, there will be nights where the last thing you want to do is linger over dinner. On those days, snuffle out the city’s speciality dish – Zha Jiang Mian or to give it the literal translation, fried sauce noodles. Served all over Beijing, there’s one restaurant that draws a crowd like no other, 69 Fangzhuanchang Zha Jiang Mian. The queues at this tiny eatery at 1 Fangzhuanchang Hutong suggest lavish menus of courses to tickle the taste buds. In reality, everyone’s lining up for the only dish the house serves, the noodle bowl. Perfectly cooked noodles drenched in a salty, pork and soybean sauce topped with shredded greens. Of course, there are some options. Fire fans can liberally douse their dish with hot sauce for a capsaicin hit.
Fu Chun Ju
The basic bowls of Fangzhuanchang are undeniable flavour-filled moments of mouth bliss. But you can’t visit Beijing without booking a table at Fu Chun Ju. This Michelin-starred nook of the Puxuan Hotel serves up exotic Cantonese cuisine that perplexes and delights in equal measure. So if you’ve ever wondered what red jellyfish tastes like or whether lily bulbs would broil up nicely in a salty broth, this is the place to test out your food musings. More familiar Cantonese dishes pop up on the a la carte menu. But the pork ribs and plum sauce or cod and garlic in soybean sauce tread a little too closely to the dishes you might order back home. Better to embrace the Michelin level dim sum or the double boiled fish soup with caulis dendrobium flowers Though whether the chicken soup with bamboo fungus and loofah will push your foodie limits is another matter.