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I get it, Chinese food can be scary. But when I meet people who ‘ve been to China and say they hated the food, I have to say, it breaks my heart a little.
Yes, Chinese food in China is very different from the “Chinese food” you get back home. But it’s also so much better!
If you come home from your trip and didn’t have an amazing culinary experience, you’re doing China wrong.
Thankfully, I’m here to help! After a total of 3 years in Beijing (and 5 in China), here are the dishes you need to try on your trip to Beijing, where to find them, and how to order them!
Beijing: China’s Culinary Melting Pot
Now, for all of you China food experts, I’m just going to preface by saying that not all of these dishes are Beijing specialties. Some of the food in this post originally comes from places like Sichuan or Mongolia.
However, Beijing is a giant melting pot of Chinese cultures and cuisines, which is why you can find some pretty amazing food here from all over China!
It’s my goal to give you all twenty amazing culinary options to try on your trip to Beijing, no matter where the dishes are originally from!
1. Chinese Egg Crepe – Jianbing（煎饼）
A Beijing street food specialty, jianbing is the perfect start to any morning (or afternoon) in Beijing. Expect to find jianbing stalls all around the city, with locals frying them up on round grills like the one pictured above.
Watching the process of creating jianbing is almost as good as actually biting into one. First, your cook will pour a doughy batter (made of wheat and mungbean) on the grill, and spread it around using a flat stick. He’ll crack a few eggs into the mix and let the crepe grill until it’s all ready.
You’ll then have the choice of a few fun ingredients like cilantro and scallions, fried wonton to give it a bit of a crunch, and both savory and spicy sauces. If you don’t want an ingredient, just say so! Everything is right in front of you, so it’s easy to order without speaking any Chinese.
Overall, jianbing make a great breakfast or feel free to split one with someone as a late afternoon snack. At only roughly $1 USD a pop, why not grab one as you’re wandering around town!
2. Peking Duck – Beijing Kaoya （北京烤鸭）
The most famous Beijing cuisine, Peking Duck or Beijing kaoya, is a must on your trip to Beijing. While you can find this dish at many different Beijing restaurants, your best bet is to actually go to a restaurant that specializes in Peking Duck.
When at the restaurant, you can choose how much duck you’d like to order depending on the number of people you have. Your chef will then arrive and cut the duck into thin slices in front of you. The meat should have nice crispy skin and should be piled neatly on a plate and placed on your table.
Peking duck is always served with thin savory pancakes, spring onion, cucumber, and a sweet bean sauce. Place as much as you want in your little personal pancake and dig in!
The best Peking duck places will also offer a blueberry sauce and pop rocks (seriously) for you to dip the skin in. It’s AMAZING.
Just do some online research or ask your hotel where the nearest amazing Peking Duck place is. I’ve been to some pretty great ones in Dongsishitiao (near Sanlitun) and over in Haidian district. This is a meal you definitely want to go out of your way to have.
3. Dumplings – Jiaozi （饺子）
A third Beijing specialty, dumplings, or jiaozi, are a typical meal you can find all over Beijing. While you can order these tasty little bundles of joy at almost any restaurant in Beijing, I always recommend going to a place that specializes in jiaozi.
Depending on your preferences, you can have pretty much any flavor under the sun! There are plenty of options for vegetarians, but my favorites are always pork. China just knows what they’re doing when it comes to this meat.
My favorite flavor is pork with spicy green peppers, but pork and chive, pork and green onion, and pork and cabbage are always safe bets. Get a few different plates and split them with your friends. Be sure to dip them in vinegar, and add spicy oil to your vinegar bowl if you want an extra kick.
Dumplings can be made steamed or fried and both are amazing, however, you’re more likely to find steamed dumplings at most Beijing restaurants. I also recommend grabbing a few side dishes like spinach and peanuts or garlic broccoli just to mix things up.
Your hotel should probably know of a decent dumpling place nearby and can write a few good flavors down for you. If not, Mr. Shi’s Dumplings (there are a few chains in the hutongs) has an English menu as well as a few Western flavors you can try out (dumplings with cheese??!).
4. Mongolian Hot Pot – Menggv Huoguo（蒙古火锅)
While technically from Mongolia (I guess), Mongolian hotpot has become a winter staple in Beijing. Similar to the spicy Sichuan hot pot, Mongolian hot pot is just a little less spicy. Pick from a variety of ingredients and boil them in the hot broth before dipping your veggies, meats, and tofu into a sauce of your choice. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the sesame sauce.
One thing I love about Mongolian hot pot is that they still use charcoal to heat the pot, unlike most Sichuan hot pot places that use electricity. There’s just something about a steamy, charcoal pot on a cold day!
When you go for Mongolian hot pot, you’re going to want a good mix of meats and veggies, however, one thing you definitely shouldn’t skip (unless you’re vegetarian) is the lamb! Just be sure to cook your lamb while holding it between your chopsticks, because it will cook in a matter of seconds. If you plop the lamb into the pot like all the rest of your veggies, you’ll end up with very overcooked meat.
If you’re looking for a Mongolian hot pot place, it should be easy to recognize due to the distinct shape of the pots, however, your hotel can always give you suggestions on where to find one.
5. Malatang – Malatang（麻辣烫）
Malatang is without a doubt my FAVORITE Chinese food. Yes, I know it’s technically a Sichuan dish, but I had to include it because A) you can find Malatang all over Bejing and B) Beijing does malatang completely differently than any place you’ll find in Chengdu.
When you first walk into a malatang place, you’ll need to grab a basket and load up on ingredients. I typically go vegetarian here, because the only meat available is meatballs, crab sticks, and fish balls… although the crab sticks are pretty good.
I recommend loading up on quail eggs, soft tofu, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, bok choi, red cabbage, lotus root, and veggie balls, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Once you’re done, hand your basket over and they’ll tell you how much your meal costs. You can then decide how spicy you want your malatang to be.
Here’s a quick guide: zhong la (very spicy), wei la (medium spicy), yi dian la (a little spicy), bu la (not spicy). If that’s too much for you, just say “lah” if you want it spicy or “boo lah” if you don’t want it spicy. They’ll usually ask if you want sesame sauce (say yes). Soon, your incredible concoction will be all finished!
6. Zhajiang Noodles – Zhajiang Mian （炸酱面）
If you’re looking for a good plate of authentic Beijing noodles, look no further than zhajiangmian. Well… technically they’re from Shandong Province, but Beijing has claimed them as a local delicacy too.
Made with hand-pulled wheat noodles, shredded cucumber, pork, bean sprouts and soybean sauce, the savory flavors of Zhajiangmian can’t be missed.
While the English name “noodles with soybean paste” doesn’t sound super appetizing, I’ll let the photo above speak for itself. (Speaking of photos, why am I so bad at remembering to take photos of my food???!)
You’ll find a few different styles of Zhajiangmian northeastern China, but Beijing is famous for its slightly yellow soybean sauce, as opposed to darker colors you might find in Shandong. For vegetarians, you can also ask to substitute the pork for tofu! Yay!
7. Kungpao Chicken – Gongbao Jiding （宫保鸡丁）
Another dish that is clearly from Sichuan, Kungpao Chicken is a favorite among locals, travelers, and expats all over China. Every Chinese province seems to have their own version of this Sichuan favorite. While you’ll find very numb-spicy chicken in Sichuan and veggie-loaded kungpao in Yunnan, the Beijing variety features a sweet and savory sauce with a TON of peanuts!
I always recommend kungpao chicken to travelers in China, because it feels like something you might have at a Chinese restaurant back home (that, and sweet and sour pork). If you’re looking for something delicious that can be found at most Chinese restaurants with picture menus, this is it.
Try a plate of kungpao chicken in every Chinese province you visit for an interesting reflection of the local cultures and flavors. You won’t be disappointed!
8. Candied Hawthornes – Tanghulu (糖葫芦)
A Chinese winter favorite, tanghulu is a must-have treat during the Chinese winter. In the cold months, you’ll see little candied fruits on sticks scattered all over Beijing. While you can definitely go for the strawberries, bananas, or mixed fruit, by FAR the best is the candied hawthorns.
Hawthorns look like tiny apples and are super sour. These sour fruits mix perfectly with the sticky sweet candy coating, while sweeter fruit like strawberries tends to be a bit much after a while.
I seriously don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree the hawthorns are the best. If you see one of these, definitely grab it.
9. Dry Hot Pot – Mala Xiangguo (麻辣香锅)
Not in the mood for boiling your food? Try the famous dry pot! Yeah, yeah this one is technically from Sichuan too, but you can find it all over Beijing, especially in mall restaurants for some unknown reason.
Just like hot pot, you’ll pick out all of your ingredients and a flavorful base. After about 20 minutes, your dry pot will be brought out to you with all of your ingredients cooked to perfection. I always get my dry pot spicy, but there are many other non-spicy flavors to choose from.
The best ingredients for dry pot are lotus root, tofu noodles/skin, liang fen noodles, broccoli, chicken, cauliflower, veggie balls, or pretty much anything else that catches your eye!
10. Roasted Chestnuts + Sweet Potato – Kao Hongshu+Tanghao Lizi （烤红薯+ 糖炒栗子)
Another winter favorite, you’ll be sure to find roasted sweet potato and chestnuts all over Beijing in the winter months. These cheap street eats are a Beijing staple in the winter and make a great snack on the go.
Grab a giant sweet potato to split with a friend or a small paper bag of chestnuts. You definitely won’t regret it!
11. Chinese Steamed Bun – Mantou （馒头）
Are you craving bread? Well, you’ve come to the right place! In Beijing, you can find many small street-side shops selling steamed mantou buns. Personally, I don’t find the white buns have much flavor, but I have a few friends that buy them to satisfy their carb cravings.
That said, you might find mantou on your local Beijing restaurant menu, and this is a dish you should definitely try in Beijing. You’ll be given a mixture of fried and steamed mantou, served in a circle around warm condensed milk. Yes, you’ll be dipping fried bread into condensed milk and it’s DELICIOUS.
Seriously, if you’re having a craving for carbs and sugar, this is the dish for you.
12. Green Tea Ice Cream – Lv Cha Bingqilin (绿茶冰淇淋）
Green tea ice cream is one of my absolute favorite summer snacks in China. But you need to go to the right place, and that’s the famous Wuyutai Tai Shop! Wuyutai has been brewing quality tea since the 1880’s and their shops typically have a storefront stall that serves tea ice cream! Here you’ll find green tea and flower tea ice cream served.
The best thing about this green tea ice cream is that Wuyutai uses fresh brewed green tea in the ice cream making process, so their $1 tasty cones are super refreshing and not too sweet.
You can find Wuyutai shops all over Beijing, and it’s definitely worth a stop. You’ll find one right near the Drum and Bell Tower, and another near the Lama Temple. Just DON’T go to the one at Wangfujing because it’s super crowded… and let’s be honest, Wangfujing is completely overrated anyway.
13. Beijing Jarred Yogurt – Beijing Suannai （北京酸奶 ）
Another thing you HAVE to try during your trip to Beijing is a jar of honey yogurt. You’ll find these pretty much all over the city, sold in small shops and convenience stores. This yogurt tastes like greek yogurt with honey and it’s fantastic, especially after a meal of spicy food.
You’ll be given a small jar of yogurt with a straw that you pop through the wax paper on top. Just remember that you can’t leave with the jar unless you want to pay extra!
14. Beijing BBQ – Chuan’r (串儿)
You can’t go to Beijing without some good old fashioned BBQ. Yes, you can find this all over China, but why not have it in Beijing? The best way to enjoy BBQ is on the street… literally. You’ll know you’ve found a BBQ place when you see the “串“ symbol lit up in Christmas lights. It kind of looks like a kebab doesn’t it?
You can get pretty much any type of BBQ kebab you want in Beijing, but my favorites are always lamb, chicken wings, “see you tomorrow” golden needle mushrooms, green onion, lotus root, and mantou.
Typically locals eat chuan’r as a late-night snack with a plastic cup of cheap beer. You’ll also see a lot of peanuts and edamame as a snack in addition to your kebabs.
If Chinese character menus are a bit much for you, look for a place that has all the meats and veggies out on display. You can pick your own kebabs and put them in a basket and the chef will cook them right in front of you! Don’t forget to order a giant bottle of Chinese beer to wash it down.
15. Donkey Burger – Lv Rou Huo Shao （驴肉火烧）
Wait… donkey burgers???? Yes, donkey burgers are a thing in Beijing and they’re amazing. You’ll find a few restaurants scattered all over Beijing that specialize in these tasty sandwiches.
They taste sort of like pulled pork on a tasty bit of bread, but yeah, you’re eating donkey. Watch as the chef chops up braised donkey with some green peppers and savory gravy. YUM.
The best place to find a good donkey burger is Wang Pang Zi Donkey Burger Restaurant, which can be found at a few different locations across Beijing.
16. Beijing Roast Mutton – Kao Yang Tui （烤羊腿）
Looking for an interactive eating experience? Well, look no further than Beijing roast mutton leg! You’ll be given a big chunk of lamb which will be roasted over a spit. As the meat cooks you can saw it off with weirdly long knives and forks. Then you’ll take your mutton and dip it in a variety of sauces, chili, cumin, and salt. You can even wrap it in a lettuce leaf and make a little Korean BBQ-esque taco!
The best kaoyangtui places all seem to be in the Andingmen area of Beijing’s hutongs, however, you’re sure to find other decent places scattered around town.
17. Grilled Whole Fish – Kao Quan Yu（烤全鱼）
To be honest, I’m not sure where this dish is from (probably Sichuan) and I don’t even care. You can find grilled whole fish all over Beijing and it’s fantastic!
Choose a fish, choose a flavor, and choose a bunch of ingredients to be cooked along with your fish, and you’re in for a great meal! I always recommend asking the chef for the fish with the least amount of bones, even if you have to pay a bit extra. If you don’t speak Chinese, typically the chef will recommend a fish for you. Just say yes.
Personally, I love getting a Sichuan (numb spicy) or Hunnan (just plain old spicy) flavor for my fish, but there are plenty of other options! You’ll find pickled flavors… other non-spicy flavors… To be honest, I don’t really pay attention to the non-spicy flavors, but they exist!
You’ll definitely want to get a few extra ingredients in addition to the fish, too. My picks are lotus root (surprise), broccoli, pretty much any type of tofu, bean sprouts, and cauliflower. Your waiter will let you know if you need more food or more ingredients.
To be honest, this is an experience you probably want to have with a Chinese speaker since I have yet to see a kaoyu menu in English, but if you’re up for a challenge, you can definitely attempt kaoyu with no Chinese! Just translate the names of all the ingredients you want and you should be fine!
18. Twice Cooked Pork – Huiguorou （回锅肉）
Another Sichuan dish, this is a popular choice you can find all over China. If you’re looking for some inoffensive, tasty Chinese food, huiguorou is for you!
Huiguorou, or twice cooked pork, is made with fatty pork, which is simmered, sliced and stir-fried along with vegetables like cabbage, bell peppers, onions, or scallions.
A Sichuan restaurant will be sure to make your huiguorou spicy, whereas an average Beijing restaurant will have a less-spicy, oilier version.
Meat and veggies over rice? Who wouldn’t love that!
19. Emperor’s Pork Pancakes
Everyone knows Beijing is famous for Peking Duck, served with veggies, plum sauce, and a thin taco. Well, duck isn’t the only incredible taco native to Beijing! I first had these pork pancakes on the Lost Plate Food Tour in Beijing, and I’ve been hooked ever since!
These pork tacos are made with pig elbow, which is much better than it sounds. You then dip the elbow in a savory, tangy sauce, and load it into your freshly cooked tortilla, along with some scrambled egg and veggies. It’s AMAZING.
In ancient China, emperors would give their favorite employees and officials a pancake filled with pork and egg for the Chinese New Year. If you got a pancake, that meant you were doing a great job. If you didn’t get a pancake, well…
There are a few incredible Emperor’s Pork restaurants scattered around Beijing, but the one I went to was nestled deep in Beijing’s hutongs!
20. Beijing Craft Beer
While craft beer isn’t super traditional, Beijing has developed a few amazing local breweries over the last few years! While there’s too many to mention here, there are two that are a bit more “local” than the rest.
Firstly, we have Great Leap, which is run by a married American and Chinese couple. They originally called their bar Great Leap because of the proverb: If you’re going to take a great leap, you need to do it now when you’re young and fat.
Great Leap makes their beer with only Chinese ingredients. Their most popular beer is the Honey Ma, which actually uses real Sichuan peppercorns! My personal favorite is the Honey Ma IPA, where you can really taste the numbing flavor.
While in Beijing you should also check out Peiping Machine Brewery off Fangjia Hutong. This brewery is run entirely by locals in the Beijing Brewing Association. They’re always trying out new beers and flavors which they test on their clientele. By far my favorite beer here is the 100 Flowers IPA. Be sure to give it a try when you’re in town!
Book a Food Tour in Beijing!
I always recommend booking a food tour on your trip to China, especially if you don’t speak the language or you’re unfamiliar with Chinese food.
I’ve gone on a few excellent food tours in Beijing, and I highly recommend adding them to your China Itinerary!
Lost Plate Food Tour
Lost Plate is an amazing food tour company that offers tours in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an and recently, Cambodia and Portland! My fiance Chris and I actually used to lead a brewery tour for them, which has now morphed into the One Night in Beijing tour with craft beer, BBQ, and cocktails!
This is the tour where you’ll have a chance to try the Emperor’s Pork Pancake, along with a few other delicacies like alcoholic yogurt, sesame noodles, Mongolian BBQ, and more! You’ll also end the tour at a local Beijing craft brewery, Arrow Factory!
Finally, the best part about this tour is that you’re zipped around on a tuk-tuk stocked with unlimited beer and soda! Who doesn’t love that?
UnTour Food Tour
Another incredible Chinese food tour company, UnTour runs fantastic walking food tours out of Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Hong Kong.
On your Beijing Old Dinner food tour, you’ll get to experience many of the items on the list above, from street BBQ to jarred yogurt, to jiaozi and roast mutton leg. YUM.
UnTour also offers a Beijing breakfast tour where you can try jianbing and explore a local market!
What If I Don’t Speak Chinese?
Great question! China is a difficult country to navigate if you don’t speak Chinese, but I have a few tips to help you out.
Firstly, when it comes to finding restaurants, I always recommend asking your hotel or hostel. They know of all the good places around town, and if they don’t they can always do a quick Baidu search for you!
Next, you’ll want to find places with picture menus and English translations. This makes it really easy to know what you’re ordering. In addition, street food like BBQ can be great, because you just need to fill up a basket with whatever you want.
You can also always use my two fallbacks: Pleco and pointing at stuff. Pleco is my go-to Chinese dictionary app that you can use without wifi! All you have to do is just show your waiter the Chinese characters. If that doesn’t work… just point at what other people are eating.
Thankfully, I’ve created an entire post that goes over all of this in detail called 10 Tips for Traveling in China Without Speaking Chinese. If you’re worried about surviving in China without Mandarin, I definitely recommend checking it out.
Get Your Free Ultimate China Survival Guide
If you’re heading to China for work or travel, I also suggest downloading my free Ultimate China Survival Guide! Not only do I have a huge section on food, I also go over all the other tips and tricks you need to know for your time in China.
With 6,000+ words jam-packed with helpful advice, 3 customizable itineraries and a map and directions to a secret Great Wall spot, you can’t go wrong with this one!
What Do You Think?
Do you have any questions or concerns about what to eat in China? Feel free to leave a comment below! Are there any dishes I left out? Which one is your favorite? Let me know!
I’m always checking back for new comments or questions, so if you have any concerns about food in China, be sure to let me know and I’ll get back to you ASAP!
…Excuse me while I go and stuff my face now.
FREE China Survival Guide
Your FREE China Survival Guide includes 6000+ words jam-packed with all the advice you need for your trip AND 3 customized travel itineraries!