How to eat like a local in Beijing: The best spots for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Apr 08, 2020

Recommendations include the restaurant where Joe Biden tried pork liver, a small shop that sells a funky bean juice, and a famous zhajiang noodle joint.

“I really don’t think Beijing is a food paradise,” says longtime resident Carla Zhang.

It’s an odd thing for a self-described foodie to admit, that the city in which she lives is not particularly made for connoisseurs of taste.

She’s right. Beijing food is not particularly refined or photogenic. It’s heavy on offal and wheat-products like noodles and buns.

Beijing food is heavy on wheat-based products such as steamed buns.
Beijing food is heavy on wheat-based products such as steamed buns. / Photo: Nicholas Ko

But where it lacks in refinement, it makes up for in heartiness. “After you eat, you feel full and satisfied,” she says. “It’s a very addictive feeling.”

Zhang has been living in Beijing for the past 15 years. While she admits that the city’s food isn’t for everyone, it is her idea of comfort food.

Here are some of her favorite places to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Fermented mung bean juice at Lao Ciqikou Douzhi.
Fermented mung bean juice at Lao Ciqikou Douzhi. / Photo: Nicholas Ko

Breakfast: Fermented mung bean juice and deep-fried pastries

Opposite the Temple of Heaven in central Beijing, there is an old breakfast place that specializes in fermented mung bean juice.

“It’s not for everyone,” Zhang admits. The drink is acidic and putrid, an acquired taste, but it pairs well with the shop’s repertoire of deep-fried goods—a wheat cruller called youtiao 油条 and a crispy flatbread called shaobing 烧饼 that’s garnished with sesame.

There are also classic Beijing pastries like pea cake and aiwowo, a glutinous rice flour pastry that dates back to the 18th century.

The shop, Lao Ciqikou Douzhi 老磁器口豆汁店, is an popular haunt of Beijingers. It’s located on the corner of Qinian Street 祈年大街 and Tiantan Road 天坛路, just opposite the Temple of Heaven’s northern gate.

Chaogan is a dish made with braised pork liver.
Chaogan is a dish made with braised pork liver. / Photo: Nicholas Ko

Lunch: Braised pork liver and buns

Yaoji Chaogan 姚记炒肝店 is known for its pork liver and intestines served in a starchy brown soup. The dish, as the name of the restaurant suggests, is called chaogan 炒干, and it’s undisputedly the most popular order.

This establishment has been around for years and is so beloved that it even got a thumbs-up from former U.S. vice president Joe Biden when he visited in 2011.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visiting Yaoji Chaogan in Beijing in August 2011.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visiting Yaoji Chaogan in Beijing in August 2011. / Photo: CFP

The chaogan is usually eaten with a plain pork bun and a bottle of the store’s freshly made yogurt. “You have to pair it with a bun,” Zhang stresses. “This is a Beijing tradition. Liver must be paired with a bun.”

(Read more: An illustrated compendium of Chinese buns)

The restaurant is located on 331 Gulou East Street 鼓楼东大街, just across the street from the historic Drum Tower.

Tripe noodles at Baodu Zhang.
Tripe noodles at Baodu Zhang. / Photo: Nicholas Ko

Dinner: Tripe and black bean noodles

Finish the day with a plate of blanched tripe at Baodu Zhang 爆肚張, a halal-abiding restaurant that’s been around since 1883. “The tripe is extremely thin,” Zhang says. “There’s beef and lamb tripe.”

Other dishes here include zhajiangmian 炸酱面, wheat noodles dressed with a fermented bean paste sauce, and lamb skewers seasoned with cumin. “During the summer in Beijing, it’s common to see people eating skewers and drinking beer,” she says.

Lamb skewers seasoned with cumin are a popular summer treat in Beijing.
Lamb skewers seasoned with cumin are a popular summer treat in Beijing. / Photo: Nicholas Ko

Nowadays, skewer purveyors offer a wide range of sauces for the city’s increasingly cosmopolitan clientele. “But the original seasonings are cumin, salt, and chili,” Zhang says.

(Read more: The last restaurant in Beijing where you can still roast lamb leg on the street)

The restaurant is located on the perimeter of Beijing’s Houhai lake at 17 Shenshahai Qianhai Dongyan 什剎海前海東沿.

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Credit

Host and Producer: Clarissa Wei

Videographer: Nicholas Ko

Editor: Mario Chui

Mastering: Victor Peña