From the Chinese takeout dishes you know and love to foods you’ve truly never witnessed before, Beijing’s culinary scene will make any foodie swoon. Fried food is ubiquitous, soups are served no matter the weather, and stuffed baos are like little presents waiting to be unwrapped. The best part is, ordering food is even more entertaining than eating it. Most menus are written solely in Chinese, so get ready to use pictures, miming, and good old-fashioned guessing when choosing your grub.
Of course, this Chinese staple is going to make the top of the list. In the States, dumplings are revered as the ultimate comfort food—but in China, they’re considered just as auspicious as they are delicious. They symbolize wealth (fun fact: their shape resembles an old type of Chinese currency) and when eaten during the Chinese New Year are believed to bring financial prosperity.
Beijing has some of the best—and most varied—street food in the world. You can find everything from stir-fries and meat kebabs to candied fruits and fried scorpions on a stick. Go ahead and be adventurous—but stay street smart when snacking on street food. Choose stalls where the food is made-to-order, and remember there’s no better Yelp review than a long line.
There’s no escaping rice in Beijing: locals eat it like Westerners eat bread. It’s served at every single meal, either as a side or the main course. Plus, China has historical claims to the food grain. While today, it’s a popular component of several world cuisines, China was the first to cultivate the crop. There’s evidence of Chinese rice farming going all the way back to 5,000 BCE.
In Beijing, there’s no real differentiation between breakfast foods and those you’d eat during any other meal. Crowd favorites include noodles, soup with wontons, and rice porridge—also known as congee—although regular rice is just as common. Make sure to try lots of different steamed buns, each stuffed with fillings like creamy custard, bean paste, ground pork, or vegetables.
Unusually flavored snack foods
Craving a familiar snack from home? Beijing supermarkets sell Western brands ranging from Lays to Oreos—but often in flavors we’d never find back in the States. Whether you want blueberry-flavored potato chips or cookies that taste like hot wings, take a stroll through a Chinese grocery store and you’ll find all the flavors you never knew you needed.
Edible folk art? Yes, please. These puppet-like snacks are made out of hot, liquid sugar that’s drizzled into the shape of an animal. (They’re kind of like 2D balloon animals you can eat.) While the sugar overload is a draw, the real treat is watching the street artists at work. And if you want to play with your food before you eat it, nobody will stop you.
Last but certainly not least, you can’t leave Beijing without trying the city’s most famous dish. In addition to the duck itself, which is roasted until the skin is crispy and golden-brown, the meal comes with sliced cucumbers, onions, and a sweet sauce, all of which is wrapped together in a delicate crepe. If this sounds like a meal fit for royalty, it’s because it is: The dish was first made popular by members of the Yuan dynasty’s imperial court.