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Beijing - The food capital of China per Discovery


hzrt8w
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Two weeks ago I watched the premiere broadcast of the program:

Discovery Atlas: China

on the Discovery Channel. This first episode featured China. In the program, there was a small segment on Beijing. The narration said "Beijing is the food capital of China". I was thinking "What?" immediately after I heard that statement. The clip featured some cooks working in the restaurant kitchens in Beijing - just some generic shots.

I felt: Where did the Discovery channel research staff get their information? Since when did Beijing become the food capital of China? The capital, yes. The cultural capital, maybe. The food capital? Hmmm???

Years ago when I was in Beijing, the one thing I liked and longed for was Peking Duck. Over the past 2 decades, things have much improved. But...

The show seemed to be carefully avoiding the mentioning of Hong Kong. Perhaps because of Hong Kong's "special" status. It is China and it is kind of not China enough? If they turn their head and not look at Hong Kong, how about at least look at Guongzhou or Shanghai?

Beijing - "THE" food capital of China. Do you agree?

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I have to go along with:

"Born in Suzhou, live in Hangzhou, eat in Guangzhou, and die in Liuzhou." - Chinese saying

While Beijing had the great cooks for the emperors, and Shanghai had all the international influence, and the West had their own unique style, I don't think that anything can compare with what is available for and used by the versatility of the Cantonese.

Of course that is the traditional view, and in these modern times the playing field has been leveled.

Capital restaurants may draw master chefs, but who is to say that they represent the country as a whole.

I wonder who paid for the sponsoring of that program.

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I'd vote for Xi'an.

You can find everything there.

Certainly not Beijing.

I would have never thought if Xi'an. Is it because of its physical location? Would you expound on it? I'm really interested.

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this has nothing to do with food...because I have never been to china, but why the heck didn't they cover all of china? They only went to beijing and like one other city.

china is HUGE....there is so much more they could've covered

I thought shanghai was the capital of chinese food? (this is what I have heard)

BEARS, BEETS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
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When I was a graduate student in Beijing, Chinese tourists from other cities would tell me there was nothing good to eat in this city compared to "their" homeotwns.

One suspects the Discovery channel was blathering........

Ditto the vote for Chengdu - but only because my taste runs to the garlicky-spicy.

I'm a canning clean freak because there's no sorry large enough to cover the, "Oops! I gave you botulism" regrets.

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Expanding on my choice of Xi'an.

Yes, a lot to do with location - almost dead centre. It has cuisines from all over China. In my experience, more so than other cities and to a higher standard. It is also a centre of Chinese muslim food.

Shenzhen is a close runner up! Some of the best Sichuan food I have eaten! And Hunan. 90% of residents are non-Cantonese and have brought their food cultures with them.

(Sorry to the many Cantonese people here (and fans of Cantonese food) -I think it is the most over rated food in the world!) :smile:

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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It's a confusing tag.

Do they mean in the sense of "Chinese" cuisine? If so, then the general consensus is still Chengdu, although a lot vote for Taipei as well (with some claims, ala Justin Quek, that the quality of ingredients in Taiwan is second to none). Both benefited from having had a large mix of the country come to visit (in the form of the Kuomintang) for extended periods.

If they mean in terms of "Chinese" and international cuisine, then I would think that Shanghai has overtaken Beijing, and probably Hong Kong at this point, with the money and chefs starting to pour in (I find Shanghainese cuisine itself a tad on the oily side).

Beijing does have some very good Szechuan (perhaps the most popular regional cuisine according to the folk I was talking with there) and Hunanese places (going back to Mao), and more than a few good Cantonese, but not to compare with what you would get if you went to these places.

A spot I quite liked was Dark & Duck, across from the Kempinski. Yuppy and modern, so I know it'll draw some disdain, but they had excellent duck, very good fish (in a bowl of oil buried under half a foot of chilis), and a fantastic shredded and fried potato dish that bore a striking similarity to Marge Simpson's hair-do.

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I cannot agree to "Cantonese food is overrated". Of course one would say that I am biased. I am a Cantonese. I think that a majority of the "Chinese" restaurants in the U.S. is mediocre. They don't do justice in giving good impression of what real Cantonese has to offer in terms of taste.

I don't know what Discovery used as a measure in determining the "food capital" of China. In terms of taste? Variety? Simply number of restaurants per capita or per square kilometer? I think in whichever measurement, Beijing would not be at the top. It seems to be just a casual assertion.

Just taking a look at the variety of food Cantonese has to offer:

- Stir-fries, Cantonese seafood

- Cantonese BBQ

- Clay pot dishes

- Hot pot

- Dim Sum

- Preserved sausages and ducks

- Noodle soup (wonton, etc.)

- Congee

Each one of these categories contains many dozens of varieties.

From my travels inside Mainland China, I just haven't seen something comparable yet. Or maybe I am way off.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Ha ha! I didn't expect you to agree! It's just a matter of taste. I find Cantonese food looks great but tastes bland. Just my opinion.

I could easily change your list to

- Stir-fries, Guangxi seafood

- Guangxi BBQ

- Clay pot dishes

- Hot pot

- Preserved sausages and ducks

- Noodle soup (wonton, etc.)

- Congee

Yes I had to remove dim sum. Not that they aren't available here, just not local food.

But generally, I agree the question is silly.

(But the answer sure ain't Beijing!)

:biggrin:

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Having lived in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong (for comparisson sake however I will leave HK out of it), I would have to say Shanghai is way ahead of Beijing.

I don't think the food is terrible in Beijing, I just think that nothing stands out as great nor memorable. I went to at least 5 different places where everyone says they have the "best" or "original" kao ya, but none of those places created the urge for me to go back! I had peking duck in Shanghai at this place Naning Jiu Jia, and thought it was just as good as any of those places in Beijing. I frequent Naning all the time!

I think there are a lot of "interesting" and "traditional" places in Beijing, but nothing to create a fuss over. I think Shanghai has much more to offer and places that are definitely a lot more memorable.

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I'm curious about who was doing the judging, and what their guidelines were. Did those judges actually eat the food, and were they qualified? Were they going by statistics -- like the number of restaurants, or the variety? The popularity of a restaurant?

That last can be so mis-leading. In NYC, a place will get a rave review and the lines start forming. The lines continue to form even after the chef who got the raves, in the first place, left.

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ahhhh ahahah

I'm sorry.. I love eating in Beijing. And I must say that to live in Beijing or probably most parts of China, this type of discussion comes up a lot!! And there are always the same comments had by almost all. Namely: Shanghai food is probably the worst local food you can find in China.. by far. And on the opposite side, one can find the best of every regional cuisine (especially local) in Guangzhou.. by far.

As for me personally... this is what I do here. I hop on planes and trains to cover as much as I can so that I can taste as much as I can. I lived here in beijing for a short while, with an even shorter while in Shanghai. I honestly could rarely find a decent meal in Shanghai. Most of the places looked nice, tasted like sugary drivel. There were some bright moments, but the infrequency and inconsistency killed the whole experience for me.

At this moment, I'd have to say Guangzhou is absolutely the best place I've ever been for food.... but a close seconds would go to Xi'an, Chengdu, Changsha.

But Beijing?? that's gross incompetence as a reporter to call it the capital of food in China. .... though you'd sometimes think otherwise --- like yesterday when I was told that the BBQ chicken wing place I was standing in front of needed me to book at least a week in advance... this is for 25 cent wings!! Yet I've heard of Guangzhou food critics having trouble getting a table at somewhat new local places without success for 7 months !!!

Ok enough... Anyone else with qualifiers..?

-- oh and for my opinion of Guangzhou, or for all of these places.. it's hard for me to limit things to the 'regional/local cuisine'. Xi'an has one, Guangzhou has one, Chengdu for sure... But Beijing certainly does not, neither does Shanghai really. And you can't base the 'food capital of china' on something as trivial as Kaoya... I've had it better in Toronto than in many of the large Beijing Kaoya places. And LaoBeijingCai.... nothing to write home about. I sat next to a 65+ year old tourist from Nanjing while tasting some, like douzher... She spit it all back in the bowl and left with this disgusting sour look on her face. THAT's real Beijing food. Therefore I think its best to look at what a city offers as a whole. And for that, its possible that Shanghai outdoes Beijing in many respects, but I still prefer Beijing since a quick stop into a random fast-food shop here will still always yield safer results than Shanghai. That being said, in total food not counting regional offerings Guangzhou still tops both cities.

oh jeez.. you got me started.

Edited by jokhm (log)
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Namely: Shanghai food is probably the worst local food you can find in China.. by far. And on the opposite side, one can find the best of every regional cuisine (especially local) in Guangzhou.. by far.

Most of the places looked nice, tasted like sugary drivel.

Them's fighting words, sir.

The use of sugar is indeed often complained of by outsiders. I find that sugar combines well with soy sauce to form a more complex flavor profile. Shanghai cuisine is really a subset of Cantonese so it's not fair to dismiss it while at the same time proclaiming the greatness of Cantonese cuisine.

I really can't stand the use of star anise in damn near everything in Xi'an cuisine. As with sugar in Shanghai, let's just say it's a matter of different strokes for different folks. But on an objective level I'm certain more people would prefer too much sugar than too much anise.

Also, Guangdong may have dim sum but Shanghai invented xiao long bao, the greatest Chinese dish of all time. That along catapults Shanghai to the top of any ranking.

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Hah, maybe so.

A few things about xiaolongbao though... When I first passed through Shanghai they really tipped the scale in favor of the place and each time I returned I HAD to have some. Then I went to Tianjin and had the goubuli, which happened to be quite similar, but I was still big on the xiaolongbao.. enough that it was in my top 5 steamed bun-style snacks. BUT, then I went to Xi'an and was treated to another soup-style bun, the guantangbao with beef and also ones with lamb. This killed any advantage xiaolongbao previously had. And lastly, the best so-called xiaolongbao I've ever had was in HK. I'd say most of the ones in Shanghai that I tried were rarely 'fantastic', and many were downright bad! Thick skin, fatty liquid, too salty, dried up skin on the tops.. blech. OK enough insanity about that. But really.. xi'an is fantastic and although star of anise occasionally finds its way into food, I never found it to be excessive or worse than chengdu.

Shanghai sugar.... well... I admit that it definitely has its place and can be excellent in the food, but more often than not it is a disguise for bad cooking. I think if you want to taste cooking with sugar done right, you go to Hangzhou. At least there there is a great food culture, though it still doesn't make my top of list. However, in the end I would still say that the mere fact that xiaolongbao exists definitely knocks shanghai up one notch, and I think it along with other streetside steamed buns allows it to hold a huge advantage over Beijing for cheapy local snacks. But that's where the good things end.

I think one interesting thing is how the food discussions go when you have a bunch of mainland chinese in one room discussing regional food. Nearly everyone always loves cantonese, while a bunch will always say it is too bland, nearly everyone will also say hunan food is at or near the top, many love sichuan, but some find it too spicy and many find it way too oily, hubei - no one is sure what that is really and some confuse it with hunan, ... Food in beijing? meh... Shanghai, downright bad. Its true though that people love to sh*t on shanghai with every chance they get. I still enjoy the place a lot... just for other reasons.

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I think saying Cantonese food is bland as a blanket statement may not truly understand the cuisine. Cantonese, or perhaps along with its cousin Shanhainese, may be the minority in China who do not eat hot food. In Cantonese cooking, most dominating spices (cumin, sichuan peppercorns, dried chilis, etc.) are notably absent in daily diets.

The climate in Canton has historically been mild compared to the extreme cold in the north and west in the winter, and the extreme hot in the north, and west in the summar, and the humid and hot in the south. We don't eat chili as a way of warming the stomach, producing sweat or stimulating the appetite. We believe in presenting the featured ingredients in their own natural tastes - and this is the characteristics of many Cantonese style fresh seafood dishes from steamed to stir-fried. Don't want to bombard the meat with hundreds of red chilies (what flavor can you bring with 500 dried red chilies that you cannot do with 250 dried red chilies?) like the Sichuan style, or the dark-soy, sugar, master-sauce everything like the Shanghai style, or pump in the vinegar on top of hotness like the Hunan style.

I know this is a debate that will never end. By the end of the day, those who demand a wallop of hot oil and hundreds of chilies in every meal would continue to do so. And us who get used to eating "bland" food will just continue to do the same.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I guess we best like what we grew up eating. Give me traditional New England clam chowder. Forget the red or clear or hot clam chowders, and leave the cheese out of it! Not that the others aren't totally delicious. But I have a mind set on clam chowder. But who is to say that my taste makes New Encland clam chowder the best?

Maybe not being Chinese is an advantage, as I have no clear favorites. But when in Rome-------

I like the hot stuff when in the west and the heavy foods when in the east. I have an appreciation of the subtle purity of the flavors in the south, and the garlic and chives and regional flavors of the north. Clam soups from any of those places would be interesting.

The point is, they are all winners.

The idea, tho, that calling Beijing the ' foodcapital' just makes me want the author to FULLY describe his reasons for the statement. I haven't been in China for 9 years now. I guess things could have changed, but from whose view and taste values? I really wouldn't put the number of stars on any 'high class' restaurant as reasons to consider a region's values as far as food goes. Or even the variety of restaurants. Heck----- you can find any number of international restaurants in NYC, and many restaurants with oodles of stars, but that doesn't make NYC the food capital of anywhere.

I didn't see the Discovery program so maybe I am not being fair. But the one plus from the program, I think, is that it started discussions like this one. Love them!

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In several books, Beijing is referred to as a food capital because there are so many restaurants there by/for people from the various regions.

This is just a function of being the center of government and offering a wide variety, not necessarily a claim of excellence.

BB

Food is all about history and geography.

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this part is true.... on dianping.com the be all and end all of food web sites, Beijing has quite a few restaurants listed... try over 11 thousand.. !*(#$! But my guess is the site begun in Beijing and has had more support from beijingers to increase the listings and push the site along. Guangzhou and Shanghai have been catching up fast. I wonder does a site like Dianping.com exist anywhere else? For chinese food in China this is my daily resource and I've never seen anything so vast before. Chinese love food !!!!

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Thank you jo-mel for putting it so eloquently. Meat loaf and clam chowder! I will always remember that! :biggrin: Indeed there is nothing like food that would bring out emotions in people. Indeed it's a matter of what one is used to. If I were fed 20 hot dried chilies everything day since the age of 5 growing up, everything else will be nothing but bland.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I simply can't trust the research staff of these travel programs anymore. Next thing you know, they'll say Lhasa is the food capital of China because this is where the Tibetan and Chinese meet when the host is climbing the Potala Palace; or annoited the same crown to Gansu because there the host finds a lot of leftovers from the Tang dynasty in the relic of the Silk Road. Whatever!

The point is, I wouldn't say Beijing is the food capital of China at gunpoint. Food capital is not something decided by a food network host. It's a consensus reached by all the ppl of the country over the years. Take Lyon of France for example. All French will point to the same direction whenever they're asked the same question. I can assure you that if you gather 100 Chinese and ask this question, Beijing will rank very low.

True, there's court cuisine in Beijing -- and frankly I am very much interested to try them out -- but court cuisine itself is not a regional food but a compliation of cuisines from all regions of China (besides, it's out of reach for most until quite recently, but lots of the recipes were lost and the authenticity of the so-called imperial cuisine is very much in doubt). Beijing food by itself is not in the Grand 4 Schools, nor even in the Big 8 Schools of Chinese cuisine. Truth be told, I can show you lots of document proof that, until the late Ching dynasty, the most popular cuisine enjoyed among the commons of Beijing was the Shantong cuisine.

If by food capital the host means the width of choices, the diversity; everyone can tell Shanghai and HK will knock out BJ fair and square in this regard. The only way BJ can claim the title is by money spent per head, given there's lots of government officials and well-off expatriates living over. But this is something quite beyond the taste of food, isn't it?

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Actually I'd guess that you are correct about Lhasa's supreme dominance in food culture over the rest of China.

anyway

My friends in Guangzhou always say how in that city you can without a doubt find the best Sichuan and Hunan food in China outside of their original locations, and the same goes obviously for the local food (.... ?)

One of the reasons I feel that this may be, is due to some other regions like Shanghai and Beijing's local tastes interfere with the original region's flavours too much. So many sichuan, hunan, dongbei restos in Shanghai are sweetened up, and the ones in beijing all come in a gloppy and oily sauce (grossly generalizing here).

Guangzhou's local taste only has the effect of potentially making something like Sichuan or Hunan food less spicy... but from my experience there they still nicely blow my head off.

Shanghai has far superior western restaurants than Beijing overall. But I still think most of them would go under within 1 month in my hometown of Montreal. Or maybe its simply that I've become too accustomed to chinese 'Style' food, so non asian food doesn't satisfy the same way? Doubtful... but it is a possiblity. I know I always eat beyond well upon each visit home. Ahh.. cheese.. bagels.. mm

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