The culinary journey
We all know that China is a nation of foodies. Chinese restaurants are perhaps the country’s greatest ambassadors abroad. At home, millions of Chinese see their country’s wide-ranging and ancient cuisine as one of their proudest achievement.
So, anyone could reasonably expect living in today’s China to be like residing in a culinary heaven.
However, it’s been surprisingly difficult to find the kind of delicious, authentic dishes I came here craving and expected to find around every corner.
Simply put, most of my international friends prefer international food, and each time I asked my friends for their favorite local eateries or invite them on a trip to explore a new neighborhood restaurant, I usually come away empty handed.
The obvious answer to my dilemma, of course, was simply to ask a Chinese person. But this solution was also not as easy as it sounded. Most of my Chinese friends were not local Beijingers, with many having lived in this city barely longer than I had. Their best source of information on what to eat came from websites and apps that focus on what is new and trendy rather than what is traditional and authentic.
Therefore, finding the real hidden culinary gems in this city has been a lot of work. My first step on this journey was finding some real, local Beijingers to guide me. Most of the young people my age had little interest in the same old dishes they have eaten all their lives, but at least they knew where to direct me – to the restaurants their parents had taken them to growing up and where their elders still insisted on going when the family gets together.
I was also, slowly, able to discover other foreigners like me who had come to Beijing with the same goal and shared my frustration.
They had put together their own lists of favorite places to eat, often hidden in the middle of twisting hutong alleyways and with hardly a sign out front to attract customers.
But more than anything else, the best restaurants I’ve found have been a result of simple legwork.
And after what seemed like a fool’s errand, I have to say that the journey made the destination all that much more worthwhile.