We spent 45 hours in Beijing over the Christmas holiday. It was a chance to give China another chance, especially on the food front, and it didn’t disappoint.
Slow Boat: burgers and fries
Din Tai Fung: amazing dumplings
Street Food–Jian Bing: delicious breakfast egg/crepe spicy magic
Street Food–Wangfujing Snack Street: bugs, scorpions, stinky tofu
Schindler’s Tankstelle: authentic potato salad, weinerschnitzel, kalbgeschnetzles
Beijing Zoo: pandas!
Tianamen Square: lots of concrete
New Pearl Market: whatever you want, most of it’s not real
Kerry Hotel: luxurious, comfortable, and an amazing gym
I hit the ground running after the 11 hour flight. This was a trip accompanying “the Captain” (also known as my husband, the airline pilot) on his 3-day trip to Beijing. I was extremely lucky enough to score a first class seat on the way over. I ate my weight in food on the plane and enjoyed United’s new Polaris First Class.
After landing and customs and an extremely long train ride to the main terminal (PEK airport is enormous), we took a pre-arranged shuttle to our hotel, Kerry Hotel. It’s part of the Shangri La chain, and very nice. Rooms are well-appointed, bathrooms are luxurious, and the location is fantastic. The lobby was full on Christmas, with decorations and non-stop music. I had no idea that China went “all in” on Christmas.
To adjust to the inevitable jetlag, we dropped our bags and headed out for food via subway. I love taking the subway–it’s a great way to see a city and people-watch. For about 20 cents, we followed a bit of a maze and a few stops later, we were walking through the hutongs, or the narrow residential alleyways of Beijing, until we found Slow Boat Brewery, hidden away on Dongsi Batiao hutong. It was crowded (but we managed to find a table after a few minutes) and tucked into some burgers and some of the best fries I’ve had in awhile (our Christmas dinner). We also had the pickle board, which was exactly what it sounds like.
We bundled back up and headed back to the subway for the ride back to the hotel.
Jetlag struck at 2am, and we raided the minibar. We managed to sleep a bit more, but headed down to the Starbucks Reserve at the hotel for a quick coffee before our early morning trip to the Beijing Zoo. The air quality forecast wasn’t good (I believe it was “very unhealthy”) and so it was a bit smoggy. Apparently the smog is worse in the winter. But it didn’t stop us from hitting the town.
I’m not really a “zoo” person, but Beijing has pandas, and I’m a sucker for all things panda. It’s somewhat out of town–I think I counted 8 or 9 subway stops on a crowded commute. The zoo costs about $2 (including the upsell on the panda enclosure) and we basically just went for the main attraction. I can tell you nothing about the rest of the zoo. There were 4 pandas in residence, each in their own massive outdoor/indoor enclosure. The exhibit is well done, and the pandas are adorable. The zoo was pretty empty, as it was about 30 degrees out, and it made for some cool solitary time watching the pandas eat bamboo and meander around their enclosures.
After a quick visit to the panda gift shop (all things panda were available), we left and headed back on the subway to Tiananmen Square. After passing through a metal detector, we wandered around the front of the Forbidden City, around Mao’s Tomb, and a wander around the plaza, we headed down to Wangfujing Street, a busy shopping/tourist street not far from the square. A walk down famed “snack street” had us face to face with skewers piled with insects of every sort. Scorpions, large and small, starfish, seahorses, centipedes….you name it. Having enjoyed the culinary delights of Wangfujing on a past trip, I watched as a one of our travel companions ate some deep fried durian (one of the lesser offenses).
We headed down Wangfujing for an early lunch at the famed Din Tai Fung dumpling house in a shopping center at the end of the pedestrian street. Located in Xindong’an Square mall on the top floor, DTF is nearby many other restaurants (including a very packed Grandma’s). We were early, so we stopped at drink stall with a “lemon” theme and had interesting drinks that included “salted cheese.” I opted for chocolate, which tasted like a chocolate milk with a bit of salty sweetness. It was different and good. DTF was, as usual, superb. Since there’s still a line at the one in Silicon Valley, I have no qualms about enjoying dumplings when on the road.
After lunch, we made our way via subway to the New Pearl Market, or Hongqiao Pearl Market, near the Temple of Heaven on Tiantan road. If you haven’t been shopping at a market in China before, there are many words of advice out there. It’s a ‘buyer beware’ scenario, and you’re not getting a deal, no matter what you pay. But it’s fun sport if you enjoy it. We stopped in an eyewear shop and got some sunglasses (and I got my eyes checked!) before meandering up and down the 5 floors of stores. We stopped at the Brown Door restaurant (also known as Quanxingju) which is a popular restaurant post-shopping with the flight crews–the staff speak English, there are some tasty snacks, but it gets crowded at lunchtime.
Post-lunch, we made our way back to the Kerry Hotel for a quick stop and decided to go for an early dinner at Schindler’s Tankstelle, a very authentic German restaurant near the Kerry on Guanghua road. From the giant plates of sausages to the schnitzel, spaetzle, and potato salad, the food is authentically made and the atmosphere is cozy, perfect for a cold winter night. We headed back to the hotel, jetlagged, and fell asleep early.
In the early hours of the morning (thanks, jetlag!) we headed down to the gym for a workout. The facilities are outstanding–fully equipped gym, even a rope climbing machine, with a locker room including sauna, steam room, and spa, with a full lap pool. It definitely helped with the jetlag. After the workout, we headed down Guanghua road to a small street stall for a breakfast of jian bing. Jian bing is a crepe-like breakfast food made with wheat flour, eggs, chili sauce, hoisin sauce, pickles, scallions, coriander, and a baocui, or crispy fried cracker. It was amazing (and about 70 cents).
We brought our jian bing back to the room to snack on, and relaxed before getting ready to head to the airport for the flight home. Beijing airport is crowded and big. Definitely leave extra time to get through customs formalities and security. There are no “preferred” lines (that I saw) and mid-morning, it was filled with travelers. The airport hall is large, and I used the Air China first class lounge, having used miles to return home. The lounge was bright and spacious, with ample selections of hot and cold food (even noodles on order, but I didn’t have time to enjoy them).
Overall, a great quick trip with some good culinary delights.