By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
From its culture to its cuisine, the bounties of Beijing beckon. One of the greatest ancient capitals, it is home to some of the finest remnants of China’s imperial past. Welcome to the land of exotic mystery where dynasties, temples, tombs and tea houses prevail. Its history is alluring and its sights, sounds and scents are enticing.
Go to Tiananmen, the largest square in the world and the site of Chairman Mao’s mausoleum or visit the imperial cemetery of the sacred Ming Tombs. In the heart of Beijing, is the famous Forbidden City where emperors resided and commoners were not allowed. In fact, 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties lived there and the Palace Museum now features historic relics from those periods. See the exquisite Temple of Heaven where the emperor came every winter to pray for a good harvest or make your way to the Summer Palace to stroll through its gorgeous gardens. And of course, the most phenomenal sight and draw here is the Great Wall of China, the longest in the world and an amazing feat of architecture.
Shopping is an experience made more memorable by taking a pedicab ride to the outdoor markets where you can find local specialties (see below) at Panjiayuan Collection Street, Xiushi Street and Liulichang Street. The city’s culinary offerings are wide and varied. Wheat grows in this Northern area of China so on menus you’ll find noodles more than rice, steamed dumplings and pancakes, soups, huoguo (hot pot, a soupy stew with meat or seafood) or duck, the region’s specialty. Have a great time!
SAIL: Beijing, China. Before sailing away, bring Beijing’s flavors and flair home. Beautiful kites, in fabric or paper, sumptuous silks, elaborate in-laid lacquer boxes and trays or the traditional blue glazed cloisonné (colorful enamel) are available alongside every possible electronic gadget. Buy tea or splurge on the expensive Mao Tai, the country’s domestic spirit called Chinese firewater but really the grain of sweet sorghum, an acquired taste.
SIP: Green Tea galore! Native to China, the cultivation of tea began here over 4000 years ago and it is the drink of choice at every Chinese table. Not only does it taste good with your meal, its health benefits are as strong as ever! Green tea leaves are picked, steamed and dried but not fermented which increases the power of its antioxidants, so drink up. Gan Bei! (Cheers!)
SAVOR: Roasted Beijing Duck with Pancakes & Plum Sauce. Also known as Peking Duck, this is Northern China’s most famous specialty and is a dish to be savored. Fruit tree branches, like pear and peach, are used when slow roasting and the basting guarantees moisture, flavor and the external shiny red skin. Once the whole duck is presented, the slices are brought to the table and served with thin pancakes, green onion, cucumber and plum sauce. Assemble, roll up and enjoy this city’s culinary highlight!