Thursday, 7 January 2010

Breakaway - 3 Days in Beijing (Part 2 on Feasting and Shops)

Game to go to Beijing? Now, arm yourself with our list of where to feast and forage


Primed as the most famous Beijing Duck restaurant in China. Da Dong has an award winning chain of swanky upmarket restaurants that are modern and fuse Western service standards and décor with beautifully presented Chinese cuisine. Ranks well on the 09 Miele Guide which is what prompted me to go check it out. I have to say that I was not fabulously impressed by the Beijing Roasted Duck but I liked the drama and presentation of the Duck which is carved at your table and you are served with a tray of 8 individually portioned condiments and sauces. The staff also share 3 different ways to eat the Duck – in a pancake, crepe and on its own dipped in garlic and sugar. Must also try the Lobster Noodles, Dandelion Dessert.

In my eyes, Made in China, the restaurant in the Grand Hyatt Beijing (1 East Chang An Avenue) offers the second best Beijing duck (or kao ya as the natives call it) in the city. Set up very much like Mezza9 here, the restaurant has open kitchen stations and the duck is cooked for all to see, then served and sliced by two chefs at your table. Very fine and very flavourful. Definitely need to go. (And by the way, if you are staying at this hotel, make sure you take at least one dip in their huge heated pool – a magnificent indoor watery playground that looks a little like something from Disneyland with fake foliage all around, an island of sorts, and a ceiling that changes colour to simulate twilight and day. A little kitschy to some, but its fantastic - especially if you have kids in tow. The hotel also connects to Beijing Oriental Plaza, the biggest mall in Asia, including international and China designers. Enough said!)

If you want to buy munchies, the Wanfujing Food Market is filled with all manner of traditional snacks and edible souvenirs including a huge section of Chinese candy (eg.peanut and sesame candy blocks) individually packed by weight or in gift bags. Try the tanghulu – those festive looking skewers of caramelized haw fruit and strawberries.

For local street food, go to Donghuamen Night Market just off Wanfujing where stalls and little (downmarket) cafes offer skewers of deep-fried scorpions, seahorses, sparrows and octopi. There’s also generous bowls of noodles, richly stuffed omelettes and regional specialties. Not cheap though – quite touristy.

Don’t leave without these:

Must get some shopping in. We found the shopping at Xidan Lu nothing short of amazing. Better than the street fashion in Hong Kong even especially since everything we have in HK is basically made in China. Find international (Zara, H&M, Uniglo) as well as local brands (go to the Beijing Hwa Apartment Hotel building at no. 130. Xidan North Avenue in the Xicheng District which has 7 floors of amazing shopping – think the Hereen in Singapore). My shopping bags were full when I left that place.
If you want to load up on Chinese books to improve your kids’ language, the six-storey Wanfujing Bookstore (218 Wanfujing Dajie) is easily the most comprehensive Chinese language bookstore here with lots of high quality books by China authors and translated international titles. Make a beeline to the children’s section and look out for gorgeously illustrated children’s books by local contemporary authors which hardly find their way here.

The Foreign Languages Bookstore (235 Wanfujing Dajie) – also a must-visit – is a treasure trove of English books translated from Chinese. It carries lots of high quality books on Chinese culture, stories and history for grown ups and kids. Service staff are friendly and speak English, and always on hand to help with recommendations. I spent a morning there and bought up half the store.

If you want to buy stuff for your kids, the New China Store for Children (168 Wanfujing Dajie) is worth a potter. Six storeys of toys, clothes and stationery. Toys are on the ground floor with both international and local brands, and on the 2nd floor are higher end China made kids clothes sectioned according to brands. They’re surprisingly rather fashion forward, and it changed my stereotype ideas of what China made kids clothes are like now. Plenty of candy colours and lovely designs abound at inexpensive prices – including trench coats, jackets and knitted tops for kids.

- Elaine and Ee Waun


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