November 23, 2009

Beijing: Eating and drinking

There's really no comparison between Chinese food in the United States or Europe and Chinese food in China. One is typically cheap, greasy, uninventive, and sometimes bland; the other is a smorgasbord of different cuisines, from Uighur to Sichuan to Cantonese, with an astonishing range of flavors and textures. In Beijing, the ever-present street vendors hawk all sorts of stuffed pancakes, roasted vegetables and nuts, and sweet or savory pastries, all for under a dollar; while restaurants range from tiny local dives to ultra-fine dining, with minimalist décor and maximalist prices, attentive waitstaff and jewel-like confections served in course after course. Beer is the usual drink with dinner, often Tsingtao or Nanjing.

The types of tea are innumerable; it's worth stopping by a tea shop to marvel at their selection, and possibly to buy gifts to bring home. In hipper neighborhoods, the abundant cafés offer bubble tea, along with wi-fi, espresso drinks, and a comfy couch for students or freelancers to lounge with their laptops. Unlike street vendors, brick-and-mortar establishments tend to charge something closer to Western prices; and Western chains, which include Starbucks and Coldstone Creamery, seem to charge about as much as back home.
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