The creation and enjoyment of delicious food is an important part of the Chinese people's cultural tradition. Various cities and areas in China all have their unique cuisines and signature dishes; the taste of a city is often connected with some kind of food. To get to know a city's special flavor, it is useful to start from the unique taste of its local cuisine.
Beijing—The Story of Roast Duck
In Beijing, for centuries the imperial capital, dining is an extremely important matter. When then-US President George W. Bush visited China he dined at Quanjude; when US President Barack Obama came to Beijing he was invited to dine at Dadong—though due to security considerations, he missed the chance to taste the dainties there, his retinue did not.
Both Quanjude and Dadong are restaurants famous for their roast duck, a Beijing specialty. In Beijing, there are two types of roast duck: gualu roast duck (roasted directly over a fire) and menlu roast duck (roasted in a heated oven). Quanjude serves the former. Roasted over a fire of fruit tree wood, the roast duck takes on a claret color, and it absorbs a fruity fragrance from the wood, with crispy skin and tender meat. The best-known menlu roast duck restaurant in Beijing is Bianyifang. Its duck meat, roasted in a heated oven, is white, tender and tasty, the crispy duck skin retaining much of the juice.
Another renowned Beijing roast duck restaurant is Liqun Roast Duck, located in a courtyard house. It is said that every day the restaurant is visited by more foreign customers than Chinese ones. Several foreign guests, after visiting the restaurant by chance, included it into a guide for self-help travel, a global best seller. Even the US National Geographic Channel, when filming "Beijing Roast Duck", a part of the TV series The Miraculous Earth featured Liqun Roast Duck and its owner, head chef Zhang Liqun. The restaurant, located in a typical Beijing courtyard house, has been renovated, but it still looks like an ordinary residence with no decorations in the yard. At mealtimes, however, it is packed with guests.
Shanghai—A Salad Merging Chinese and Western Elements
During the past couple of centuries, Shanghai, like the sea absorbing the waters of all rivers, has absorbed dishes from all cuisines, not only from all over the country but from all over the world too. At the same time, it has subtly altered these imported dishes to form its own unique Shanghai-style dietary culture. Just as Cao Juren said in his Spring and Autumn of Shanghai, "Raised upon tiger's milk, the city has taken in the cream of the whole country, and also delicacies from overseas. She has become the place of convergence of all food."