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The old hutongs [alleys] near Drum Tower are lined with nameless snack shops selling what I call Chinese fast food. One staple is shui jiao, which are boiled dumplings typically filled with pork and fennel. You dip them in vinegar and soy sauce with chili oil mixed in to your taste. —Fuchsia Dunlop Photo by See-ming Lee/Flickr. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
You can’t leave Beijing without having Peking duck at Da Dong. I eat the crisp skin first, dipped in sugar. Then I pile the skin, meat, leek, cucumber, and sweet, fermented sauce onto pancakes. I finish by drinking the broth from the carcass. —Fuchsia Dunlop Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
This photo was taken in the late afternoon of my trip to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The sun was about to set, and my friends and I had a few more hours of hiking the Great Wall before we reached our final destination: a guard tower where we would set up camp and sleep the night. Yes, it's illegal ... and yes, I would definitely recommend a sleepover on the Great Wall to any adventurous traveler.
Hai Wan Ju is a cheap spot to taste Beijing folk cooking. They make very good noodles—handmade, of course. The zha jiang mian—noodles with fried bean sauce and vegetables—is a classic Beijing noodle dish. Here, they also add pork. —Fuchsia Dunlop 21 Zengguang Lu, Haidian District, 86/ (0) 10-8207-0488. Photo by Gary Soup/Flickr. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
Yunteng Binguan specializes in the cooking of the Yunnan province. The restaurant is hard to find, but their cheese is worth the hunt. It’s like a milk cake of fresh curd topped with fried Szechuan peppercorn. —Fuchsia Dunlop Photo by chrisjstanley/Flickr. Bldg. 7, Dong Hua Shi Bei Li, Dongcheng Qu, 86/(0) 10-6711- 3322. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
One of my favorite moments in Beijing was sitting around the cozy circular bar at Noodle Bar for front-row action of the chef pulling our noodles by hand. The menu is simple and straightforward: all noodle soup with your choice of brisket, tendon or tripe beef (or the vegetarian version), which you check off from a paper menu attached to a clipboard. Laughably inexpensive, the meal was just the hearty fix we needed to once again brave the biting Beijing cold. Noodle Bar is a bit difficult to locate and taxis won't be much help. The 1949 Hidden City complex in which it is located sits directly behind the Pacific Century Place Mall. Once you've crossed the mall, you'll see an entrance to 1949. Once there, you must walk through an art gallery space to reach the courtyard and past Duck de Chine (also a must-try restaurant) to get to the bar. Well worth the trek!
I first went to this restaurant, hidden deep in a crumbling hutong (alleyway) neighborhood, by myself in a rickshaw one foggy November evening. It’s one of those unique, authentic finds that have remained intact for decades. The roast duck is beyond good. —Alessia Antinori 11 Beifengxiang Hutong, Dongcheng District, 86/(0) 10-6702-5681. Photo by Eric Gregory Powell. This appeared in the May 2013 issue. Read more about wine entrepreneur Alessia Antinori.
After an aimless walk through the calm hutongs in the centre of Beijing, we suddenly came to a crowded night market. It was only one row of food stalls, but it stretched for several hundred meters! Among other things, you can find more unusual fare, like grilled seahorse, or scorpion.
“Our umbrellas are a part of our culture that is disappearing,” says Cheng Dehu, the owner of Beijing’s Ruo Shui Tang Oil Paper Umbrella Workshop. As China has modernized at a breakneck pace, most traditional oil paper umbrellas have been left behind. But Ruo Shui Tang artisans still turn them out using a century-old technique: they boil bamboo, carve the wood into collapsible frames and handles, and glue on translucent paper. Artists then paint landscapes or portraits on the paper, and waterproof it with tung tree oil. The whole process, which relies on the work of 30 people, produces umbrellas that can withstand being opened more than 2,000 times. Visit the studio to peruse or purchase umbrellas. From $30. 144 Gulou Dong Dajie, Dongcheng District, 86/(0) 10-6406-4496. This appeared in the May/June 2012 issue. Photo courtesy of Ruo Shui Tang Oil Paper Umbrella Workshop.
Explore the back streets near Andingmen Station for a glimpse of everyday life in the hutongs of Beijing. While in the area, stop for a drink at the unexpectedly hip Siif Cafe. As the sign out front says, they have good coffee, along with cocktails, Belgian beers, and live music or DJs on the weekends.
The most fantastic ancient tourist site in Beijing, only accessible to Chinese dynastic rulers until quite recently, when China opens its borders to tourists. The architecture is completely restored and the site is gigantic. Once you enter, you can walk through the maze of a palace that used to be the home of the emperor and his family.
Beside the architectural beauty of the Forbidden City, I just love the color palette of the entire palace. The lavish gold, red and green mixture created such contrast yet cohesive look.
From October 13 to 24, food writer Fuchsia Dunlop will lead guests through cooking classes, insiders’ restaurant visits, and a farm stop on a culinary tour from Beijing to Shanghai. From $5,990. Photo by Keren Su/Corbis. This appeared in the October 2012 issue.
There are way too many doors inside of the forbidden city. Sometimes, take a peek at the closed door and you might see the path leads to another door. Also, a good tour guide might tell you more stories associated with them.
Ningxia is a region that borders Inner Mongolia. The food reflects the desert and grassland terrain. Go to the restaurant at the Ningxia Hotel for fantastic steamed mutton with wild herbs. Instead of the rice you’d find in southern China, here you eat pasta. —Fuchsia Dunlop This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
My husband and I wandered through the grounds of the Forbidden City in Beijing, snapping photos and trying to avoid the swarms of tour groups. Each group could be identified by a crowd of Chinese tourists all wearing the same color of baseball cap. People wandered everywhere, and it was a struggle to picture the sprawling palace as it used to be- a serene home simply to an emperor and his staff. Even more difficult was trying to snap a picture without a baseball cap in it. However, I was able to get this shot of a row of gargoyles lining the base of a patio. I took a moment and tried to imagine the carvings gurgling and spouting rainwater. I managed to lose myself in the history of the majestic palace- but only for a moment.
What would the Empress Dowager Cixi have said? Here I stand beneath the soaring ceilings of the grand pavilion in Beijing’s Aman at Summer Palace hotel, facing an intricately carved, floor-to-ceiling wooden screen depicting cypress-lined lakes and terraced hills, and what am I wearing? Not a flowing silk gown, but jeans and a T-shirt. Thankfully the empress, known as the Dragon Lady, who ruled China from 1861 until her death in 1908, is not here to enforce a dress code. But after a 14-year restoration, the hotel—much of it occupying rooms where visitors once waited for an audience with Cixi— gives me a glimpse of what her luxurious life, if not her wardrobe, might have been like. To get to my room, I stroll past weeping willows and through arcades painted bright red, a color that represents happiness in Chinese culture. Off a courtyard filled with ancient pines, I enter my suite. I walk across clay tiles, admiring the exposed beams spanning the high ceilings and the lattice screens that accent the walls. Four posts draped with a silk canopy surround a bed that looks big enough for a family of seven. Plush sofas and a mahogany writing desk welcome me to the sitting room, and the expansive bathroom features an oversize tub framed by still more latticework. The next morning at six, I join other early risers for tai chi under the willow trees that line Kunming Lake, on the grounds of the Summer Palace. Dressed in a loose-fitting, white silk uniform with red ribbing and a mandarin collar, our instructor cuts a graceful figure against the misty lake, drawing the attention of passersby who take pictures of him and giggle at us. The slow, meditative movements somehow manage to be both invigorating and calming—the perfect way to start a day in the frenetic metropolis of Beijing. I take a 10-minute cab ride to Empress Cixi’s winter home, the majestic Forbidden City, where I spend the morning surrounded by swarms of tourists like me. The Dragon Lady would never have put up with such a ruckus. When I return to the calm embrace of the Aman, I regain some of my royal serenity in a calligraphy class. I learn to write the characters for Beijing, China, and my name in (relatively) graceful brushstrokes. The bespectacled instructor remains stoic as I try to replicate his delicate strokes as brash slashes of ink. Empress Cixi was a respected painter and calligrapher, and last year one of her calligraphic works sold at Christie’s for $38,790. When I get home, my Beijing-born friend Feng will declare my work “not bad” in a way that says, “Don’t quit your day job.” The next morning our guide, Jerry, picks up a group of us, and we drive through the pine forests of Fragrant Hills Park to a remote part of the Great Wall. We walk along narrow trails as Jerry tells us of his life as a young man in modern China. He confesses that he knew nothing about the massacre at Tiananmen Square until five years ago. Even now, he is prohibited by law from discussing it further. Jerry charts China’s remarkable embrace of capitalism in three sentences. “When my parents’ generation got married in the 1970s, everyone bought three things: a watch, a bicycle, and a sewing machine. My uncle’s generation in the ’80s bought a refrigerator, a TV, and a washing machine. My generation buys a big apartment and a BMW.” Empress Cixi, who is said to have drunk from a jade cup and eaten with golden chopsticks, was clearly ahead of her time. As I wander the Summer Palace grounds on the last day of my trip, I watch kites dance across the sky. They are anchored by children and adults scattered amid the 544 marble lions that line Seventeen Arch Bridge, which connects to an island in Kunming Lake. I imagine the empress could have witnessed a similar scene. Then I come upon 70 people line-dancing to a perky rendition of “It’s So Easy (to Fall in Love)” sung in Mandarin and ponder what Cixi might have thought of that. The kinetic crowds make me glad that I have a tranquil retreat. I return to my cocoon and heed the call of the tub. I light candles, draw a warm bath, and relax as Chinese classical music wafts in from the CD player in the bedroom. It’s good to be empress. A Aman at Summer Palace, 1 Gongmenqian St., Summer Palace, Beijing, 86/(0) 10-5987-9999. From $650. amanresorts.com. Image courtesy of Aman Resorts. This story appeared in the July/August 2011 issue. Discover other palace hotels:Venice, ItalyRajasthan, IndiaPlaya del Carmen, MexicoMarrakech, MoroccoCounty Clare, Ireland
If you plan a trip to Beijing, make sure to allow time to visit the “798 Art Zone,” or Dashanzi Art District, where a mix of political, cultural, and economic combustion have created an edgy contemporary art scene. You could easily spend a day walking around this post-industrial-chic neighborhood of 50-year-old, decommissioned, communist-era factories and warehouses (now converted into artists’ spaces, galleries, boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants), often compared to New York’s Greenwich Village or SoHo. The shopping, even for budget travelers, is excellent, and filled with finds from Mao kitsch items to cool clothing and interesting souvenirs. Due to the current real estate bubble, it is rumored that the district is highly likely to be demolished in the not-too-distant future.
Dining at Made in China at the Grand Hyatt is expensive, but the staff creates an excellent experience. Open kitchens allow you to catch a glimpse of the Peking ducks roasting in ovens over fruitwood-fueled fires. I always order the dumplings. —Fuchsia Dunlop Photo courtesy of The Grand Hyatt. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
There's a reason this is one of the wonders of the world. No, it cannot be seen from outer space, but it is truly magnificent. When visiting China, avoid the super touristy hotspots. We visited a spot that locals preferred called MuTianYu, about 40 minutes outside of Beijing and a short hike to the entrance. There are a few "forbidden trails" but carry on with caution. Bring water and a packed lunch to have a picnic on the Great Wall!
I snapped photos with every step that I took climbing the Simatai section of the Great Wall. I would preview each photo after I taking it, and none captured the sight before me—a seemingly endless stretch of stone that undulated with the landscape of the mountains that it was snaking over. I kept climbing until the path was blocked and I could go no more. I turned around and took one last photo. It's not the perfect image, but it's the one that captured the memory I wanted to preserve of this amazing experience.
Paper-thin tableware made by craftsmen in Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China, are sold at this shop near the 789 art district. Designs are a mix of traditional and whimsical. Check out the chopstick rests shaped like crab claws and pieces of coral. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue.
Want to learn how to make tasty dumplings? Or hand-pulled noodles? Or the cuisine of Hunan, Yunnan and Sichuan? The Hutong is a cozy retreat where you can gather with a small group and—all tools provided—learn how to make a dish or two. The Hutong Kitchen isn't limited to Chinese food. There are classes on Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Indonesian, and other cuisines, as well as foods that range from marmalade to meat pies. Market tours are also on the schedule. If you are into food and desire a hands-on experience, then this is a place to check out. Note: The Hutong Kitchen is part of The Hutong proper, which also offers tea tastings, photography classes, art activities, and more on site, as well as treks around China. Image courtesy of The Hutong Kitchen.
Li Qun Duck Restaurant is hidden in a Qianmen hutong. (To find it, follow the ducks painted on the hutong walls!) The restaurant doesn't put on airs, and feels effortlessly authentic despite the fact that pictures of statesman and ambassadors who have eaten there hang in the entrance hall. We tried an assortment of veggie side dishes and steamed fish, but the main event is (obviously) the roast duck. Unlike other restaurants, you get the skin with delicate pancakes and trimmings, and then they fry up the rest of the duck for you—feet, innards and all—and serve that as well. (I must admit, though, that the crispy skin is my favorite part!)
When I first visited Beijing, I was pleasantly surprised by the many innovative works of architecture, such as this, the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Located just a few minutes from the Forbidden City, it is a beautiful building to see during the day, but the reflection from the water surrounding it really makes it stand out at night.
For the Chinese, calligraphy is not only a practical way of writing characters but it is also a revered art form. As art, the way the calligrapher holds the brush, how he presents and stylizes the character conveys his culture, emotional being and artistic esthetic. Although there are thousands of Chinese characters, no more than eight basic strokes are used to construct any one character. To learn the art of calligraphy, you have to first master these eight strokes and that takes a lot of practice. Everywhere that I went in China, wherever there was a flat piece of concrete, I would see calligraphers practicing their strokes using oversized brushes and water. And as with many art forms, students learn from masters. I came across this teacher and his student at the Summer Palace in Beijing. It seems that for this young boy, mastering the stroke begins with drawing the simple outline of a rabbit.
On my visit to the Forbidden City, the blustering wind made all attempts at focused photography nearly impossible but my eyes were locked on the guard's calculated movements. I wanted to capture this stunning moment of orderly procession but I was quickly losing feeling in my fingers. As if anticipating my intentions, the third guard turned in my direction and my finger instantly released. By far, one of my favorite memories from our trip to China.
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