Middle Kingdom Adventures: Eating Like a King

When I found out that I would be in China this summer, my friends uniformly told me one thing: eat like a king. It’s hard not to in China. With the conversion rate at about 6.5 RMB to 1 USD, a great meal will usually never cost you more than 10-20 USD (there is also no tipping in China). My daily lunch at the Tsinghua University student cafeteria runs me about 8 RMB a day and that’s for five steamed dumplings, a plate of vegetables (usually cabbage or bok choy), and a gigantic slice of watermelon.

The sheer quantity and quality of restaurants in China is unmatched, ensuring that on a busy street, you are never more than a five-minute walk from some of the best (and cheapest) food you may ever try. While the most authentic dining spots are unlikely to have an English menu, sometimes, it’s better not to know what exactly you are eating.

What I love most about eating out in China is the atmosphere. Restaurants stay open until 1 or 2 in the morning — even on weekday nights. In smaller mom-and-pop shops, conversations are loud and overwhelming. But it makes for a sensory experience unlike any other.

A caveat: if it’s your first time in China, or even if it’s your first time back in a while, be prepared for a digestive adjustment period. That being said, you can’t fully experience Chinese cuisine without being gutsy. So if you’re hesitating about trying something, just ask yourself, “When will I ever have the chance to try this again?” I will add that if you’re a vegetarian, your selection may be limited at times, but lately, plenty of vegan and vegetarian restaurants have popped up in Beijing.

As I’m not a food critic or connoisseur, my words cannot adequately describe the joy I’ve had eating in Beijing. Instead, I will let the pictures do the talking.

Yuying Luo ’12 (yuying@post.harvard.edu) is omnoming her way through Beijing. She is on the Alexander G. Booth ’30 Fellowship this summer in Beijing and Shanghai.