Beijing cuisine is one of the four major Chinese styles of cooking, so trying for each and every foodie. And just ab any fickle fancy meets its match, so plunge' and start twiddling those chopsticks - SQ " of your best Beijing memories could w n be table-top ones. Beijing's contemporary culinary frenzy has cobbled together ev rything from (it was just a matter of timei Hutong Pizza to fast-food style hotpot and fish and chips.
This may be Beijing, but eating out doesn't necessarily require excessive capital outlays-listed here are restaurants that offer the best food and value within a range of budgets The cheapest of meals come in at less than Y40, midrange dining costs between Y40 and Y100, while top-end choices cost over Y100.
Supermarkets are plentiful and most visitors will find what they need, but delis stock wider selections of foreign cheeses, cured meats and wines.
Chongwen & South Chaoyang
For convenient dining and a Pan-Asian selection under one roof, try one of the ubiquitous food courts that can be found in shopping malls throughout the city.
Wangfujing Snack Street (Wangfujing Xiaochp; 9; kebabs from Y3, dishes from Y5; lunch & dinner) West off Wangfujing Dajie, and fronted by an ornate archway, this bustling and cheery corner of restaurants and stalls is overhung with colourful banners and bursting with fla-vour. It's a great place to hoover up Xinjiang or Muslim Uighur staples such as lamb kebabs and flat bread. Sit down with steaming bowls of mala tang ( spicy noodle soup). zhdjiangmian (noodles in fried bean sauce), Lanzhou lamian(Lanzhou noodles) and oodles of spicy chuancai (jl|J& Sichuan food).
Megabite (Dashidai; basement, Oriental Plaza, 1 Dongchang'an Jie; dishes from Y10) Perfect for on-the-spot dining, this huge food court has point-and-serve Chinese and other Asian dining options all under one roof. Purchase a card at the kiosk at the entrance, load up with credits (Y30 to Y500) and browse among the canteen-style outlets for whatever takes your fancy, then continue shopping.
Nilige Jiaozi : Swat aside H proffered English tourist menu at the and recently face-lifted little jiaozi to what this place does best - servings of st" me olump dumplings.
Xiabu Xiabu ( 6025 9312; www.xiabu.com; 2nd fl, Henderson Centre, Jianguomennei Oajie; meals Y25) Itching for a solo hotpot without the stress Of a vast circular table and similarly sized bill? Xiabu xidbu (see-ya-boo see-ya-boo) is fast-foot hotpot, where diners sit in rows over their own small stainless steel hotpots. Order your soup base (the spicy version akin to a shot of Tabasco up each nostril), tick off what you want and start your solitary swelter. A short primer to get you started: soup base, lamb; beef, mushrooms (ffJS; xianggu; Y8), tofu (Sit; doufu; Y4), cabbage ,spicy ,not spicy .Over 40 branches in town.
Ajisen Noodle (Weiqian Lamian; 8518 6001; FF08, Basement, Oriental Plaza) Ajisen's flavour-some noodles - delivered in steaming bowls by fleet-foot black-clad staff - will have your ears tingling and your tummy quivering. Dishes are miraculously as tasty as they appear on the photo menu and tea comes free with cups punctiliously refilled. Further branches around town and nationwide.
Bianyifang Kaoyadian :Dating back to the reign of the Qing emperor Xianfeng, Bianyifang offers midrange comfort reminiscent of a faded Chinese three-star hotel. The duck is nonetheless excellent, roasted in the menlu style, but on your guard if waiting staff immediately steer you towards the pricier hudxidngsu-style fowl (half/whole Y84/168). It's next to the ttademen Hotel.
Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant : Less touristy than its recently Damped Qianmen sibling, this branch of he celebrated chain has a handy location off Wangfujing Dajie for shopping-laden diners.
Expat lifeline Jenny lou's Ritan Beilu; S Sam-midnight) has an excellent selection of cheeses, sausages, cereals and pasta, plus an entire wall of wines and spirits.
Donghuamen Night Market (Donghuamen Yeshi; 9; Dong'anmen Oajie; snacks from Y3; W 3-10pm, closed Chinese New Year) A sight in itself, the bustling night market near Wangfujing Dajie is a food zoo: lamb kebabs, beef and chicken skewers, corn on the cob, chou doufu ,cicadas, grasshoppers, kidneys, quails' eggs, squid, fruit, porridge, fried pancakes, strawberry kebabs, bananas, Inner Mongolian cheese, stuffed aubergines, chicken hearts, pita bread stuffed with meat, shrimps and more. Zero in on the vendors with dragon-spouted copper kettles ofxingren chd : a bowl of this sugary almond-flavoured paste, seeded with peanuts, berries and sesame seeds, will leave the sweet-toothed doing cartwheels. It's for tourists, not locals, so expect to pay rather inflated prices.
Baguo Buyi (64008888; 89-3 Di'anmen Oongdajie; dishes from Y8; S lunch & dinner) This popular Sichuan restaurant has a marvellous Chinese inn-style setting with balconies and a central stairway, and dolled-up waiting staff in attendance. The ambience bursts with both character and theatre, and there's a range of good-value dishes.
Alba Cafe (6407 3730; 79 Nanluogu Xiang; snacks Y15; S 9am-midnight) Sweet spot and a real treat, with scrummy breakfast deals including coffee and homemade scones or coffee and tasty apple pie plus an assortment of gourmet sandwiches.
Sequoia (Meizhou Shan Kafeiwu; 6501 5503; 44 Guanghua Lu; sandwiches Y25;8am-8pm) A steady stream of customers arrives in Sequoia for its satisfying coffee and deservedly popular sandwiches. The vegetarian sandwich (Y25) we had was a stunner, crisp and filling on fluffy bread; the cappuccino's (Y19) a corker. Another branch ( 6415 6512) in Sanlitun.
Grandma's Kitchen (Zumu de Chufa'ng; 6528 2790; 47-2 Nanchizi Dajie; meals Y40) 'There's no place like home except Grandma's' goes the blurb, and this place is certainly homely, with an excellent no-nonsense menu and efficient staff. Two further branches in town.
Otto's Restaurant (Rkhang Canguan; Map pp124-5; S) 6405 8205; Di'anmen Xidajie; meals Y60; 11 am-2am) Loud and cavernous with a bright menu, harried staff and constant waves of diners piling in for its flavoursome Hong Kong dishes, Otto's offers no-nonsense and tasty food in decent helpings. The fiery heijido zhupdi hits the spot. It's east of the north gate of Beihai Park.
Xiao Wang's Home Restaurant : Treat yourself to home-style Beijing cuisine at this excellent restaurant and go for one of Xiao Wang's specials. The piaoxiang pdigii (deep-fried spareribs with pepper salt; Y38) are gorgeous: dry, fleshy, crispy chops with a small pile of fiery pepper salt. Xiao Wang's fried hot and spicy Xinjiang-style ziran jichi (chicken wings; Y35) is de-servedly famous and the Peking duck is crispy and lean (Y88 per duck, Y5 for sauce, scallions and pancakes). There's outside seating and a further attractive branch can be found in the Ritan Park .
Cafe Sambal : In an uncomplicated but trendy grey brick, concrete and wood setting with rickety tables, Cafe Sambal brings Malaysian food to Beijing with style and panache. The Kumar mutton with vegetables and rice set (Y80) is satisfying, and the menu embraces a wide range of Malaysian treats from nyonya curry chicken (Y60) to beef rendang (Y60). Good wine list.
Hutong Pizza : Although we had to wait 20 minutes for our anchovy and olive pizza (Y68), it was worth it. There's a large choice of meaty pizzas and burgers, and nonmeat eaters can order the vegetarian pizza (Y58). The hutong house interior is funky and upstairs is lovely, with old painted beams.
Huang Ting : Faux old Peking is taken to an ex-treme in the courtyard setting of Huang Ting. Despite its artificiality and location (in a five-star hotel), the ambience is impressive. Dishes include chasiu barbecued pork (Y68) and roasted crispy duck (Y100).
Courtyard (S)heyuan: The Courtyard enjoys an excellent location by the east gate of the Forbidden City. The cigar divan upstairs is the perfect conclusion to a meal, but it's the view and international menu that hog the limelight.
Purple Haze : A chilled-out, smooth and snappy finish a small library of foreign literature and an enti'c ing bar area for aperitif-sinking make this a stylish foray into the world of Thai cooking It's along the small lane opposite the Workers' Stadium north gate,
Xinjiang Red Rose : The full-on gregarious Uighur dining experience with nightly Xinjiang tunes and dancing goes down a treat with roast mutton fiends citywide. Opposite the north gate of the Workers' Stadium.
Dongbeiren : The hearty northeastern bandwagon rumbles into Beijing, its smiling gaggle of rouge-cheeked and pig-tailed xidojie (waitresses) in tow, hauling in dumplings bursting with flavour, a garrulous atmosphere (with periodic singing from the waitresses) and trademark festive spirit.
Beijing Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant : A long-term favourite of the Peking duck scene, this restaurant has a tempting variety of fowl. The hallmark bird is a crispy, lean duck without the usual high fat content (trimmed down from 42.38% to 15.22% for its 'Superneat' roast duck, the brochure says), plus plum (or garlic) sauce, scallions and pancakes. Also carved up is the skin of the duck with sugar, an imperial predilection.
In the basement of the enormous Lufthansa Center Youyi Shopping City, a multistorey shopping mall in the northeast of town, there is a branch of the Yaiwha Supermarket ( 9am-10pm) that s chock-a-block with imported goods.
Carrefour :Stocks virtu ally everything you may need, takes credit cards and provides ATMs and a home delivery service. There are also branch' in Fengtai, Hai"ia a Zhongguancun Nandajie a Zhongguancun.
April Gourmet : An expat-orientec
Turpan Restaurant : Round off a trip to Beijing's Hui Muslim district with a bone fide Xinjiang meal at this spacious restaurant that's overhung with plastic grapes: not intimate, but authentic (lamb kebabs Y8, whole lamb Y988, roast leg of lamb Y80, nang bread Y5). Alcohol is served, so reach for a beer - the Maotai (Y1080) or far, far cheaper Red Star Erguotou (Y10).
Beijing has a glut of drinking options and a judicious appraisal is recommended before diving in willy-nilly. New bars trip over themselves to cash in on the latest fad, swinging open doors onto samey interiors where a palpable sense of bankruptcy hangs in the air. After folding, a month passes and the bar reopens under new management. The bandwagon rolls on and after the dust settles, enough spots with a dose of character and a shot of style find themselves occupying a profitable niche in the fickle and easily bored expat scene. Any bar with 10 years on the ticker is a sure-fire veteran.
Principle bar areas include a now-scattered collection in Sanlitun, a long string of bars along the northern and southern shores of Houhai Lake (Houhai Nanyan and Houhai Beiyan), nearby Yandai Xiejie and a long slew of bars along Nanluogu Xiang, south-east of the Drum Tower; other outfits are doing their own thing, in their own part of 'own including student bars in the university areas. Wi-fi is increasingly available in Beijing's bar world.
Bookworm Cafe : Deftly bridging the crevasse separating hungry expat minds from Beijing's inept book trade, the Bookworm has emerged as one of the city's foremost cultural enclaves. Join the bib-j'ophiles swooning over the massive English-language book collection and jot this place down as a first-rate spot for a get-together, a solo coffee or a major reading binge.
Bed Bar : Unsurprisingly featuring beds strewn with cushions, this comforting bar has a lovely rear courtyard littered with wobbly tables and repro antique chairs. All set to first-rate music, it's literally a place to crash out in but it's not well advertised outside -search for the solitary red lantern just past the Hutong Inn.
Tree : Seriously popular expat dungeon regularly bursting with gregarious drinkers engrossed in conversation, chomping wood-fired pizza and gulping Leffe (Y40), Duvel (Y40) and over 40 Belgian brews, flogged by skilful bar staff. Drum & Bell Bar (Guzhong Kafeiguan; 8403 3600; 41 Zhonglouwan Hutong; Slpm-2am) Clamber to the roof terrace of this bar that's romantically slung between its namesake towers, duck under the thicket of branches and seat yourself amid an idyllic panorama of low-rise Beijing rooftops. Alternatively, you can just sink without trace into one of the marshmallow-soft sofas downstairs to be lulled by soft music sounds.
Beer Mania : Broom cupboard-sized bar with around 10 tables and a regular gaggle of Belgian brew connoisseurs. Join the row of tipplers at the bar for a Delirium Nocturnum (Y50), a blue Chimay (Y50), a Kwak (Y50) or browse through the labels in the fridge. Others sit with draught Stellas (Y45), but you can do that cheaper elsewhere.
Rickshaw :Good-value beer, rough-and-ready upstairs vibe with concrete floor, wobbly overhead fans, rock music, pool, sports TV and enthusiastic fan base not far from Bookworm. The couch-strewn downstairs section is quieter and the menu's a hit.
Passby Bar : One of the original bars on cafe-bar strip Nanluogu Xiang and still one of the best, with travel-oriented bar staff, a winning courtyard ambience, shelves of books and mags and a funky ethnic feel.
Centro :Swish .and stylish, Centro is a seductive lounge bar with low mood lighting, illuminated table tops, a black glossy bar and discreet, quiet corners by relaxing chill-out tunes and ambient sounds. A cushy refuge at the end of a hectic day, here you can be granted respite from the frantic clutter of contemporary Beijing. There's live music (including jazz) at night and a DJ spins sounds at weekends.
Today's Beijing has seen a revolution in leisure as the city's denizens work and play hard. Beijing opera, acrobatics and kung fu are solid fixtures on the tourist circuit, drawing regular crowds. Classical music concerts and modern theatre reach out to a growing audience of sophisticates, while night owls will find something to hoot about in the live-music and nightclub scene.
BEIJING OPERA & TRADITIONAL CHINESE MUSIC
There are many types of Chinese opera, but Beijing opera (IR Jrll; jingju) is by far the best known. The form was popularised in the West by the actor Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), who is said to have influenced Charlie Chaplin.
The operatic form bears little resemblance to its European counterpart. Its colourful blend of singing, dancing, speaking, swordsmanship, mime, acrobatics and dancing can swallow up an epic six hours, but two hours is more usual.
There are four types of actors' roles: the sheng, ddn.jingand chou. The shengare the leading male actors and they play scholars, officials, warriors and the like. The dan are the female roles, but are usually played by men (Mei Lanfang always played a dan role). The jingare the painted-face roles, and they represent warriors, heroes, statesmen, adventurers and demons. The chou is basically the clown. Language is typically archaic Chinese and the screeching music may not have you tapping your foot, but visually it's a treat, with elaborate costumes and bright, magnificent make-up. Western viewers find the energetic battle sequences riveting, as acrobats leap, twirl, twist and somersault into attack - it's not unlike boarding a Beijing bus during rush hour.
Zhengyici Theatre : Formerly an an cient temple, this ornately decorated building is the country's oldest wooden theatre and the best place in town for Beijing opera, other operatic schools such as kunqu (H fS|) and a bite of Peking duck.
Huguang Guild Hall : Decorated in similar fashion to the Zhengyici Theatre, with balconies sur-rounding the canopied stage, this theatre dates back to 1807. The interior is magnificent, coloured in red, green and gold. There's also a small opera museum (admission; open 9am to 11am and 3pm to 7.30pm) opposite the theatre, displaying scores, old catalogues and operatic paraphernalia, including colour illustrations of the lianpit (fl&iHh the different types of Beijing opera facial make-up).
Chang'an Grand Theatre : This theatre offers a genuine experience of Beijing opera, with an erudite audience chattering knowledgably among themselves during weekend matinee classics and evening performances.
Lao She Teahouse : This popular teahouse has nightly shows and afternoon performances of folk music (2.30pm to 5pm Monday to Friday), folk music and tea ceremonies (3pm to 4.30pm Saturday), theatre (2pm to 4.30pm Wednesday and Friday), and matinee Beijing opera shows (3pm to 4.30pm Sunday). Evening performances of Beijing opera, folk art, music, acrobatics, juggling, kung fu and magic are the most popular. Phone ahead or check online for the schedule.
Liyuan Theatre :Tourist-friendly theatre at the rear of the lobby of the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel. It has regular performances and matinee kung fu shows.
Sanwei Bookstore : Opposite the Minzu Hotels,this place nas a small bookshop on the ground floor and a teahouse on the 2nd floor. It fea-tures music with traditional Chinese instru-ments on Saturday night.
Grand Opera House : You can also enjoy Beijing opera within this Qing dynasty opera house in the setting of Prince Gong's Residence , one of Beijing's landmark historic courtyards. Phone ahead to check on performance times.
ACROBATICS & MARTIAL ARTS
Two thousand years old, Chinese acrobatics is one of the best deals in town. Matinee Shaolin performances are held at the Liyuan Theatre (opposite).
Chaoyang Culture Center : Shaolin Warriors perform their punishing stage show here; watch carefully and pick up some tips for queue barging during rush hour in the Beijing underground.
Chaoyang Theatre :Probably the most accessible place for foreign visitors and often bookable through your hotel, this theatre is the venue for visiting acrobatic troupes filling the stage with plate-spinning and hoop-jumping.
Tiandi Theatre : Around 100m north of the old Poly Plaza, here young performers from the China National Acrobatic Troupe knot themselves into mind-bending and joint-popping shapes. It's a favourite with tour groups, so book ahead. You can also visit the circus school to see the performers training ( 6502 3984). Look for the white tower resembling something from an airport -that's where you buy your tickets (credit cards not accepted).
Tianqiao Acrobatics Theatre : West of the Temple of Heaven, this is one of Beijing's njost popular venues. The entrance is down the eastern side of the building.
Red Theatre : Nightly kung fu shows aimed squarely
Beijing's nightclub scene ranges imaginatively from student dives for the lager Crowd to sharper venues and top-end clubs for the preening types.
Mix : Major hip-hop and R&B club west of Sanlitun with regular crowd-pulling foreign DJs, inside the Workers' Stadium north gate.
World of Suzie Wong (Suxi Huang; 6500 3377; www.suziewong.com.cn; 1a Nongzhanguan Lu, Chaoyang Amusement Park west gate; gl 7pm-3.30am) This lush and elegant lounge set-up attracts glamorous types who recline on traditional wooden beds piled up with silk cushions and sip daiquiris. There's attentive service, fine cocktails and beer, and eclectic tunes.
Club Banana :Mainstay of Beijing club land, Banana is loud and to the point. Select from the techno, acid jazz and chill-out sections according to your energy levels or the waning of the night.
Destination: Still Beijing's leading gay club, Destination wins few awards for its looks, but it has always attracted a loyal following.
A growing handful of international pop and rock acts make it to Beijing, but there's still a long way to go; in recent years the local live-music scene has dynamically evolved, with the choice of venues multiplying every year.
East Shore Bar : With views of Qianhai Lake, this excellent bar hits all the right notes with its low-light candlelit mood and live jazz sounds from 9.30pm (Thursday to Sunday). Free internet use.
2 Kolegas: Awash with bargain beer and tuned in to independent, rawer sounds, 2 Kolegas is an excellent venue for getting your finger on the pulse of Beijing's musical fringe. It's by a drive-in cinema.
MAO livehouse: This j [ fantastically popular venue for live sounds is I one of the busiest in town.
What Bar?: relaxing chill-out tunes and ambient sounds. A cushy refuge at the end of a hectic day, here you can be granted respite from the frantic clutter of contemporary Beijing. There's live music (including jazz) at night and a DJ spins sounds at weekends.Microsized and slightly deranged, this broom cupboard of a bar stages regular rotating, grittily named bands to an enthusiastic audience. It's north of the west gate of Forbidden City.
As China's capital and the nation's cultural hub, Beijing has several venues where classical music finds an appreciative audience. The annual 30-day Beijing Music Festival (www.bmf.org .en) is staged between October and November, bringing with it international and homegrown classical music performances. The US$324 million, 6000-seat, titanium-and-glass National Grand Theatre (Map pp 124-5), to the west of Tiananmen Sq, opened in 2007.
Beijing Concert Hall :The 2000-seat Beijing Concert Hall showcases evening performances of classical Chinese music as well as international repertoires of Western classical music.
Forbidden City Concert Hall : Located on the eastern side of Zhongshan Park, this is the venue for performances of classical and traditional Chinese music.
Poly Plaza International Theatre : Situated in the old Poly Plaza right by Dongsishitiao subway station, this venue hosts a wide range of performances, including classical music, ballet, traditional Chinese folk music and operatic works.
Only emerging in China in the 20th century, huaju (iSo'J; spoken drama) never made a huge impact. As an art, creative drama is still unable to fully express itself and remains sadly sidelined. But if you want to know what's walking the floorboards in Beijing, try some of the following.
Capital Theatre : Right in the heart of the city on Wangfujing Dajie, this theatre has regular performances of contemporary Chinese productions from several theatre companies.
China Puppet Theatre :This popular theatre has regular
The huge Chang'an Grand Theatre largely stages productions of Beijing opera with occasional classical Chinese theatre productions.
The following are two of Beijing's most central multiscreen cinemas. Only a limited number of Western films are permitted for screening every year.
Star Cinema City :This six-screen cinema is centrally located and plush (with leather reclining sofa chairs).
Sundongan Cinema City Don't expect a huge selection, but you can usually find a Hollywood feature plus other English-language movies.
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