A couple of Beijing food questions

Old Jun 8th, 2004, 11:17 AM
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A couple of Beijing food questions

I have 2 questions regarding eating in Beijing:

Is it ok to eat cooked foods from the street stalls or is that something a traveller should avoid for fear of getting ill?

What do we do if we find a restaurant that we're interested in, we have no clue what the menu is saying and english isnt spoken but it looks interesting? In beijing is that a concern. Its our first trip there and im overdosing on all the information available.
Thanks in advance for all your help. This is a great resource.
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Old Jun 8th, 2004, 12:10 PM
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1. Basic rule: If it's piping hot and freshly cooked, you can eat it. Especially on a short visit, do not eat cold dishes (except wrapped, manufactured icecreams), or fruit you do not peel yourself, keeping the outside clear of the part you are going to eat. This does not apply to super-upmarket places in familiar brand hotels, of course, but to ordinary Chinese restaurants and street stalls. If you are coming from a particularly hygienic spot you might want to give the street stalls a miss for a few days until your stomach has settled in. But there's no need to avoid them altogether.

2. Take a guide book which lists recommended dishes and gives the characters for their names. Take a phrase book which lists the characters for vegetables, meats, etc. Most (but not all) dish names consist of some mention of their ingredients plus a cooking method verb. Take a copy of the bilingual menu from your local take-away Chinese restaurant at home. Finally, just point to what other people are eating (no one in China minds this) if you like the look of it, and with a bit of mime you can usually get the waitress to show it to you on the menu (to check the price, and compare the characters to any list you may have).

Peter N-H
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Old Jun 24th, 2004, 11:47 AM
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If you are in a place for a while, take a take-out menu and have someone that reads Chinese characters fill out some of thedishes and go back to the hotel. Street food is OK and at least you know what you are ordering. BUt after looking at it, you may not want it. You can also look at what people are ordering and say "I want that" . he soups and porage meals are good. Remember, chciken dishes have bones in them. That was the hardest thing for me to get use to, but it is ok to take what looks like a chicken nugget and put in your mouth and chew the meat off in your mouth and take the bone off, or nibble at the meat from your chopsticks. I was in China 7 weeks last year and never got sick. I ate pig ears, raw lobster, raw snails, fish stuff???, chicken, duck, etc. Not all was good but very interesting. Also, the large China cities have numerous McDonald and KFCs, but also have European resturant chains. My favorite is DeliFrance and would frequent there numerous times. But there are always Rock-olas and use to be Tony Romas. If you are a couple, no problems , but at american resturants/bars with bands/music at night after 10, they fill up with american/European music lovers and "professional" women.
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Old Jun 24th, 2004, 01:40 PM
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I know Peter is the expert, but I certainly wouldn't/didn't eat from street vendors. Even if it is freshly cooked, you have to worry about plates, etc. If it something on a skewer and it comes just on the skewer, you might give it a try, but frankly I don't think it is worth the risk. Everything I have read and all experts I have talked to, agree with the advice to avoid street vendors. It is SO tempting, but I think the risk/reward ratio comes out on the side of caution.
If you've ever had food poisoning, you'll understand my caution. It can wreck havoc with a trip.
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Old Jun 24th, 2004, 04:16 PM
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The problem with the argument against plates is that it applies even more to restaurants than to street vendors. The standards of hygiene brought to dishwashing, let alone the general state of the cooking utensils and surfaces in regular Chinese restaurants, are not something you really want to see. (I've had to see them on very many occasions, being invited in to negotiate the contents of dishes for vegetarian friends.) Your only protection is if the food is piping hot.

Street vendors, on the other hand, are mostly offering disposable cartons--rather more hygienic than the restaurant dishes.

Anyone arriving from a very hygienic environment and dealing with a sudden change of diet can expect the odd intestinal rumble to start with. But there have been considerable improvements in hygiene and food quality in general, and it's now several years since I was last sick in China.

Last year I ate dinner with a Chinese friend who sneered at me for only eating hot dishes. Later that night she was rather ill, but I was not. The only difference between our meals was the cold dish.

Peter N-H
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Old Jun 25th, 2004, 12:17 PM
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We ran into several restaurants that did not have any English on the menu and nobody who spoke English to help us in Beijing and Shanghai. What we did was have a cheat sheet that had a list of about 60 relatively common foods (i.e. noodles, rice, variations) that was listed in English, Chinese and a pronunciation. We then pointed at various dishes and asked if they had them and chose that way. It was difficult though as they might come off with only a few choices on our "general" list. We did the point method too and sometimes there were pictures on the walls of the food which helped a lot.
I was afraid at first to eat the street food but by the end I did try the fried tofu and meat-on-a-stick and didn't have any problems.
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Old Jun 27th, 2004, 12:41 AM
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Try for individually packaged chopsticks instead of communal ones.

Hot and thoroughly cooked. Do not eat raw vegetables or even peeled fruit. If you must buy fruit, take it back to the hotel, wash the fruit thoroughly with the hotel water, THEN wash again with bottled water - before peeling yourself.

Bring your own napkins. I travel with lots of kleenex and one roll of toilet paper. I can always leave these behind on my last day if I don't use them.
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