Six hours of class a day, taking impromptu trips to explore the city, experiencing amazing views on the Great Wall, and making new friends along the way. It’s hard to believe that it has already been three weeks since my time here at Peking University. But undoubtedly, one of the best parts of this experience has been the food.
Cafeteria food has never really been something I associated with good food. But at Peking University, the food on campus is truly amazing. Nongyuan, the main cafeteria, takes a good 10 minutes just to look at all the options offered. The types of food come from all corners of China, from the savory Northern styles to the sweeter, lighter Southern flavors. The only drawback is the sheer number of people. Cafeterias are battlefields. If you want to get your dish, sometimes being a bit aggressive is necessary.
Looking for good restaurants off campus is a constant struggle. Under the recommendation of my Chinese cousins, I downloaded DaZhongDianPing (大众点评), the Chinese Yelp. Unfortunately, the 11 million Beijing residents also have access to this information, so lines at the best restaurants can be a bit crazy. It’s not uncommon for the wait to be more than an hour or two. There was one time I got really lucky. Trying to avoid the wait, I once called the manager of the restaurant to make a reservation for dinner with my friends at rush hour. When I told the waitress at the restaurant that I called the manager, she thought I knew him personally and seated us almost immediately. We cut in front of more than 10 people waiting in line!
Though the food is absolutely delicious, you need to be careful choosing what you eat. Take my word for it. Two weeks into the food exploration, in a combination of poor dietary choices and a probably minor heat stroke (it’s really really hot in Beijing), a lot of my friends and I fell ill. Thankfully, it was nothing major, but I’ve learned since then that it’s best to stick to well cooked food. Here are some of my advice for those who are coming to Beijing and don’t want to have too many issues: (1) Stick to food on campus in cafeterias for the most part, it’s cheaper and there’s really a lot of options (2) Eat at large restaurants not small shops on the side of the road (3) When venturing into the unknown foods, go for the well-cooked ones rather than the cold dishes (4) Bring some diarrheal medication just in case.
But don’t feel too constrained by your food options, take some chances, try some new things, you just might find your new favorite dish!