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What to eat in Beijing if you can't handle the heat

This summer I was very fortunate to be able to spend three weeks at the Stanford Center at Peking University (Běidà) for a short course on rheology. It was a really special opportunity for me to experience student life at my dad’s alma mater and get to know friends from Stanford, Peking, Tsinghua and Beihang University.

As we went out for meals, however, I quickly discovered that I was one of the only people on the trip who can’t handle spicy food! But don’t worry, if you’re like me, there are still plenty of delicious and affordable options to try in Beijing.

SCPKU Rheology Class of 2019! A big thank you to Prof. Gerry Fuller, our TA Vinny, the SCPKU team, and everyone in the class for a wonderful three weeks in Beijing!

First of all, if you travel there during the summer months, it will be very, very hot. The best way to beat the heat is to eat lots of fruit, mung bean (has cooling properties), and ice cream! The cafeterias at Beida had fresh cut fruit, and we all fell in love with the (~1 USD) red dragonfruit (hóng huǒ lóng guǒ) there. There are also lots of ice cream flavors that are hard to find in the US, like red bean, white peach, durian, taro, honeydew, grape, etc.

Next, Beijing/northern China is known for a lot of flour-based dishes, so be sure to try the dumplings (shuǐ jiǎo), steamed buns (bāo zi), fried dough (yóu tiáo), pancakes (bǐng) and noodles of all sorts (miàn tiáo). Also, if you go to a restaurant specializing in Beijing food, a lot of things on the menu will not be spicy, like Peking Duck (běi jīng kǎo yā) and Zhajiang Noodles (zhá jiàng miàn). A fun place on Beida campus to get a Beijing street food is the jian bing Jiānbing shop, which is essentially a savory crepe with egg, sauce, a crispy interior, plus whatever add-ons you want. (Caution: the sauce is a little bit spicy…)

Beijing also has lots of cuisines from other parts of China, so make sure to try dishes like Shanghai style soup dumplings, Yunnan pineapple rice, and Taiwanese pork rice!

There are also lots of foods that you can pretty easily enjoy the non-spicy version of. Either you (or your friendly hosts!) can ask the waiter/waitress for no spice (miǎn là” or “bù yào là):

Shredded chicken cold noodle (jī sī liáng miàn) and bean curd noodle with veggies and sauce (liángpí) -- still tasty without the chili oil!

Hotpot (huǒ guō) and Grilled fish (kǎo yú) -- the spice is just in the broth, and there are many to choose from

And finally, of course, desserts are not spicy! Shaved ice (bào bīng), sago (xī mǐ lù), bubble tea, fluffy pancakes, mooncakes and old Beijing desserts (lǘ dǎgǔn and wāndòu huáng) are some favorites of mine. A newly popular boba place called HeyTea (xǐ chá) also has fully customizable drinks in case it’s too late for caffeine.

Overall, even if I couldn’t try all of the spicy foods, sharing meals was a great way to get to know everyone, and we all can’t wait to see our friends again. Who knows, maybe my spice tolerance will have gone up by then...