What's the food like in Beijing? Is the water drinkable?

April 22, 2010 | Posted by Chris

KFC and McDonald's are popular in China for both their food and clean environment.

As the capital of China, you can find any kind of food in Beijing. The dining choices are limited only by your wallet and imagination: from New York-style pizza to high-end French dining, from expensive Chinese delicacies to local snacks sold on the streets, it can all be found in Beijing. In fact, food is taken so seriously in Beijing that each Chinese province has a restaurant in the city that serves genuine dishes made from food that is flown in fresh from their respective province; wait staff, too, is exclusively from the restaurant's home province as well.

Traditionally, Beijing food has been influenced by the cuisines of Shandong Province and the imperial court. However, not being one of the 8 great traditions of Chinese cuisine, Beijing food is generally restricted to specific dishes that may seem unusual to foreigners and are usually eaten by locals at holiday events. With a KFC and McDonald's on nearly every street corner, it is no surprise that Beijingers often regard Beijing food as quaint reminders of their childhood.

And, no, as with everywhere else in mainland China, tap water is not safe to drink in Beijing. (The water's safe in Hong Kong.) Tap water in Beijing must be boiled before you can drink it; if not, you can get pretty sick for several days. This isn't much of a problem, though, because bottled water is everywhere -- a visitor to Beijing will likely never come close to a kitchen sink, but will see bottled water for sale at nearly every turn. (Ice cubes at restaurants are also generally safe.) Coincidence or not, Chinese people do not usually drink cold water, and instead prefer hot water, which is conducive to a tea culture and the prevention of waterborne illness.

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