what are some cheap restaurants in beijing?

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Answered by: Sara Maria, An Expert in the Travel - How to Be a Budget Traveler Category
Budget travelers considering Beijing as a destination are in luck when it comes to cheap eating - in China you will be rewarded not just with mouthwatering prices but with "how on earth do we choose!" quality.

Want to grab a quick bite on the way out from your budget hostel or couchsurfing.org host? China's streetside vendors pack a flavorful punch and can be normally be consumed safely by foreigners (just keep a watchful eye on the set-up and habits of the vendor as they prepare their food). Try China's version of the tamale, called "zhong-zi": these lotus leaf-wrapped balls of sticky rice contain pork or chicken and are portable as well as delicious. They'll set you back 5 renmenbi or less, that's less than one US dollar. I can handle one of these, my six-foot boyfriend usually opts for two.

Vegetarian? Keep your eyes open for "baozi" (buns) or "jiaozi" (dumplings). Buns have dry, thicker exteriors and dumplings the thin and wet skins that you've probably seen before on wontons. Both baozi and jiaozi can be found with pork, shrimp, or vegetarian (usually either chive or sweet corn) fillings. My favorite is the corn - its pretty hard to find those at your neighborhood Chinese restaurant in the U.S.! A bun will cost you 1 or 2 kuai, a dozen dumplings can go for 10-15 kuai. You'll also find high quality versions of these in any cheap restaurants in Beijing, while venturing into more expensive restaurants might not necessarily pay off in terms of quality.

If you have time to sit down and/or want a more relaxed experience, there are plenty of cheap restaurants in Beijing that offer the authentic Chinese experience - just try to avoid ones that actually advertise "Authentic Chinese Experience". The Chinese have their own notion of what foreigners are going to be willing to eat and often this precludes their best dishes - your best bet is to ask the nearest local where they like to eat (and not where they think YOU would like to eat). My personal favorites include Da Dong Roast Duck (about US $30 for a whole duck which easily feeds three people) or for even cheaper, hit what expats have termed Ghost Street (Gui Jie) for authentic, no-frills dishes that pop in flavor, if they lack in decor.

Must-have dishes in Beijing include: Peking Duck, Zha Jiang Mian (an authentic Northern cold noodle dish with plum sauce and fresh vegetables), and pigs feet (ew! I know this sounds gross but they look like ribs so you can just try to forget what they actually are). If you won't be venturing South then make sure you get some Hong Kong-style dim sum, especially satisfying at 4 in the morning after a night out. Finally, wash it all down with a (small) glass of bai jiu, Chinese rice wine. Be prepared - the stuff is strong (32-38% alcohol) so you'll want to take small sips. If you are a man, ability to handle bai jiu in the presence of business partners or in-laws is a must.

In Beijing, the most important phrase you'll need to learn is, "Chi bao le!", which roughly translates into "I've eaten until I am a ball". You'll have to say this many times before any host accedes to your request and puts down the serving spoon. Luckily enough for budget travelers, in nearly any restaurant context your wallet will still have plenty left over to hit the cheap shopping.

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