China's historic capital, Beijing, has a long and rich history dating back more than 3,000 years. As an emerging nation, it is a fascinating place to visit, with the mix of the Chinese and Western influences being apparent in so many ways. If you're unsure of how long you should stay, err on the side of longer is better as there is so much to see and do.
One thing that's not on everyone's radar is cooking lessons in a private home. Our savvy travel agent was on the ball, combining colourful, cycle-driven rickshaw transportation through Beijing's Hutongs for the afternoon.
Right in the heart of the City, Hutongs are the alleyways and houses of traditional Beijing. It is here that you step back to Imperial times, to where everyone lived in low-rise, courtyard-style homes with their extended family sharing the one compound. Only a few remain, offering a glimpse of the old Beijing as high rise office and apartment buildings encroach, yet here you can still see city life at street level at the markets, shops, and schools.
Influenced by geography, there are four prevalent styles of cooking in China, although it's a lot more complex than that. Over time, with conflicts, trade, travel and modernisation, the styles have merged but the basics are still evident. They are popularly known as Shandong, Sichuan, Guangdong, Jiangsu Cuisine A good explanation can be found here.
All rely upon fresh ingredients that, in the past included buying live fish, poultry, pigs and more from the "Wet Markets" with either the vendor slaughtering it for you, or you doing it yourself at home. These days things have changed a little with Seafood being the only live produce you can buy in most markets.
There is a lot to be learned about this Cuisine and we weren't about to achieve that in one afternoon. Although Beijing, is famous for its aristocratic Mandarin dishes, as beginners, we prepared some delectable basics.