I'm going to be in Beijing next month on a two-week holiday with my husband and sons. While the boys are understandably excited about visiting the Great Wall and the giant pandas in Beijing Zoo, I'd like to squeeze in a day or two learning about Chinese cuisine. Can you suggest tour operators that offer basic cooking classes or culinary tours?
One of the best ways to experience Beijing's cuisine is to wander through the hutongs. These old alleys are the scene of small family-run cooking schools, as well as tour operators offering interactive culinary day trips and guided morning walks through nearby markets.
Hutong Cuisine (www.hutongcuisine.com), a small cooking school in the alleys behind the Forbidden City, is run by the brother-sister duo Chao and Chunyi. Sign up for a morning or evening class and learn to prepare five Beijing, Cantonese or Sichuan dishes, chosen from a menu that lists favourites such as gongbao chicken and prawn siu mai. You'll also get to sample some of the dishes for your lunch/dinner. The class lasts a little over three hours and costs 260 yuan (Dh152) per person. If you have the time, tack on a market tour (70 yuan; Dh40) and a quick lesson in basic Chinese condiments (30 yuan; Dh17); both are quite informative and take place before the cooking class. Book online and at least a day in advance - the classes fill up quickly.
Edible Adventures (www.edibleadventures.net) has a one-day "Beijing Breakfast" walking tour. The guide will meet you in your hotel lobby at 8.30am and take you through the hutongs to sample local snacks and staple foods. The tour ends with a cooking class and dinner.
Its two-day "Eats and Arts" walking tour begins in Beijing's Creative Art District, allowing visitors to explore the city's galleries and soak up its cafe culture. The itinerary is quite full; highlights include a stop at an all-night restaurant strip, plus a "snacking and window-shopping expedition" in the shopping district. Each tour costs from $380 (Dh1,396) for up to three guests, and includes food, drinks, transport, visit to a local market, a cooking class, popular dinner and a guide.
The Hutong (http://thehutong.com), a cultural exchange centre based in Beixinqiao district, is a good place to start. The Hutong's "Kitchen" offers six kinds of cultural programmes, one of which is "All Flavours, All Tastes". One of the events scheduled next month is a two-and-a-half-hour class titled "Chinese Kitchen: Tastes of China" that introduces visitors to three unique dishes from three different regions. You'll also find out how to adapt and balance ingredients when cooking Chinese food in your own kitchen at home. The class costs 249 yuan (Dh145) per person.
The Kitchen also conducts weekly guided tours around local produce and meat markets. These morning walks take about an hour and 30 minutes and, at 100 yuan (Dh58) per person, are an inexpensive way to learn about local seasonal produce and basic Chinese ingredients and herbs, both in food as well as traditional Chinese medicine. Browse through the calendar for a list of upcoming events, and book online well in advance.
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