One of China's most interesting regional cuisines, Beijing or northern Chinese cuisine reflects a variety of influences. It has been shaped by chefs at the Imperial Court, Mongol invaders in the 14th century, the cuisine of eastern Shangdong province, and a harsh climate elsewhere.
Imperial Court Cuisine:
With the exception of periods when foreign conquest forced the Chinese to move it southward, Chinas capital has always been in the north. The Imperial Court attracted talented chefs from throughout China, bringing with them other regional culinary influences. Court chefs specialized in delicately flavored dishes, many featuring exotic ingredients such as sharks fin and bears paw. Over time, the cuisine of the noble classes became very cosmopolitan, displaying Szechuan and Shanghai influences.
The area of northern China with the most temperate climate, Shandong province has had a major impact on northern Chinese cuisine. Shandong borders the eastern Yellow Sea, and seafood dishes are very popular. Shandong cuisine is famous for its use of garlic, leeks and spring onions, both raw and cooked.
Outside of Shangdong, common people have historically been limited to hardy foods that can survive in a climate of hot, dry summers and freezing cold winters. Wheat is the staple grain in the north - wheat-based noodles or pancakes make up the fan (starch) portion of many meals. Rice, the staple grain in the south, has traditionally been considered a luxury in the north. Hardy vegetables such as leeks, garlic, and spring onions are consumed frequently, often seasoned with pungent sauces such as bean sauce.
Lamb is popular due to the influence of the Mongolians, who conquered China in the 13th century AD, making Beijing their capital. Beef is eaten more frequently in northern China than in the south.
Is there a Northern Chinese Cuisine?:
All of these outside influences have led some to claim that there is no true Peking or northern Chinese cuisine. Others argue that it encompasses the best of China's numerous regional cooking styles.