By Qian Ding, CNTV editor
After having survived Beijing’s another week of air pollution, I decided to go out and take a breath. Walking along the Chang river is a nice experience, as a river with a 700 year history. Yet, China claims to have a history of 5000 years. Well, the Beijing Exhibition Center is located along the river, which caught my attention, not because it looks spectacular, but because its Sino-Soviet architectural style.
Established in 1954, the building was first known as the Soviet Exhibition Center displaying achievements of Soviet economic and cultural development, later the center was renamed to Beijing Exhibition Center in 1958 due to a deterioration of China-Soviet relations. Nowadays, the center has the credit of organizing hundreds of commercial events annually. People don’t just come here for shows and expos, but to dine in the Moscow Restaurant which is a part of exhibition center building.
Beijing Exhibition Center with red star on the top of the building [photo/internet]
Set up in 1954, Moscow restaurant is the first foreign restaurant in Beijing since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It still serves Russian favorites like borscht, chicken kiev and vodka. The dinning room is exquisitely decorated in classical Russian style and you can see Russian folk singers in traditional outfits playing Balalaika and other Russian instruments in the dinning hall.
Inside Moscow Restaurant [photo/Luis Alfonso Estrada]
For some, Moscow restaurant is not just a restaurant that serves Russian food, it’s also a special memory, as for decades back then in socialist China, dinning there was a symbol of high class and honor, only families of officers could afford to eat. But, not anymore. Today, as long as you are willing to pay, you can book a table and enjoy the food, just like in any other restaurant. Customers mainly come for the fame and food, not for the “Moscow dream” it used to carry. Nevertheless, it’s not the only foreign restaurant in town anymore.
With China’s reform and opening-up, more foreign restaurants including fast food chains have opened up in Beijing. On April 23, 1992, McDonald’s opened its first chain in Beijing on Wangfujing street, which is in the central area of the city. It was the largest McDonald’s restaurant in the world at the time and reportedly there were 40,000 customers on its first day.
First McDonald’s in Beijing [photo/internet]
The spread of this American fast food company had expanded quickly, by now McDonald’s already has approximately 2,200 chains in China with over 100,000 employees. Another popular fast food in China is Pizza Hut, with 1600 chains in over 400 Chinese cities. Apart from the prosperous development of western fast food restaurants, the fine dinning places are not left behind. Many foreign restaurateurs came to set up their flagships in Beijing. Michelle Garnaut, an Australian restaurateur, established Capital M restaurant in Beijing in 2009. The restaurant is located in front of the historic Qianmen Gate and overlooks the old market street, many customers enjoy drinking on the terrace while taking in views of the old city. And it has won multiple awards since then.
Capital M restaurant [photo/internet]
With more Chinese choosing to go abroad to travel, study and work, and the growing popularity of K-Pop, J-Pop and TV shows such as Broken Girls, Sex and City for the Chinese young generation, many have already realized Pizza Hut is not real Italian and the global cuisine is much more diverse. Cupcake shops were set up with “Broken Girls” posters on the door, Korean restaurants can be seen in many places here, Thai curry, Arabic Hommous, Mexican tacos, Turkish kebabs, Indian samosas...restaurants of different cuisines can be seen in many areas, Beijing now has a lot to offer than ever before.
Lucky Street, Beijing, well known for its diverse cuisines [photo/internet]
People may have different values, but all people love food. There is a saying that the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. No matter whether you are a realist, liberalist or socialist, at the end of the day, we all like to enjoy a tasty meal and get a good sleep. From the first foreign restaurant, Moscow Restaurant to lucky street, Beijing has changed dramatically over time. There is a thesis saying two countries which both have McDonald’s are less likely to go into a war against each other, since people care more about their well-being and the economy. The diversification of food is a signal of Beijing’s tolerance, which is a good thing.
( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )
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