Yuxiandu Chinese Royal Gastronomy Museum is devoted to dynastic dining. The actual museum part is rather small compared to the acres of dining halls. However, the dynasty-by-dynasty exhibition of imperial food is utterly fascinating (even more so if you can read Chinese). Curiously, the collection begins with China’s so-called ‘ancestor’ the Peking Man, a few of recreations of whom are huddled around a fire, barbequing some titbits.
The remainder of the multi-floor complex is a restaurant. Every evening, an extravaganza of on-stage performances starring emperors and empresses (6.40-7.40pm) aim to give diners an ‘Imperial Banquet’ experience. Dishes are reasonably priced; royal set menus are also available. It’s worth snooping through the private banquet suites on the top floor – some are so enormous and ostentatious the king himself would be impressed.
The museum opened in 2010. Its ground floor serves as a food court with around 3,000 different traditional snacks from all over the country. Its second floor, covering about half a hectare, is a display area for more than 1,000 antiques steeped in traditional Chinese food culture.
The museum's owner is Hou Jia, president of the Beijing Traditional Snack Association and founder of the Jingshi Jiumen Snack Management Company. Hou said in a November 2012 report by pedaily.cn, an investment news portal, that the museum was established to preserve the culture of traditional Chinese food and counter the unhealthy rise of foreign fast-food.
"Most of our traditional food is healthy and low in fat compared with hamburgers, fried chicken, fries and cola," Hou was quoted in the report as saying. "Every type of food has a profound history and impressive cultural story, which should be remembered by people - that's why the museum was founded."
As Beijing's most famous dish, Peking duck has even inspired its own museum in the capital at a downtown branch of Quanjude, a famous roast duck restaurant chain. The museum opened in July 2014 to coincide with Quanjude's 150th anniversary.
Visitors to the museum learn that ducks have been eaten by Chinese for at least 2,000 years, according to the ancient history chronicle Zuo Zhuan. The history and culture of duck consumption is represented by more than 50 exhibits at the museum, including classic recipes and cooking artifacts.
Perhaps the most interesting exhibit at the Quanjude Museum is a large wooden pail that can hold 150 liters of water, which was used to test whether newly recruited employees at Quanjude were strong enough to work at the restaurant.
For people who appreciate the finer side of dining, the Chinese Royal Gastronomy Museum in Haidian district beckons.
Renowned as an "edible museum," it offers traditional imperial dishes from the renowned Manchu and Han Imperial Feast held over three days during the Qing Dynasty. Additionally, dining rooms at the museum are full-scale replicas of those in the Palace Museum.
Imperial snacks such as rolling donkey (a glutinous rice dessert), fried millet cakes and jujube buns are just some of the offerings visitors can sample at the museum. Gao Wei, a folklore expert, noted that Beijing fulfills an important role in protecting the heritage of food at its museums.
"Although the museums might promote certain restaurants, it is worth commending these companies for operating museums despite the high costs," said Gao.
"Food meets people's basic desire for nourishment, while food museums meet people's higher desire for culture."
Address: North Gate, No.117 West Fourth Ring Road, Haidian District 海淀区西四环北路117号北门