I hate to admit it, but sometimes I can get carried away. I arrive in a new place bursting full of excitement and immediately set off trying to eat as much of the local food as I possibly can. Having spent a huge amount of time researching/obsessing over said food, what usually follows is an impossibly ambitious, argument-provoking exercise in the wasting of valuable holiday time.
If that sounds familiar, then the following Beijing Street Food Guide is for you. Rather than provide an exhaustive list of dishes and areas, I’ve selected what I consider to be the city’s 5 most unmissable street foods. Most of these dishes are relatively easy to find, and can fit around other plans and activities. That way you can be sure you don’t miss a bite and stay on good terms with your nearest and dearest.
1) Yang Rou Chang and Chi Chir near Houhai Lake
Although the Chinese Government might not see it this way, Beijing’s hutongs are fast becoming tourist destinations to rival anything else the imperial city has to offer. These ancient streets and alleyways were once the homes of Beijing’s elite, and combine stunning architecture with a unique lived in sense of community and tradition. The hutongs near Houhai Lake come alive at night, and one of the best ways to enjoy the atmosphere is over a plate of Yang Rou Chang and Chi Chir – Lamb and chicken wing skewers. The skewers are barbecued in hole-in-the-wall grills, and are doused generously with an addictive cumin and chili dry spice mix that will have you reaching repeatedly for your Tsing Tao.
2) Jian Bing at Sihuan Market
Visiting a bustling Chinese Market is an essential part of any visit to Beijing. A great way to spend a morning exploring is to hire a bike and visit Sihuan Market in Cotton Hutong. Not only is this thriving market set in the middle of a bustling and relatively tourist-free hutong, its also a good place to see real Chinese commerce in action and try some great street food. The market has plenty of bread-based treats on offer, but you should keep an eye out for Jian Bing. This street snack involves a thin crepe-like pancake brushed with hoisin sauce then wrapped around a piece of deep-fried dough. It’s a little piece of crunchy, savory heaven, and should be enough to sustain you for the cycle home.
3) Roujiamou at Donghuamen Night Market
Sure it’s touristy, cliched and over-hyped, but chances are you’re going to end up at Donghuamen Night Food Market at some stage. The good news is that the market is a surefire way of getting your hands on some Roujiamou. Often referred to as “Chinese Hamburger” this is one of the best pork sandwiches you are ever likely to eat. Tender pork is cooked with spices and served in a hot, saucy and salty in a roll. My advice is to grab one, take a few shots of the scorpions on sticks for facebook, then go off in search of some real food: most of the stuff at Donghuamen is overpriced and of dubious quality. Ditto Wangfujing just down the street.
4) Breakfast in Gulou
If you’re not staying in Gulou you probably should be. As one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, it retains an old hutong charm while providing lots of tourist amenities such as restaurants and cheap hotels. Whilst there, skip the dodge hotel buffet breakfast and grab something outside. The streets and alleys are packed with stalls and hole-in-the-walls selling a myriad of different breakfast pastries and flat breads, most involving egg in some shape or form.
5) Halva near the Forbidden City
No trip to Beijing would be complete without a trip to the Forbidden City. As the home of China’s Emperors for almost 500 years, it’s scale and beauty is simply breathtaking. Whilst in the area make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the Uigher Halva sellers who frequent the area on their trikes. These guys carry around huge slabs of halva packed with peanuts, pistachios, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, honey and apricots and will happily carve you off a block. Don’t be shy about hailing them down, this sweet, chewy middle eastern snack is one of the best things you’ll eat in Beijing!
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