I’ve been waiting for this post for a while! I love exploring the street food culture of any place I visit but I had the highest hopes for Beijing and luckily, the city didn’t let me down. Now, this is by no means a complete guide to the street food available in Beijing; instead, it’s what I encountered during my two week trip.

I’ll quickly start by saying that the two most famous streets to have street food in Beijing are located off the central shopping street of Wangfujing: Donghuamen Night Market and Wangfujing Snack Street. The former is known for its many insects and other unknown creatures on sticks while the latter serves more traditional street foods. I visited them both early in our trip and was not inspired by either of them; they’re extremely crowded with tourists and the food didn’t look that great either. Apart from one stick of candied fruit, we didn’t eat anything there.

Breakfast

My first breakfast in Beijing was found just down the road from our first hotel (a courtyard/hutong hotel right by the Forbidden City). Of the many places to eat, this one had a queue – a queue is always good! I came away from the queue with a hot shaobing nestled in an impossibly thin plastic bag. A shaobing is a flaky pastry topped with sesame seeds and mine was filled with a fried egg. It was a little too salty but the flakiness was delicious.

Shaobing with Egg

To go with my shaobing, I got a sealed plastic cup of hot sweetened soy bean milk. Jab your straw through the seal and your breakfast beverage is ready – and this turned out to be the freshest soy bean milk I’d ever had and the perfect complement to the salty shaobing. I saw many places offer this drink in the morning along with a very dark drink that I couldn’t identify.

Hot Soy Bean Milk

Another morning, I headed straight for the little hole in the wall where I’d seen jianbing being made. A very stern man and his jianbing pan (like a big crepe pan – pan may be the wrong word. It’s just a big, flat and hot disk) were framed by a literal hole in the wall and he was making them to order. First, the crepe batter was spread onto the disk, followed by a freshly cracked egg spread thinly on top. When the bottom was judged to be done, the whole was flipped so that the egg could cook some more and the top was spread with a hoisin-based sauce, a chilli paste, chopped spring onions, chopped coriander and finally, a sheet of crispy fried dough. The whole lot is folded together into a manageable square and placed into a plastic bag for you to takeaway. 3.5RMB (I hear this is quite expensive but this was near the Forbidden City). This was incredibly moreish – I love anything spicy for breakfast. I only just wish that the fried piece of dough in the middle would stay crispy; it tends to go limp in the heat.

Jianbing

There were a few places close to my first hotel with these steamers set up at the window but I never got a chance to see what was inside. I can only guess some kind of steamed bao.

Steamers

Lunch

Other than an overpriced yet very pretty jianbing at the Great Wall at Mutianyu, I didn’t eat any street food for lunch. However, many of those places that sell breads and pastries for breakfast continue into lunchtime.

Snacks

Snack Vendor

I saw one place just switch from freshly made pastries at breakfast-time to large bowlfuls of cooked dishes that were being packaged into ready-to-takeaway lunchboxes with rice at lunch-time. They looked fab.

Snacks

It’s snack time! You could have any of the small bites that were also available for lunch or breakfast or you could stop by one of the many candied fruit on a stick vendors to be found at most of the tourist attractions. Each stick is about 5RMB.

I first chose plums on our visit to the Wangfujing Snack Market. The candied coating was thicker than I expected and the sugar sticks something nasty all over your molars but there’s something quite addictive about it when paired with the juicy plums. See that odd looking plum at the bottom of the stick? Yeah, that’s because it was a cherry tomato. Candied tomatoes on a stick appear to be popular but it’s just not for me!

Candied Plums on a Stick

The original variation is tang hu lu, fresh hawthorn fruits coated in that thick, sticky caramel and when I saw them being sold near the Forbidden City on my penultimate day, I bought a stick and spent the next hour in a park gnawing away at them, the perfect way to rest my weary feet after a morning visit to Tian’anmen Square. They have a texture like floury apples with plenty of seeds inside. Spit spit spit.

Tang Hu Lu

I saw these pottery jars all over Beijing; full jars and empty jars were always stored side by side, indicating that there must’ve been some kind of deposit system going on or perhaps you had to consume the contents immediately upon purchase. We found that both were in effect when Mirna went to attend a Hutong Eats tour with Hias Gourmet. What’s inside? Fresh yogurt, lightly sweetened! You jab a thin straw through the paper covering and suck it up. If I remember correctly, they’re usually 2RMB if you drink there and then and return the jar immediately; 3RMB if you want to take the jar away with you.

Yogurt Jars

Dinner

Our second hotel, which was closer to my conference location, was situated right by the Olympic site, a place where there was quite the dearth of snacking foods (apart from a few western fast food joints) – quite surprising seeing that loads of Chinese tourists make a visit here. I did see one actual street cart that only sold grilled hot dogs on a stick: from what I gather, it’s a very popular street snack in Beijing.

Anyway, I noticed a few street carts adjacent to a random restaurant where we ate one night and I vowed to visit them after I’d given my presentation at the conference (I was watching what I ate up until that day). And one clear night, with Mirna, I had my chance.

This cart is the first sign that we were onto something good.

Street Vendor

However, we skipped that first cart and went for one further inside, mainly because he (of a husband and wife team) was rolling his flat breads from fresh dough. See the hot dogs? Told ya they were popular.

Street Vendor

We ordered one of these flat breads with an egg cooked into the bread, a sweet wheat sauce and lettuce, all rolled up. It’s quite the healthy little snack though not a terribly exciting one.

Egg Wrap

We also ordered chicken skewers from him, which were freshly grilled and then sprinkled with a magical powder of chili and cumin before being handed over to us. The recipe for the sprinkling powder seems to vary from stall to stall to restaurant; this man’s recipe was very heavy on the cumin I quite liked with the tender chicken. Both the skewers and the wrap came to 6RMB.

Chicken Skewers

We moved further past these two carts to find a few more. We stopped at a fried noodle setup run by what looked like a mother and her teenage son; she was frying noodles furiously over a flaming wok while her son was handling the orders and payment. From the variety of noodles available, we chose flat rice noodles and yes, we wanted them spicy and then we waited – that queue was long! After about 15 minutes, we got our little takeaway container of spicy noodles and I love that she fried in a lot of greens. Yum yum. 10RMB for the noodles, I think.

Fried Noodles

We took our noodle order over to some plastic garden patio furniture laid out by a chuan’r vendor – everyone else was doing it too! When there, we had a browse around their various raw skewers and chose a few (strangely, we didn’t order the classic lamb/mutton chuan’r). Our lack of a common language between us led to a hilarious exchange of bad sign language to establish our need for grilled chicken wings. Mirna, three people involved with the stall, and I, all flapping our arms and making chicken noises were quite the show for everyone that night!

Our charcoal grilled chicken wings were excellent. This vendor’s cumin and chili sprinkles were a more superior version as his recipe included toasted sesame seeds.

Chicken Wings

We also ordered some aubergine slices and rolls of tofu sheets filled with coriander. Unfortunately, the aubergine does end up a bit dry on the charcoal grill but the tofu sheets were lovely – tender on the inside, chewy on the outside, and all sprinkled with the excellent spice mixture.

Aubergine and Tofu Sheets

The skewers and a large bottle of beer came to 22RMB – bargain! And so much fun too! I really enjoyed our street food dinner and would have returned another night had the weather been better in the days following this one. And guess what? No dodgy tummies!

Dinner

One thing we didn’t try was malatang; these are various foodstuffs on sticks bubbling away in a fiery red broth. At our little street food area, there were a number of tables set up with a big rectangular pot in the middle. People were making up platefuls of dipping sauces before pulling up a stool to one of these tables. They’d help themselves to the sticks they liked, dipping them into the sauces and gnawing off whatever it is that they fancied. Great excitement would descend upon the table when the proprietor would come along with even more skewers.

Malatang

So, where is this amazing place? It’s right by the Olympic site and I can point it out to you on a map if you’re going to be staying in the area. However, I do encourage you to go an discover new stands and stalls and carts in Beijing – there must be hundreds if not thousands of exciting things to eat out on its streets!

This restaurant recommendation came from one of Mirna’s husband’s colleagues, a native of Beijing. Unfortunately, his list of recommendations (all serving very traditional food from Beijing) were entirely in Chinese, meaning that we just picked the first one on the list and asked our taxi driver to guide us there. It was quite difficult to find actually as the entrance was quite discreet but if you need help, there’s a photo of the restaurant entrance at the end of this post. We got there quite early and so got a table but I’d definitely recommend making a booking: it filled up very quickly with groups queuing not long after.

Inside looks much bigger than you’d expect – there are both large main dining areas downstairs and up and off the courtyard eating areas are private dining rooms too. We sat upstairs.

Courtyard Restaurant

Once seated and presented with the huge pictorial menu, we had no idea what to order (the only thing Mirna’s husband recalled was the mashed potatoes) and so ordered whatever looked good, making sure though to get a good sampling of both the cold and hot dishes. It was only after I got back to London and did a bit of research did I find the official name of the restaurant and the fact that it serves Manchurian and Imperial cuisine, something I thought I’d missed when I was in Beijing. Whatever it was, it was delicious. Here’s what we ate:

A cold dish of fish and pickled garlic in aspic, served with a soy based dipping sauce.

Fish in Aspic

Steamed aubergine with chili shrimp paste. Gorgeous!

Steamed Aubergine with Chilli Shrimp Paste

Mashed potato with sweet bean paste. Hmm – very very challenging.

Mashed Potato with Sweet Bean Paste

Smoked duck with fried peanuts.

Smoked Duck

Goose with lotus root.

Goose

Stir fried pea shoots (here begin the hot dishes).

Greens

Stewed venison with a vegetable in there that I think is a gourd of some kind.

Venison Stew

Pork belly stewed (maybe steamed?) with dried red dates. The fat just melted on the tongue.

Pork Belly Stewed with Red Dates

Stir fried long beans with pork. The whole garlic cloves were beautifully sweet.

Stir Fried Long Beans with Pork

Homemade silken tofu coated in cornstarch and deep fried.

Homemade Tofu

Fried mutton, served with a dry dip of cumin, chili and sesame seeds. Oh yes.

Fried Mutton

Minced venison buns. They were presented all separately and the waitress took it away and came back with this. We couldn’t finish these; the rest were packed up and were our breakfast the next day!

Minced Venison Buns

A small fruit platter (for dessert).

Fruit Platter

My favourites? The aubergine, pork belly, fried mutton, tofu. I thought these were exceptional but everything on the table was excellent. However, the mashed potatoes, despite their popularity with the rest of the restaurant, were just too challenging for us – they were sweetened and served with a sweet red bean paste on top; I think it was just too difficult when they tasted more like a dessert than a cold appetiser.

As we were sitting there eating, we saw many platefuls of crispy fried prawns making their way to many tables – it turns out that this is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. If you do make it there, don’t forget to order those! The price? All of those dishes plus a few drinks (beers and Coke) came to about 600 RMB (or £60). Fabulous food and we definitely over-ordered for the three of us!

Najia Xiaoguan

Najia Xiaoguan (official site)
10 Yongan Xili, Jianguomen Wai
Chaoyang District
Beijing, China

After a relaxing afternoon visiting the Lama Temple and the Confucius Temple (blessedly across the street from each other!), Blai and I went off in search of a teahouse nearby, an activity we were both quite keen on doing. I did try looking for the one recommended to me by David of Jing Tea but somehow missed it and ended up at the Confucian Teahouse almost directly in front of the Confucius temple.

Not that this teahouse was inferior in any way – we adored the peace and quiet afforded by it. A menu listing quite a few teas was offered, all at different price points. We chose both an oolong (recommended to get the full teahouse experience) and a 1970 aged puerh – the latter was being prepared in the photo below.

Tea Hostess

I dislike the use of the word ‘ceremony’ when describing how the Chinese prepare their tea only because it feels like the correct way to enjoy it, even everyday. I wish all my tea was served with a teapot, a separate tea jug, a tea strainer and tea cups. The separate tea jug might feel like an extra piece of pottery but it means that your tea won’t oversteep in the teapot. And all that pouring of hot water all over the place means that the pottery is heated and will keep your tea hotter for longer. All very practical!

For the Oolong

And that’s exactly how our teas were brewed and presented to us – in a separate glass server. The oolong was lighter in colour on the left and the puerh with its rich smoky flavour was darker and in the jug on the right.

Oolong and Puerh

While the puerh was served in one teacup, we had these two for the oolong.

Sniffing and Drinking Cups

The taller is a sniffing cup while the shorter is for drinking. They weren’t used for the puerh as it’s not as aromatic as the oolong. The tea is first poured into the taller cup, you sniff it and smell it before inverting the shorter cup on top of it. Flip the two quickly and now all your tea is in the smaller cup (or all over the table) from where you can drink it. We were also shown how the still hot sniffing cup can be held over your eyes for a mini steam bath!

Tea

This was the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of Beijing and we whiled away a couple of hours here – your tea won’t run out in this time! Its quality means that it can be re-steeped many times. The Confucian Teahouse also sells all of the tea making paraphernalia and the tea itself, both of which make excellent presents or souvenirs.

Confucian Teahouse
28 Guozijian Lu
(across from the Confucius Temple)
Beijing, China

I’m back from my two weeks and a bit work and holiday trip to Beijing (those last three posts were scheduled before I left in anticipation of being behind the Great Firewall of China). Those two weeks felt like two months as each day, I narrowly escaped death each time I crossed the street; no one warned me about the terrible traffic in that city – seriously, green does not always mean go for the pedestrian and yet red always seems to mean go for any driver. And the city is humongous. Walking anywhere is near impossible and yet the alternative, taking a taxi, can be ridiculously stressful too as you watch in fear as your driver cuts in front of yet another speeding lorry. Luckily, the sites were quite something to behold (photos are going up on Flickr daily) and the food more than made up for it all. We ate extremely well – at high end restaurants or at little random restaurants or even out on the street, everything was good and sometimes it was utterly fantastic.

We did plan a few meals but left a lot of it up to chance too – this turned out to be a good plan as it was often difficult to get from one tourist site to the restaurant on the other side of town (traffic was always bad at meal times and sometimes taxis were impossible to get). This meal was a planned one – I had read about Noodle Loft on both Appetite for China and World Foodie Guide and was keen to have some homemade noodles here to build up our energies again after a long day at the Great Wall (at Huanghua).

The Great Wall

Getting here was half the fun (not!). We took the metro to Dawanglu and had to push our way out rather violently to get out of the train; there was some fear that Blai couldn’t get out but we both managed in the end! The twenty minute or so walk down to the restaurant wasn’t entirely pleasant as it involved crossing a number of major roads and essentially we were walking down the side of a minor motorway. We made it there eventually though and the food turned out to be worth the walk!

Noodle Chefs

The two storey restaurant had an open kitchen downstairs and a very pleasant dining room upstairs and we were sat in the latter. The room filled with affluent young couples and businessmen – all of them enjoying the various noodle dishes and non noodle dishes available. Like a lot of the higher end restaurants we ate at, Noodle Loft has a picture menu with names in both Chinese and English. For the two of us, we ordered two noodle dishes and a vegetable side.

The first noodle dish was a simple stir fried handmade noodles with pork and cabbage. Rather unexpectedly, there was a hint of vinegar running through this dish which was surprising but delicious. And gosh I love the chewiness of handmade noodles.

Noodles with Pork and Cabbage

Our second noodle dish was one I’ve wanted to try ever since I saw a photo of it on Flickr ages ago – kaolaolao – Shanxi noodles made with oat flour steamed in a honeycomb pattern. We had ours topped with a pork and vinegar sauce but you can also order them plain and they’ll come with dipping sauces instead. These had a lovely nutty flavour that paired well with the heavier sauce. The vinegar was much milder in this dish.

Kaolaolao with Pork and Vinegar Sauce

The Noodles Underneath

Our vegetable side was a delectable stir fried Chinese kale (just the stems) with fresh walnuts. This was just delicious with the vegetables retaining their crunch while the nuts were green and tender.

Chinese Kale with Walnuts

For London standards, the meal was inexpensive – about 100RMB (or £10) with a couple drinks – but it’s certainly not cheap by Beijing standards. It’s a nice place to try different kinds of noodles though; apart from the ones we tried, they also have knife shaven noodles, one chopstick noodles, cat ear noodles, etc. Any idea why they brought a little plant to the table when we paid? Is this so they know we paid?

Plant

I’ve not got their official website below but instead the link is to a Beijing directory listing where you can find the name and address in Chinese.

Noodle Loft
20 Xidawang Lu
Chaoyang District
Beijing, China