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2008/07/29

100 Days, 100 Restaurants: Beijing Eats That Aren't Duck

There are now only 10 days left until the Opening Ceremonies and we're 68 restaurants behind, 68 in 10 days, not going to make it, no chance, but maybe, just maybe we'll make a fighting stab at it.

There is more to Beijing food then that ever famous duck, but the other dishes rarely get any play from the outside world. Sure dishes like zhajiang mian are delicious and very popular, but its kind of hard to make a gourment version of the dish and most people will just choose a small, unassuming local joint to get their noodle fix. Beijing's done a good job over the years at taking other foods and making them its own, things like jianbing, kungpao chicken, and yangrou chuanr are all not native to Beijing, but some of the best versions can be found at local joints in the capital.

Beijing has a lot of very famous, very local snacks unique to the city that rarely receive any coverage because they are often not the kind of things westerners enjoy eating. Things like boiled lamb stomach, pungent dou zhi (mung bean milk), and lamb intestine soup are not exactly things that foreigners are jumping to eat, though many of them are very delicious.

One of the most famous places to try these dishes is Jiumen Xiaochi, located at Houhai. This place is perennially packed with Chinese tourists and is almost impossible to get a table during dinner hours, the only real way is to stand and stare with an evil eye at people eating long enough that they get up and leave, allowing you to take their table. You then buy a card, typically for RMB100, and go at it, hitting the different stands and trying many local snacks. It is almost shocking what you pay for the items here, especially considering how tiny portion sizes are. This is definitely the disneyfied version of Beijing snack foods. RMB 40 for baodu? RMB 2 for a tiny bowl of douzhi? RMB12 for 4 small lamb "sandwiches" (the "bread" being tiny shaobing)? These are the kind of things that, when you can find them on the street, you pay a kuai or two for (if that). For a local to go there and see the prices, its simply shocking, both how enterprising these vendors are and how many people are willing to pay the prices. The snacks are all good, if sometimes lacking a bit in authenticity and connection with the seller, but the prices and portion sizes are as likely to make us go back as a foreigner is to taking a second gulp of douzhi (ie, highly unlikely).

Another "snack" street that will be extremely popular with foreigners and is well known for charging crazy prices is the Donghuamen Night Market, located just west of Wangfujing. The area is famous for selling every kind of Chinese snack under the sun, not just local Beijing items, including "unique" options like starfish, seahorses, scorpions, and other assorted bugs. Unless you are only stopping in Beijing and not traveling anywhere else in China, don't waste your time at this "night market", or at least don't eat there. Even more so than Jiumen, prices are high and portions are small and authentic items are hard to find.

So what are you to do if you want to try the real goods? Well, one option is to ride around the hutongs of the city and just see what you can stumble upon. Another is to head to the HuGuoSi Snack area where you can expect authentic Beijing snacks at far more reasonable prices. Its much the same as what you'll find at Jiumen, but for a "local" price and with just as much tradition as Jiumen.

For baodu (boiled lamb stomach) and other lamb and cow intestines, there are a number of extremely popular and delicious locations worth a try, all with a long tradition of serving up these dishes in Beijing. These dishes are super simple, usually just boiled and then presented with a sesame paste (and other assorted sauces) dipping sauce, easy and delicious. Yao Ji Baodu, Baodu Feng, and Baodu Huang are all popular locations to sample this dish.

For the previously mentioned zhajiang mian, while I do tend to avoid tourist places, I can't help but like Old Beijing Zhajiang Mian King. There are locations around the city, but the Chongwenmen location, just west of Tiantan's North Gate and Hongqiao Market is a perfect stop after working up your appetite with a peaceful visit to Tiantan and a rough and tumble wheeling and dealing at Hongqiao. Despite the touristy feel to the place, prices are still reasonable and everything is very traditional. There is also the new, chic Noodle Bar in the 1949 Complex, though prices are far higher and quality is far lower, you'd be better served choosing Noodle Loft. Then again, zhajiang mian can be found all over the city and it may be best to search it out in a small, hutong or quiet street location, packed with boisterous locals.

Two others to note, the Guo Lin chain of restaurants offers decent versions of Beijing "jia chang cai" (basically just normal, daily food) for a reasonable price. Also, some may be interested in checking out Yue Bin, though it's nothing special, it was Beijing's first private restaurant and it still turns out decent versions of local, Beijing food at a good price point.

Oh yeah, and for those very brave who want a taste of douzhi at a very local place, there is Old Ciqikou Douzhi, go forth brave souls!

Here are the locations to try many of these local treats

33. Jiumen Xiaochi (九门小吃)
1 Xiaoyou Hutong, Off the northern edge of Houhai
孝友胡同1号后海北沿
6402-5858

34. Huguosi Snack Street (护国寺小吃店)
93 Huguosi Dajie
护国寺大街93号

35. Donghuamen Night Market (东华门小吃)
just west of the XinDongAn mall at Wangfujing

36. Yao Ji Stewed Liver (姚记炒肝)
72 Zhonglouwan Hutong,Gulou Dongdajie
鼓楼东大街钟楼湾胡同72号

37. Baodu Feng (爆肚冯)
3 locations around the city, but Qianmen is best
崇文区前门廊坊二条内
6308-3296

38. Baodu King (爆肚皇)
15 Dongzhimen Wai Dajie
东城区东直门外大街15号楼4-101号
6461-4659

39. Old Beijing ZhaJiang Mian King (老北京炸酱面大王)
29 Chongwenmen Wai Dajie (northwest corner of Hongqiao Rd)
崇文区崇文门外大街29号(红桥路口西北角)
6705-6705

40. Noodle Bar
1949-The Hidden City.
Courtyard 4, Gong Ti Bei Lu
Opposite Pacific Century Place South Gate
6501-1949

41. Yue Bin (悦宾饭店)
43, 31, Cuihua Hutong, Opposite the main gates of the National Museum of Art
翠花胡同43,31号
6524-5322

42. Guo Lin Homestyle Food 郭林家常菜
locations around the city

43. Old Ciqikou Douzhi (老磁器口豆汁儿店)
locations around the city
most convenient for tourists would be at Tiantan, opposite the park's north gate

1 comment:

Hotpoter said...

100 days 100 restaurants. Procrastination is indeed bad. Good luck :)