BEIJING: SNACKS THAT BITE BACK
One last post, while I have decent internet connections, before I head off to Mongolia.
I have had a few free days here in Beijing and have spent them searching out some of the street food and markets and I have been very fortunate that my new chum, Jackie Tang has been happy to tag along to show me what was on offer from the weird and wonderful to the down right delicious.
First thing this morning, we headed out to Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s main shopping drags to go to one of the city’s biggest underground “Gourmet Streets”
Food courts by any other name, these are like no other you have seen before. A pre-paid card (minimum about Y30/£2) allows you to wander from booth to booth choosing from a vast selection of food. Sichuan and Mongolian style hot pots where you choose your selection from a mountain of skewered meats and vegetables before they cook it in front of you. Barbecue skewers of meat and fish, hand pulled noodles, fried rice topped with sweet & Sour duck stomach, dumplings, steamed gizzards and on and on and on. The variety is bewildering and a meal to fill you to bursting will come in at about Y25 with a beer or drink of soy bean milk.
From there, to another “snack” street, this time specialising in skewers. But, precious little lamb or pork here. This time we got to choose from Lizards, silk worms, seahorses, starfish and crickets on sticks which were thrust on to sizzling hot plates before being doused in sauce and handed over.
I think I have a pretty strong stomach, but even I could not bring myself to eat a skewer of scorpions still wriggling on the sticks as they waited to meet their inevitable fate. Many of the locals seemed to be tucking into all of the above with some gusto, however. I had to take the taste out of my mouth with a sweet skewer of grapes and plums in a hardened toffee.
Needing something a little bit more simple for a top up snack, Jackie then took me the short walk to Shichang market, one of the favourites of Beijing for fresh fruits, pickles, huge varieties of tofu and cooked meat products.
After wandering around for a short while, Jackie took me over to a stall selling jianbing. Now, my annoying Finnish friend, Martina, recently sent me an e-mail about these things because someone in The Guardian wrote an article saying they were the best street food ever. Quite a claim and one I was keen to put to the test.
Jianbing are similar to the French crepe. Batter is cooked into a thin pancake on a hot griddle. Two eggs are broken on top and turned until they begin to set. The whole pancake is then flipped and the reverse side is spread with hoisin sauce, chillies, sunflower seeds, chopped coriander leaf and spring onions. Before serving, a wafer of deep fried dough is placed in the centre along with any other filling you choose from a range of corn, beef, minced chicken or pork and the whole lot is folded into a neat parcel before being plonked into a waiting bag.
Are they the best street food in the world? Of course not. That is just silly newspaper talk. But, they are damn good, filling and enough to feed an emperor's army for about 30p.
By this time, my stomach was bulging and my throat sore from the walk in the thick pollution, so I came back to my hotel for a well earned rest.
Now, I really am off to Mongolia. Fermented milk awaits.