Let's talk about Beijing street food.
In a lot of areas vendors have been systematically targeted and shuffled indoors either for hygiene reasons or to keep things looking tidy and more modern.
Just off the large pedestrian street of Wangfujing though there's a several block long pocket of street food mania.
I'll preface by saying that you don't come here to get really great eats. No, the quality here has been weighted down by the endless tourist hordes to a state of unrepentant mediocrity. But that's really not the point.
Visiting Wangfujing is all about the crazy variety and wacky ingredients. As you roam around you'll encounter such lovely treats as: dried lizards, fetal pigeons, grubs, scorpions, stinky tofu, starfish, seahorses, millipedes, tarantulas, grasshoppers, whole squid on a stick, sea cucumbers, and the occasional braised snail.
There are also some more palatable options like roasted chestnuts, warm yogurt drinks, grilled pork skewers, dumplings of every ilk, and even some impressive blown sugar art.
The scorpions were surprisingly meaty. A bit hard to get over that stinger though.
Be sure to check the prices of everything before you order as some sellers have been known to throw out crazy rates as soon as the food reaches your hands.
Another famous Beijing food street is Gui Jie, more commonly known as Ghost Street. Unlike Wangfujing, Ghost Street is a concentration of proper restaurants.
It's also notable as a mecca for red lanterns in a town that is already in red lantern overload. It certainly makes for a picturesque stroll.
You can get just about any kind of food here, but it's really known for its hotpots. We hit up a particularly enticing shop called Xiaoshancheng.
I should mention that this place had a daunting amount of stamping out cigarette butts on the floor and what I can only assume was competative spitting. Also on the floor. It sure felt like the real deal.
It doesn't have any English on the menu and very few pictures to boot. Ordering was like an exciting cross between charades and that Seinfeld episode where they dare each other to steal an eggroll off some stranger's table.
It was worth it though.
The pot itself was divided between a rich roasted chicken stock and an oily and numbingly spicy Sichuan "broth". Into the liquid went rice cakes, sweet potato, thin sliced beef, delicate fish balls, and all sorts of assorted vegetables. Very satisfying. If you go, don't miss getting an order of the sesame sauce as it kicks serious flavor ass.
As a side dish we tried out another Ghost Street speciality, ma xiao or "spicy little things". These were almost like the crawfish that we boil up down in Louisiana but so chock-full of Sichuan peppercorns that after 3 I couldn't move my lips. Totally delicious though.
In an effort to get our hands on some of the street snacks that aren't actually on the street anymore, we took Paul's (over at Paul's Travel Pics) advice and headed to Huguosi Xiaochi.
This place is a trip. Ordering is a contact sport and you get your food by cleverly tricking a waitress into taking your ticket.
Ok. Not really. But being as severely language challenged as we are, the all-Chinese system was a bit intimidating. In fact, I sent Rachel upstairs immediately so she wouldn't melt into a puddle of despair as I tried to procure food.
I ended up with a lovely tofu and noodle soup, some deep fried creampuff dough, and a couple of fairly greasy but tasty meat pies that awesomely translate to "beef cake".
I particularly enjoyed these shaobing jiarou, tiny sandwiches made from marinated roast beef stuffed into sesame buns
and these yam and peanut cakes with a light caramel glaze and tiny cubes of hawthorn jelly. (I have no idea what these are actually called, so if you have a clue help a brotha out.)
Hot Pot Restaurant: Jingui Xiaoshancheng
Address: 253 Gui Jie, Dongzhimen District, Beijing
Snack Restaurant: Huguosi Xiaochi, Main Branch (Huguosi, Beijing)
Address: 68 Huguosi Street, Xicheng District, Beijing