Beijing Street Food: From Soup to Scorpions & Everything In-between
There is a Chinese saying, “for the people, food is their heaven.” On the streets of Beijing, I encountered various food spectacles including some very unusual and quite exotic items. The most exotic delicacies included scorpions on sticks (rest assured, many Chinese people also find this slightly bizarre) and other critters, as well as various parts of the animal we are not accustomed to eating; although there is a food trend beginning to burgeon in the west to use all parts of the animal “from nose to tail.”
The Beijing street food cooks have developed and perfected their art in a blend of creativity, flavour and cleverness. Most often, they fry, chop and stir simple dishes, usually with grains as the centrepiece. Their street food appeals to all the senses and uses the Chinese concept of yin and yang. It is this principle of opposites that create balance and harmony — pairing bland items with stronger, crisper ones – which make Chinese cuisine so appealing and a tad overwhelming at times.
Regarded as the soul of the Chinese dish, taste can be divided into five classes: sweet, sour, bitter, hot and salty. Seasoning such as soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and salt in proper amounts really play up taste.
Here are some street food staples I saw most often:
Kebabs. Hundreds of roadside barbecues in Beijing sell skewers of all kinds cooked to your liking over a charcoal fire, sprinkled with cumin and spices. Lamb kebabs are the most coveted.
Noodle Soup. Steaming bowls of the quintessential Chinese noodle soup are served on the streets with various meat and veggies in a fried bean sauce.
The “Beijing Sandwich”. A classic street food in Beijing, this consists of thick pita-like bread stuffed with sweet, juicy pork and coriander (cilantro).
Bāozi. Steamed, stuffed buns the size of satsumas! You can see these outside any small Chinese eatery, steaming away in bamboo steamers piled high. An outer layer of heavy white bread is stuffed with meat, often pork, though there are infinite varieties.
Fruit. In season, all the fruit in the world can be bought on the streets of Beijing. I saw (and ate) a lot of strawberries.