Thursday, July 9, 2009

Eatin' the day and night away.


I
love to eat which explains why I am not and will never be a skinny Minnie. And of all the food cultures in the world, Chinese cuisine is one of, if not THE (okay, a little bias on my part) most varied. I have eaten Chinese food since the day that I was born and I rarely go for long stretches without it. So, I have been in foodie heaven since I first stepped foot in Shanghai.

I have eaten in all sorts of dining establishments.....from grand 5 star restaurants to fast food served from a vending machine. But, the food that really appeals to me the most is street food and that includes food served in open air stalls.

In Beijing there are two large street food markets - Wangfujing and Donghuamen. Both markets have food stalls that are open all day long but they truly come to life at night. I went to Wangfujing on my first visit to Beijing - Jenny took us there. We didn't spend much time there that night - my most memorable moment of the night was crunching on scorpions with Robbie.

When I was in Ulaan Baatar looking for a hotel to stay in on my return trip to Beijing, I decided to find a hotel in the vicinity of Wangfujing and luckily, I found a great deal in a very comfortable hotel located about a 20 minute walk from the market. It was perfect!

Lunch my first day back in town was in Wangfujing. For just a few RMB, I got a medium sized bowl of yummy noodle soup - spicy and hot! I ate outdoors at a restaurant that was tucked into a small side street filled with eating establishments. It was an early lunch so I didn't have to share a table with anyone so I had the luxury to *spread out* and take my time to enjoy lunch.

After the noodles, I headed to a few more stalls and bought some grilled squid to nibble on, followed by some fried tofu served with a spicy chilly sauce. The, it was on to the stall where they were grilling skewered balls of seafood. And last but not least a sweet soup made with mung beans and Chinese dates .....sounds wierd I know but it's a very typical Chinese dessert. In all, I spent about 15 RMB....a little less than $3 USD I was stuffed!!

On another side street, there were vendors selling all sorts of kitsch and tchotchkes. On my first trip to Beijing, I thought only tourists bought all this stuff but it turns out, it's mainly for local consumption and they suck up this stuff like there's no tomorrow! The Chinese....if they aren't already, they will soon be the largest consumer society on the planet!

When the sun is up, the food served in Wangfujing is *normal* everyday fare. When the sun sets, the creepy, crawly fare makes an appearance.

Here we have starfish, scorpions and lizards....all skewered and ready for grilling :-)


But if you're not in the starfish, scorpion or lizard kind of munchy mood, then maybe, some grub-like thing, grasshoppers or scorpions would be more to your liking :-)

If not, maybe some grilled seafood balls served with a spicy, mayo sauce will hit the spot. They most certainly did for me!

For dessert, there's this uniquely Beijing specialty....skewers dipped in sugar that looks like it has been cooked to reach the soft boil stage. The result is fruit encased in a crunchy sugar coating. Talk about sweet stuff!

But Wangfujing is not all about food. There's entertainment too! Near the restaurant where I had lunch, on the rooftop patio of a restaurant, a Chinese opera is performed every night.

That night I was accompanied by several of my Mongolian tour mates - Alexandra, Theresa, Evan and Maree. Once we figured out that we would all be back in Beijing around the same time, we agreed to hook up for dinner. I convinced them to meet me at the McDonald's in Wangfujing.....conveniently located 2 blocks from the subway and 2 blocks from the market. I figured there was no way they would not be able to find the place.

Back to the entertainment, there was the opera singer and then there was the sculptor. I can't remember what the medium is but it was amazing to watch this guy go at it and slowly create a human form.

There was this guy who was blowing hot sugar to create all sorts of animal shapes. He used his fingers to give definition to the piece. Look at the horse on the stick.

And last but not least, there was another artisan who created creatures from narrow strips of bamboo that he wove and braided together. One of his phoenix pieces caught Theresa's eye. She eventually gave in to her desire to have it and so she bought it.


Wangfujing....uniquely Chinese and for the few RMB that you'll spend while you're visiting the place, it's a great bargain considering the food and entertainment you get! I highly recommend the place and will definitely go back there on my next visit to Beijing!