Wednesday, March 7, 2012

After-dinner Snacking at Beijing's Donghuamen Night Food Street

It's just an hour after dinner but I've convinced my baser foodie self that we're both hungry enough to head out to Beijing's famous Donghuamen Street - site of its colorful and popular night food market.
The last time I was in Beijing, I went to Donghuamen and had the ubiquitous candied strawberries on a stick.
This time, I wanted to find a snack that would be savory, more substantial and yes, vegetarian.

Donghuamen street is on the north end of Wangfujing, the famous pedestrian only shopping street right in the heart of Beijing. The night food market starts where the pedestrian only street ends so I cross a busy wide avenue and hope that I don't get run over by the speeding cars -- some of whom continue to cross through the red light.

It's a cold chilly night but lots of locals and foreign tourists alike are strolling through the food street -- the row of food booths stretches all the way to the end of the block.

This food street is famous for such exotic and bizarre foods such as silkworms, larva, snakes, scorpions, different kinds of insects. I guess these unusual foods are also what drive the tourists in. Although I notice that they look and they gawk but they don't really buy.

Bizarre foods may seem more sensational but a lot of the stalls have things everyone eats -- like skewers and skewers of tofu, chicken parts, beef, mutton, pork, prawns -- the un-exotic, everyday stuff.

The cooks and stall servers yell out, barker style (in chinese of course) to each and everyone, trying to catch our attention, trying to make a sale. Since most of the stalls sell the exact same things, everyone has to work a little harder to attract the customers.

I wonder what starfish taste like? Wouldn't they be spiny and hard and unpalatable? I guess I'll never know!

Yum! These steamed crabs look fat, fresh and delicious! However, my vegetarian conscience pulls me away from this scene.

I'm still looking for vegetarian options that go beyond the usual fruit skewers and boiled corn and shaved ice sweets. This stall sells mounds of sliced tripe but right beside it is a wok of plain fried noodles!

I order a small plate and through sign language, agree to make it spicy. The noodles are sauteed very quickly along with sliced cabbage and chili. Before the cook ladles it onto the styropor plate, he liberally douses it with black vinegar. By this time, I am salivating as the aroma of oil, noodles, chili and vinegar wafts through the night.

Here I am with my overflowing plate of plain fried noodles with chili and black vinegar.
I stand off to one side to eat. The first spoonful just slides down -- the noodles are oily but very tasty. By the second spoonful, my mouth is feeling warm -- it's spicy and sour and wonderful -- all at the same time. I can't believe I was able to eat the entire thing.
The cold night air registered 0 deg C but inside my mouth ... it was a blistering 40 deg C!

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