Have you seen this potato?
Now you have. 'But what crime could a humble sweet potato possibly have committed?', you might wonder.
It seems that this spud is embroiled in gentrification's latest play on the strip formerly known as Sanlitun Bar Street
, or Dirty Bar Street at its most debauched. New pop-up Bite by Callus
opened earlier this month peddling priced-up sweet potatoes, baked and jazzed up with all manner of toppings, and served in what you might describe as 'vintage Americana incarceration chic' surroundings.
While various clocks, trunks, typewriters and other antique items capture that vintage feel that Bite is going for – Callus runs a vintage store inside the adjacent 3.3 mall – the 'wanted' posters, chefs cooking a little awkwardly behind bars, and a police line-up wall (from the 'Department of Sweet Potato Security', no less) do lend the place a few prison vibes. It's pretty apt, in some ways: it wasn't too long ago that the baked sweet potato was an easily found staple served up perfectly on street corners for just a few kuai, before Beijing street food got majorly purged, so maybe this is sweet potato's expensive new reality in captivity.
Your basic 'Old Fashion' potato will set you back 17RMB, while toppings start at 2RMB each, with sweet options including honey, brown sugar (2RMB), caramel (3RMB) and banana slices (4RMB), and more savoury choices such as straightforward butter, peanut butter, mozzarella (3RMB) and various nuts (4RMB). There's also a range of other spud-based snacks in this ode to the potato, including cups of sweet potato milk (21RMB, hot or iced) and small potato-based cakes (15RMB).
We first opt for one of the more left-field options, topping our taters with 'black tea condensed milk' (3RMB); the result (pictured, above) looked a little unappetising when it came, maybe even downright NSFW, with the tea-infused milk sporadically squirted across the top. Having missed the target of the potato's innards, its taste is barely noticeable, with no hint of tea making an impact on the overall flavour.
Bolstered by the addition of peanut butter and banana (total 24RMB; pictured, above) – what could go wrong? – the flavour combination of our second pick works well, with the peanut butter lending a welcome saltiness, but again the toppings are a little limited. Rather than a loaded potato, after a few bites we're just left eating a load of potato, though it should be said that Bite by Callus' spuds are well cooked and tasty enough. Not that baking a potato is rocket science.
Gentrification and price criticisms aside, Bite by Callus is light-hearted enough and diners are all in good spirits at the playful pop-up. With street vendors now hard to track down and the potatoes themselves hitting the mark, it might be your best bet when spud lust strikes in Sanlitun – until it closes in two weeks Just tread carefully with the toppings.
Bite by Callus First floor, Tongli Studios, Sanlitun Hou Jie, Chaoyang district. Open midday-11pm daily until Dec 5.