Beijing's best street food

A beginner's guide to the capital's quintessential street food dishes

Jianbing 煎饼

jianbingBeijing’s most famous breakfast food: a thin wheat flour pancake fried on a flat iron dish, bulked up with a freshly cracked egg, fermented soy sauce, chilli paste, sesame seeds and sliced scallions, all folded up around a thin fried cracker for some structure and texture. Whether you prefer the Shandong version that has a thicker, chewier crust and lettuce or the ultra-spongy, egg-laden homegrown original, a jianbing is always a good decision for either a workday stopgap or late-night party fuel.

Price 5-10RMB Time Anytime

Kao chuan'r 烤串

kaochuThe gold standard by which all other food on a stick is judged, kao chuan’r, almost always shortened to just 'chuan’r’, is a staple of many a hutong-shoestring diet, and has fuelled the fires of countless all-night ragers since time immemorial. Small chunks of cubed lamb, interspersed with equal parts mutton fat, are roasted over charcoal until charred to perfection. Anything on a stick is a chuan’r, but in Beijing chuan’r really means lamb and chicken wings. Keep an eye out for gents from Xinjiang wearing caps – no one does lamb in China like they do it out west.

Price 2-8RMB per stick Time Afternoon to late

Lao Beijing suannai 老北京酸奶

suannPacked fresh regularly, if not quite daily, by local merchants in little white porcelain jars, lao Beijing suannai, or ‘old Beijing yoghurt’, is a soothing morning restorative or a remedy for a scorched tongue after a bit too much hotpot. The flavour is subtle, mainly sweet with a slightly fermented tang which lingers at the finish. Jars are recycled, so you’ll need to fork over a few extra RMB if you don’t want to drink it on the spot and return the container.

Price 5-8RMB Time Anytime

Tanghulu 糖葫芦

tangAs quintessentially Beijing as the Forbidden City, tanghulu combine two things we Beijinger’s love: Chinese hawthorn berries and sugar. The hawthorn, a crabapple-like fruit with the texture of a ripe apple and the flavour of a sour strawberry, is taken to the next level with a thin coating of molten caster sugar.

Price 4-20RMB per stick Time Anytime

Shouzhuabing 手抓饼

shouzhA popular import from Taiwan, shouzhuabing combine a flakey savoury pastry with fermented soy sauce, chilli paste, shredded potatoes, lettuce, onions, a fried egg and your choice of meat. It’s like a burrito in a way, although the spiral-kneaded flatbread affords a much more satisfying crunch than a tortilla. The flatbreads are not made to order, so getting a fresh one takes some planning – make sure you go for shouzhuabing during peak meal hours or in the early morning to avoid getting a stale one.

Price 7-10RMB Time Peak meal times

Youtiao doujiang 油条豆浆

youtThe classic Beijing breakfast pairing is fried dough and soy beans. Youtiao, literally ‘oil stick’, are wheaten strips that are deep-fried in hot oil until puffy, golden and undeniably delicious. Straight from the oil, it’s hard to imagine dampening the flavour of the salty-sweet layers of chewy dough, but Beijingers take their youtiao with fresh soy milk, doujiang. It’s kind of like the hutong version of a coffee and doughnut – so much so that the name youtiao doujiang is a byword for breakfast (and a euphemism for a morning quickie, but you didn’t hear that from us).

Price 2-4RMB per 500g; 2-5RMB per bowl. Time Early morning

Kao leng mian 烤冷面

kaolKao leng mian, or grilled cold noodles, is a lowbrow delicacy from the northern province of Heilongjiang. More of a pan-fried tamale than a noodle dish in the conventional sense, a thin sheet of uncut wheaten noodles is fried with a beaten egg and topped with sautéed onions and a dry spice mix before being supplemented with a protein such as a mega-processed hotdog (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!). Rolled up and sliced, kao leng mian has more texture and a greater depth of flavour than its closest relative, the jianbing.

Price 5-10RMB per serving Time Midday to late

Roujiamo 肉夹馍

rojThe roujiamo is a street food staple from Shaanxi province. Slow-cooked pork belly and trimmings are finely chopped and wedged into a cracked 'mo', or small circular bread. The tough bread is softened by the absorbed juices and a dash of vinegar. Fresh peppers (qingjiao, 青椒) cut through the cloying fat and allow the spices and natural porky richness to come through.

Price 6-8RMB for lean (shourou, 瘦肉); 8-10RMB for fatty (feirou, 肥肉) Time Anytime pork is cooking (aka 24/7)

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