Thursday, July 21, 2011

Street Eats

I've been a fan of street food in beijing since nearly my first week here, and i can't believe i haven't documented it until now. What started with the ever-present jiān bing (煎饼), a crepe-like sandwich with egg, sauce and a crunchy deep fried piece of bread (?), has blossomed into a righteous love-affair with beijing street eats. In the last two months, I've been fortunate to have a great selection open up just around the corner from my work. Here are my three favorite from that pod.

The first two are photos of my favorite couple from Shānxī province. We chat several mornings a week when he makes me breakfast. They still complement me on my Chinese.

Egg Stuffed Pancacke - 鸡蛋灌饼 - Jīdàn Guàn Bǐng
This one is my go-to snack, both in the morning for breakfast and late night in Sanlitun. For little more than $.25, you get a quick, delicious snack. They start by frying a thin pancake of dough in oil. Next, they tear a small hole into the pancake and add a scrambled egg. Fry that together and, like a tortilla, add spicy and sweet sauces and some lettuce. Adding grilled chicken or sausage for another 1 RMB makes it a complete meal. This thing is my hands-down favorite.
  • Total Price: 2-4 RMB ($.30 - $.60)
  • Convenience Factor: 5/5 - You can find this everywhere between 6-10am, and in bar areas from 7pm-4am. I have two near work that offer slightly different styles.
  • Overall: 4/5 - It's small enough to suit anyone's current appetite, and two of them is enough for dinner. They can be a little greasy (nothing compared to KFC or McDonalds), but they really hit the spot.

Meat Sandwich - 肉夹馍 - Ròu Jīa Mó
This guy is really special. It could be the world's oldest sandwich, dating back to 200BC (thanks wikipedia!). It's simple enough, but mention it to any pork-loving beijinger and they will either begin salivating or waxing poetic about their favorite ròu jīa mó vendors around town.

Basically, you start with pork chunks stewed for hours in spices. A few chunks of meat and fat are then chopped up with coriander and mild green chili, and anointed with some juice from the stew. Then the whole mix is stuffed into flatbread cooked fresh in an oven.

As a renowned picky meat-eater, I can't say enough good things about this tender, lean pork. The flavor is beautiful, bright, even haunting. You have one for breakfast... you think about it for hours. The taste lingers. You can't wait for breakfast the next day. You contemplate it for lunch and dinner as well.
  • Total Price: 3-4 RMB ($.45-$.60). But i've got my local guy at work trained to make mine without the fatty pork, and to toss a fried egg in there. My total price: 5 RMB ($.75) very well spent.
  • Convenience Factor: 2/5 - You have to search them out.
  • Overall: 5/5 - It's like high-fiving a million angels with each warm, juicy bite.

Fried Steamed Buns - 生煎包 - Shēng Jiān Bāo
I haven't seen these in beijing before, but i got hooked on them in Shanghai last year. Just recently, a vendor opened by my work. This couple is from Henan, down south.

These are basically pork bāo zi (包子), but fried to make the bottom crispy. Now, i've always been a dumpling guy, and enjoy them more than steamed buns. But these are freakin' awesome. The crispy bottom, the warm filling, the light and comfortable flavors... i don't know why beijing doesn't do this more. (fun game: look carefully below, can you find the dude drinking beer at 8:45am, with breakfast?)

  • Total Price: 2 for 1 RMB ($.15).
  • Convenience Factor: 1/5 (or 5/5, for me at work) - To my knowledge, there's only one in beijing, although specialty restaurants sell them too.
  • Overall: 3/5 - Nice change, very portable, least messy and easy to share.

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