1. Visit the beautiful Ox Street Mosque. Walk around, admire, observe. Learn about Hui (Chinese Muslim) history. Work up appetite.
2. Admire in particular this enormous pot, built in 1739, for making congee (粥) during Ramadan. Wonder how many people this congee pot could feed. A hundred? Start to feel hungry.
3. Head over to the Qingzhen (清真, halal) supermarket across the street.
4. Notice many snack shops in the foyer (there is also a food court on the second floor, but we are too lazy to explore it just yet). Notice in particular an incredible dried-fruit stands, which contains dates almost as big as your fist. Purchase.
5. Draw your attention over to the biggest pot of eight-treasure rice (八宝饭) you have (probably) ever seen. Admire. Be drawn into English 101 conversation with the keeper of said rice pot, who is 27 and from Beijing. Agree to be friends.
6. Wander over to Bai Ji Niangao (白记年高). Feel proud that you can recognize everything on display: from the back, sweet shaobing, zongzi, lu da gunr, niangao, and a huge slab of red bean cake.
I chose some some lu da gunr (rolling donkeys, i.e. glutinous rice + red bean + soybean flour). I also picked up some jiangmi niangao (the layer cake of glutinous rice flour and red bean paste, topped with haw jelly).
Eat and examine your reactions. For myself, while I acknowledge that the red-bean paste quality was excellent, I did not have a niangao epiphany. The layers of red bean and rice were just too thick, and the rice paste was too heavy to enjoy more than one bite of. Same goes for the donkeys – the whole thing was too enormous to be manageable, and the quality was not so different from Huguosi Xiaochi, which is easier to reach from central Beijing.
8. Head over to Ju Bao Yuan to admire the beautiful place settings. Look at the line of about 40-50 people waiting for a table, at 5 on a Thursday evening. Make a mental note that Ju Bao Yuan has it going on, but plan for lineup time before going. (Read more here, I’m especially intrigued by the haw berries in crystal).
Return home, belly full of red bean paste and possibly hotpot. Feel impressed by how integral Hui cuisine is to traditional Beijing foods, and feel interested to know that Beijing still has places where you’re a tourist, a total stranger.
Note: To do all this, simply find a bus that heads to the Niu Jie 牛街 bus stop.