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Cuisine: Traditional Beijing desserts

Area: Nanluoguxiang

Price: 10-15 RMB

Walking down Nanluoguxiang at night, you’ll see plenty of brightly lit and not-good snack joints. One snack shop, however, stands out from the masses for two reasons: 1) it is actually old, and has plaques on the shopfront saying as much, and 2) there is always a large queue of happy-looking Chinese tourists outside.

Wen Yu Nailao could be translated as “Wen House Cheese,” but Chinese nailao and European cheese are very different animals. There is only really one type of nailao, which is milk curdled with rice wine. It’s not fermented or aged. It’s more like a loose, very soft custard, served cool and slightly sweetened – a refreshing summer dessert.

There’s a nod to nostalgia in the setup: you order at the ordering counter, and take your ticket over to the food counter. Like any great specialty shop, Wen Yu’s offerings are limited but perfect as they are: you can have your nailao plain, or topped with mango, red bean, or oats.

My mango-topped nailao was mild, gentle, and had just the right amount of sweetness. I really loved the texture, which reminded me of a full-fat yogurt: very rich and full-bodied. It mixed very nicely with the fresh, sweet mango. I bet the other toppings would be terrific too.

This is a great light, after-meal snack – but be warned, the shop opens at noon and stays open until everything sells out, so the earlier you get there the better!

And don’t forget to keep a lookout for 奶酪 signboards, because the snack is all over Beijing, though most stores aren’t as old as Wen Yu’s.

Wen Yu Nailao/文宇奶酪

49 Nanluoguxiang, at the entrance to Heizhima Hutong. Open 12 p.m. – late.

东城区南锣鼓巷49号(黑芝麻胡同口)。

Dianping page.

Cuisine: Taiwanese desserts

Area: Nanluoguxiang

Price: 20-40 RMB per person

The mango-coconut-sago drink here is delicious! If you like mangoes, you’ll like iTea. Stop in if you’re on Nanluoguxiang. Just don’t try the Guiling Gao, it may be a fascinating food but to me it tasted like death.

iTea/找茶

Nanluoguxiang and Jingyang Hutong (on the west side of Nanluoguxiang).

南锣鼓巷和景阳胡同(南锣鼓巷西边)

Open 10:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Cuisine: Dessert/pastry

Area: Delivery within the 4th Ring Road

Price: 149-249 RMB

Holy fuck, you can buy pies in Beijing!

And these aren’t just any pies. I love to bake pies, and have been doing it for a long time. But I might as well be honest and admit that the pies from Pie House Beijing are far, far better than anything I’ve ever produced at home.

So much “Western food” in Beijing is either insanely expensive compared to local prices or a twisted shadow of food you love. I would rather have three fantastic Sichuan meals than one decent Italian; and having pasta with sugary sauce or something is just depressing.

Pie House may be expensive (149-264 RMB for one) but it is worth it. They have free delivery and usually can send you your pie in under 5 hours. And these aren’t individual servings – you can share the cost among up to 4 or 5 people.

Ordering online is a bit of a gamble, but you can trust me that this pie will fulfil all your dreams for it. I’ve now ordered a Strawberry Cheese(cake) pie, which I photographed, and a Strawberry Rhubarb and both were extraordinarily delicious. City Weekend also has a lot of positive comments on the Coconut Cream pie. Next up I definitely want to order the Banana Cream pie and the French Silk (chocolate) pie.

The Strawberry Cheese pie was extraordinary – a chocolate bottom layer, gooey cheesecake, delicious, fresh strawberries. It was warm from the oven when it arrived.

When you phone, you’ll usually reach someone who speaks Chinese. If you don’t speak Chinese, though, the person on the phone will usually understand the names of the pies in English. If you have any special requests, like I did once about allergies, they can often connect you to someone who does speak English fluently.

Oh, and I almost forgot, they have cakes and tarts too!

Pie House 派悦坊
Order from: http://www.piehouse.com.cn, or call 010-51664464 between 9 am and 9 pm
Free delivery within the Fourth Ring Road.

Cuisine: Waffles & ice cream (and a few sandwiches)

Area: Wudaokou, Lido

Price: 30-60 RMB per person

Wudaokou has a lot of cafes to go around, but it’s not easy to find the perfect one for a study session on a lazy afternoon or for a snack before/after Lush/Propaganda. The Bridge has delicious club sandwiches but is almost always smoky and crowded. Sculpting in Time has pretty terrible food (as does Avocado Tree so far, if they’ve improved please let me know)…but now, may I suggest: Maan Coffee!

Even if you spend a lot of time in Wudaokou you may not have noticed it. It’s on Beijing’s Meat Street, aka Wangzhuang Street with its long row of Korean barbeque places. (My Korean classmates like Kaorou Le 烤肉乐 on that street, check it out!)

Maan Coffee is also deeply Korean. If you’ve ever visited Seoul, this will feel instantly familiar – the city seems to have as many waffle joints as barbeque restaurants. Seoulites took the Belgian waffle concept, added mountains of ice cream and fruit, and turned it into a delicious late night snack. And now, naturally, it has found its way to Wudaokou. If you can’t visit Seoul, come here.

There are a lot of plastic waffles to choose from:

On the middle shelf to the far left is my favourite so far: the chocolate waffle, with chocolate ice cream and a little fruit syrup. You can also see strawberry toast, honey toast, and the strange-looking “cheese waffle”, which I don’t plan to try.

This time we decided to try the “Mixberry waffle:”

If you have a sweet tooth like me, there’s nothing more satisfying…although this is a lot of waffle and definitely needs to be shared. The waffle is very good quality (I noticed while we were ordering that they have proper waffle irons, so it’s made fresh) and so is the ice cream, as good as Ben & Jerry’s in my opinion. This particular waffle had one scoop of strawberry and one of cherry.

Drinks were also very good – the fresh orange juice was 32 RMB but well worth it. They also have Snapple! Next time I visit, I’ll definitely try their affogato.

Maan Coffee’s one problem and the reason I might come here less often is that the decor, which is somehow both elegant and very over-the-top cute. That gimmick they have of giving you a teddy bear so the servers can match your order to you – it’s kinda funny, but makes me feel stupid.

But between decor and food, food always wins at least for me. So until further notice, I’ll call Maan Coffee the best study spot in Wudaokou.

Maan Coffee

Wudaokou location/五道口店:
On the west side of Wangzhuang Lu, north of Chengfu Lu. From Wudaokou subway station, walk east and take the first left.
Map/地图
(I actually linked to Kaorou Le, which is across the street. Google Maps doesn’t know about Maan Coffee yet. Don’t worry, the storefront is large and you can’t miss it).

五道口, 王庄路一号院 (王庄路西边)。 从五道口地铁站,往西走,到王庄路时往左拐。往前走就到。

Open until 2 a.m. daily.

Lido location/丽都店:

7 Jiangtai Xilu (opposite Rosedale Hotel), Chaoyang District
朝阳区将台西路7号
See link for a map.