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Daoxiangcun Grocery is packed with interesting foods, but ma la su, a crisp mix of sesame, chilies, and peanuts, deserves a little special attention.
In the store, you can’t miss it – its bright red colour shines out from the white breads around it. I can’t eat peanuts, so I recruited a tasting assistant. The verdict:
“This is basically the perfect snack food. The photo makes it look like a bit of a mess, but it’s dry on the hands and the heat isn’t overwhelming. The sesame seeds, just a little sweetened, add enough moisture to make the mix easy to chew. It’d be great with beer or while watching a movie–and it was cheap even by Chinese standards!”
(It was 3 RMB for our little bag).
Generally speaking, Daoxiangcun is a very fine store, with terrific Dianping ratings at just about every branch. They serve up a variety of prepared meats, dumplings, tiny cakes, and cookies. There’s almost certainly one in your neighbourhood, so go check it out!
Many, many locations. If you read Chinese, check out this Dianping page. If you don’t, copy and paste “稻香村” into Google Maps to find the closest one to you!
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.
Sanyuanli Market, just north of the embassy district in Chaoyang, has only one, long corridor. They stock a ton of awesome, rare-in-Beijing stuff: spices, herbs, vegetables, etc.
Here’s what we saw today:
Pre-bagged salad greens at stall 120 for 4 RMB each (along with fresh mint, chervil, thyme, lemon leaf, oregano and italian parsley).
Couscous and arborio rice.
Lemons, beautiful baby tomatoes and (unphotographed) limes.
Cheeses & caviar (!)
An almost-hidden bottle of port (for 100 RMB!)
All kinds of pastas (we got bowtie).
Beautiful mangosteen, jackfruit, durian, grapes…
Plums, avocadoes and pears. (Be warned, the avocadoes are 10 RMB each).
We also walked out with balsamic vinegar, Maille mustard, Parmesan…all were very affordable (the mustard was 28 RMB) and you can also find Indian spices, artichokes, coconut milk, fresh herbs, etc. Go, and don’t hesitate to walk behind the counters and search!
Shunyuan Jie (opposite Jingkelong Supermarket, west of Sanyuan Dongqiao), Chaoyang District
If you’re getting in a taxi, just ask for 三源东桥 San3yuan4 Dong1qiao3 and walk south onto Shunyuan Jie.
If you’re biking around between Xihai and Houhai and food attracts you, chances are you’ll find your way to Run De Li market by accident. Last September, I was biking after class and started to see a few vegetables here and there, being sold off carts, trucks full of sweet potatoes. Then there were a few dry goods shops. Then a pork butcher or two, and then the market gate. Vendors spill out, alley veins leading to the market’s heart.
This market shows how Beijing’s old town’s small size hides certain vast distances. This market isn’t far from Houhai, which is full of partying foreigners, but here, on the other side of the lake, a non-Chinese person will be noticed. Treated well, but noticed, and talked about, especially if you step into the little “snack town” or 小吃城 for a bowl of hand-pulled noodles.
Inside you’ll find a man making noodle magic. (He didn’t want me to photograph him at work, but you can see the process here). He made me this:
This is egg-and-tomato topped noodles, or 西红柿鸡蛋拉面。 The secret of this dish is that the tomatoes should be sweet and the eggs salty; this one fit the bill and the noodles were some of the best I’ve had in Beijing.
Outside, you can stock up on vegetables and pantry essentials. Actually, at this market, unlike the Xiao Xi Tian market, you can buy everything you need, from furniture & shoes…
To beautiful fruits and vegetables. This isn’t a “local food” type deal – they definitely aren’t growing sugarcane in Beijing.
But I still feel like this market is a healthy places. The market knows seasons. Produce is fresh. Meat is expensive and there isn’t much of it, and vegetables are cheap. You can chat with the vendors.
I love a place where you can buy everything you need. A modern supermarket really has nothing on this.
Off Deshengmen Nei Dajie/德胜门内大街
Students at Beijing Normal University are out of the Wudaokou area, so we don’t have many international options nearby. Luckily for us we do have the Xiao Xi Tian Market (aka “Food Street”).
Even if you don’t attend BNU, these few blocks are more than worth spending a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in. They’re a glimpse into middle class Chinese life that you won’t find in Sanlitun or Wudaokou.
The vendors like to chat and ask questions, and you’ll even hear a few stray hellos from passersby. Just today, one of the vendors asked where we were from, and why we spoke Chinese so politely. “It’s because we’re Canadian,” we told her.
Heading south on Wenhuiyuan Xi Lu, first you’ll encounter the little snack shops – where you can get your crossing-the-bridge noodles, all kinds of flatbreads, bubble tea, and pirated DVDs. This area is most lively at night.
Then (if you come from around 4-6 on weekdays, or all day on Saturday/Sunday) you’ll see the vegetable market, my favourite section. Without the market, this area feels like a drab, boring highrise park. With it, especially on a blue-sky day, the street is transformed and full of life. Produce here looks twice as fresh as what you’d find in a supermarket.
At the end of the street, you can turn left onto Hui Jing Lu 慧景路 and find the fresh youtiao beside the goldfish vendor.
A friendly youtiao maker will ask, Ni yao ji ge? How many? One per person is enough.
A youtiao or 油条 is a piece of bread dough, puffed up by deep-frying, until it’s a crisp outer layer enclosing hot, fragrant air.
You won’t forget your first bite of a fresh youtiao. You bite down, expecting resistance, and suddenly a puff of steam fills your mouth, followed by an oily, crunchy, incredibly light dough. If you’ve only had (relatively) stale youtiao before, this will be a revelation.
This is breakfast food, but luckily the stand is open in the afternoon too. (The hours are 7am-10am, then 3pm -6pm).
There’s Peking Duck in the neighbourhood as well, but it deserves a post of its own. The restaurant is called 京味斋 and it’s on Wenhuiyuan Beilu.
Note: Best to visit on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. After walking around the market, have Peking duck for dinner, or eat in one of the hundred or so little restaurants in the area. Then, wander around the snack street after dark).