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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. 

The first time I came, I bought a sunflower head, with petals still attached and covered with seeds. Then again on Christmas Day, for a freshly-killed chicken, including head.

 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.


Run De Li Market/润得立蔬菜市场

Off Deshengmen Nei Dajie/德胜门内大街

Baidu Map

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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.

Google Map (centered on youtiao street)

Click to enlarge.

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).

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A Canadian student eats her way through Beijing and writes between bites.

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