Food

The 5 best street eats in Beijing, China’s capital

Sep 10, 2019

Beijing, the capital of China, has been around for more than 3,000 years, and its food is as rich as its history.

Located in northeastern China, the region is arid, so the cuisine is heavy on wheat and meat. Here, you’ll find a lot of meat-filled buns, grilled skewers, and protein-packed wraps.

Street food vendors in Beijing.
Street food vendors in Beijing. / Photo: Shutterstock

Street food in this city used to actually be sold on the street, but in recent years, the government has been cracking down on curbside vendors, citing food safety and cleanliness issues.

Now, you can find most offerings in tidy food courts like these that mostly cater to tourists.

The food court in Nanluoguxiang, a hutong in Beijing.
The food court in Nanluoguxiang, a hutong in Beijing. / Photo: Nicholas Ko

But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of good eats. We went to Beijing’s Nanluoguxiang 南锣鼓巷, which is famous for its street food, and picked out the five best dishes.


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Roast duck wrap 烤鸭卷

Beijing’s roast duck—also known as Peking duck—is iconic, but it can get quite pricey, especially if you go to a sit-down restaurant.

An affordable alternative is getting sliced duck meat wrapped in a wheat flatbread from a street vendor.

The meat is shaved off a whole duck and topped with lettuce, cucumber slices, scallions, and a generous drizzle of hoisin sauce, which gives it a sweet tinge.

Our producer Clarissa Wei nomming on some cold sesame noodles in a Beijing alleyway.
Our producer Clarissa Wei nomming on some cold sesame noodles in a Beijing alleyway. / Photo: Nicholas Ko

Cold sesame noodles 麻酱拌面

Noodles are king in Beijing, where wheat, not rice, is the carb of choice, owing to the region’s lack of rain.

And these cold noodles are the classic summer dish.

The base is made from sesame sauce, and the accoutrements include chili oil and sliced cucumbers, with the richness of the oil balanced by the refreshing chill of crisp cucumbers.

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Jianbing 煎饼果子

This savory crepe actually comes from the city of Tianjin, about an hour’s drive outside Beijing, but it’s become a popular snack across China.

Mung bean batter is evenly spread across a cast-iron pan to create a thin pancake. It’s then topped with an egg or two, brushed with a sweet bean paste and fermented red tofu paste, garnished with scallions, and topped with crispy fried dough for texture.

Oily and carby, jianbing has traditionally been a breakfast item, but one can also find it sold by street vendors at the end of a late-night binge as a comfort food.

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Barbecued squid 铁板鱿鱼

Barbecued squid is a favorite in this food court, where it’s brushed with a healthy dose of spicy chili sauce.

The raw squids are grilled whole and topped with cumin for an extra layer of flavor.

While grilled meat is common across China, the outdoor barbecue is particularly beloved in this part of the country, where there are restaurants dedicated to roasting lamb legs whole.

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Red bean cake 红豆饼

In the age of Instagram, trendy means photogenic, and these sweet red bean cakes definitely fit the bill.

The dessert originally came from Japan, but they’re now found across Asia, thanks to their novelty of being able to take on any shape.

The outside skin is made from pancake batter, and it’s wrapped around a ball of sweet red bean paste before it’s molded into different shapes.

This red bean cake says, “I love Beijing,” in Chinese.

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Street foodBeijing

Credit

Producer: Clarissa Wei

Videographer: Nicholas Ko

Animation: Ray Ngan

Voiceover, Editor, and Mastering: Victor Peña