Fruit loaf and scorpions: How to eat well in Beijing

The title is a lie. We did not eat well in Beijing. Don’t get me wrong, we had some spectacular food but the city is vast and simply trying to get from one sight to another occupied much of the time we had, leaving almost no time to find places to eat.

A case in point is breakfast. Our guidebook confidently informed us that there were stalls on every corner selling jian bing, traditional, Beijing pancakes. And while there well may have been, we did not spot them as we focussed all our energies on not getting run over as we crossed the numerous eight lane highways that stood between us and Tiananmen Square. Luckily, the concrete tundra that is Tiananmen Square has food vans which sell fruit loaf for approximately 70p. So communist fruit loaf, full of mystery dried fruits, powered us on to our next meal..which consisted of spring onion crackers and gummy worms.

This story does have a happy ending though. On our last day, in the shadow of the Great Wall between the souvenir shops and the Burger King, was a stall selling egg pancakes-jian bing. Crepe style, with egg and spring onion smeared over the top, flipped and spread with bean paste and chilli sauce and topped with baocui (best described as crispy stuff) before folding and stuffing in a plastic bag, it was hot and savoury and filling, everything we’d been looking for in a breakfast. Definitely attemptable at home as well.

We did make a concerted effort to have proper Peking duck. And boy was it worth it. This was the platonic ideal of roast duck. Roasted in a ferociously hot wood fired oven and carved at the table, the skin was to be dipped in sugar and the juicy meat wrapped in pancakes and stuffed in buns with raw garlic, ginger and pickled vegetables. This was the meal we’d been waiting all day for and as we settled down to dry-ice cooled oranges for dessert, a diet of fruit loaf and crackers seemed a distant memory.

And so to the scorpions. We visited the Wangfujing night market on our first night and made ourselves a very satisfying dinner of dumplings and wraps, mostly doused with chilli oil.

It was hard to ignore the various things on sticks for which this market is famous for however and affter initially asserting that there were some things at which I draw the line I found myself, insect in hand. And, you know, it wasn’t so bad. Dry and sticky (as in, like eating a stick) and a bit salty. I wasn’t going back for more (a view enforced by seeing the live ones struggling on a skewer before being cooked) but at least I know I’m not missing out.

 

 

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