Lunches We Need from China

Last week I was traveling in China; seeing the sites and eating the eats. Snacking all day long at little local spots was the main reason, despite MANY stressful moments, that we were glad we did not go with a tour group.  Here are some highlights:


On our first full day in Beijing,  we noticed an alley with men sitting around a table eating something outside the Temple of Heaven. Nearby in a shack, a man and woman team hand pulled noodles and added them in a brisket soup. The men nodded in approval as we added vinegar and slurped alongside them.

Across the street from Tiananmen Square, a small cart cooked a savory pancake on a griddle, added an egg and seasoning for a flakey, on the go breakfast.

Our Beijing street food eating culminated at the Donghuamen Night Market.  A whole street lined with vendors hawking hot foods for a dollar or two.

We ate dumplings, soup, and skewers of soft shell crab and shrimp. Most were finished to order on grills under the tents.

We couldn’t leave the market without trying something slightly scary. I timidly put a fried, skewered scorpion in my mouth and was happy to find that as I crunched down, my deadly little friend had a pleasant, nutty taste.

We did, however, have to pass on the selection of animal testicles.


In Xi’an we stayed at a hotel right in the city’s center, one block south of the the Drum tower. On our street was a solid street food scene, especially in the morning. From a tiny stand, we brunched on the fluffiest bao’s filled with things like leek, shrimp, and chicken that cost 1 yuan each (6 yuan to a dollar).  Right in front of the bao stand I grabbed a bowl of spicy, soft tofu from the back of a three wheeled motorcycle.

On our way to see the Terracotta Warriors we realized the few baos in our stomach weren’t enough. Though our taxi driver spoke no English, he got the message that we wanted to pull over and grab something more. He yelled through the window and we were handed two hot, crusty bread pockets stuffed with pork and vegetables without having to leave the car. It was the best drive through we’ll ever encounter.

Much more street eating in Xi’an is found in the Muslim Quarter. Several chaotic streets of trinket shops and food venders intertwine in a way that guarantees you will get lost as some point.  Here we had mung bean jelly tossed in a wok, lamb skewers, fresh pomegranate juice, and an unfamiliar preparation of something familiar- slow cooked corned beef stuffed inside a bun.

Towards the northern end of the quarter, my sister spotted vats of lamb simmering  street side and made us step into the adjoining restaurants. We soon realized we were spooning into paomo, a mutton and torn bread soup that is a signature dish of the city. The pieces of bread functioned like little dumplings inside the soup. The broth was simple, but we identified the telling numbing presence of szechaun peppercorns.


In Shanghai, it was all about the dumplings (especially after a dissapointing experience at Xi’an’s lauded De Fa Chang restaurant). We took turns waiting on the Nan Xiang line, while running to other, less crowded stands for snacks during the wait. Nan Xiang is a destination spot for xiao long bao in the Yuyuan Market. I suppose it is sort of touristy, though we were the only Americans on that long line. Large buns filled with crab soup come with a straw, a fun novelty for sure. We were surprised there was no meat inside them. Though the broth was solid, they are not cheap at over $2 a piece. We preferred the smaller, slightly less soupy dumplings that contained crab and pork meat.

We ate twice at Din Tai Fung, a slightly upscale Taiwanese based chained that takes dumplings very seriously. Here we learned that the preciously simple xiao long bao we have loved for years can be elevated to the high heavens with ingredients like hairy crab and shark’s fin and black truffles. They also served simple greens that were the best I’ve ever had.

I didn’t come across any free food samples in any of the cities I visited in China until the Bee Cheng Hiang ladies put their bakkwa in my face. Bakkwa is a sort of addicting jerky that comes in beef or pork. I was even suckered in to purchasing pricey, shrink wrapped pieces of the stuff, so if you ask nicely, I might bestow one upon on.

While deliriously tired on the trip home, we stopped at an airport McDonald’s and obsessed over a matcha frappe. Leave it to China to make me crave McDonald’s.



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    Dearest Jamie, may I puh-leeze have a piece of that dee-licious looking pork jerky? (smiles sweetly and bats eyelashes)

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    I highly approve of three-wheeled motorcycle vendors selling homemade foods. This needs to be a doing under the Huntingdon El, or at least at Girard & Frankford, immediately.

    • But… Girard and Frankford already has good places to eat things, no? I’d be a whale if I lived and/or worked near there.

      Jamie, these pictures are so good! I can only imagine how much better the street food was there than it is here, and the street vendors here are generally really good at their craft.

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        I figure Girard & Frankford at least has a critical mass of mobile vendors on most weekends to make any such kind of visit immediately worth it. Mandarin House’s generic American-Chinese aside, it is definitely lacking in Southeast Asian options, though…

  • I should’ve recommended the Portuguese egg tart from KFC in China. I wasn’t planning on eating from an American fast food chain, but it happened while I was waiting at a train station, and it was really good! Here is a little more info:

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