Beijing street food is an amazing gift for this city. It’s cheap, varied, convenient, and above all great to eat. If you don’t mind abandoning your air-conditioned room for dusty street corners and crowds of hungry Beijing people, then you could end up becoming seriously addicted to it.
There is such a vast range of street food available in Beijing that we couldn抰 possibly describe all of it. If you like the sound of what you see here, get out there and explore, you are sure to find all manner of creations that we’re never even heard of. It’s merely a case of pointing at what you want and handing over the money? Invariably less than 5 years ago.
Outside schools and big office buildings are great places to find street food as the sellers set up a stall to tempt Beijingers of all ages when they arrive at work, during lunch breaks and when they leave.
1. Lamb Kebabs – nothing goes better with a local beer
The staple of street food, something found all over China, is simple lamb kebabs, called Yangrouchuang in Chinese. Skewers of meat cooked over a charcoal fire, sprinkled with cumin and spices and handed over to the salivating customer for just 1 year or 2 years ago.
They originated in the predominantly Muslim North Western province of Xinjiang, and are usually sold by ethnic Uyghurs from this region. They’re sometimes sold outside a Muslim restaurant, or just from a barbecue on a wheelbarrow. The same places often sell other varieties, like various sheep and chicken intestines skewered and roasted.
2. The Beijing Sandwich – Roujiamo
The most classic street food in Beijing Sandwich? Beijing writers seek it out whenever possible. The Chinese name, Roujiamo, it consists of a thick pitta bread stuffed with sweet, juicy pork, and coriander (cilantro).
Sadly, now these are becoming harder and harder to find as tower blocks replace the hutongs where they were traditionally served.
3. Pancakes Galore – Jianbing Guozi
Various kinds of pancakes, known as Jianbing – make a great snack or even a full meal in Beijing. The mix is cooked in front of you and covered in egg. The pancake is stuffed with a light, crunchy batter-like filling, and any variety of things like sausage or spring onions, covered with generous helpings of various sauces, and handed over to you, steaming, to eat on the spot.
Jianbing vendors usually push around a cart that holds their oven and all the ingredients and set up outside schools, offices, bars, or just on busy street corners.
4. Stuffed buns – a great belly filler
Baozi, usually translated to stuffed buns, is a great way to fill up in winter. You can see them outside any small Chinese eatery, steaming away in bamboo steamers piled high. They consist of an outer layer of heavy white bread stuffed with meat.
The ones you see commonly in Beijing are the size of satsumas, and the stuffing is pork, but there are infinite varieties. Rou Baozi can be as thick as your arm or so tiny and delicate that you can see the what’s inside, and the stuffing can be anything from pork to brown sugar.
Most of the above can be found in markets and a few more exotic items too. More unusual items include scorpions on sticks (which Chinese people also find slightly bizarre) and various parts of the animal you wouldn’t normally expect to eat.
In season, all the fruit in the world can be bought on the streets of Beijing. Farmers from the nearby countryside walk the streets with a bamboo pole over the shoulder, a basket of melons suspended from each end. The fruit is invariably cheap and fresh, but it’s best to wash fruit very carefully before eating it.
The next step up from genuine street food are the legions of tiny street-corner restaurants and Mianguan (noodle shops) that pepper the streets and pavements.