I love Asian Trails’ new foodie tour in Beijing. It is distinctly different in character to our foodie tours in Southeast Asia, and is a great way to explore the hidden alleys and specialty eateries in the city’s hutongs (alleys formed by lines of siheyuan or traditional courtyard residences).
We start our evening in northwest Beijing near the Lama Temple. Daylight is fading fast and the evening lights illuminate the sky, giving this traditional part of the city, far away from Beijing’s skyscrapers and its bustling life, a distinct character.
Miss Tuk Tuk, the name we give our driver when we first meet her, welcomes us into her tuk tuk and offers us cold beers. Looking at the messy traffic and small alleys around me I wonder (and hope) that she did not have a few beers while waiting for us to arrive. However, she skilfully and quickly steers us away from the main road’s traffic into the wonderful world of traditional hutongs.
Our first stop is not at a restaurant but at a private house where our hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Chu, welcome us to their one-room eatery with bowls of steaming hot pickled sesame noodles. They explain that all the ingredients are home made, and they prepare the noodles from fresh ingredients every morning. This simple dish tastes absolutely delicious. I can imagine spending a cold winter night with friends in this lovely house tucking in the hot tasty noodles – definitely a place I will revisit!
Miss Tuk Tuk, who is patiently waiting for us to finish our meal, drives us deeper into the hutong’s mysterious interiors through alleys that are not much wider than the breadth of a car.
It always surprises me that even though the hutongs are cleaned up and have to adhere to the country’s current rules and sanitary regulations, the homey feeling and unique community atmosphere remain the same. People take care of each other in this part of the city, so it is no wonder that the small shops and restaurants are only known to the hutong’s inner circles. It is like a secret for other Beijing residents that a restaurant is hidden behind a small door at the end of a narrow alley.
Our next stop is at an eatery famous for pancakes, which are so light and fluffy that one wonders what they are made of. Of course the art of making them is a family secret, one they are very proud of. We order a freshly made pancake and add in vegetables and chicken. It is such a delightful experience, savouring the flavours of this simple but delectable dish. The place is spotless, the glassware and chopsticks are wrapped in disposable plastic, and I am sure it will pass the strictest hygiene tests in any city.
By now Miss Tuk Tuk has become our best friend, and we don’t have to say a word before getting our next can of local beer when we approach her tuk tuk.
We now have to cross and drive along a few main roads where the evening traffic is chock-a-block but Miss Tuk Tuk, with her powerful horn and driving skills, brings us quickly and safely to the next hutong and to one of the noisiest restaurants I have ever been to in my life. It’s very
local here and the place quiets down as soon as they see my foreign face, but it doesn’t take long for the noise to return to its former almost deafening level.
Everyone in this restaurant has on their tables many bottles, not of water or beer but of a super potent liquor of between 40 to 70 degrees. Not a place to spend a quiet evening, but one for mouth-watering dumplings. Here I get to taste a dumpling so good like no other dumplings I have ever eaten before. There is a long story of how an empress and a new chef gave this dumpling its ‘golden nail’ name, but for me I will just say being here is worth bearing with the noise (and the smoke) in return for this unique taste.
Our stomach is filling up, but we have two more places to go to on our foodie evening.
The next on the list is an outdoor BBQ restaurant well known in the city, and a place where you can only get a table if you know the owners. It’s like a BBQ club, not one where people wear suits and ties, but where locals gather to hear the latest neighbourhood gossip and stories. We have to cook meat and vegetables on our own coal BBQ grill. Each dish has its distinct flavour, as it is marinated in the family’s recipe sauces and spices since morning.
After a digestive we drive to an old shophouse district where the owner has her pudding restaurant downstairs and her apartment upstairs. This ‘one woman show’ shop is famous for home-made desserts. We taste a type of yoghurt pudding, which is deliciously sweet and cool. The homely atmosphere makes you feel like going to your grandmother’s kitchen and getting a sweet treat before going to bed.
We end the evening at a micro-brewery, one of many in Beijing, for a last glass of beer (or two) before making it back to our hotel.
We offer foodies tours in China in Beijing, Chengdu and Xian. Shanghai is in the making. Every tour is different. We not only taste the regional cuisine and eat at places that one would never find on one’s own, but have selected eateries that are absolutely unique. Vegetarians will equally enjoy the tours, as vegetable dishes are available at almost every eatery.
We recommend these tours to clients who like to taste local food at places away from the tourist crowd. The tours are suitable for both FITs and small groups. For incentive groups who want to have a special evening after a busy day at a conference or event, we are able to tailor make and brand the outing according to the individual wishes of the organiser. Contact our office in Beijing for further information.