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Noodle Bars and Street Restaurants

Chinese Food: A Noodle Bar & Dumpling Restaurant in Beijing
Streetside Restaurants and Miànguăn in Beijing (Noodle Bars)

In China streetside restaurants are the next step up from real street food, but you still often end up sitting on a wobbly stool by the side of the road. These are the places to buy very cheap, very convenient belly-fillers which every Chinese person knows but which don’t grace the menus of more upmarket (or pretentious) restaurants.

There is a huge variety of this down to earth grub, we can’t describe it all but here’s some of the best and most common. Sadly, these places are becoming harder to find in Beijing as developments turn quiet hutongs into deafening superhighways.

Beijings’s small streetside restaurants generally only serve a handful of different dishes each. Some are specialised, serving almost exclusively noodles or dumplings, others offer a range of basics, from fried rice, through noodles to simple dishes like egg & tomato and fried shredded potato. Decor is usually non-existent, at most a map of China and an out of date calendar.

Noodle Bars

Noodle bars range from a few rickety tables set up after dusk to the national chain known as ‘Chéngdū Xiăochī – 成都小吃’ or ‘Chengdu Snacks’.

In Beijing noodles invariably come in huge bowls of soup, which is usually piping hot although there are also cold noodles to be had in the winter. There are all sorts of varieties, for example exceedingly spicy ‘Dāndān Miàn’, and more managable ‘Zhàcài Ròusī Miàn’, which is made from Chinese pickles and shredded pork.

‘Knife cut noodles’ (Dāoxiāo miàn – 刀削面), or more accurately ‘knife scraped noodles’ are made by scraping noodles from a larger block of dough, and are a firm favourite of hungry migrant construction workers.

Chéngdū Xiăochī, like many other streetside restaurants, also serve bāozi – steamed stuffed buns, from huge bamboo steamers by the entrance to the shop.

Summer Food

In the furnace-like heat of the Beijing summer the food changes to suit the climate. Noodles are served in a cold soup, and the Liáng Pí vendors start to appear.

Liáng Pí (凉皮), which translates literally to ‘cool skin’ consists of long, flat strips of noodle served cold with combinations of meat, vegetables, herbs and spices. The ‘noodle’ is in fact made from mung bean. Liang pi vendors usually set up with a table and stools outside schools and offices. A filling bowl of liang pi will rarely cost more than 2Y.

Jiaozi – Chinese Dumplings

Jiăozi (饺子), dumplings, are something you simply have to try when you’re in China. They can be found anywhere, from the most expensive restaurant to the cheapest, all over the country. They usually seem to taste better under a starry sky among the friendly chatter of Beijingers than they do from pristine china bowls in upmarket restaurants.

Jiaozi are made of a thin skin of pastry wrapped around stuffing. The most common stuffing is pork and Chinese chives, but there are also lamb, beef and vegetarian jiaozi. Egg and carrot is one interesting and surprisingly tasty variety. Jiaozi are usually boiled and served in soup, but they can also be pan fried, when they’re called ‘Guō tiē’ (锅贴) or ‘pot stickers’. Jiăoziguăn, dumpling restaurants, range from tiny places open to the street, to quite upmarket restaurants.

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