Wednesday, April 20, 2011: Beijing Nights
Wang Fu Jing 王府井, Beijing’s Nightmarket
How do you end a night in Beijing with a bang?! Roam around Beijing’s Nightmarket of course! The best Nightmarkets in Asia belong in Taiwan, but a Beijing Nightmarket experience is still worth a wander. Beijing’s well-known Nightmarket, or 夜市 Ye Shi, called 王府井 Wang Fu Jing is where we explored. Located in 東城區 in the Eastern District, Wang Fu Jing is an avid, dynamic shopping area for nightlife, exotic snack foods, souvenirs, and merchandise.
Mr. Kang joined us for a last walk through Beijing’s city streets, mostly pushing Dad in his wheelchair. The first thing I had was this sweetened candied fruit on a stick called 冰糖葫蘆 Bing Tang Hu Lu. There was a small side stand with a handicapped gentleman selling these snacks. We all had soft hearts, so Mom ended up buying several sticks of candied snacks from him. Instead of paying him in Chinese dollars, the nice man was content with an American dollar with Washington, just for fun. He was obviously getting the better end of the deal, with an American dollar equivalent to about 6.5 Chinese renmingbi, much more than how much the cheap snack foods cost. So the nice vendor man was happy with his new Washington, and we thanked him for a delicious evening snack. ‘Bing Tang Hu Lu’ is a well-known, fun winter kebob snack in Northern China similar to the American version of candied and chocolate-covered apples commonly eaten at street fairs and outdoor venues. It comprises of small Chinese hawthorne fruits, or 山楂 Shan Zha, that look like miniature Macintosh apples, coated in hardened sugar syrup. There are numerous seeds to spit out, but otherwise, the fruit is mushy and mildly sweet. The external layer of sugar adds an extra bite (and glucose overload) to the enjoyment. What an adorable snack to nibble on a pleasant evening.
We stopped by a local shop with plenty of small gifts and merchandise. Mom and Kelly went to look for gifts for teachers. I was gravitated toward cell-phone decorations. I LOVE cute cell phone key chains, but obviously I cannot buy every cute item and overload my poor smartphone. Nevertheless, I like browsing for cute Sanrio characters, jade decorations, smiling baby animals, and meaningful charms with Chinese characters, sings, and names. I did not find a charm I absolutely adored by the time we started walking again, except maybe for a little playful panda one.
We hit one of the main streets of Wang Fu Jing, with the billboards, department stores, larger food shops, and crowds of Chinese people. And of course, we were gravitated toward another food shop with plenty of snacks and goodies. I was walking in a sugar wonderland, with so many stands of colorful mochi candies and biscuits! I usually do not get excited at American candy shops like the M&M’s store or It’s Sugar in Atlantic City, but it was different at a Chinese dessert shop! Chinese sweet treats are more what I enjoy, because they are not too sugary or overdecorated with food coloring. Instead, they tend to be natural, tonic, and plain exotic. Here was a sampling of what we loaded back to America.
1) Chinese pastries, and cookies!!! Uber tasty goodies! One of my favorites is 老婆餅 Lao Po Bing, or Wife Biscuits. Curious name indeed! It is soft and flaky on the outside, filled with sticky and chewy pineapple paste on the inside, or 鳳梨. I love these treats so much because they taste just like my favorite Taiwanese pineapple tarts called 鳳梨酥 feng li su. The magical explosion of sweetness from the pineapple is atomic. The other second-best pastries include red bean and green bean cakes. Similar to the Wife Biscuits, these cakes are filled with mildly sweet bean paste on the inside, buttery and flaky on the outside. They are small portions, but beware of grabbing one too many biscuits and taking whirlwind rides down the alimentary canal. I usually limit myself to two biscuits and I am pleasantly satisfied =)
2) 茯苓夾餅 Fu Ling Jia Bing – This traditional Beijing snack is styled like a mini-pancake, round like the full moon. It is made with flour, honey, sugar, and fuling, a type of herbal fungus from the Perenniporia genus. It appears as a sandwich, with a gelatinous sweet filling and taste of fuling stacked between the white, paper-thin flour sheets. It also comes in different flavors and decorations, including sesame crusts. Well-known for its taste and nutrients, Fu Ling Jia Bing contains proteins and vitamins that help nourish the liver and kidney, lubricate the intestinal tract, restore vitality, improve complexion, and protect the delicate skin. Once again, this special snack used to be reserved for the imperial family or government officials, but has since become a snack for everyone to enjoy. Here’s an interesting tidbit. During the Qing dynasty, Empress Dowager Cixi fell ill. Imperial chefs utilized the Tuckahoe herb derived from the Perenniporia fungus and grown in Yunnan and Guizhou to create tonic effects for the sick Empress. Medical effects included stimulating the spleen, calming the nerves, and improving fluid circulation. Nowadays, Fu Ling Jia Bing has become more than just a specialty, well-crafted snack; it has become a symbol of Beijing’s best treats.
3) 驢打滾 Lu Da Gun – Another delicious Beijing specialty snack is Rolling Donkey. It is a type cake made of rice flour and red bean paste. To achieve a yellow tint on the outside, soybean flour is added as well. The filling is diversely delightful: 鳳梨味 (pineapple, needless to say it’s my favorite), 花生 (peanut), 豆沙 (red bean), and 山楂 (hawthorne). They are akin to little mochi balls, very glutinous and chewy. With these delectable treats, I did not find chewing to be such a nuisance, like I usually do with meats and Laffy Taffy. Battling through the glutinous balls of goodness never felt so rewarding and pleasurable. When I arrived at the heart of the filling, a supernova exploded in my mouth and a burst of stars flashed before my eyes. These miniature sweet rice dumplings did wonders to my taste buds, perhaps yours too!
We wandered the small streets next. There, we really had to watch our bags. In general, China is infamous for creative criminal ways of pick-pocketing netizens and tourists. Especially in the small streets when you are enjoying the street food or the environment, you are prone to prowlers. So walking down the small streets, I was clutching my purse like a baseball bat. Aside from looking out for pick-pocketers, I was finally enjoying the famous Nightmarkets of China! It was very dynamic, noisy, and classically oriental. Down one of the side streets was an opera performance on the balcony. The streets were lighted with traditional red lanterns and golden decorations. The aroma of street foods, or 小吃 Xiao Chi, stimulated my olfactory cells. I absorbed the wonderful smell of roasted meats on skewers, called 串兒 Chuanr. Lamb, chicken, pork, beef, and other animals probably were marinated in various spices. There were also fried insects and exotic bugs on skewers, still wiggling their helpless legs in agony or even excitement. We passed more souvenir shops and finally made it back out.
It was a pleasant stroll through the night, but all good things must come to an end. It was time to move on to the next series of good things, in awesome Shanghai again. We returned to Beijing’s South Train Station to catch the Dongche. Mr. Kang was incredibly helpful throughout the trip. He parked his car outside, and came with us into the train station, helping us with a crippled Dad and getting us to the right station. He even took us to the train and into the cabins. He has practically been adopted into our family during our stay in Beijing! We were very fortunate to have met him that first day in Beijing. Without him, we would have been lost souls wandering the streets and catching random taxis. We probably would have spent more money getting around the region. We would not have met such a good friend either! And with him, we had a memorable, fulfilling trip in Beijing, since he took us to all the best places Beijing has to offer. He went out of his way for us, whether it was waiting in the car outside Yi He Yuan, buying vegetables and water for us, or carrying Dad up and down staircases. Let’s say, in the end, we tipped him a great deal for his company and incredible service and we will forever remember this amazing young man. Good-hearted people do exist in this world after all! We promised to come back and see Mr. Kang again next time we visit Beijing. Until next time Beijing!!!