June 29th, 2018
Prof. Ristaino and Prof. Li
More Than Meets the Eye: Street Food in Beijing
I grow up eating Peking street food and I reckon street food to be one of the highlights of Beijing culture. In the long dusks of summer, my grandma and I walk through scents of sophora flowers and grass, waiting in line for a cup of Douzhi. However, after the release of new food security regulations in Beijing, more and more roadside booths have been closed. In reminiscent of the fading Beijingers’ tradition, this paper aims to introduce three traditional street foods in Beijing in literary works, elaborate the characteristics of Beijing street food, and create a dialogue about how street food connects people through Beijing street food scenes.
Douzhi’er is a fermented drink loved by old Beijingers, rich and poor. It is similar to soymilk, but is made by mung beans and has a heavier smell. It is often served with Jiaoquan’er, a crispy rice dough, and salty or spicy pickles. While Zengqi Wang considers Douzhi’er a challenging task for non-Beijingers because of its strong smell (Five Flavors, “Douzhi”, Wang), China Daily reporter Ye Jun emphasizes Douzhi’er is beneficial for one’s health. (“When Smelly Is Good”, Ye)
Firstly, Douzhi’er as a traditional Beijing street food sold by hawkers or roadside booths is cheap and easy to purchase. According to Liu Chunping, a chef in Jin Xin Douzhi’er restaurant, before 1949, a bottle of the drink was sold for just two Chinese cents. It was popular among rickshaw pullers and other working class. They would purchase a bottle and drink for the whole day. For a poor Beijinger, two steamed buns with Douzhi’er serve as a typical breakfast.
Secondly, despite its unique smell, Douzhi’er is nutritious and beneficial for the body because it helps digestion. In Ye’s article for China Daily, he explains the ingredient and fermentation process of Douzhi’er are two main reasons for its health values. Douzhi’er, as introduced previously, was made of green beans. Just like the saying “Food and Medicine are of the same origin”, green beans are believed to have a detoxification function because of its vegetable protein and Vitamin C. While during the fermentation process, bacteria beneficial for the stomach are generated. Moreover, according to Liu Chunping, although Douzhi’er is popular during the summer, it is perfect for all seasons. While in summer, iced ones quench thirst; in winter, warmed ones heal the stomach.
Lastly, Douzhi’er as a typical street food connects people from different fields and social classes. According to Zengqi Wang, the history of Douzhi’er dates back to the Liao Dynasty and the drink gains its reputation in Qing Dynasty. This is consistent with Ye’s article. He mentions “it was the favorite drink for Manchurians” in Baqi army. Even the imperial kitchen in Forbidden City served the drink for Qing emperors to help digest after they ate too much meat. While workers drink iced Douzhi’er to regain their energy, renowned Peking Opera singers like Mei Lanfang drink it to protect its throat (Beijing Street Food and Beijing Celebrities, Ji). Thus, it is evident that Douzhi’er is a favorite drink for people with various occupations and from different social classes.
Rolling Donkeys is a classic Peking snack made with soybean and rice. The snack gains its interesting name because the rice roll is rolled in soybean flour before serving and this procedure resembles a donkey rolling in the dust. Rolling Donkeys are usually filled with red bean paste. The snack has a sticky texture and is only slightly sweet. Rolling donkeys are often sold in roadside pastry booths or Beijing snack streets like Qianmen Night market, Huguo Temple Snack or Wangfujing Snack Street.
Rolling donkeys have a beautiful love story behind it. Rolling donkeys originated from Manchurian pastries and in Manchurian word pastries were called Bobo (Beijinger, “Fuhuazhai,” Tracy Wang). There were bobo shops all over Peking and other large cities during the Qing dynasty, providing desserts not just to enjoy at home, but also to be used for weddings, funerals, and sacrifices. Those shops and the delicious street food were in memory of Qian Long Emperor’s beloved wife Xiang Fei. Xiangfei was sent as a tribute to Qian Long. But he loved her at first sight. Xiangfei got homesick and could barely eat anything. And the emperor got furious. Rolling donkeys were a desperate attempt by the chef of the imperial kitchen. Rolling donkeys not only saved the chef’s life but also helped the emperor won Xiangfei’s heart. Tragically, Xiangfei was poisoned to death because of the jealousy of the emperor’s other wives. Qian Long opened many Bobo shops in the country, but the delicious snack no longer tasted the same without her. Since then rolling donkeys for Beijingers are more than a sweet treat, but also a symbol of unconditional love.
While in the renowned book Memories of Old Peking, rolling donkeys serves as a comforting food and a symbol of family. Aunt Song sold herself and worked as a nanny for a rich family to raise her daughter and son. However, her husband got addicted to gambling and ultimately sold her young daughter Yingzi. But the tragedy didn’t end there. Her son was drowned to death due to an accident. Song’s only hope was to find her daughter. She went to every family with an adopted girl. Whenever she got tired or emotionally drained, Aunt Song would cook the author and herself rolling donkeys. She would repeatedly tell the author Yingzi’s childhood stories and how much she loved rolling donkeys. When the author was eating rolling donkeys, Aunt song would gaze at her, as if she was her daughter Yingzi. (Lin 79)
Nowadays, more and more trending desserts were sold on the street. I still saw people lining up for Rolling Donkeys at Daoxiangcun, a renowned pastry chain store. Rolling donkeys is not only a street dessert for the stomach, but for the soul as well.
Quick-fried tripe is known as bào dŭ in Chinese. It is one of the best examples of street foods in Beijing, and Beijingers enjoy sharing it with a group of close friends with beer or other alcohol. After adding green onions, cooking oil, sesame paste, and other seasonings into the boiled tripe, this dish is ready to serve. It has a history of over 150 years and it was most popular under the rule of Emperor Qianlong as well. The most renowned restaurant Baodu Feng was founded in 1881 in Menkuang Hutong around Qianmen area, Beijing.
In his proses collection On Culinary Art, Shiqiu Liang talks about the delightful experience of eating Baodu. (Liang, 47) Baodu is mainly two kinds of meat, either beef tripe or lamb tripe. Liang in his article talks about the selection and division of lamb tripe. Lamb tripe could be divided into eight parts, but a classic foodie would only crave for lamb stomach. More importantly, Baodu requires the lamb meat to be fresh and cut properly. Even the dipping sauces and seasonings need to be carefully chosen and put in as well. A plate of Baodu looks simple on the outside but tastes like heaven on the inside. This is more to this dish than meets the eye.
Baodu serves as another perfect example of street food connecting people together. In Liu’s book on Chinese food and drink traditions, she talks about the importance of shared dining. For the Chinese, a group of people sharing great food together is full of warmth and creates a harmonious atmosphere. (Liu, 37) For Beijingers, nothing compares to a late night eat at Qianmen night market with a bunch of friends. Over a glass of iced beer, you could laugh and share your recent life with your close friends. You could also meet new people or become close friends with your acquaintances during late night treats. Under the aroma of newly cooked Baodu, people bond together.
In the famous Manchurian writer Laoshe’s prose “Missing Peking”, there is a famous yet controversial quote: “I cannot love Shanghai or Tianjin because Peking has filled my heart”. This quote vividly depicted a Beijinger’s reliance and nostalgia of the city. Born and raised in Beijing, I cannot use one word to characterize its values. But it is undeniable that local cuisine reveals the regional characteristics of a city. In my paper, I introduce three traditional yet unique Beijing street foods: an old Beijinger’s drink, a classic pastry dessert and a delicious late night eat. All of them are portrayed as cultural symbolizations of Beijing in renowned Chinese literary works. By analyzing the underlying social values behind the street foods, I aim to address that street foods are more than food for the stomach but food for the soul. Moreover, street foods connect people. Douzhi’er breaks down the barriers of different social classes. Rolling Donkeys emphasizes the close attention we pay to family and lovers. Late night chats on a Baodu booth bring friendship to a higher level. Last but not least, Beijing street food scenes reveal the openness and welcoming nature of the city. A working class with low income could line up with a local celebrity for the same an authentic bite. Beijing comes alive during summertime with night markets where hawkers sizzling street food after dark. There is more to street food than meets the eye.
Kasell, Frank. “Douzhi” A Field Guide to Chinese Street Food, 2018, www.chinesestreetfood.com/.
Lin, Haiyin. Memories of Old Peking. San Lian Shu Dian Hong Kong, 2003.
Liu, Junru, and William W. Wang. Chinese Food: Adventures in the World of Cooking and Eating. Wuzhou Publishing House, 2017.
Liang, Shiqiu. On Culinary Art. Yunnan Renmin Publishing House, 2016.
Ye, Jun. “When Smelly Is Good.” China Daily, 20 July 2013, www.chinadaily.com.cn/beijing/2013-07/20/content_16810060.htm.
Wang, Tracy. “Fuhuazhai Chinese Pastry Shop Brings Us Back to the Qing Dynasty with Traditional Royal Manchu Taste.” The Beijinger, The Beijinger, 20 Aug. 2017, www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2017/08/20/fuhuazhai-chinese-pastry-shop-brings-us-qing-dynasty-traditional-royal-manchu-taste.
Tindall, Robynne. “Try These 5 Traditional Beijing Desserts.” The Beijinger, The Beijinger, 24 May 2017, www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2017/05/24/best-chinese-desserts-try-beijing.
Lao, She. “Missing Peking”. Lu Jiang Publishing House, 2017. 《想北平》老舍
Wang, Zengqi. Five Flavors: Wang Zengqi and His 32 Proses. Shandong Hua Bao Publishing House, 2005. 《五味》，汪曾祺
“名人托起‘老北京小吃‘呢？还是‘北京小吃‘吸引名人？.” Sohu, 4 June 2017, www.sohu.com/a/145901351_642365.Baodu
A Brief Reflection on Final Research Paper
I choose to do street food because it is a unique perspective and a crucial cultural component of Chinese food scenes. It is also consistent with my group presentation and my interview. Through the lenses of food, I hope to show something more about Chinese society. That’s why I chose the subtitle to be “More Than Meets the Eye.” Because the research paper was only 8-10 double space, so I do not want my subject or theme to be too broad. Prof. Ristaino mentioned this in the email too. Eventually, I didn’t choose to compare 5 street foods from different cities because I want to offer a holistic view of Beijing street food and I do want to focus on the city I know best. During the interview with my dad, I realized regional cultures are distinct and diverse. So the wording of 5 street foods from various cities has is very demanding for me and beyond my current writing ability. However, I remain interested in the original comparison perspective and if I take more interdisciplinary courses, I hope to carry on this track with what I have learned in the course.
The three street foods I chose are all depicted in renowned Chinese books by famous Chinese writers. Unfortunately, when I was writing the paper, I find the translation of the proses or books not sufficient enough. Douzhi’er is depicted in Zengqi Wang and Shiqiu Liang’s proses. Rolling Donkey was written in Haiyin Lin’s My Old Memories of Peking. While Baodu was written in Shiqiu’s most renowned proses collection《雅舍谈吃》. Through the reminiscence of street food, they try to convey the idea of food and social ideologies coexist and evolve together. That’s also something I hope to convey in my paper, however briefly.