Meals In The Hutongs

Hey honey:

I spent a long time at the National Art Museum of China. It is not that I was getting much out of it as the exhibits are all in Chinese but that I was still dead tired from all the walking in the Forbidden City the day before. I largely sat there and catch up with some reading. Hehehe … also took a short nap too out in the foyer. I would have stayed longer if not that they were shooing people out to setup for some ceremony for a big shot. They rolled out the red carpets and all.

One visitor got very angry when told that they are closing early. She was really fierce and shouted to the poor young man who tried to explain unsuccessfully why they had to close early. Me, being the usual busy body, moved closer to see the action. I wanted to take pictures because she was so animated but on second thought I better not. She could turn her attention on me!


Since there were a few hutongs around the corner from the art museum, I decided to just go check it out and see for myself what the deal is with hutongs and all. I read about that so often. Basically they are where the old traditional courtyard homes are located.

Although there are numerous all around Beijing, they are being torn down one by one in the name of progress and development.

Hey on the way there, I came across these little parks where they have exercise machines. I see them in quite a number of places and they are almost always used.  Some of the users were elderly people. I was impressed that they are so fit and agile despite their age.


In and around the hutongs, especially at the entrances, there are small neighborhood eateries and shop. Since it was time for lunch, I thought I brave it and eat in one of those eateries. I know, to many people the cleanliness of places like these are suspicious. But then, these sort of places and food is not something new to me. So I won’t even consider this a risk to tell the truth.

Sometimes the best places to eat is just places like these — where … the locals eat. It was a random choice really. I selected this restaurant simply because it is muslim and they have that grill outside which tells me they have lamb on skewers. A lot of people were telling me I MUST try it while in Beijing. They are delicious and they are cheap too.


Wohoo! Just look at their menu. OMG, I wanted to order everything. Yeah, I was standing there looking at the menu, one picture at a time. The young guy tried to ask me to take a seat but I don’t want a seat. I just want to see what they have close-up. 🙂

Everywhere I went, it is quite common to see restaurants having pictures of their dishes. It does not matter how big or how small the restaurants are. The restaurant industry must have a well developed service where they help restaurants with the pictures and the menu. Someone in Vancouver should setup something like this and corner the market or something.


This is a neighborhood restaurant alright. Although this restaurant was air conditioned, it did not do me good because people smoke in here.

They speak Chinese but I noticed that they speak to each other in a dialect. Since this is a muslim restaurant, I guess they must be Uyghurs from the far west of China. There was a map on the wall which I think tells people where they are from. I can’t recognize the location of the map since it is in Chinese.

This place is definitely not for everyone. It was quite unclean by western standards. The tables were oily and they even have left over tissues on many of the tables. For me, they double wiped the tables. I think they know I am not local.


Oh they have a lot of types of meat on skewers that it is so hard to select. There must be at least a dozen different types. I actually did not know what I ordered as I just randomly pointed to one which looked like lamb.

Oh man, this is so dirt cheap. Each one of these is just 1 RMB which is 15 cents each only.

And oh man too, this is soooo good. The meat is so tender and so full of spices and served hot. This is best eaten hot.

I only got two because I wanted to have more variety.


Then I got some kind of a flatbread. It was really really nice. I was wishing that you are here because it is so hard to describe how good it is.

It looked like a pizza, huh? But it is not. The reddish sauce is perhaps tomato based but it did not taste tomato-ey at all.


It was super crisp and thin. I took only two slices and had the rest to go. That was what I had for dinner that day. It tasted much better when it was hot. By dinner time, it was hard and chewy but at least it tasted just as good. I wonder if we can get these sort of flatbread here in Vancouver. I am sure it is not difficult to make. You just need to get the right ingredients.


I wanted soup and I wanted lamb. So with my mandarin, I asked for “tang” (soup) and “yang” (lamb). He understood me and brought me the dish above.



This was awesome and very nice. They have small pieces of lamb meat and parts. I can’t recognize what they are but I don’t intend to find out. It was just great. The soup was so full of flavour that I could not stop drinking it.

All these was just 22 RMB which is less than $4 Canadian. So cheap. And I did not get stomach upset that day too. Next time I’ll definitely want to bring you to places like this.


After the meal, I used the route described on the guidebook exploring the hutongs. Actually I dare not fish out my camera and just tried to blend in.

Ah … it was nothing special. At least to me anyway. I think this will appeal more to the westerners because of the novelty. I guess it might have been more interesting if I had dared to walk into the compound of one of those courtyard houses.

One thing you will find in most hutongs are that the house applies the same principle of entrance from the south side. So the hutong lanes almost always runs east-west with the entrance on the north side of the lane. Did I lose you there? Do you know what I mean? So you could easily get your bearings by just assuming this.


The lanes in the hutongs are narrow. The above is a traffic jam at one of the T intersections. Some places are even more narrower where the width is barely enough for 1 small car to pass.

This one is an odd situation. The blue car and the trishaw with the bricks were there first. The car from the opposite side came later. But the problem is that the car that came later is a bigger more expensive car. From the looks of it, the more expensive car seems to not want to yield and reverse to make way. Yeah, bigger car seems to think they have more right of way here. 🙂 I waited and tried to see what happens next but since nothing was happening I decided to just walk on. The guy on the trishaw with the bricks were looking at me kind of annoyed when he saw me trying to document the issue.


I ended up on a street called Dongsi Street which runs north-south parallel to Wangfujing. There were quite a lot of eateries there but I just had breakfast and lunch. I wasn’t hungry. As a matter of fact, I was quite full already. Wasn’t planning on eating as tempting as it was.


That was until I saw that sign above in front of a restaurant. From what it says on the plaque, it seems to suggest that it is an award winning restaurant. But then I did see a lot of such signs in many restaurants too.

Not this particular plaque, but throughout the city of Beijing, I also did see plaque outside of shops and restaurants that says that they are a “Time Honoured Brand” outlet. I think those are awarded for historically well known brands and the city bestows that recognition to them.

OK. I went in to just try their Steamed Dumplings and see what the big deal is.


Wong Lo Kat is a popular drink in Beijing. I see a lot of people ordering this in restaurants and they advertise this quite aggressively in subway stations. So to me this is like the Coca Cola of China. That kind of thing. Anyway, we have this drink quite common too in Vancouver.

BTW, this is a drink from southern China and Hong Kong but this herbal tea seems to be quite as popular too in this part of China too.


Now I know more about their shrink wrapped eating utensils. It seems like the cleaning of these are outsourced and many restaurants do not do their own cleaning.

I saw that they have stacks of big blue plastic buckets where they got the clean ones from. The dirty, used ones goes back into the same set of blue buckets. I guess that is how that works. There must be companies who will go around collecting the used utensils and plates, clean them and then deliver them shrink wrapped.

Hmmm … I wonder if such a business will work in Vancouver. This could be a good idea, don’t you think?


Apparently they have a number of different types of dumplings. I decided to go for their most expensive one with crab and pork. There are 7 pieces and it costs 38 RMB which is about $6 Canadian. Quite expensive for Beijing standards.

This is so beautiful. One look at it and you can see how super thin the skin/wrapper is.


You can even see from the pleatings how thin it is.

Here, take a closer look. It is so thin that I don’t even need to bite off the skin to get to the soup. Serious … all I need to do is suck at the skin and it will burst.


This is not very soupy even though it was pretty good. I thought this one was a bit too rich. Perhaps I should have just ordered the 1st item on the menu (the pork version) instead of ordering this more expensive one.

Anyway, my day ended early that day. By 3PM, I had enough. I wanted to head back to the hotel and get more rest … and to recuperate from all the walking the previous day. I slept a little when I got back to the hotel and then went for a walk (without the camera) to the McDonalds nearby. I just wanted to cool off and get a Sundae.

After that I went to the Silk Street Market which is like a bazaar. Did not stay long there though. That place was too busy for me.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Karl

    Love following you vicariously through the streets of Beijing, Ben…fascinating stuff! Having spent the better part of last week in Mexico City, I sympathize with you. It can be very tiring in a huge, over-populated metropolis. I went back to my hotel many times just to relax and refocus. Unfortunately, I got quite ill and resorted to familiar comfort foods (fried chicken and ice cream) to try and recuperate. As soon as I got back home I went to Green Bamboo two days straight. Happy to report I’m back to 100%!!

    1. Ben

      Hey Karl: Can’t wait to read about your Mexico City trip. My Mexican friends at work keeps on telling me that I should visit Mexico and I always tell them that my fear was security given all the drug cartel violence there. Did you feel safe when you were there? I hope to read about your thoughts on these sort of things when you eventually write about the Mexico trip. Mexico is such a historical city. Remember the days when they hosted the Olympics (in the 60s). Those were the heydays and now drugs has wrecked the country. I hope it gets better and they resolve the problem like the Columbians. It will only get worse before it gets better. I think the long term solution is to legalize drugs in the US and ban guns too! Gosh, why am I talking so much about things other than food? 🙂 Ben

  2. Elaine

    Wong Lo Kat is popular everywhere in China lmao

    1. Ben

      Hey Elaine: One other drink I like a lot is a herbal tea which is slightly sweet. It is in a green bottle. I don’t know what it is called but I almost always buy that. I like the fact it was not too laden with sugar. Oh BTW, I just checked and apparently Wong Lo Kat is a 200 year old company. Ben

  3. Pinoy Gourmet

    Ben regarding traffic in China Right of way is not who is first,But Pedestrian yields to Bike which yields to Car which yields to Truck or Bus which yields to Luxury Car or Goverment Vehicle

    1. Ben

      Hehehe … I like your explanation of right of way. Yeah, you could be right … trucks/bus yields to luxury cars and luxury cars in turn yields to government vehicle. Not sure how true that is but I guess I can relate to that. 🙂 Ben

  4. liz

    We had a similar pizza-like flatbread on our trip to Urumqi but it wasn’t sliced like yours. On a platter, the whole round of flatbread was used like a plate to hold a dish of stewed lamb. We should have eaten it with our fingers but tsk! tsk! Table manners! It was definitely difficult to get bread and meat together with chopsticks.

    1. Ben

      Hi Liz: That’s pretty cool visiting Urumqi. China is such a vast country to discover that Urumqi will probably be one of the last places I will go to. Out of curiosity, what were you doing there? Ben

      1. liz

        We had a chance to take a special Silk Road tour the year before the Beijing Olympics. The trip was fabulous but the Olympic Committee visiting managed to close down many of the usual tourists sites since I guess they were being taken to the usual spots. We saw the Olympic torch being carried down the main highway but there was no one on the street to watch it. Foodwise, the unusual things we had were camel’s foot (I think it was the pad because it was gelatinous; no bones), scorpions that decorated a vegetable dish and the Uighur bread dish.

        1. liz

          Just to clarify: the tourists sites that were closed were in Beijing; not Urumqi. Oh! and because we were a large group we had a whole roasted deer at another Uighur restaurant. The meat was overcooked unless you were lucky enough to get something from the inner roast area.

          1. Ben

            Hi Liz: The Silk Road Tour, did you do it on your own or did you join a tour? I would love to do a tour like that someday. Ben

          2. liz

            We actually joined a friend’s group and our input was to eat the local foods while other people wanted to visit specific places. There were several older people in the tour group and it was designed around what we wanted to do and see so there were many places we visited that normally would not be on a regular tour. The western end of the Great Wall is so different; you can see some of the original colours. The oldsters knew a lot more Chinese history and it was quite educational. You’ve got to put it on your bucket list.

          3. Ben

            Yeah, that is the kind of trip I would love to take. Sigh, I also wanted to take a coast-to-coast trip in Canada … and the US … drive from Alaska to Argentina. So much to see, so little time. BTW, do you have pictures to share with me? Like on Facebook or something? Ben

  5. Jean

    The delicate dumpling cover looks lovely-thin indeed! Sounds like the richness of dumplings could have filled you just for supper alon.

    Thanks for sharing the trip highlights so far! My partner has been invited to speak on cycling matters near Taipei. He’s going next week. Anyone know areas near the airport for stuff or which stop he should buzz off from the bullet train to see/eat stuff! Not much meat-eater, ok?

  6. xaxong

    I wonder if the Wong Lo Kat is different from the ones in Mainland and the ones we get here in Canada? Since they is one Wong Lo Kat company in China, and one in Hong Kong since they split in 1949.

    Also I found you on facebook commenting on Jason Li! I was so surprised to find you! lol.

    1. Ben

      Hi xaxong: Yeah, I feel for Jason. I actually drove him with my boys in my car before. He is not a bad boy but it is so unfortunate that his picture was the most recognizable. I think he has learned his lesson and I hope things get back to normal someday soon. Oh about the Wong Lo Kat, it tasted the same to me compared to the ones I had here. Ben

  7. Eric

    Oh god, the skewers and dumplings look fantastic! I’ll have to make sure to go back to China more often.

  8. Chris

    Did the Silk Route a few years ago and we always got the lamb skewers wherever! Yes, we also had the whole roasted lamb deal…head and all! Yes, the flat bread is totally delish and widely available. It is sad though that the Uighurs have been bullied by the China govt for eons….not a surprise, is it??

    1. Ben

      Hi Chris: I don’t know much about the Uyghur people except that they are a perfect example of a mix between Caucasian and Asian. In many respects there are nothing about them that identifies them as Chinese. Ben

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