Forget about delicate dumplings and Beijing roast duck – China is all about the street food. Just kidding – there's a lot more to Chinese cuisine than street food, but for some reason it calls to me like no other. When I first got to Penglai, Shandong almost a year ago, another teacher told me to wait at least three months before eating the street food. Did I wait? Yeah, for all of 30 seconds, before the siren call of deep-fried tofu on a stick and pork-back sandwiches with peanut sauce got too loud to ignore.
Though this list is to Chinese street food as our sun is to all the stars in the universe (if all the stars in the universe were deep-fried and covered in delicious chili sauce), here are some of my favourite snacks from the lunch market by my school.
Things on a stick:
One of the first stands to catch my eye, things on a stick are a staple of all Chinese street markets. Typically, they are displayed raw or semi-cooked and your selection is deep-fried, or sometimes barbequed in front of you. My favourite stand at the market serves mushrooms, tofu, chicken, sheep intestine, chicken hearts, fish rolls, sausages and other unidentifiables. Everything is brushed with a red chili sauce, before being served.
There are carts all over town year-round selling hot roast yams. Sometimes, the vendors will also sell bags of baked yam chips, which are amazing.
Jian bin guozi
These wraps are traditional to Shandong province. There are all kinds of variations, but the ones sold by our school are made with an egg cracked over a ceramic heating element, then sprinkled with green onions and covered with a crepe-like pancake. The pancake is brushed with chili sauce and filled with shredded potatoes, egg noodles, lettuce, youtiao (fried dough sticks) and pink slime sausages. I'm not too fond of them, but my boyfriend inhales them. I guess we all have our (pig's butthole sausage-based) sins.
Malatang – hot and spicy soup
This is, without a doubt, the best thing to have on a cold day. Like the things on a stick stand, you choose your ingredients – things like chicken, bacon, quail eggs, mushrooms, sausages, meat balls, fish rolls, tofu, dumplings, a whole squid, liver, congealed blood cubes, chicken hearts, leafy greens and noodles. They are then boiled in a pot of stock. When everything is nice and cooked, the soup is ladled in a plastic bag and garnished with peanut sauce and red chili sauce.
Meat dough balls
Sorry for the picture – I bought these things to photograph them, but I ate most of the bag before remembering to take the photo. These are kind of similar to the things on a stick, in that they are deep fried on a stick. They are then popped into a paper bag and dusted with a red spice. I can't tell exactly what they are, but they taste like some kind of unholy union of fish meat and dough. There are about eight different baskets on the stand, but I'm not entirely convinced they are different in any significant way. I guess they're kind of like meat donut holes. Either way, they are delicious. Good for you? Definitely not. Good to eat? Hell yeah.
Okay, so none of you is actually going to come to boring old Penglai for the small lunch market. But if you do visit some of China's bigger cities, don't miss these food markets:
Beijing: Wanfujing Road
This night market is located near Tiananmen Square at the end of the famous Wanfujing shopping street, and it's well worth a visit. Okay, it's a tourist trap, it's overpriced (but you can argue almost everything down to half price), and some of the more exotic food – scorpions, tarantulas, sea horses and snakes – aren't super authentic. You can still find some really amazing food here, or at least a good gross-out story for when you're back home.
Xi'an: Muslim Street
Xi'an's Muslim Street is famous for its dates and crafts. Located within the old city walls, it's a really great place to visit for lunch, or a walk. In keeping with the things on a stick motif, here is a photo of a delicious bean curd cake I had with my mom when I visited last year.
Qingdao: Jiangning Road Food Street
This is an authentic Chinese food street through and through. You can get all kinds of amazing food here, especially sea food, as Qingdao is located on the Bohai Sea. It is absolutely packed day and night, but is well worth braving the crowds.
What are your favourite street foods, Chinese or otherwise?