It was a bright and early morning in Beijing. Well, not early enough for the flag-raising at the birth place of the People’s Republic of China but we still manage to catch the many mobile breakfast stalls around the area.
We wondered around to realise that these ubiquitous stalls simply sell prata-look-alike pancakes and decided to grab them. For just 5RMB per pancake, this sure made hearty breakfast for our empty stomaches. Tasted like piping hot prata with egg (just an aside: piping hot prata has become unusually rare in Singapore, to think that I actually need to go to Beijing for that, sigh) but they are served with some sweet sauce and lettuce. Great stuff! Be sure to catch one of these stalls at almost every exit of the subway stations while you are in Beijing.
I am so so glad that we didn’t think about skipping breakfast for Tiananmen Square 天安门 is huge and crowded. This is afterall the symbolic centre of the Chinese universe. A must-visit will be the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall 毛主席记念堂. Admission is free but be prepared to quene for hours to get in as Chinese from all over China flock in to pay their respect to the physical presence of Mao. I needed loads of energy from breakfast to get through the crowd, walked through the square before we reached the Forbidden City 紫禁城 aka 故宫博物院 (Admission: 60RMB from Apr to Oct, 40RMB for other months).
To say that the Forbidden City is huge is a serious understatement. To walk through the Forbidden City is just like walking through many Tiananmens. It was really crowded inside and the photo below just happened to capture a rare corner without any human being.
By the time we reached the Imperial Garden (the grand finale after endless of gates and halls we had to get through in the Forbidden City) and out. It was way beyond lunchtime. We hopped into Fu Yue Lou 福越楼 at Qian Men Dong Da Jie for a duck, Peking Duck. This unknown eatery is chosen instead of Quan Ju De for we did not like the over-rated chain.
At Fu Yue Lou, we got better attention, crispier skin and more tender duck than the well-known chain. For the duck bones, we chose the salt and pepper style of cooking (extra 8RMB). The fried duck bones tasted totally ahem KFC. Very yum and appetising. The entire duck just cost us 98RMB while the 2 big Peking Duck players – Quan Ju De charges 114RMB and Da Dong charges 99RMB for HALF a duck.
I could not miss out an order of the shui zhu yu 水煮鱼 right in Beijing. Look at the amount of chilli that came along. Beijing’s shui zhu yu is definitely not for the faint-heart. The sichuan dish was full of kick, the fish slices were ultra fresh and full of bones. Ouch! Careful! Next slice!
Portions were huge for lunch and so we went to another huge place to walk. The Temple of Heaven park 天坛公园 was the place of worship for the emperor (son of heaven). These days people go there to admire the grandeur of Ming Dynasty’s architecture . It is ANOTHER huge area and the main sights are the Round Alter, Imperial Vault of Heaven, Echo Wall and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. While admission to the park is 15RMB but you need to fork out another 20RMB for enter the 4 main sights
By the time we are done with the Temple of Heaven it was near evening. As a foodie who watches too much food tv for any good, I simply need to go Dong Hua Men nightmarket 东华门夜市 which happens to be round the corner of Beijing’s shopping mecca, Wang Fu Jing 王府井. Lest you are distracted (actually I was indeed distracted) by all the Cartier, IWC and Uniqlo in the shopping street and missed the street leading to Dong Hua Men nightmarket, you can try to find the literal 井of the 王府 (well of the house of Wang) which the street is named after.
Yup, as seen from the above photo, the well is all dried and covered up by now, simply turn into the street after the well is located and Dong Hua Men Nightmarket is right in front of your eyes. The fear-factor food street selling all sorts of scary food – scorpions, cicadas, starfish and silkworms (15RMB each).
I seriously do not know how many people eat the scary food but I was very purposeful. I was there for my fried-ice-cream and the moment I spotted it, I had it!
Freshly fried in recycled oil but who cares. The fried ice-cream (15RMB) was coated with a generous amount of icing sugar served on an equally delectable french toast. Totally chased the simmering heat of Beijing’s tail end summer away.
While fried ice-cream was a yummy treat, the fried fresh milk (15RMB) paled in comparison. Tasted just like some plain and gluely chinese cake in thick batter.
Another common street snack will be beef tripe (20RMB). The ridged tripe 爆肚 was extremely pungent so you will either love or hate it and I belong to the latter.
Well, I decided to get some Tianjin’s buns just because of its name (kuo bu li 狗不理 translates loosely to dog ignores). It was said that the original bun from Tianjin was Empress Dowager Cixi’s fave. Ok it’s just meat buns (15RMB for 5). If you are really interested there is a branch from the restaurant (suitably named 狗不理) the Empress used to patronise just off Jian Men Da Jie.
After exploring the food street, I was dead beat but still insisted on going to the gorgeous St Joseph’s church around the corner of Wang Fu Jin, went to Wang Fu Jin bookstore to get violin concertos scores for my brother (ultra cheap ok!) and explored the extremely similar but a lot more touristy Wang Fu Jing snack street before turning in for the night.