Yum, what a smell! Just a few doors down from our regular hotel in Beijing’s Shatan Houjie in the heart of the hutongs near the Forbidden City, there is a Chinese style bakery. Business is always brisk. Sesame cakes, flat onion pancakes, and freshly made noodles are snatched from the serving tray as soon as they are done, whisked away by the impatient customers queuing outside.
Beijing has some great street food, but for me nothing can beat a Qiezi bing 茄子饼, or aubergine pancake. The pancakes are simple, round flour cakes stuffed with beautifully cooked aubergine. The flavour of the aubergine and its gravy seeps into the dough of the pancake, culminating in a texture that is slightly crisp on the outside and soft and mushy inside. Apart from aubergine, there are many other, tasty fillings, such as white cabbage (baicai白菜), leeks with egg (jiecai jidan芥菜鸡蛋), or pork (zhurou猪肉).
I usually have Qiezi bing for breakfast, nipping out of our little hotel to pick up about 6 of them, while Margie prepares the instant coffee in the room. The pancakes usually cost 5 mao each, though they may try and charge you a whole Yuan (an outrageous 12 cents…), if they think they can get away with it.
The best places to look out for these bakeries, and other street food-stalls, are the hutongs. Though sadly, due to so much recent demolition, there are fewer and fewer of these traditional eateries around. Fortunately, ‘our’ Shatan Houjie still has an excellent selection and is therefore a great place to get you started.