China 101: Street Food

In China, there are quite a few options if you like street food. Vendors will lineup anywhere and everywhere selling wares like fresh fruit, quail eggs, red bean cakes, roasted meat on skewers, seafood soup, corn on the cob, sticky pork buns, bamboo dumplings, and our local specialty in Jian’ou- Guǎng bīng (广兵)- little rounds of unleavened bread that taste a bit like Saltine crackers. Some street food is more intimidating like live eel or connective duck tissue for barbecuing, and seem a little barbaric to our Western sensibilities about hygiene. However, trying these delicacies is usually the best way to sample the authentic local flavor.

People are always asking me if street food is dangerous (maybe they’ve heard rumors about gutter oil), and my response is that the street food in China is no more dangerous than it is anywhere else- you really don’t know what you’re eating, but it’s probably going to be oily and flavorful. Some places do use gutter oil or recycle their oil, and sanitation standards aren’t always the best. But K and I have never gotten sick from street food, and we have both gotten food poisoning at fancy reputable restaurants. You just never can tell about these things. Try to choose a stand that looks clean and is popular with the locals, or one where you can watch the vendor make it and even choose some of the ingredients yourself. Most of the locals in big cities will say that street food is “just for tourists,” but some dishes are so good, even they can’t pass them up.

If you’re visiting China, I encourage you to try at least one thing that looks peculiar or peaks your interest, because chances are it will be well worth the risk.

That being said, seeing as we live here, we try to eat relatively healthfully and consistently. We are people that like to know what we’re putting into our bodies. Since street food is the exact opposite, we only treat ourselves every now and again. Also, we are vegetarians with limited speaking ability in Chinese, and it is hard to get a straight answer about whether some of these concoctions contain meat. We usually don’t take the chance. A favorite place for vendors to congregate is right outside the school where we teach, because students can opt to substitute a meal from the cafeteria with a snack from the street.

The street food in this video is one that we walk by everyday and it is K’s favorite. It is called a Jiàn bīng (剑兵)- known as a folded Chinese pancake- make from a thin sheet of wheat flour. He cannot resist having one of the little eggy burritos and filling it with red beans, scallions, baocui (薄脆 crispy fried crackers), cilantro, and topping if off with a myriad of flavorful sauces. The best part is, these beauties hail from Shandong Province and people have been eating them for over 2,000 years. Some of our students eat one every day. The vendor in Jian’ou is a sweet lady and she can whip up one of the spicy crepes in about 5 minutes. Take a look!

As usual, it’s also available on YouTube:

<3, K&V

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