*** Warning, this is another super long post.
After a satisfying breakfast, we headed for the bus stop in front of our hotel, and headed for our next destination. We both loved the buses in Beijing, the routes are extensive, the prices in Beijing are usually 1 yuan (about 15 cents), the drivers and attendants/conductors serious, but usually helpful.... if not, someone on the bus will usually have some opinion of the best way to get where you need to go. The sometimes huge writhing mass of humanity surging onto the buses can be intimidating, and the crowds during rush hours can make you empathize with sardines, but off peak periods are pretty relaxed. At those times you'll see mostly students, older folks, including tons of grandmothers with their grandchildren. With both parents working, it seems that the role of raising grandchildren is left to their grandmothers. Being fairly early in the morning, we were caught in the morning rush, on bus 22....which took us to Qianmen (aka Zhengyangmen).
The Missus knew where we were supposed to go, but the question was how to get there? Access to the streets are blocked, so you need to find the right underground passage to cross the street. Of course, we ended up on the wrong side of the street a few times, but we finally ended up where we should have.
Tiananmen Square is huge, and on this day, right before the busy May first holiday, crowds were already pretty large. Hoards of people sometimes wearing the same colored caps, or jackets, being led by a "guide" carrying the same colored flag, or some other identifying object.....large flowered staffs seemed popular, lining up like little armies ready to take on the Forbidden City.
After a pretty long walk, and a security check we arrived at the Forbidden City. It's kind of amazing, what angles can do. I think you recognize this photo from an earlier post.
At the entrance to the Forbidden City. First of course, we needed tickets. While the Missus was making Her way forward in a typical "line", which makes you think that lines are really just conceptual, abstract ideas in China.....
One of the most impressive items is the large, single stone carving, behind the the Hall of Preserving Harmony.
And still...... the area of the Forbidden City that we found most interesting were the palaces North of the Hall of Mental Cultivation. Located up alleyways.....
Surrounding peaceful courtyards; this was living area of the Empress and Concubines. Many of the buildings feature displays that try to convey what life was like behind the walls of the Forbidden City.
Lest you think that all Concubines were created equal, the Missus and I spent a good long time in front of this chart which details "allowances" for Concubines of different ranks. I found this quite entertaining. As with all photos, you can click to enlarge....
For example, on the third line down..... top ranked Concubines got 12 pork, while the lowers ranking Concubines got 9 1/2, 9, and 6. The next line is lamb, top ranking Concubines got one plate per day, while the Concubines of the next ranking got 15 plates per month, and so forth. The list covers everything from vegetables to chicken. The last line is coal.....
But I knew it was time to leave when I saw this large, loud crowd in front of the, ahem, Hall of Earthly Tranquility.
And then the strangest thing happened. As we approached the huge doors of the Forbidden City, Soldiers moved in. The crowds trying to surge through the doors were being pushed out, a stray arm or two getting around the before they were slammed shut. The absurd thought went through my head, "oh-oh, Barbarians at the gate!" Folks were herded to the front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, and a rope barrier was put up, and used to move people away....
A few minutes later a party of people, I'm assuming VIPs arrived through the front gates of the Forbidden City. They walked into the Hall of Supreme Harmony, and the rope boundaries moved along with them. Hmmm, I'd now been forbiddened within the Forbidden City.... it was a good as time as any to leave.
As we got on our bus, the Missus had another destination in mind. On our way to the Great Wall, the gentleman driving us had a discussion about what else? Food with the Missus. Born and raised in Beijing, he'd be as good a source as anyone. We were after some traditional Beijing Snacks, and were told that you'd have to know, and go to the Hutongs to experience real Beijing food. What's out on the main streets are the big restaurants, the KFCs, various regional restaurants, and such. But there was one place we could check out. Huguosi Street.
Back in the Qing Dynasty, Huguo Temple (Huguosi) was famous for its temple fair, held on the eighth day of each lunar month. The fair is no longer, but Huguosi Snack Shop carries on the snack tradition. Though there are many locations of Huguosi Snack Bar, this is the original location, founded in 1956.
While the Missus looked over the menu of snacks, some of them having a lineage of over 600 years, with names like "Donkey Rolling in the dirt", I found us two seats on a shared table.
Here's what the Missus got. Some of which She hadn't even heard of before:
Looks like fried tofu, doesn't it? These were cubes made from mountain yam, with mung bean in them. Firm, and slightly chewy, these had some heft to them. The flavor was mildly sweet. Overall, not bad.
I'm not sure why the Missus ordered the "every thing that''s leftover" soup. Basically, offal soup.
This one is called "Chao Ge Da" (炒疙瘩), literally "stir fried flour knots".
The peanuts and pickled greens were very mild. The knots of flour were very doughy, and pretty tasteless. Supposedly, during the early days of the PRC, a woman and her daughter ran a snack shop. A customer requested a special snack, and thus this was created.
Not my favorite dish in the world.
And finally, something I enjoyed, but the Missus didn't. This is called "Miancha", but there's no noodles (Mian), and I can't for the life of me figure out how tea (Cha) comes into the equation. I'm sure there must be some really great story.... but I haven't been able to track one down.
It's basically millet porridge mixed with sesame paste and some salt. It's quite heavy, but I enjoyed the savory nuttiness of the sesame paste. The Missus, not real big fan of sesame paste didn't care for it.
The Missus also picked up some snacks to share with Her Mom later on.
That's the "Donkey Rolling in Dirt" on the left side..... Wan Dou Huang, "Pea Flour Cake" on the right.
I left stuffed, mostly because of the Miancha, but the Missus wasn't satisfied yet. She noticed this tiny, busy Jiaozi shop on the street.
A bit too much celery, but a good combination.... you could still make out some mutton-ny flavor. The wrappers were decent, but nothing to write home about. What I liked the least was the really bad vinegar..... way too sour. Tell you what though... there was no doubt these were hand made.
And while this Lu Rou Hua Shao (Donkey Meat in Sesame Bread) shop looked tempting.
It was time to go......
The Missus however decided to stop at the snack shop across from our hotel.... to stock up on Suan Nai (yogurt), and while there She grabbed one of these.
At first I was hesitant, I'm not a big fan of wowotou, nor had I enjoyed the Corn Meal Bao I had at a Shenyang Restaurant in the SGV a few years back. This was pretty good, the corn meal bun was much more moist than I thought it would be, and the filling of preserved radish was delish.....
Man was that some eating for the day...... however, in a few hours we had a banquet to attend!!!!
Thanks for reading (yet another) super long post!