Is what the Missus told me on the flight to Beijing. The Missus repeated this as I arose from a post Lu Rou Huo Shao and Suan Nai induced coma. Evening had come around, and though I'd probably not eat dinner, the Missus set out to provide evidence. And it didn't take very long to prove Herself correct. On one of the side streets stood the University's "restaurant row" of sorts. Though many of the little carts and folks grilling meat on open braziers had been "cleaned up", there was still a good bit of activity.
It was a mecca of little restaurants for students, single guys, and other workers. Here are a few photos of some of the places.
It seemed like mostly hot pot and Sichuan style shops, though I loved the effort one of places put in with the "Engrish" sign. Laobester Soup anyone?
A few blocks away a Jian Bing stand was doing steady business.
The Missus did get Her "corn fix" at the stand next door though......
The Missus said the corn tasted strange.... as in "like dirt" strange, so I made Her discard it. It was a nice little stroll, and helped us make a few plans for.....
....the next morning. The side wasn't quite as crowded at 6am, though the sun was up and brightly shining.
The Missus was sure that this was the right choice..... She raised Her nose in the sir, much like our mutt Sammy, sniffing, and said, "this is old school youtiao."
The place was run by two sisters and their brother from Anhui. Though they all looked barely out of their teens, they worked with calm efficiency. The young lady handled the demanding crowd, eager to grab their food and go, with a very gentle, "please don't worry, no need to rush, we'll get you your food soon." While the young man made the fried crullers up fresh.....
Then removed to the basket next to the wok. The young man looked a bit alarmed when he first saw me taking a photo..... possibly thinking I was the "food police" perhaps? He gently spoke to me in Mandarin, when I answered, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Mandarin" in English, he smiled, and moved his index finger as if snapping photos on an invisible camera, and went back to work. I guess it all made sense to him now......
While the Missus was placing our order and paying, I found us a couple of seats in the crowded dining area. The Missus also ordered some porridge and youtiao for Her Mom back at the hotel. This porridge had been prepared a bit ahead, and was given to us in sealed cup.... I guess they've got their bases covered.
The Baozi filling was quite tasty, the tops nicely steamed, but the bottoms a bit soggy. I was quite full after four, and couldn't quite believe how folks, like the two young men on the next table could chow down two dozen of these.
Over the years, the Missus had told me that the youtiao in the states could never measure up to what She grew up eating in China. She fondly recalls walking down to the youtiao stand every morning, with an old pail that was to be filled with youtiao to be eaten with the families morning porridge. She has tried to articulate what made the youtiao in China so perfect, but I could never understand.... until this morning. This youtiao, looking very humble, was amazingly light, and airy, not overly doughy like what we've usually had in SoCal. The exterior has a gentle "crackle" of sorts, but is not too crusty. It is not oily in the least, and has a mildly yeasty flavor, though I'm sure the oil it is cooked in may not be the cleanest in the world. It is also the perfect vehicle for dipping into porridge.
It was the best of several youtiao we had on our trip. For me, be it so humble, it was a revelation. For the Missus, it was comforting..... so much had changed in Beijing over the years, but this had not.