Beijing is the capital of China and is a sprawling city, including a mixture of modern and ancient architecture. Fascinating destinations include the Forbidden City complex and the huge Tiananmen Square—with the mausoleum to Mao Zedong and the Imperial Palace from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Other interesting sites to visit include Summer Palace (a royal retreat on a lakeside) and Temple of Heaven (a historic temple complex). The city is placed on the northern tip of the North China Plain, which is within easy traveling distance of the famous Wall of China, an iconic sight indeed. While exploring this massive city, make sure to take a break to enjoy the top street food you must try in Beijing, China. Scroll below to whet your appetite!
1. Youtiao (Deep-fried breakfast treat)
Anyone who has visited Spain might find youtiao somewhat familiar, and indeed, it is known as the Chinese “churro”—a doughnut cooked in oil on a stick. However, don’t think you can get some hot chocolate to go along with it as you can in Spain! Here in Beijing, it is more likely to be served with warmed-up soy milk. The long deep-fried golden-brown dough or cruller is eaten all over China and is seen in other Asian cuisines. It is a popular breakfast dish made from milk, eggs, butter, and flour. To easily find this delicious treat, head to Taoyuan Village.
2. Nailao or suan nai (Chinese yogurt)
Nailao is yogurt or milk custard in China, a dish that was introduced to the country in the 1700s. Nailao was originally made from goat’s milk and rice wine and used to be a rare treat for the locals, only served on special occasions. In other areas of China, it can still be difficult to find, but in Beijing, you are likely to come across a yogurt equivalent, with a sweeter and milder flavor than Western yogurt. Head to Wenyu Nai Lao to enjoy this yogurt treat, which includes the original yogurt with its red bean topping.
3. Jianbing (Fried pancake or crepe)
As you may have noted, many street food items in China can be compared to their Western equivalent, and jianbing is no exception. This popular Beijing street food can be compared to crepes, which are generally eaten for breakfast and with a savory filling. The main ingredients are wheat and grain flour, beaten up with eggs and various sauces. The name “jianbing” literally translates to “fried pancake.” Most street corner stalls serve this treat, either as a breakfast dish or at other times of the day, but the best place to enjoy them is at Dahua Jianbing in Beijing.
4. Chuan’r (Roasted meat skewers)
Chuan’r originated in the Xinjiang region of northeastern China, but the tasty treat has since spread to the major cities, including Beijing, where it is a popular street-food item. The dish consists of small pieces of meat (chicken, beef, lamb, etc.), seasoned with chili peppers and cumin, then lined up on metal skewers and roasted over a grill. Chuan’r is particularly popular during the night after locals have experienced too much partying at a karaoke bar or nightclub. Most Westerners can definitely relate to that! Hot greasy food settles the stomach before bedtime!
5. Tanghulu (Candied hawthorn berries, sweet and sour treat)
Tanghulu originated as a northern Chinese snack consisting of mountain hawthorn berries, covered in a sweet sugar glaze. Hawthorn berries tend to be sour in taste, and the sugar glazing makes for a unique sweet and sour flavor. In modern Beijing, other candied fruits are often also available and sold on skewers by street vendors, including strawberries and more. One of the best places in the city to find this treat is Wangfujing Snack Street, where many of the snacks from days gone by are readily available.
6. Entomophagy (Deep-fried insects)
This next street-food option is not for everyone and is likely only purchased by the more daring of visitors to the country. Deep-fried insects are popular all over China, where the people are enthusiastic about tucking into a variety of bugs, including crickets, stinkbugs, silkworms, giant water beetles, scorpions and even cockroaches (that’s one way to keep the roach problem down!), all served deep-fried, crunchy, and often on skewers. The whole idea originated as a cheap form of nourishment, but the tradition soon caught on. The best way to find this unique street-food item is to head to the night market on Wangfujing Street in Dongcheng District of Beijing.
7. Baozi ("Little bags" or steamed buns)
Baozi, or bao, is a filled bun or dumpling, similar to bread as it contains yeast but made of bleached, low-gluten flour and filled with a variety of meat or vegetable ingredients and steamed in bamboo baskets. The name translates to “little bags,” and baozi is popular as street food and found widely in Beijing. While these buns can be eaten as a snack or with a meal, they are commonly consumed as a breakfast food. They must be cooked or eaten with care—with filing, they often cave in or become wrinkled when exposed to steam. Baozi is perfect as a breakfast, lunch, or dinner snack, as it can be stuffed with savory ingredients like vegetables and mince, but can also play the role of a dessert when filled with sweet jam or honey.
8. Roujiamo (Chinese hamburger)
Roujiamo, or rou jia mo, is China’s answer to the burger and is mostly made with pork belly—but occasionally also beef or lamb. This popular street food originated in Shaanxi Province but is now enjoyed widely all over China. The pork is stewed for several hours with a number of spices and seasonings and served on a bread bun, much like the Western hamburger. To enjoy the best of this comfort food and tasty treat, head to Hong Ji Chao Shan Sha Guo Zhou in Beijing.
9. Tea egg
Tea egg is a popular Chinese savory snack, served in restaurants and sold by street vendors. The way it is made is by boiling an egg, cracking it slightly, and then boiling it again in tea with a variety of spices. This is also often called marble egg, as the cracks in the shell form darkened lines with patterns resembling marble. The idea was originally to make food last longer, but the unique flavor of the tea eggs caught on.
10. Yang rou chuan (Lamb kebabs)
Yang Rou Chuan consists of small pieces of lamb—placed on skewers and roasted over charcoal or electric heat. Once the meat is cooked, bread is split open, stuffed with the tender meat, and then eaten like a sandwich. The dish is served all over China but is a particular favorite in Beijing. These delicious treats are found all over the city, but probably the best place to enjoy them is in the area where the trendy Hutong Nanluoguxiang meets Gulou Dong Dajie.
11. Jiaozi (Fried or boiled dumpling)
Jiaozi is one of many Chinese versions of the dumpling, which is typically made from thinly rolled pieces of dough, wrapped around a filling of ground meat or vegetables. The pieces can be round or crescent-shaped and are either pan-fried (jiān jiǎo), boiled (shuǐ jiǎo), or steamed (zhēng jiǎo) until golden brown. Traditionally, these dumplings are served with a dip made from sesame oil and black vinegar—or with soup. You will normally be offered a choice between meat and vegetable fillings.
12. Chòudòufu (Stinky tofu)
If you think blue cheese stinks, China has gone one better in the search for smelly food. Stinky tofu is fermented tofu with a strong odor. The dish is popular at night markets and roadside stands but can be purchased at lunch bars as a side dish. The traditional way to produce stinky tofu is to make a brine using fermented milk, meat, vegetables, and herbs, which usually takes several months. Fresh tofu is then marinated in the brine for a couple of days. It can then be eaten cold, deep-fried, or stewed and is normally accompanied by soy or chili sauce. Despite the smell, the taste is wonderful.
13. Baodu (Halal tripe dish)
Baodu is part of the cuisine of Beijing but is a halal tripe dish, traditionally prepared by the Hui Muslim people. Baodu is widely served as a restaurant dish as well as offered as a popular street-food option. The dish is made with fresh lamb or beef tripe that is cut in slices and blanched in boiling water. It is seasoned with sesame paste and salted chives as well as soy sauce, fermented bean curd, coriander, or chopped green onion.
Enjoy the taste of the streets of Beijing, China
Have fun exploring this sprawling, colorful, and fascinating city, visiting all the various famous sites, museums, temples, and more. However, remember to take time out to explore the other side of the city—by trying out some of the top street food you must check out in Beijing, China. While many of the dishes are full of calories, you can always walk those off in your quest for the next delicious treat!
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