By Jim Ferri
If you don’t like exotic or unusual foods — I mean really exotic and unusual — I’ll apologize right now.
Just about everyone who knows me will tell you I’m not a fan of exotic foods either. Accordingly, meat and potatoes are my staples.
About as exotic as I get is anything eaten with chopsticks, and I can’t even master them. Put a set in my hands and food becomes airborne. And there’s nothing like shrimp flying like shrapnel across some fancy restaurant to enhance everyone’s dining experience.
The other day, however, the guide on our tour bus in Beijing pointed to a long line of empty food stalls right beyond Cartier, Gucci, and Sony It was the spot for the nightly food market, she said. Of course, I knew I had to see it for myself.
Pushing the Food Envelope
Open from around 6:00 pm every night, I quickly discovered this is a place where they really push the food envelope. It’s not at all like shopping at your local supermarket or sitting down at a restaurant. In fact, there are no seats at all — it’s all stands, with food grilled or deep-fried for those who like to walk and munch.
Consequently, crowds jostle to get to their favorite pièce de Resistance, as lights and music blare, and vendors yell at passersby. In fact, it is carnival-like atmosphere. And, as you may expect, everything is served on bamboo skewers, with so many flailing about that you risk being impaled.
Of course, there are plenty of tame eats as well — corn and fruits stacked on skewers, vegetables, grilled giant prawns, squid, mug-bean cake, chicken and pork and a hundred other things.
More Exotic Menu Items
I quickly found out, however, there are also more exotic menu choices: starfish (15Y or about $2.50), fried silk worms (5Y for about a half-dozen jammed on a skewer), sea snake, grilled sheep penis (50Y) and fried scorpions, ranging from 15Y for the smallest to 50Y for the giant six-inch ones, among other things. No doubt, these are the menu items that attracts the crowd.
I can’t remember if it was that sheep appendage or the monster scorpions that finally pushed me over the edge and annihilated my appetite. Consequently, I quit the crowd and headed around the corner for something Beijingers consider exotic: a Big Mac (22.50Y).
NOTE: Blogger Stephen Henson of Journeys with Stephen has told us that the government closed the night food market this past June, likely in an attempt to rid itself of any “countryside” atmosphere. That’s so unfortunate, but not completely surprising. Thanks for the update Stephen.