Beijing, China: Guijie (簋街: “Ghost Street”)

Mapo Tofu from Guijie; Beijing's famous food street, immediately east of Beixinqiao metro station.

Because I’m not much of a guidebook traveler, it wasn’t until this visit, my fourth to Beijing, that I learned that where I typically stay is walking distance to Guijie, “Ghost Street,” Beijing’s most famous food street, immediately east of Beixinqiao metro station.

Guijie runs for three or four blocks. Unlike, say, the night markets in Taipei, all of the food on Guijie is inside, at traditional restaurants, as opposed to outdoor food vendors. I expected this, but I also expected a few street vendors too, but there were almost none, save a few selling fresh fruits, or meat on a stick. The streets were full of passersby, people eating hot pot, and the occasional friends or family playing Xiangqi (Chinese chess) or cards.

Last year, I had read, an investigative journalist reported that a number of restaurants on Guijie used illegally recycled oil, rebottled and resold when it should have been discovered, so knowing this it was a bit tougher to build up an appetite, especially knowing that as a foreigner you’re just that much more susceptible to scams and mistreatment when dealing with the nefarious. But, whatever, this is China, and sometimes you’ll eat and drink things that you really shouldn’t eat or drink, and it’ll give you new appreciation for why so many ex-pats insist on shelling out big bucks for imported-only, name-brand foods. For the record, I saw one vendor cooking meat on a stick with a hair dryer. There was also a flame lit, so perhaps the dryer was just supplemental heat?

I strolled the north side of the street, west to east, before backtracking on the south side, eventually choosing a well-lit establishment that made me feel at ease. I chose wisely. It was, like nearly everything I ate in China, too oily and greasy for my taste, but it was also probably the best meal I had in China. I ate Mapo Tofu, and it was only 16 RMB for a generously sized bowl, with an extra RMB tacked onto the bill for, I don’t know, service or something. I expected that I would eat only a portion of the serving, saving room for some gelatinous rice cakes with brown sugar, or perhaps some Chinese pancakes made with green onion, or even deep-fried pastries filled with ice cream, but I ended up eating the entire bowl of stir-fried tofu.

Guijie a.k.a. “Ghost Street,” Beijing’s famous stretch of restaurants.

Guijie a.k.a. “Ghost Street,” Beijing’s famous stretch of restaurants.

The remains of Mapo Tofu on Guijie; Beijing, China.