Huguosi Jie is an ancient street named after the no-longer-existing Huguosi Temple in Xicheng District. During the Qing dynasty, the Huguosi Temple Fair was held on the eighth day of every month of the lunar calendar. Today, the fair no longer occurs, but the snacks served at said fair are still served in venues up and down the street, and if you're looking to spend an afternoon exploring -- maybe some food-based exploring -- it's worth a look.
Best way to start is taking the subway there, popping out at Ping’anli Station (Exit B) on Xinjiekou Dajie, and snack east along a couple blocks until it ends at Deshengmen Neidajie.
Avoid the Fear-Factor-esque tourist trap in Wangfujing -- stocked with over 80 varieties of temple fair food, you’ll find the best varieties of Beijing snacks, ancient and contemporary, at Huguosi Xiaochidian (护国寺小吃店).
Looking around the room, folks slurp a thick brown soup called miàn chá (面茶, 4rmb). It’s made from millet and crushed toasted sesame seeds, a lot like a hot bowl of liquified tahini and surprisingly pretty good, but find the condiment bar and a spiced salt called jiāoyán (椒盐). It's kind of like farina drenched with brown sesame slick -- maybe a little too much sesame slick.
Another popular dish appears to be maodu, so we ordered a plate to chew and chew and chew. It's served with a dip of sesame sauce sprinkled with scallions which do indeed bring great improvement to the seemingly texture-only appeal.
Xiǎo bǐng jiā ròu (小饼夹肉, 5rmb) is a sesame bun stuffed with lean beef and sometimes cilantro. Though moist and tender, the beef is mild in flavor while the snack lends most of its fragrance to the toasted sesame bun and cilantro (not always included).
The snacks here seems to catch the eye more than captivate taste buds. If you've ever attacked a box of cheap Valentine's Day candy and took a bite into each chocolate only to return the remainder to it s crimped paper cup, you'll probably experience the same with this platter.
It's important to remember, tastes evolve, palates change, and the fun here is taking a bite into a time capsule dumpling to get an idea of what made people go gaga 800 years ago, the way I would today for a county fair funnel cake.
Gravitating towards something to hopefully love, we order a plate of crisp-fried dough rings which locals enjoy dipping into a bowl of chalk-white douzhi (fermented soy drink). We passed on the douzhi (having already tasted the sour old-timer's favorite believed to help wash away greasiness) and instead dipped the fried rings into our miancha -- a slight improvement for both, but still nothing to warrant a grand recommendation: must eat or die.
Along the Huguosi, local vendors selling everyday needs and residents pepper the snack shops, in between.
And just to understand the specialization of the hawkers of yesteryear, illustrated signboards depicting the noodle vendor, the baozi vendor, and other vendors are hung about along the street.
We grazed a handful of snacks, of which there are more than enough to fill the appetite, but perhaps only a shadow of the snack glory once found here.
At Gao Lao Si Yangtang, a bowl of cloudy white mutton soup (羊肉汤, 33rmb) sprinkled with chopped scallion is fitting for a cold Beijing day as mutton is believed to heat up the body. But don't drink too much as it is also understood that eating too much mutton creates so much heat, it makes one hot-headed!
There are many baozi to be found along Huguosi, and since we weren't particularly satiated by any of the Qing-dynasty snacks ingested thus far, we stopped at Hangzhou Xiaolongbao for the tried-and-true and ordered up a basket of xiaolongbao (6rmb).
Pleased over the familiar, yet scrummy, bready dumplings of pork and green onion, we stopped ourselves before filling up as we'd been anticipating the next street-food prize.
This one attracts the attention of non-Beijingren palates because, honestly, where else can you find a donkey sandwich?
"What is it? Is it a red meat? A horse?"
"Wait, we can eat donkeys?"
It sounds a bit unnerving, but the next time you think about a coldcut-meat stuffed sub, consider a lu rou huoshao (驴肉火烧, 6rmb). Diced donkey meat is tossed with slightly-spicy green peppers then stuffed into a thin and crispy, freshly baked bun. While we find the best ones in Tuanjiehu district, you can get a fairly good one here at Hejian Lvrou Huoshao during the busy hours.
When at last we'd felt we'd done our fair share of fair-food gluttony, we waddled back towards the subway station and spotted one more thing to try -- Shanxi Daoxiaomian.
We couldn't resist the idea of one last slurp of thick knife-sliced noodles, mastered in China by the Shanxi peoples. A bowl of knife-sliced noodles with bite-sized beef chunks fell on the salty side and where the noodles were winning, the salt-brined meat had me fantasizing a waterpark flowing with Dr. Pepper -- there are better Shanxi noodles at Yellow River Noodles.
Huguosi is often busy, especially during the weekends. It's a relaxing alternative to Wangfujing's snack street, so you won't find yourself hounded by vendors of silk pajamas and you will be free of fear-factor challenge to eat a skewer of scorpions and silkworm larvae. The street swarms with tourists from around China on the weekends, but you'll find your snack made more freshly. It's certainly a spot to visit when exploring Beijing history, but your taste buds will remind you of how good food is today.
Huguosi Jie snack street is in Xicheng District. Get to Ping’anli Station (Exit B) on Xinjiekou Dajie, and head east.