Just sort of paraphrasing the Lonely Planet on this one, but it's pretty common knowledge: Nanluoguxiang is a great little "go-to" destination for all these things.
But what of the food in Nanluoguxiang, this great little tourist destination? What of those quirky little food stalls that seem to specialize in all sorts of interesting and arcane little treats and delicacies? Any tasty or interesting little morsels we should seek out, you ask, furtively and with the eyes of a newborn babe-in-arms?
Well! Let's have a look shall we!
Yes! SmartBeijing went and sort of tried to eat everything you can eat in a Nanluoguxiang food stall.
HERE'S HOW THAT WHOLE THING WENT.
Setting the scene and rules of the game:
1) 'Twas a balmy summer's eve on Nanluo, with the heat of the afternoon cooling gently into a tepid but ball-sweatingly bustling night out on the street. We joined the throng at dinner time -- around 7ish -- with an empty stomach, wide eyes, and a full heart.
2) We're taste testing only the food stalls. We're concentrating solely on all the stuff that is delivered via carton, stick, cocktail fork, hand wrap, and cone. Disqualified was anything with inside seating. Disqualified were all those establishments from whence emanates gentle, weepy guitar music played out forlornly to an uncaring and unblinking void by abandoned office workers dressed like they're trying to make my Dad look like GG Allin.
3) We tried to stay away from chain food stalls. You know the fried chicken shack that's everywhere. And the juice stall that's everywhere. BU YAO. BU YAO. We're here purely for the local flavor available here on Nanluo. Great, heaving fistfuls of it.
4) We start our journey at the Zhangzhizhong Lu entrance to Nanluoguxiang -- the part were the whole pedestrian street just sort of BLAHS out onto the main avenue, there are never any taxis, and black Audis are ripping down Zhangzhizhong doing the Lord's good work taking out as many people as possible with righteous and justified mercy killing vehicular homicide. We're working our way down Nanluoguxiang from that point, staggering towards the salvation that is the Gulou Dong.
A queasy apparition greets us at the slobbering maw of NLGX. Like a serpent eating its tail, we shall begin with dessert. We shall begin with Bon Cake+...
...who, incidentally, are my cutting-edge dessert expe.
As far as I can tell, Bon Cake+ is where Euro models go for their eclairs and cakes? Aesthetics-wise, the place is sort of designed like a perfume sample desk in the lobby of a mall, and behind the pastry display case they've got a big flat-screen TV with models dumping their beautiful faces in product, really trying their best to move some units.
It's got a real America's Next Top Model weekly challenge vibe to it. Like this was some challenge from way back in Season 3, presumably when Bon Cake+ sponsored the thing, and they've been using it in their pastry kiosk every since.
Anyway, this is what you're buying.
They look pretty cute, I must say.
Ugh. Jesus. It's durian. It's goddamn durian fruit.
Feel bad for durian fruit. Durian fruit spent like 9 million years of evolution trying to make themselves taste like shit so no one would eat them and Chinese people are like 'NAH, not happening, bruh, c'mere durian, get in my mouth'.
Durian must be so bummed.
Right across from Bon Cake, we've got this guy right here.
Who specializes in cheap-cheap-cheap "meat rolls".
The food stalls are always changing on Nanluoguxiang. Every year, some new summer food snack becomes a fad and everyone scrambles to ride the wave of what's popular with the tourists for the season. Telling you right now, there is no chuanr on this list. There aren't chaunr stalls left on Nanluo. There are tons of these meat wrap places though. This is the flavor for the year two-oh-one-five. Meat wraps are so hot right now. As far as I can tell, this is the most popular one, right at the entrance to NLGX. This is the one that had the biggest line and was looking like it was doing the most business. The rest of the meat wrap places on the street are the Garfunkel meat wrap places to this main one right here.
They make them right there to order. Doesn't look too bad. Maybe they're keeping the big tub marked "SUPER EBOLA VIRUS" under the counter though, I don't know.
This is the hot dog one. What we've got here is a wrap-like wrap encasing ample greens in the form of lettuce and cucumber, and a small hot dog if you take 7 bites into the thing looking for it. Slathered in 1000 Islands Dressing to taste.
Base ingredients aren't too bad but when you get to the hotdog, that's when it really hits you like a drive-by. The hotdog is one of those purreed meat tubes encased in plastic that you find at off-brand convenience stores. Tastes like leftover army rations from some horrible war. Or like astronaut food from some failed space program. There must be warehouses full of these things somewhere.
You know I'm not one to be overly negative or hyperbolic with my food reviews but I really feel like this massive hotdog warehouse, if it indeed exists, should be bombed from orbit until it's a fine and beautiful sheet of black glass.
A little seafood? Why, yes, thank you, my friend, don't mind if I do!
We're getting into some shit now, boys, for real. Check this thing out. This place specializes in a big plastic shark's head that barks at people passing by...
...and food that looks like someone stole on board The Predator's spaceship, yanked all the alien trophies off the walls, and just deep fried it all, like whatever.
Inside is even scarier.
"YOU shall never find the Necronomicon! We shall FEAST upon your soul!"
And this is what's on the menu.
Lots of calamari, lots of onion rings, lots of fries, lots of... balls. We went with the restaurant's specialty, which is their calamari bucket. Or at least, I think it was their specialty. The kid running the place was giving me a real 'hahah, stupid white guy, just stick this in your damn face and fuck off down the road, I don't care'.
I can dig that. I can empathize. Fair play. I would totally be like that if I was in his situation.
You know what. Not bad! Not bad! Pretty decent deep fried calamari dressed in like a cocktail sauce on a bed of shredded greens. It was not total poison, and for that I'm real thankful. Thumbs up, shark's head place!
Across the way we heeded the sirens song to try out yet another tasty treat on this wonderful evening.
By siren's song, I mean 9000-year-old woman screaming shrill, inscrutable gibberish into a broken megaphone with the volume on max and the air horn setting left on full-blast to fill out the full potential sonic register.
Wait, didn't I see you play in a highway underpass recently? When's your tape coming out?
Turns out she was selling these things:
Delightful. Very nice. These are fruit based ice creams cut into the shapes of roses. Look at them!
Look at them!
No complaints about these things. It was really good. I got the strawberry one, and it was pretty delicious. The only thing, though, the sight of a half eaten one is quite depressing, and my thoughts slowly turned to preponderances on the ephemeral nature of life and the fleeting reality of existence. Kind of a frozen momento mori.
What is this life? What does it all mean?
If you stare too long into a half-eaten frozen strawberry rose on Nanluoguxiang, it looks right back at you, my friends.
DON'T WORRY BUD! JUST DRIVE YOUR FUCKING SUV DOWN THE ROAD INTO 7,000 PEOPLE EATING ROSE ICE CREAMS. OH YEAH DIDN'T NOTICE YOU THERE BUD JUST HONK YOUR HORN RIGHT AT THE BACK OF MY NECK. IT'S COOL. GO AHEAD AND DRIVE RIGHT UP MY ASS. IT'S COOL. TOTALLY COOL. YOU TOO. ALL GOOD BUD. HAVE AN AWESOME FUCKING EVENING.
Let's get some Churros.
As far as I can tell, the Great 2009 Nanluo Churro War resulted in just one chain of churro places left standing: JSG Churros. Yes, they are a chain, and can be found all over Beijing -- there's two of them on this street alone. You can recognize them by the old prospector guy mascot, the brown and yellow color scheme, and the look of baffled dejection and trace sadness on the faces of everyone who works there.
Want to know why?
What if I told you it was your job to sell just one simple item to people on Nanluoguxiang all day long -- just one item, over and over and over and over again to these damn people -- one item, from morning till night, for all eternity.
Now, imagine I said you had to do that...
...wearing a fedora.
Chills. Chills! That's like an ironic Hades torture, know what I mean.
Churros are alright tho. They're alright. Whatever. You need me to tell you what churros are like? They taste like churros, leave me alone. These are peach ones.
Door #1: Nazi swag! (Guess you all know what you're getting for Christmas, this year!)
Door #2: Commemorative license plates from Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor!
Door #3: Guy playing music off his cellphone, which he is holding in his mouth, and breakdancing to it!
(The second photo is blurry because I started dancing too. Sorry y'all, his beat was infectious.)
And we're back. Now, we're somewhere near the halfway point on NLGX and my stomach is somersaulting and churning like I've eaten an entire 6-year-old child's birthday party. Time for some crab balls.
Don't know who Tama and Yaki are but they seem real excited to be here, me, not so much. We're looking at 18rmb soft shell crab and cheese balls -- the "New" ones.
Think the dude running it was closing down for the night because he had his shirt off and was changing into his civies. Never a good sign. That means he's giving me the ones that are leftover from the day, and they've been festering in their own evilness for an hour or two.
I'm about to eat something that could not be sold on NLGX. Imagine.
Oh yeah, brimming with confidence.
Pretty miserable. Pretty damn miserable. Damn. Damn. It's bad. DAMN.
Staggering. It's like deep fried pencil erasers and sex juice. Deep fried pencil erasers and this awful seaweed seafood taste just dry-humping the bejeezus out of my taste buds.
Oh, it really hangs out, too. It really sticks around. Fuck these things with a leaf-blower. Next.
At last! A little local culture. This guy was set up right next to the churros place, selling hard sugar candy that he molds into animal shapes.
Well... not really animal shapes, plural. He's got just one animal shape: a chicken with a thyroid disorder. And maybe a little bit of fibrous dysplasia. That's his specialty. Tyroid disorder fibrous dysplasia chicken. With maybe a lil' touch of jaundice.
But that's alright. I can dig it.
So the process is he puts a glob of the heated wax candy stuff on a stuck, and then creates a little tube. You, the customer, blow into the tube, inflating the thing while he molds in into his trademark chicken-with-serious-bone-issues product. It's great fun. The whole process takes about 2 minutes.
And then he hands it to you...
...and then he tells you how much it costs.
I forgot to ask BEFORE he handed it to me. Rookie mistake, everybody. Rookie mistake. At this point we had a little crowd around us because, hey look at this strange fellow buying this children's thing.
He says 80rmb. And the crowd went "oooooooof", and backed off like I'd just ripped a massive fart. They're looking all around -- up, down, left, right -- just trying to avoid eye contact with me. Like, oh DAMN this white guy got burned hard.
What could I do. I paid him. Whatever. Don't judge me. I have no regrets.
Ahhhhh... well, if it isn't my own friend DURIAN FRUIT.
Look at this thing. How much more obvious can it be? DON'T EAT ME. This is what it's saying to all of us. DON'T EAT ME.
What does it have to do before we leave it alone? Spray acid into our eyes? This is the purest form of Mother Nature saying, hey, maybe don't fuck with this thing right here.
So this one stall. It's sort of near the Gulou Dong Dajie crossing, it serves just deep fried durian. Nothing else. Just some deep fried durian. It's pure evil. The kid who runs it is a total snake, just taunting people to try this thing. He knows he's winning. No one can deal with it. No one's up to the challenge. It's deep fried durian. I'd rather do seconds of everything on this list.
We put our money on the barrel. Let's do it. Let's do this.
It tasted like a Birkenstock deep fried in cum.
Like take your hippie science teacher's Birkenstock from Grade 10 and deep fry that in like WEAPON'S GRADE cum and you'll know what this tastes like.
We've gone too far. I admit it, we've gone too far. Let me try to reel this thing in right here. Let's reel it in.
At the start of Nanluoguxiang, that cobblestone street of dreams, there is a food stand -- yes, there is a food stand -- that serves...
Foot-long ice creams!
It's near the start of NLGX, coming from Gulou Dong Dajie. It's on the right. They do pig's trotters (?) and ice cream for gods.
All is forgiven, Nanluoguxiang! All is forgiven!