At the heart of bustling Beijing lies the quiet remnants of a rich history. Hutongs, traditional alleyways first created in the Yuan dynasty, served as the prominent way of life in the old city for centuries. These alleyways, formed by the organization of the foursided siheyuans (courtyards), became the foundation of building relationships within the communities.

Although many of the hutongs have been teared down over centuries of modernization, the ones remaining are now designated as protected areas by the government. These areas, though few, continue to thrive with energetic diversity and nostalgic flavors. 

Exploring Nan Luo Gu Xian

Jinrun Han

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved visiting hutongs. I still remember clinging to my mom with my chubby little hands, begging her to buy me Old beijing street foods like a tanghulu (candied hawthrone stick) or a roubaozi (meat dumpling). Unfortunately, after immigrating to the US, the opportunity for eating these foods dramatically decreased. 

tea, beer
Jinrun Han

After a month of being back in Beijing, I decided to take a stroll in Nan Luo Gu Xiang, one of the most popular hutongs in Beijing filled with legendary street food. 

As I wandered around, I immediately gravitated towards an old woman intently crafting animal figures out of molten sugar. The children surrounded her, each mesmerized by the way her fingers artfully pinched and pressed at the sugar, bringing to life their zodiac animals. I stepped up to her and she warmly asked me what my zodiac was, to which I replied, "the tiger."

chocolate, cream, cake, sweet
Jinrun Han

As she began twisting and shaping the sugar, she told me to blow into a straw she made with the tail of the tiger so the sugar can expand like a balloon. Although I was the oldest "kid" there, it was a very endearing and fun experience that allowed me to participate in crafting my own tiger. 

Here is the final product:

vegetable, sweet
Jinrun Han

After indulging in my sweet and crunchy sugar tiger, I was craving something savory. Of course, nothing could go wrong with a classic roubaozi. I headed over to a booth with pans lined up with soft and fragrant freshly steamed baozi.

meringue, flour, cookie, sweet, dough, pastry, dumpling
Jinrun Han

The mildly sweet taste of the bao and its spongey texture greatly complemented the flavorful meat filling. Highly recommend. 

Of course, I was still very hungry and determined to try as much food as possible. The next thing on my radar were some crunchy seasoned fried shrimp. I have never actually had this style of fried shrimp before so it was a new experience for me. I must say, it had the perfect crunch to it. 

fish, sauce, seafood, meat, vegetable, rice
Jinrun Han

The shrimp came in a plate of eight. They are lightly fried until they're golden and then seasoned in a special secret seasoning that the vendor refused to tell me. Whatever it was, it did its magic.

At this point. I was starting to get pretty full, but I wanted to wrap things up with one of the most classic of Beijing street food, tonghulu, otherwise known as candied hawthorne stick. 

Jinrun Han

This treat basically consists of whole hawthornes on a skewer that are then coated with hard caramel. The sweetness of the caramel balances out the sourness of the hawthorne underneath, creating a nice balance of flavors. The crunchy coating also makes it extremely satisfying to bite. 

Needless to say, after all the food, I felt very happy and high on sugar. I bounced around the street and took pictures of some of the other great foods that I did not get a chance to try: 

Flower Popcicles 

goody, pastry, candy, rose, cream, sweet, chocolate, cake
Jinrun Han

Peking Roasted Duck 

beer, bacon, chicken
Jinrun Han

Grilled Squid 

sweet, pasta, candy, chocolate
Jinrun Han

If you are a traveler, an adventurous eater, or just happen to be in Beijing, make sure to check out Nan Luo Gu Xiang and all the amazing things it has to offer your taste buds.