Ordering off a foreign menu with a spirit of adventure and glee, eagerly awaiting the surprise dish that is to arrive at your table, there are few things less appetizing than discovering what you pointed at was starfish soup or puppy skewers. Luckily, in Beijing, the oddities are delicacies paraded about in plain sight! At the Dong Hua Men Night Market you can see all that is on offer in a raw and sometimes still-squirming format.
The most popular item at the market is chuan’r (pronounced “chew’ahr”) which is any type of meat or vegetable on a stick, grilled over a coal fire or on a large skillet. Chuan’r is popular in Beijing and you’ll find lamb kebabs the most notably delicious variety in the city. A food that most likely migrated to mainland China from Xinjiang and Central Asia, meat kebabs are a staple of any Beijing diet and something no tourist should go without trying! The food is safe — you can watch them cook the raw, identifiably lamb meat over open flame until you are satisfied.
Less popular, and somewhat still amusing to locals who don’t normally dine on these items themselves, are the scorpion, silk worms, beetles, and sundry other creepy crawlies, including the massive tarantulas on skewers that cause women to shriek as they pass by. Personally, I find that this is the best possible place for those creepy beasts! Still, this isn’t what the Chinese usually eat, so it remains a fun night out for them to dare their friends to eat stranger and stranger items.
Popular items are squid and octopus, which taste decent when skewered and rubbed in oil before being fried. This is well worth a try, especially if you are a seafood fan.
You’ll find noodles and rice dishes here, as well as the ever-popular jiao zi (pronounced “jhao-tzah”): wontons that are either fried or steamed and usually filled with chicken, pork, or vegetables. These are especially good at the night market, where they are steamed for hours slowly over barrel-water until soft.
A delicacy and one of the more popular dishes in Beijing, you’ll find the stomach lining of various animals mixed with vegetables and dipped in spices. This is apparently delicious, though I can’t bring myself to try it. I assume it tastes like eating something’s stomach lining, and since I can’t get this image out of my head I probably will never sign up for Fear Factor Reality TV.
You may have heard that the Chinese eat dog. While this is true in the sense that some do when no other meat is available, it isn’t likely you’ll find puppy on the menu in your average restaurant. Dogs are expensive to raise and care for when the meat return is so minimal, so it isn’t a logical meat to raise on limited land. Donkey, however, is quite popular and several restaurants specialize in donkey meat dishes. I’ve tried both (on accident, I swear!) and find them both stringy and a bit tough. Horse (also an accident!) is similarly tough. I’ll stick to chicken, please, Sir!