CITY GUIDE >Culture and Events
Fit for royalty
By Cheng Anqi (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-24 13:28

Fit for royalty

The city's oldest commercial area, the 600-year-old Dashilan'er Street next to Qianmen, has emerged in a Phoenix-like manner from last year's massive renovation.

Recently, one stretch of the street - the western section - unveiled its new face to visitors.

The 323-m-long pedestrian street is humming with activity, with the attractions, such as hutong, typical Beijing snacks, handicrafts stores to the old Jinghua Guesthouse, making it an urban holiday destination.

Among them, No 33 marks the location of Beijing's famous Qingyunge (blue cloud pavilion), one of the four department stores of the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which is now a highlight of the entire western section.

The store owes its fame to He Weipu, a venerable calligrapher who inscribed the words that mean "one gets promoted step by step" on the storefront. Many famous political and literary figures once dined and shopped there.

The three-story brick and timber structure containing a teahouse, dozens of snack bars and a small theater.

The snack vendors keep pace with the changing seasons. In spring, they offer spiced peas - sweet and soft, salted beans in the pod - crisp and tender, as well as various stuffed rice dumplings and fried spring rolls.

Summer sees the appearance of such delicacies as tender cheese, cool gruel made of green rice and lotus leaf, bean jelly, and sweet-and-sour plum juice.

In autumn, the wonderful smell of roasted meat wafts through the area's lanes and streets. You can bite into succulent, fresh corn on the cob and tuck into soup made from the chopped innards of sheep and oxen, quick-boiled tripe (baodu) and haw jelly.

Winter is the season for roasted sweet potatoes. You can also choose hot treats, such as red bean and barley gruel, fried bean dishes and quick-boiled mutton, to warm yourself in the freezing winter.

China's literary giant Lu Xun was a big fan of this area. He used to frequent the teahouse with his friends, and repeatedly mentioned the spring rolls and boiled sheep head in his diary.

Quick-boiled tripe (baodu) is a perennial favorite. Every day, hundreds of people throng to this street for a bowl of baodu.

The Baodu Feng, named after its founder Feng Lishan in 1875, was once a supplier of oxen and sheep tripe to the imperial kitchens.

Today, the culinary art is in the hands of Feng Guangju, a third-generation descendant.

"I learned to cook baodu from my father at the age of 10," he says. "Our two most popular recipes are those for boiled goat's stomach and boiled tripe."

When the scarfskin and unwanted fat is removed, each cow provides less than 100 grams of tripe, which costs just 10 to 25 yuan, depending on the quality.

Served with 13 ingredients, including coriander, sesame paste, vinegar, fermented bean curd and other traditional Chinese herbs that are closely guarded secrets, the baodu is incredibly tasty.

"It tastes exactly as it did when I moved two years ago," says Zhang Liang, who had to move when the renovation began.

Zhang, who is in his 60s, returned to his old haunt when he learned that the new snack street had reopened.

From the open gallery of Yuhuchun Teahouse located on the third floor, patrons can enjoy traditional shadow plays, cross-talk shows and dazzling Peking Opera performed on a stage on the second floor, while sipping their tea and savoring snacks.

The refurbished street retains its original look with some of China's oldest brands, such as Tongrentang (TCM), Neiliansheng (shoes) and Ruifuxiang (silk and fabrics), still located there.

During the imperial period, the outer city evolved as the business center of Beijing, with numerous shops and markets standing in close proximity to cultivated land. Dashilan'er in particular, owing to its proximity to the inner city, became a thriving urban area for commercial and artistic activities.

Over the past decade, cinemas, video halls, karaoke bars and clubs have been vying with long-established traditional Chinese stores for space and attention.

In 2006, Dashilan'er was leveled into a modern commercial zone packed with classical architecture and buildings, and time-honored brands.