One sad happening for many lovers of Beijing's traditional snacks, or xiaochi, is that Menkuang Hutong, located at Qianmen, a centre of snack stores, was demolished a while ago, and many xiaochi eateries have disappeared.
But that sadness seemed to be alleviated somewhat with the opening of Jiumen Xiaochi, Beijing Nine-Traditional Snack Restaurant, which gathers 11 of the most famous traditional brand-name snacks, favourites by Beijingers.
Some major snacks include Qian's glutinous rice cake, Wei's cheese juice, Li's flour tea, pouch-shaped baked wheaten cake, Yue Sheng Zhai's stewed marinated beef, Ma's water-boiled sheep head mutton, and Bai's jellied bean curd.
Some other Beijing xiaochi are popular among the Chinese, but might not be an expat's cup of tea. These include Feng's boiled beef stomach, and Chen's boiled pork's small intestines and lungs with baked cake.
The brand names have both the name of the product and the surname of the maker in it. While Beijing traditional xiaochi has a history of more than 600 years, the descendants of these brand names are already from the 3rd to 6th generation of the family who first made the snacks famous. Many of these people are in their 60s or 70s.
Also available at the restaurant are strings of candied hawthorn fruit, preserved fruit, and traditional paper-cut, clay and flour figurines made on the spot.
The restaurant is located in a big courtyard house in Xiaoyou Hutong, just along the north side of Houhai, and the courtyard at the entrance to the restaurant is surrounded by several private rooms. The other side of the courtyard leads to a lane to the left, and food stands to the right. The lane to the left opens to more private rooms, and a big hall.
The most striking part is the reproduction of the demolished Menkuang Hutong inside the restaurant, where Muslim snack foods stalls range one next to another, with their typical foods, and big wooden name plates hung under the eave, just like old times.
The restaurant's temporary menu, in Chinese only, offers ordinary home-style hot and cold dishes, but apparently traditional snacks are the catch. Fortunately people can stroll along the copied Menkuang Hutong and see for themselves what snacks they want to order.
It feels very comfortable to dine here, with black stone floors, grey brick walls, and traditional Chinese furniture, in the newly rebuilt courtyard ambience.
There is a rooftop bar that will open soon.
Average spending is 68 yuan (US$8.5) per person. Parking is a problem in the area which is frequented by tourists.
Location: 1 Xiaoyou Hutong, north side of Houhai, next to Former Residence of Soong Ching Ling, Xicheng District
Opening hours: 10:30 am-1:30 pm, 5 pm-9 pm.