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Ghost Street, Food Paradise

By Han Bingbin | China Daily | Updated: 2012-08-20 11:09

Ghost Street, Food Paradise

Ghost Street's red lanterns seem to bring good luck to both the restaurants and the diners. Provided to China Daily

The heart of Beijing's culinary underground is a dim, red-lit alley that shimmers into life after dark and then fades at dawn. Han Bingbin explores the capital's famous Guijie.

Here, friends roll up their cuffs and dip their fingers into a spicy pot of red soup to fish out crayfish. They laugh and talk, enjoying the fellowship of good company and good food. Here, it was reported, basketball star Stephon Marbury got his first taste of bullfrog when he decided to bravely go local. This is Beijing's most famous round-the-clock venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but most especially for supper. It's also probably the most brightly lit place in Beijing after dark, even though it has a rather dark name - Guijie, or Ghost Street. In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Guijie was just a path along which people took their dead for burial out of the city walls. As traffic grew, enterprising vendors set up stalls, and later shops on both sides of the lane. Street hawkers came out at midnight and went home before dawn.

Doing business in the midst of all the coffin shops and morticians under the dim halo of kerosene lamps, the vendors looked like ghosts. That's supposedly how Guijie first got its name.

But soon, people discovered there was a bit of the supernatural lurking as well.

According to long-time residents, many businesses have come and gone since the days of the coffin shops, morticians and the thoroughfare to the cemeteries. And many have gone bankrupt, including a State-owned department store.

Two things became apparent: Only restaurants seem to do well along Ghost Street, and only if they open after dark and conduct business in the night. And so, the superstitious believe that the spirits that linger are "hungry ghosts" who like to gather to the aroma of delicious food.

In these brash new days however, ghostly legends easily fade, and the shades from Hades are shunted aside in favor of culinary trends and distractions.

Ghost Street is now known as a paradise for the catering business. Today, the 1.5-km long alley is crowded with more than 150 shops, more than 90 percent of which are restaurants.

Its proximity to the Worker's Stadium where thousands of football fans and concert-goers gather periodically is a good guarantee that the restaurant owners at Guijie never have to worry about empty seats.

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