Beijing is packed with historic, touristy hutongs (narrow streets between traditional walled courtyard-type neighborhoods) that are open to the public pedestrian traffic. They are typcially bustling with a blend of tourists and locals.
A few days ago, I explored the historic hutong called Nan Luo Gu Xiang. The narrow street was crowded with motorbikes and pedestrians, who often missed collision by mere inches, and the air was filled with ringing of bike bells urging walkers to clear the way. The path was lined with a variety of shops appealing to both locals and toursits and offering a wide assortment of items for sale. You could pretty much find anything you wanted there. I strolled the street for a few hours, lingering in the food venues to get a sense of what people were eating, exploring inside a few of the courtyards, and buying my fair share of souvenirs. After an hour or so of walking, I stopped at famous cheese shop Wen Yu Cheese for a snack. A friend pointed it out to me and I immediately noticed a long line out the door despite the miserable misting rain outside. I was skeptical, but figured that a queue out the door and down the street was a good sign of something worth waiting for (apparently the line is much longer on sunny days).
Although I do love cheese, I was hesitant because, from what I can tell, the Chinese really don’t do cheese and I had no clue what to expect. Would it be hard or soft cheese? Would it be stinky? Would it actually be yogurt and not really cheese at all? A friend helped me order and we got two cheese cups to share- cereal and sweet red bean. Sounds strange, right? But it was delicious. It wasn’t your average cheese, but more like eating a cheese curd- kind of like a cross between cottage cheese and yogurt and it was very sweet. The cereal flavor was nutty with hints of maple and a slight crunch from the cereal crisps. The sweet red been was also very tasty- sweet and filling. Sweet red bean is commonly found in Chinese and Japanese desserts. As a result, these desserts aren’t nearly as sugary as American desserts- like cookies and cake- and are possibly even somewhat healthy (shocker!). I had eaten red bean desserts before (Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C.) but not like this. The plump, sugary beans were a nice contrast to the creamy, cool cheese. The texture reminded me of eating yogurt with berries, but the flavor was truly indescribable. There was definitely a mild bean taste, but the surprising sweetness really made it feel as though I was eating a decadent dessert. I’ve posted the yogurt pics below as well as some photos to give you the feel of the hutong.
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