If you’ve never heard the term “street food” before and think it sounds a little sketchy, then you’re definitely not alone. I might question your judgement skills if you didn’t think so. But you truly haven’t experienced true Chinese food until you have dined on street sides at midnight. Unfortunately, I neglected to try street food for over two months. But that might have been for the better because as soon as I tried it, I was hooked!

The string of street food carts along the road
The string of street food carts along the road at 11:30

The best part is their operating hours. They tend to set up their bike-carts at about 8 or 9pm and leave at about 1am (or whenever they run out of food). For students staying up late to finish essays or projects, it’s definitely a life-saver. There are days when I don’t get hungry until 9 or 10 and most restaurants are closed by then. Also, if you return late from hanging out with friends and need a pump of energy before finishing work, the street food is there to provide! Last night we returned late from the amazing past time that is karaoke (KTV) and got street food before heading in. The trick, however, is to find out where they set up. They usually set up in clumps and we are lucky enough to have one right next to our dorms. It always lifts my mood when I turn the corner and see the string of lights from their carts~~~

Made-to-order street food malatong (soup)
Made-to-order street food malatong (soup)

The food itself tends to be very fresh, tasty and authentic and is cooked by very nice locals. They’re usually pretty busy, but they’ll briefly chat with you if you’d like. I’ve expanded my food vocabulary a bit from asking them questions and giving them direcetions on how I would like it cooked. There is a lot of variety, though it changes depending on the night. It’s oftentimes hard to choose between all of the options! Within my group of friends, our favorite is probably the grilled “sticks.” The cover photo shows what a barbecue stick stand looks like. You take a basket, put in any meat, seafood or vegetable that you want and he’ll cook it for you on the spot. Yes, the food is in the open air, but neither I nor my friends have every had a bad experience with street food; and you can always ask them to cook it a little longer. Our Alliance staff advised us to go to the popular stands and remember the ones you trust.

The "Chinese potato burrito" ayi (auntie)
The “Chinese potato burrito” ayi (auntie)

Other foods include potato cakes, chicken strips, Chinese potato burrito (?), fried dumplings, stinky tofu, fruit, desserts, Chinese hamburger (肉夹馍; looks like a Chinese gyro), hot dogs (without buns), fried rice, fried noodles, and soups. Nearly everything is made-to-order, meaning you personalize it and watch them make it. Almost all of the stands have sauces and spices to add on their foods, most commonly the spicy hot powder that you can find all over China. The prices are definitely do-able, averaging around $1.5-$2 for a good amount of food. It depends how hungry you are 🙂

Street food will definately missed when I return to the States! I have just over a week left to enjoy and take final mental snapshots of China. I can’t believe the time has flown by so quickly!

Chinese vocabulary: 路边摊    lùbiāntān    street food

“辣不辣” “不辣”    “Là bú là?” “Bú là.”     “(Do you want it) spicy?” “No.”

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