I’ve been to China a couple times for extended periods, and have recently settled myself down in DC (well, Silver Spring, MD) in an apartment by myself (miss you mom and dad!). Having lived in metropolises in both countries – DC and Philly in the US and Beijing and Shanghai in China – there is definitely one thing I notice above all that the US is lacking: street food.
Admittedly, DC does have many restaurants where you can go in the evening for a quick and relatively cheap bite to eat, and the diversity of these establishments seems unlikely to be matched (do I want falafel, a burrito, a burger and fries?), but the US can’t match China for the abundance and low cost of street food.
When in the big cities of Beijing and Shanghai – and even in “smaller” cities such as Qingdao and Guiyang – it feels like every street you turn down has a chuar stand (various meat and veggie kebabs grilled to order) ready to serve you cheap, deliciously seasoned food. When in China, my philosophy is to try as much as possible (and to tell my friends about it when I get back to the States) to see what’s good and what to avoid next time. I’ve sampled a variety of things that Westerners are not accustomed to – frog, turtle, chicken hearts, the stomachs and intestines of various animals, etc. – and have been able to expand my palate and experience things I never would have thought about eating when I was a kid.
The charm of these stands comes from men (typically) tending their grills, as well as the diverse clientele of the chuar stands. It seems like every kind of person visits these stands – Westerners, students, posh 20-somethings, the middle-aged and elderly, men and women; no one is immune to the allure of a good stick of lamb or potato. I have always had positive experiences getting street food, and I feel it’s an important thing to experience when venturing out into Chinese streets in the evening.
Again, I don’t want to get down on the DC food scene – there are many awesome restaurants around (and even a man that sells fruit on the street near my apartment). It might be nice, however, to see people on the sidewalks in the evening selling a cheap, delicious dinner or midnight snack, enriching DC’s nightlife with the delicious aroma of their peppery, smoky, irresistible offerings.
Pat Ouellette is a member of WildChina’s marketing and client services teams. Pat works in our U.S. office and can be contacted at email@example.com. Photo Source: Flickr.