Beijing’s hutongs are the beating heart of the city, teeming with old stories and everyday modern Beijingers going about their lives. Here are some of our favorite unexpected finds inside the hutongs.
Back before Beijing reached its megacity status, there was only one main roadway that ran along the outside of the city – today we call it the second ring road. Inside and around this roadway are neighborhoods of tightly-packed traditional coutryard homes connected by narrow alleyways called hutongs.
The hutongs are the beating heart of Beijing and if you take some time to wander through, you will see some things you didn’t expect. You’ll find people getting haircuts on street corners, old men playing cards, and the local butcher opening for business as a mother and daughter walk past on a morning walk. Spend a day walking down the gray-tiled paths and experience Beijing, old and new, all at once.
Here are some of our favorite unexpected discoveries you might find woven into these narrow alleyways:
1. Hutong breakfast eats
What better reason to wake up early than for a good and hearty lao beijing (old Beijing) breakfast? Walk along the alleys and find an array of street food such as baozi (steamed meat or veggie buns), jianbing (fried savory pancakes) and traditional lao beijing delicacies such as, tang er duo (donut-like pastries) and warm soy milk. This miancha (literally meaning “flour tea”) stall tucked away at Daxing Hutong is a favorite with residents and foodies alike. Customers are always seen standing or squatting with bowls of steaming miancha because there simply aren’t enough seats.
2. Famous courtyard HOMES
Many siheyuan (courtyards) in the hutong neighborhoods were home to some of the most illustrious and celebrated personalities in Chinese history. These include the writer and thinker Lu Xun, the revolutionary and the second wife of Sun Yat-sen, Soong Chingling, and the famous Peking opera artist, Mei Lanfang. Learn about the lives of these historical figures and get a sense of living in an era past as you step into these beautifully preserved houses.
3. BOUTIQUE Design SHOPS
Hidden down some of these hutongs are any variety of shops and cafes. One of the more promising ones is the Dashilar neighborhood which architects and designers have refreshed with cafes, art galleries, and designer jewelry stores. Dashilar is also host to the yearly Beijing Design Week, where exhibitions and installations by local and overseas artists are held and displayed.
4. Beijing brews
Beijing has a fantastic craft beer scene. One of its pioneers, Great Leap Brewing, makes ales infused with locally-grown ingredients such as Yunnan tea and Sichuan Peppercorn. Alternatively, do it like the locals and go for the chuanr (Chinese BBQ kebabs) and Tsingtao (a popular Chinese beer) combo in many of the humble eateries tucked away in the streets.
5. Favorite restaurants
Beijing’s hutongs are an absolute dream for foodies with the presence of old and trusted family restaurants and newer, modern establishments opened by expatriates. Li Qun is a century-old hole-in-the-wall that offers one of the best Peking duck meals around. President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger have walked through the exact same doors for their famous oven-roasted duck. The Gulou (Drum Tower) and Baochao Hutong area offer a cornucopia of culinary choices ranging from Yunnan to Mexican cuisine. Wudaoying Hutong is great for a leisurely day out with its many cafes and specialty stores.
Take some time to wander these alleyways and you’ll be sure to find even more surprises as well as snippets of the everyday lives Beijingers. Beijing hutongs are truly the heart and soul of the city; a host to the precarious balance of old-world charm and new-world glamour.
Explore Beijing on a Beijing city tour with WildChina