Travel Destinations

Monday, December 30, 2013

Beijing Street Food at Wangfujing Snack Street (Or the Day I Ate Scorpions)

Fried Scorpion at Wangfujing Snack Street
Fried scorpion at Wangfujing Snack Street.
I love food.  I love street food.  We practically lived off of Bangkok street food when we traveled to Thailand, so I was excited to try street food in China.  We had begun our Chinese food education the evening before on our Beijing food tour, but our education needed to be rounded out with some street food.  Plus I had heard tale of fried scorpions.  While in Thailand I saw fried bugs but didn’t try any, which was a mistake I did not intend to repeat.  So we headed to Wangfujing Snack Street for lunch.

The Dongcheng Central area of Beijing has two popular street food areas, the Donghuamen Night Market and the Wangfujing Snack Street.  As the name implies, the Donghuamen Night Market is open in the evening, but Wangfujing Snack Street is open all day.

Wangfujing Snack Street.
I needn’t have worried about having difficulty finding the scorpions.  Upon entering the Beijing food street we saw a stand selling squirming, wiggling scorpions on skewers, and then another, and another.  Oddly, no one was buying scorpions or eating scorpions.  All my bravado was starting to slip.  I was getting nervous.  I started to doubt that I was going to do this.

As we wandered around Wangfujing Snack Street, I started trying to decide whether I was going to eat lunch before or after I ate my scorpions.  I pulled myself together and made the decision that I was going to eat my scorpions right then and there.

We walked back to the stands selling scorpions, as well as other bug, starfish, seahorse, and chicken skewers, and I attempted to make an educated decision as to which to try.  As luck would have it, I saw chicken skewers being purchased at one of the stands, and then a young Chinese couple walked up to the same stand, he to buy a skewer of scorpions and she to buy a skewer of grubs.  This was to be my stand.

Scorpion Stand Wangfujing Snack Street
My scorpion stand of choice at Wangfujing Snack Street.
Scorpions, Starfish, and Seahorses at Wangfujing Snack Street Beijing China
Scorpions, starfish, and seahorses at Wangfujing Snack Street.
I ordered a skewer of scorpions before I could chicken out and the friendly vendor took one of the skewers with three scorpions to the fryer.  After he fried the scorpions he brushed them with some spices and handed them over.  Now came the moment of truth, my first scorpion.  My first bug of any kind in fact.  Check out my video of eating scorpion for the first time. 

The result?  Fried scorpions are delicious!  The kind I had are tiny, so there is no worry of gooey guts gushing out.  They are just crunchy, and the spices they add (the same as those they add to the regular meat skewers) are wonderful. 

Now, quite proud of myself, I was ready to try some of the more mainstream Beijing street foods served at the Wangfujing Snack Street.  The first thing that caught my eye was a stand serving a variety of dumplings.  When we walked up the man behind the dumplings pointed out the steamed dumplings, indicating which were chicken and which were pork.  But I was more interested in the dumplings next to those that had been fried to a crispy golden brown.  When I asked what was in those dumplings, Rome thought he heard beef, but I’m pretty sure the answer was meat.  I hesitated a moment but decided to go for it anyways.  I took my first bite of the fried dumpling and was in heaven.  The outside was crispy and crunchy, the meat filling was flavorful, and the chili sauce that had been spooned on top added the perfect amount of heat.

Fried Dumplings Wangfujing Snack Street Beijing China
Fried meat dumplings with chili sauce at Wangfujing Snack Street.
Fried Dumpling Filling Wangfujing Snack Street Beijing China
Fried meat dumpling filling.  What it is I do not know, but it was delicious.
After Rome had some seasoned chicken skewers it was time for a drink.  We stopped at a stand that was serving neon colored drinks and yogurt.  Rome opted for neon while I chose the yogurt.  Beijing yogurt is a traditional snack seen all over the city.  The yogurt is served in ceramic jars topped with paper secured by a rubber band and it is consumed by drinking it with a straw.  The yogurt is thin and refreshing.  It is served warm or cold and I opted for a cold one.  Be sure to return the jar to the vendor.

Yogurt at Wangfujing Snack Street Beijing China
Yogurt and neon colored drinks at Wangfujing Snack Street.
My next snack looked kind of like a burrito, made with pork and wrapped in a wonton-wrapper and fried, also served with a spoonful of chili sauce.  This one was also really good, but has to be eaten quickly, as it becomes really hard and crunchy when it cools.

Chinese Burrito Wangfujing Snack Street
What looks like a Chinese burrito at Wangfujing Snack Street.
Rome had himself a skewer of nice, plump prawns.

Wanfujing Snack Street Skewers Beijing China
Skewers along Wangfujing Snack Street.
Prawns at Wangfujing Snack Street Beijing China
Rome and his prawns at Wangfujing Snack Street.
Snacks are not the only things sold at Wangfujing Snack Street.  Lots of toys, accessories, and knickknacks are sold as well.  Sadly, we saw one vendor selling an item I had heard of but hoped I would not see in person.  Tiny fish, turtles, and lizards enclosed in sealed plastic pouches that are used as key chains and cellphone fobs were being sold.  The bags contain oxygenated water, but the animals will die if they are not freed within a few days.

Tiny Animals Sold as Cell Phone Fobs at Wangfujing Snack Street Beijing China
Tiny animals sealed in bags being sold as keychain and cell phone fobs.
We found a stand selling even more outrageous edible bugs and amphibians on skewers, including tarantulas, snakes, lizards, and turtles.  Even the scorpions were bigger and darker.  These items were a bit too adventurous even for me.

Unusual Wangfujing Snack Street Snacks Beijing China
More unusual skewered treats at Wangfujing Snack Street including
centipedes, snakes, turtles, and tarantulas.
By the time we were done exploring Wangfujing Snack Street we were full of tasty snacks.  But there was one more thing that had to be done before we left.  I had to have another scorpion skewer!  They were seriously that good, and when am I going to have the chance again? 

Scorpions at Wangfujing Snack Street Beijing China
Second round of scorpions at Wangfujing Snack Street.
Of course eating Chinese street food may be a little bit of a game of Russian roulette, especially when you hear stories of gutter oil and you aren’t exactly sure what kind of meat is being served or how long it’s been sitting out.  We successfully ate our way up and down Wangfujing Snack Street without getting sick and had a fantastic lunch.  Just try to be smart about your choices.  Choose stands that are getting the most traffic and therefore have the quickest turnover of food, look at the food to see if it looks fresh, and pay attention to the smells, as we have been told gutter oil has a bad smell.  Wangfujing Snack Street is sure to provide one of the more memorable meals of your travels.  And try the scorpions!

Wangfujing Snack Street consists of alleyways nestled within a city block.  Wangfujing Snack Street is easily reachable by metro via Wangfujing station, which exits out of Oriental Plaza.  From Oriental Plaza head north on Wangfujing Dajie, turn left on Dongdan 3rd Alley and the arch covered entrance will be to the right. 

Travel the World: Wangfujing Snack Street in Beijing China is where to go to find street food including fried bugs like scorpions.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.