The Beijing food scene is a love-hate relationship for me. I’m overly critical and often left under impressed. It’s basically the reason I started this blog. The thing is, in most areas of food, competition is low, so essentially you’re forced to like what concepts people are coming up with, leaving me to bite the hand that feeds me.
I get so fuggin’ sick of people saying things like, “omgz i am obsessed with the new grain bowlz at blah blah blah.” Grain bowls are the cheapest and easiest thing to make at home. Why pay 80rmb ($12) for them at some obnoxious trendy joint when you can have the satisfaction of putting something together in your own kitchen?
On the flippity flop, $12 is honestly not the worst price to eat in a trendy restaurant downtown in China’s capital. Considering in the US a grain bowl will set you back $10 + tax + tip, you’re easily looking at a $15-$17 lunch.
A surefire way to get me to indulge in Beijing’s most “hip” restaurants more than once a week is to throw in beer, variety, and even some shopping. That’s where the Woodstock of Eating comes in.
Woodstock is basically like all of the other foodie events here. The same vendors come, the same people show up, it’s usually in one of the SOHO buildings, and I always end up drunk.
These vendors to me are the ones that I hope stay put, and keep on churnin’ out awesome concepts and food.
BEIJING’S WOOD STOCK OF EATING
FOOD, BEER, SWEETS
Andy’s Craft Sausage, to me, is probably one of the most reasonably priced and quality western eats money can buy in the Bei. For a cool 30rmb ($4.60) you get a humble hand-crafted sausage free of fillers and nitrates on a chewy roll, topped with peppers and onions. The boyfriend recently had some of his bacon delivered, and when I’m not making my own, it hit’s the MF spot. Not pretentious, affordable, and generously portioned. #sausagefest
Big Bear Baked Goods are somewhat of a foodie fairy tale to me. The founder entered his cookies into a baking competition held by The Hutong, people loved them and eventually asked when they would be for purchase, and things appear to have just fallen into place from there. Homeboy is now getting sponsorship from The Hatchery, Beijing’s fast-rising “food incubator” and is providing Beijingers with some sweet treats. I'm into their chocolate chip & sea salt. Play on, player.
Let’s get one thing straight: I hate fusion. It’s basically what whities “create” when they think they’re being innovative with food. On only of the rarest occasions does it actually work, and not as a novelty or at the county fair. Palms L.A. sold me, though. Korean flavors and LA style Mexican food have looked each other in the eye said, “Let’s fucking do this.”
Most importantly, Michael, the owner, is great at paying attention to his customers. Customer service in China is thrown out the window whether it’s a foreign-owned or Chinese-owned business. When my boyfriend complained about his meal not being up to par, Michael stepped in and hooked us up with a complimentary meal to prove to us that he really can make awesome food. That’s confidence and business ethic I can get behind.
The Meatball Company are da brand masters of food start ups in Beijing. These dudes move fast, and much like Big Bear, people just dug on their home cooking, which eventually led to them personally delivering to your door, then to investors, then to a little hutong restaurant, and now even selling their own sauces and products. Referring to their customers as “ballers”, which I can totally dig on, these dudes will hook you up with a fatty meatball sub, generously portioned sides, and even their own hot sauce, appropriately named “Hot as Balls”. Get at ‘em.
You’re likely noticing a trend here: if you like making food, and people like the food you’re making, you can turn it into your own em(pie)er in Beijing. Wilson and Emelie, the owners of Rager Pie did just that. While I do miss the days of 30rmb savory pies, Rager has accumulated a well-deserved cult following, which ultimately requires getting both bigger and better. Again, listening to your customer’s needs is at the top of my list. Wilson takes it one step further by not only listening to his customers, but letting them experiment, cook, and serve their creations fresh out of Rager’s kitchen. Rage on, rager.
The craft beer scene in Beijing is bountiful. Bountiful and pretentious. While I was once a loyal Slow Boat devotee, I’ve had a change of heart and sipped from the golden chalice that is Arrow Factory Brewing. Again, customer service and/or appreciation in Beijing is still totally overlooked. I complimented the music played in Arrow only for one of the owners to offer getting it to me on a USB a week later. You can usually catch me sipping their “Seeing Double IPA”, which pairs damn well with their craft sausages. Shit, drink enough of these at 7.7%, it’ll pair well with anything and anyone.
NBeer Pub is regularly overlooked by me. I had no idea they had a location at Sanlitun SOHO, which worked out perfectly as our home base while meandering around the festival. Bottle bars have been a thing in Beijing since Heaven, Beijing’s infamous and scummy expat hangout. NBeer steps up the class and showcases a fully stocked fridge with imports and domestic brewers. I keep saying I’m not an IPA person, but always end up with one in my hand throughout the night. Baby IPA, a product of Nanjing’s Master Gao, is a less hoppy pale ale that’ll set you back just 25rmb ($3.80) a bottle.
Because I’m getting smarter with age, I did my shopping prior to drinking, as I tend to get carried away at these events and buy everything in sight.
I passed up a lot of good stuff as I try to mirror my boyfriend’s minimalistic mentality, leaving me with only one purchase: this gem.
This little number, a lengthy feather earring from Flora & Fauna, is perfect festival gear for my upcoming trip to Spain. Oddly enough, the designer, Anita, was Spanish and made this earring with summer music festivals in mind! #girlcrush
While I didn’t make a purchase from Lily's Handmade Soaps, I’ve been trying to get better at not buying commercial body care products. I often see lots of soaps around Beijing, so I’ll pick one up everyone now and then, with my last purchase being an organic free-range egg white based soap. It was less pretentious than it sounds, I promise.
This soap was made with craft beer. Yeah, you read that right. Not only can it be consumed, it’s now officially a topical ointment. Game. On.
Fresh Prints of Beijing entered my life serendipitously. I was on the hunt for a good and affordable photo developer after getting my Canon, but was also too lazy to move everything to a USB and ride over to the photo shops here.
Then I learned about Fresh Prints. You send photos via email or WeChat, pay through WeChat, and get them delivered to your gaht damn door. Mikey, the owner has awesome energy and is thriving off of a simple idea that makes our expat homes more homey-er. Plus, that business name.
Ummm, yeeeaaahhhh that's a necklace with FLOWERS IN IT.
Independent jewelry designers in Beijing have been on the up and come. I love silver, but there’s nothing I love more than simple designs. Put them together, and you get this:
Yeah, I got a little wastey and I don't remember the name of this vendor, but I do remember pretending I could no longer understand them when they said the half circle piece was 2,000rmb. Sorry, mami. I gots to save for vacation.
Out of 80+ vendors and food stalls, yeah, these are what drew me in. The saying, "less is more" goes far here, and on my one day a week where I can eat and drink whatever the fuck I want, I want it to go far, and to businesses that resonate with me.
So where are you favorite local eats? If you made it to The Woodstock of Food, which vendors did it for ya? Lemme know in comments below!