Cooking and Eating in the Hutongs

by Andrea on May 15, 2012

I was a little surprised about the prevalent use of fresh tomato in the Chinese food that we ate and saw. I’m not sure what my logic is with this, but I hadn’t really thought of the Chinese using fresh tomato.

The story begins in the Zhonglouwan hutong. As part of our time in Beijing we were interested in seeing how daily life works for the people of Beijing. Not the ones that live in western style apartment buildings, but those that live in the traditional neighborhoods known as hutongs.

The hutongs, our guide explained, are made up of groups of families who live in rooms off a central (tiny – from what I could see around the size of your average 10 seater dining table!) courtyard area, mostly four families to one courtyard. The families had a couple of rooms to themselves and then they shared kitchen and eating facilities. They all shared a communal, largely public bathroom (this was an eye opener!).

Tourists can get a rickshaw ride around the hutong, most of the drivers will be keen to take you straight off the street, and in the area our guide chose for us we could also take the option to have lunch and make dumplings, of course we were keen for that. There was a ticket office in the main square, our guide chose the hutong which surrounded the Bell & Drum Tower, no doubt her connection was with this area.

We jumped aboard the rickshaw and were carried around the dusty, cobbled streets hopping out every so often to have something explained to us about the area we were traveling in and to experience things not accessible from the street, such as a special doorway or courtyard.

We were driven to a point, much dialogue was exchanged between our guide and the drivers and we were escorted along a narrow laneway towards the courtyard that was central to the rooms we would have our lunch in.

We were shown through the kitchen into a small room and then off that room was another tiny room where our table was set up, just enough room for the 5 of us and a single bed! Yes, we were eating our lunch in someones bedroom!!! All thoughts of personal hygiene aside, our drinks (tea and Coke) were brought out to us, and the food started to arrive!

We were treated to traditional Beijing Chinese food, not the sorts of dishes you’d find in your average western Chinese restaurant. In particular a dish with scrambled egg and fresh tomato, an interesting and delicious combination.

This is the alleyway that led to the courtyard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacob and I eating our handmade dumplings

 

 

 

 

Emilie enjoying the dumplings she made herself (you can see the bed clearly in the background!)

 

 

 

 

Inspired to make the tomato and egg dish as well as another favourite of mine and my mum’s Beef with Tomato, which we used to order regularly from our local Chinese takeaway back in the 70′s and 80′s. That takeaway is long gone and the dish isn’t particularly popular in restaurants these days.

Coming next…Cantonese Beef and Tomato and Scrambled Egg and Tomato…

 

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