Hanging out at roadside barbecue stalls has always been one of my favourite things to do in Beijing, or anywhere in China. But, wherever you go, it's always a nearly identical experience. I'd long ago given up hoping for any novelty from a chuanr joint.
But I was dining at such a place a few nights ago with some friends down in the Shuangjing district of south-east Beijing when we found that the food choices on offer were decidedly non-standard.
With a Chinese-only menu challenging our limited collective powers of character-recognition, we plumped for xia (shrimp), qiezi (aubergine), mantou (bread), and "small roast bird".
And it was a revelatory experience. I passed on the shrimp myself, since things of the sea disagree with me, but my companions assured me it was excellent. The aubergines were roasted whole, giving them a smokey, charcoal-y savour, and were dressed with an unusual, pleasantly garlicky sauce - not the bog-standard sweet'n'spicy yuxiang you usually get. And the birds, though tiny, were quite delicious, with a crisp, very salty skin and a slightly gamey flesh - like dark turkey meat. We speculated that they were quails, although I seem to remember that quail I've eaten in England years ago was slightly larger and rather different in taste. It could be "quail with Chinese characteristics", I suppose, a distinctive local variety; I note that the dictionary contains a number of different words for quails or "quail-like birds". I'm pretty sure the menu just said "small bird"; so, I suppose it might just have been whatever they happen to have been able to catch recently. Anyway, I'll be back to try that again - should probably order two or three each next time, to make a more substantial snack.
This chap seems confident these were quails;
and they do look pretty much the same as what we ate
The real highlight of the meal, though, was the bread - a style none of us had ever encountered before (and two of my friends were seasoned tour leaders, guys who've been everywhere in China). It was Twinky-sized, had a crisp, glazed crust, and a fluffy centre - similar to, but lighter and less buttery than a croissant. It had a spiral or circular construction reminiscent of a croissant too. A Chinese croissant? Whatever next?! Damn, they were GOOD! I will be on the lookout for more of those. [I couldn't turn up any pictures of this type of bread online, despite a good long look for some.]