Friday, January 9, 2015

Nanjing Food Stalls

Several of us here in the DC-based admissions office are alumni of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and one of the things we miss most about life in Nanjing is the food!  Today current student Nanfei Yan shares some of the delicious and inexpensive food you can expect to find near the HNC:

Hello All,

In the US, there are food trucks. In China, there are food stalls. While an undescriptive name, they cover all the culinary establishments lining the streets not big enough to qualify as restaurants. Food stalls sell cheap (less than 10 RMB/1.6 USD), made-to-order, and on-the-go 小吃 (casual, local eats).

So what would a day around the HNC taste like?

8:30 AM: 小混沌 (mini wontons)

A middle-aged man sets up shop from early morning and wraps up before 10. He sells 4 and 6 RMB bowls of wonton that he makes on the spot. The 油条 (crullers), which regulars dip into their soup, sell out by 8:30. He’s known to spoon hearty pieces of tender pork to the bowls of lucky customers. 

Wonton shopkeeper making wontons
 11:30 AM: 杂粮饼 (multigrain bing)
饼can mean many things (biscuit, crepe, pastry, etc.) This specific application is sort of like a burrito wrap. The corn-based dough is flattened over a grill. For 5 RMB, the lady on Hankou Road will crack an egg on top, then sprinkle potatoes, lettuce, scallions, and fried sheets, before rolling it up. Strike a conversation! She gets generous with the filling. 

Making the multigrain wrap
2:30 PM: Roasted Chestnuts
Nanjing claims this as a local specialty (debatable). In any case, the stall on Hankou Road sells out every evening. Piping hot, easy-to-peel, positively addicting.

5:30 PM: 热干面 (hot dry noodles)
Technically a Wuhan specialty, there’s a stall at the western entrance to Nanjing University. The noodles are cooked and coated in oil to dry, before being parched in boiling water and ladled out to be seasoned. The flavor profile is dominated by sesame paste and accented with pickled vegetables, garlic, red chili oil, and scallions. The shopkeeper once reprimanded me for wearing sandals in the cold. 

Noodle stall
6:00 PM: 梅花糕 (Plum Blossom Cake)
Never say no to conveniently placed dessert - right next to the 热干面 shop is this 梅花糕 shop. A Nanjing specialty, sweet rice cake is filled with dried fruits and grilled to crispy edges. It doesn’t end there! The cake is actually covering a cone of filling (choose from purple yam, red bean, or fruit jam).

9:00 PM: 烧烤 (barbeque skewers)

Once the sun sets, the skewer stalls appear! I suspect a direct correlation between price and meat authenticity. 1 RMB for 1 lamb skewer? Probably not lamb. 3 RMB for 1 lamb skewer? Probably lamb. When in doubt, go for skewers of eggplant, mushrooms, or quail eggs. They are not given nearly enough credit. HNC students are known to pay visits well past midnight. 

The motivation to this post was actually my “Social Issues in China’s Modernization” class, where the professor recommended us to chat with shopkeepers in order to understand China at a deeper level. Some shopkeepers are recent immigrants to the city; others have been here for years; and all of them have stories to tell. I hope this post inspires you to check out your local food stalls. In addition to good food, you might learn something about someone else’s life and the city you both live in.