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Beijing: King of Kebabs

Created by Guadalupe Plaza Petersen

Peking - Pequing - Beijing: the “North Capital” of the Popular Republic of China has known several names, but has always been a place of amazement and wonder. Beijing is one of the most populated cities in the world clocking in at 11.5 million people. The city is renowned for its colossal architecture and pharaonic avenues. Travelers fly in like moths to flames to gaze at Beijing’s preserved historic areas like the Hutong, a network of alleys that run east to west across the city and create an endless maze of houses.

Once you scratch the surface of Beijing, you start uncovering relics of its ancient past. The city has worked to preserve part of its imperial era with artifacts like the Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven and The Summer Palace. Historical landmarks also include Tiananmen Square, which is the symbolic center of the Chinese universe, where Mao wanted to project the communist greatness he believed in.

Asia is a place without time and it encourages you to get lost in its special version of reality. Traveling through China has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Its many different cultures, art collections, food, spirituality, and ability to adapt and assimilate outside cultures have all been engraved like postcards on my soul. My most recent experience had to do with Beijing’s exotic food market scene. I traveled with my husband, Alejandro, when I was six months pregnant, and it was an experience I will never forget.

We bought a flight at an agency where the attendants spoke only Chinese, not a word of English. They gave us a glass of water to soften and alleviate the freezing conditions around us, almost eight degrees below zero. We weren’t exactly sure what was waiting for us in Beijing, but we knew we wanted to go, so we put our trust in the ticket salesman in front of us.

We landed in Beijing and took a cab to a hotel in the middle of downtown. The streets were noisy and congested with all means of transportation and the air was absolutely polluted by smog. It made no sense to open the windows to get fresh air. Thousands of people rushed down the streets seemingly wearing chinstraps trained to their cell phones - everyone in his or her own world. Not an inch of space was open on the subways. People everywhere, but not a single person pushed; everyone entered and exited without a flinch of frustration. They were very kind and smiled all the time when they weren’t looking at their mobile phones. It was difficult to understand how everything worked so perfectly.

China has great food markets where you can find everything you’d ever need and more. The markets in Beijing start at Wangfujing Snack Street located in the Hutongs west of the main street. The main street is full of restaurants and stalls, each offering a variety of street food. At night the streets become an exotic scene with spectacular lights, unique cuisine and live entertainment.

Further north and perpendicular to Wangfujing is Donghuamen street, the Dong Hua Men originated in 1984, a night market next to the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing’s tourist area. It is known for its high prices, which attract diners and native visitors who can’t resist admiring its unique and superb stalls of exotic snacks. There will be a few globetrotters exploring, but only the most intrepid and the ones with a demanding palate will dare to taste the items found in this unforgettable market.

The moment we stepped into Dong Hua Men, we entered into a whimsical and strange world of shish kebabs. Colors of every hue kept our gaze moving in all directions. Smells we had never smelled before confused and teased our stomachs. We elated in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings around us. The most extravagant specimens were offered by local chefs and included snake meat, silkworms, scorpion, caterpillars, beetles, tarantulas, and more. All of them came fried, grilled, sautéed, or confit and then crossed on a stick ready to eat.

Although we were having fun in such a noisy environment, we had to be careful not to get run over by teetering motorcycles full of balancing boxes and riders. Customers either challenged themselves to eat the new foods or ate them without hesitation. Alejandro ate a shish kebab of scorpions. I couldn’t sleep that night imagining scorpions emerging from his mouth or burrowing into his stomach.

Fortunately for me, there were also stalls with more mundane meat shish kebabs, corn, vegetable, soy, spring rolls, dumplings, fruits, etc. We counted 100 types of special snacks and traditional delicacies around us. We were going to be busy for a while.

About the Author:

Guadalupe Plaza Petersen was born in Salta Argentina in 1979 where she now lives and Works as a photographer and visual artist. She lived in Italy specialized in Contemporary Art and was awarded with a scholarship by the Embassy of Indonesia. She specialized in photography at University of ISISOLO Surukarta, Java, Indonesia.

Her productions are developed around a series, in which she works with assemblies and her own ideas and photographs taken of trips around the world. She worked as a supervisor of Libraries and Archives at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Salta. She participated in several individual and collective exhibitions in Argentina, Italy and Indonesia. . Twitter: @GplazaPetersenInstagram: gplazapetersen

January 5, 2017

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