The evolution of a street at lunch time

If I ever had any doubts about the reality of a rapidly developing China, they may be tempered by the explosion of lunch time choices available to me right in front of my office. When I first started working here food carts parked on the sidewalk carried little more than unappetizing pre-prepared he fan, a takeaway box of rice with two or three kinds of dishes, usually a meat and stir-fried veggies. And back then, there were maybe one or two people with a Styrofoam ice cooler.

Fast forward 1.5 years, and now this place is teeming with vendors. There are still hefan sellers, but they are competing with 10+ other vendors who are selling much more creative things. We’ve only gotten more and more options as time went on.

The veterans:

  • Upgraded hefan carts that allow you to choose which dishes to go with your rice; usually there are six or so dishes to choose from.
  • Roujiamo, a Chinese version of the hamburger, which can be filled with anything from chopped up pork to Chinese sausages.
  • Jianbing. Actually, this just appeared today (or recently), which I’ll explain in a minute. But for some time now, there has been a giant jianbing maker. Imagine making a crepe that’s the size of an XL New York-style pizza, then filling it with the sauce and fried dough and onions and cilantro and stuff. That’s how big these jianbings are. I tried one once. It was not very good.
  • “Sushi.” Just rolls with vegetables.
  • Fruit.

The ones who made it:

  • Liang fen/Liang pi, which is a cold dish with glass (starch) noodles, sliced cucumbers and other vegetables, tossed with a peanut sauce and oil.
  • Dumplings, now both steamed and fried, as well as fried baozi.
  • Cheap ice cream. This is gone now as the temperature has gotten colder.
  • Deep-fried squid balls, a Taiwanese street snack.

The noobs:

  • Wonton noodle soup. Seriously, what? I can’t even find wonton soup in most restaurants, and now it’s being sold on the street.
  • Chuanr. The ubiquitous skewers that are everywhere.
  • Roasted sweet potatoes. Technically, this is a seasonal snack, and they’ve been around before, but I’m putting it here because it’s just come back.
  • Roasted chestnuts. MMMMMMM.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two things. Every once in a while, the police will come and I’ll get caught in a stampede of flatbed tricycles fleeing the scene, with still-hot metal plates trailing heat and oil behind them.

These carts are also in addition to a revamped bloc of restaurants next to our office, which all got facelifts or were shuttered and replaced with fancier, chicer restaurants. This facelift, of course, meant that my kiosks selling breakfast/lunch street food, such as jianbing and shaobing jia ji dan, and bubble tea were both dismantled. But today, as I mentioned earlier, I saw an extra jianbing cart out on the street in front of my office. And who was running it? The same lady who used to work at that breakfast stand. Good to know she’s back in business.

Speaking of bubble tea, when I first started working here, there was no bubble tea. That changed last year when the bubble tea kiosk on the small street next to my office. (Perhaps you’ll remember it as the one that got knocked down and came back as a tent at the start of summer.) Since then, two more ‑ or three, if you count the one going in the opposite direction ‑ have opened, which either shows the popularity of the drink in China or the lack of imagination of Chinese business owners. But I can’t get enough of the stuff, so I’m not complaining.

And the best news: my tea shop is closed temporarily again. Seems they are building a sturdier structure made of wood and metal. Might be good for my tea shop boys come winter.

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