I think it’s safe to say that I love food. This might be a travel blog, but one of the topics I seem to write about the most is food – vegetarian food, that is.
Yet despite my love of eating, photographing and learning about food I’ve somehow never gone on a food tour. During my travels I’ve been tempted to book a spot on a food tour countless times, but I’ve always been hesitant to pull the trigger. I suppose that’s largely because I’m generally not a fan of organized tours. It also has something to do with the fact that food tours aren’t usually all that vegetarian friendly, especially in a country like China.
I’m not gonna lie. Being a vegetarian in Beijing is a tricky business. The biggest challenge for me has been the language barrier. It’s one thing to not be able to speak Mandarin. It’s a whole other challenge to not be able to read Chinese.
But every time I walk along the streets near my apartment and I see street vendors cooking up mashed Yunnanese potatoes, thin crepe-like concoctions stuffed with all manner of what look like veggies and dumplings filled with more veggies, I realize that there are, in fact, plenty of vegetarian options in Beijing. It’s just that I’m never really sure what I’m looking at or if these foods are, in fact, 100 percent vegetarian.
So with all this in mind, I’ve recently been mulling over signing up for a food tour. Honestly, I just wanted help navigating Beijing’s local food scene and its vegetarian offerings. Let’s be honest. I’ve now been living here for eight months and I’ve made pathetically little progress on my own.
And that’s when Lost Plate came into the picture.
Lost Plate currently leads tours down south in Chengdu and Xi’an, but they started running tours right here in Beijing a couple of months ago. I was put in touch with Brian, who co-runs Lost Plate, by a high school friend, who I haven’t seen in over 15 years… who also happens to live in China. (This is the way connections are made when you’re an expat – everything is so random.)
So when Brian invited me to come along on one of their newly-launched Beijing food tours, I was intrigued.
What piqued my interest about this tour was that it sounded unique. I liked the fact that their tours focus on family-run, off-the-beaten-path restaurants and that they take pride in giving historical and cultural facts about Beijing’s local food scene. I also liked the idea that we’d be shuttled around the hutongs (historical, maze-like neighborhoods) in tuk-tuks and provided with unlimited amounts of beer.
Also, Brian assured me that he’d be able to accommodate my vegetarian diet. And while I wouldn’t be able to sample everything, I was told there would be things for me to eat at each of the six stops we’d make.
So, I signed Aaron and I up for one of Lost Plate’s nightly hutong food tours.
On a recent Friday night Aaron and I made the journey downtown, to the heart of Beijing’s famous hutongs (which are filled with restaurants, shops and homes). We found ourselves being warmly greeted by Ruixi (Lost Plate’s Founder and Lead Guide) and her partner Brian. Brian promptly handed both of us a cold beer and directed us to our tuk-tuk, which was equipped with a cooler full of more free beer. (And here I thought tours were lame… how wrong I was!)
A few minutes later we arrived at our first stop – a hidden noodle shop located in a no-name hutong back alley. We entered through the back entrance of a small house that had been transformed into an intimate little restaurant.
Ruixi (who has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Beijing’s food scene) educated us on the history of the family-run restaurant and their signature homemade sesame noodles. Yes, they were 100 percent vegetarian, and they were delicious. So delicious in fact, that these noodles are the only dish prepared in this hidden little restaurant. And the place is always packed.
As a vegetarian who has struggled to navigate Beijing’s food scene, this was mind boggling. There’s absolutely no way I would have found this place on my own. I kind of felt like Anthony Bourdain, being let in on one of the best-kept secrets in Beijing’s local (vegetarian) food scene. And yes, I know Anthony Bourdain would not want to be associated with that statement.
But, Anthony Bourdain aside, surprises like this kept coming all night long. During the tour we took our tuk-tuk to six very local, very hole-in-the-wall restaurants. While there was plenty of meat to be eaten during the tour, Aaron and I were able to sample a handful of local vegetarian Beijing dishes, many of which we’d never heard of before. There was cook-it-yourself Beijing barbecue, handmade noodles with a sesame sauce, homemade flatbreads filled with eggs and veggies and a delicious (and slightly alcoholic) traditional dessert.
To top it off, we wrapped up the night with a pint of craft beer at a local brewery. For those who don’t know, Beijing has a killer craft beer scene.
Not only did we come away from the tour incredibly satiated and slightly buzzed, but we realized that tours can actually be hip, and food tours in China can actually be vegetarian friendly. If you’re Beijing bound I highly suggest tagging along for one of Lost Plate’s food tours. It doesn’t matter if you’re a vegetarian or a die-hard meat eater, this food tour rocks. And coming from this former tour skeptic, that’s saying a lot!
*I was hosted by Lost Plate but given my tendency for being overly honest on this blog, you can rest assured that you’ve received my full and honest opinion.
PIN ME FOR LATER!
*Photo courtesy of Lost Plate
Have you had a good experience on a food tour during your travels?