Finding restaurants in China is easy enough, but sometimes the restaurant finds you.
Take a walk down Minzu Daxue West Road in Beijing at eight pm. You will experience the 'ordinary' Chinese hustle and bustle of people moving from here to there.
Come back two hours later, the street will have transformed itself into a food lover's paradise.
Could be on any street
To set the record straight, this happens in many places – all over Beijing and all over China. Mentioning a specific street name adds authenticity and, even more importantly, it gives you the opportunity to check it out when you visit Beijing next time. Because, if you possess a sense of adventure, you should.
The sights, sounds and smells of the street can be overwhelming, as can the apparent disarray of the whole set-up. Fear not. Everything is simple, organised and well-taken care of.
Right there, at the side of the street, you will see a well-laid table with a huge amount of raw delicacies, most of which are impaled on bamboo skewers.
They are to be barbecued. The deal is then that you will pick whichever things you want or dare to try. A considerable selection from the animal kingdom is available here.
Pick your favourites
You may take, or be handed, a stainless steel platter wrapped in a plastic bag. On it, you put your food of choice. Don't be afraid, it is cheap.
After heaping on an enormous amount, you pay. The nice “waitress” will count, calculate and tell you how much to pay. A bit of Chinese, along with your sense of adventure, will come in handy but is not mandatory. Now is also the time to order a drink.
The chef takes your tray of food, places the bits and pieces strategically correct on his grill and away they sizzle. Smoke comes almost instantly, along with a scent that fuels your hunger. Unless you are the coldest of food nihilists, you will be almost guaranteed to love this. You had better find a table, too.
The tables on the pavement are tiny, and the chairs are even smaller. There are not too many of them, so you will find yourself dining together with strangers. Your experience will be almost as down-to-earth as possible. Your food will then be individually handed to you once it is cooked (to perfection).
Freshly made – Just for you
A few minutes ago your food was on display. You chose it, you witnessed it being cooked and now you eat it. See, this is what being in touch with your food is all about, and you certainly get to be in touch with the people around you. Smile, talk, eat and enjoy!
All in all, there is a special atmosphere, there on the street. The cars keep on coming, so hungry customers need to be alert and dodge traffic while balancing a tray full of food. There is smoke all around and the smell of food can be nauseating once you've eaten enough.
The street lights are insufficient, so the sellers have their own light bulbs hanging over their stalls, bathing the smoking grills in light. Only a small part of the rays actually reach to where people sit and eat, so it's a bit of a fumbling game... and it tends to be noisy, too.
However, it will be one of the best meals you have had, for the smallest amount of money. So, remember, if you are looking for restaurant in Beijing one night, stop, and let the restaurant find you.