Shandong-style jian bing (煎饼), giant egg pancakes in Beijing, China (2014)
Beijing is an extremely modern city on the surface. Filled with skyscrapers, ultra-modern architecture, shiny new full-sized Buicks and a 24 hour KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Starbucks or 7-Eleven on every other corner. The first time you go, you may get a little Paris Syndrome. Trips to giant food courts in malls fancier than anything in Beverly Hills, supermarkets that look just like Whole Foods and standing in the immaculate subway staring at back-lit advertisements in Chinese for Quaker Oats and organic milk only make it more difficult to reconcile. This is the China you’ve been hearing about, the economic juggernaut, the future growth market for everything. Surface appearances are deceiving though, move one street off the main and you’re likely to find an entire network of hutongs filled with tiny old-school shops selling everything from fruit, meat and live seafood to every kind of traditional Chinese food you can imagine. Wet markets still exist, but are slowly morphing into farmers markets. Street vendors are everywhere, offering classic Beijing snacks, roast sweet potatoes and sugar fried chestnuts from carts on wheels or from neighborhood stands like the Shandong-style jian bing (egg pancake) vendor above. The old things are still there, hidden behind a shiny modern curtain, you just have to look a little harder to find them.