Touchdown in Beijing: Pork Spine
Driving into Beijing I was a little apprehensive. Vast, drab buildings gave me the impression I was entering some sort of post-communist desert, while the thick, impenetrable smog that blocked out the sun put me in mind of the industrialised Victorian London so savagely described in my current doorstop of choice, Charles Dickens' Bleak House.
Yet beyond the motorway off-ramps and tower blocks, an entirely different world awaited. The ancient alleways and thoroughfares that characterise Beijing's hutong districts (in one of which our hostel is located,) abound with activity and so far have proved a fantastic introduction to Chinese life.
In Nan Luo Gu Xiang Hutong, the sights and sounds are many and varied. Shirtless and potbellied old men stand around smoking or playing games. Bikes and motorized rickshaws careen through haphazardly. All around, people seem to be engaged in either tearing things down or building them up.
Somewhat surprisingly, a modern vibrant edge to the city is also present here in the small independent boutiques and trendy speciality shops that sit easily among the traditonal craft shops and tea houses.
Included in the chaos (happily) is street food. I found these guys (what I assume to be pork spine) curled up and smoking on a one man grill, when we ducked into the side of the road to avoid a monsoon downpour.
The pork spine had been coated in a spicy and sweet spare-rib style sauce that was charred in some places and sticky elsewhere. The meat came off easily and in substantial chunks, but nevertheless encouraged the kind of cheek-smearing bone-gnawing that makes one's girlfriend stand a few paces away.
This was one grill, in one street, in one block of a thouroughly massive city. Tonight we're off to Wangfujing snack street in search of lamb kebabs and flat bread.
I honestly feel like I'm in heaven.