If you've got a craving to try the amazing, the delicious, the downright bizarre, then Beijing's Donghuamen Night Market is where it's at. Every evening here, row upon row of brightly lit food stalls come to life, as cooks in tall hats peddle every type of strange and wonderful delicacy under the Chinese sun. Crickets on a stick? Brazed sheep's penis? Deep-fried scorpions? At Donghuamen, you can find all of that and loads more to either delight or disgust you - just be sure to bring your stomach of steel and leave the gag reflex at home.
Though mostly targeting Chinese and foreign tourists with shock factor, the market also caters loads of not-so-scary snacks and traditional Chinese dishes. Those less adventurous will revel in fresh spring rolls, fried noodles, candied fruit and other staples.
If you're worried about the quality of this street food - fear not! Every night, throngs of people crowd through this market where the vendor stalls are always sparkling clean. The high turnover of food equates to very fresh food, and since the local government turned the street into a pedestrian-only zone in 2000, there is no car grime or passing exhaust to muck up your dinner!
I wasn't always the most adventurous eater, but milling around at Donghuamen has this kind of hypnotic effect. The bright lights reflecting off the red and white awnings in a long row are mesmerizing and the smell of hot cooking oil, salty noodles and sizzling vegetables puts you in the mood for adventure.
I went straight for the deep-fried scorpions, something I'd never seen offered on a menu before. They come in two sizes. The massive black Asian Forest Scorpions were more than I could do, plus they didn't look that appetizing. I opted for the small, brown desert scorpions, which came three to a stick, and were deep-fried and then salted. Trying not to think too much, I dove right in and ate up an entire scorpion in one go.
You know, it wasn't bad! I actually couldn't believe it. It was like eating a tasty little salty potato chip. Nice! I'll be dining out on that story for a while.
Despite the fact that it's geared for tourists, Donghuamen is actually a lot of fun and I would definitely recommend it to any visitor to Beijing. Even if you're not in the market for a crazy "I ate it!" story, you'll love the sights, smells and sounds of Chinese street food culture and get some great photos of the wild things on sale.
Location: Donghuamen St., east of the Wangfujing Shopping Street
Opening times: Every evening after dark
What to bring: A camera, good shoes and a sense of adventure!
Cost: Meals for about Â¥30 per person, Scorpion on a stick for Â¥10