Chuan Bar on Guijie

In Beijing and many cities in the north, you frequently see street vendors grilling up deliciously fragrant kebabs, called 串 (chuan) in Chinese. Lamb is the most popular, but you'll also find chicken, mushrooms, tofu, even squid. Take that concept indoors, and what you get is a chuan bar, or 串吧 (chuan ba), a restaurant that adds beer, comfortable seats, and warmth to your meal of grilled skewers. (I should also add that 串 is my absolute favorite character in the Chinese language, because it actually looks like a skewer with two pieces of meat on it. Cute, no?)

Chuan Bar is located on the famous Guijie, a late-night destination for serious food-lovers. It's a smoky, fun little place, with patrons ordering platefuls of kebabs and chugging down beer in square bowls. The waitstaff hop around and groove to whatever Euro club song is playing over the sound system.

We got plates of lamb, mushroom, shrimp, and tofu skewers, all liberally doused with cumin and red pepper flakes. Those bowls of beer sure came in handy to cool our tongues, but everything was tasty nonetheless. Green beans and leafy greens were also grilled. We did shy away from a few colorful animal parts that are staples of many late night eateries; parts that nobody ever eats except on a dare.

Rounding out the meal were enormous oysters (no, not that kind of oysters.). I normally never eat oysters outside of restaurants specializing in seafood for fear of food poisoning. But these were cooked on the grill whole, then opened and seasoned. The resulting oyster meat was aromatic and juicy, and even better with the roasted garlic on top. The texture of raw oysters, with less safety concern and 10 times the umph.

Chuan Bar
194 Dongzhimennei Dajie (Guijie)
Dongcheng District, Beijing