Isn’t she a beauty?
Ever since coming to Beijing I’ve been addicted to ròujiāmó 肉夹馍. This snack, which originated from Xi’an in Shanxi province, consists of pork, herbs, shredded lettuce, and chilli sauce stuffed into a pita-like pocket. It reminds me of the Middle Eastern shwarma pockets I would get in NYC from street vendors, though ròujiāmó with its juicy juicy pork is decidedly un-halal.
Ròujiāmó can be found in many snack shops and street stands around Beijing (and Xi’an, Shanghai, etc.). Most are already prepared with a decent amount of pork sitting neatly inside. The ones I’m addicted to, however, are the ones that are made to order. The vendor would splice off fatty pork off the rotisserie spit, chop up the meat, and mix it with lettuce, cucumber, onions, and chilli sauce. She would then stuff the contents into a warm pocket. The ròujiāmó is subsequently so overflowing with pork that there’s no way you can eat it without getting messy. But it looks and smells and tastes so delicious that you just don’t care.
I usually get ròujiāmó as a mid-afternoon snack, but I also have no qualms about eating one for lunch or dinner if I’m not too hungry. There are times when you just don’t feel like cooking or going out for a full meal. I remember Ruth Reichl once wrote in Gourmet that on her nights off from food reviewing, or when she wanted to save her appetite and wallet for fancier meals, she would often have fried dumplings from NYC’s Chinatown for dinner. If street food as a meal works for Ruth, it works for me.