While Western-style bakeries such as Breadtalk and Holiland have gained popularity in recent years and popped up on many Beijing street corners, none have yet dwarfed the deep-rooted local fondness for Old Beijing bakery Daoxiangcun
(稻香村). Mention this snack specialist
to any real Beijinger and a rapid nod of approval will surface, possibly alongside a nostalgic story about walking home from school munching on its fine sweetmeats.
Daoxiangcun opened its first store in Qianmen in 1895 and its pastries literally sold like hotcakes
. The great Chinese writer Lu Xun loved the bakery so much he wrote about it in his diary nearly a dozen times during his stay in Beijing. Today, Daoxiangcun’s history and contribution to Beijing’s culinary culture is recognised by its inclusion in the official list of China’s Time-honoured Brands, alongside other Old Beijing giants such as roast duck restaurant Quanjude (全聚德) and traditional Chinese medicine shop Tongrentang (同仁堂), which served as official dispensary to the imperial courts of the Ming dynasty.
Today, Daoxiangcun’s products have become part of the staple diets of many Beijing families, and its red boxes of pastries are often the gift of choice on special occasions. As one local told us, 'Daoxiangcun is the best for traditional desserts, old Beijingers like me always go there during New Year to buy gifts for old friends - the queues in there are always long'.
With over 200 outlets in Beijing, it’s possible you have walked past Daoxiangcun’s red and green sign many times, unaware of the treasures that can be found within. Venture inside at peak times, however, and you'll find customers clustered at its sales windows dictating dessert names to shop assistants who hurriedly weigh out items from over a hundred varieties of pastries neatly packed in boxes behind the counter. During notable festivals, Daoxiangcun also brings out specialties, such as mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival, Zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival and glutinous rice balls for Chinese New Year. The latter often sees queues extending well past the front door.
As a continuation of March's Old Beijing feature
, and a tribute to good old Beijing confectionary, Time Out
has picked out Daoxiangcun's ten best treats.
1. Niu she bing (牛舌饼）- ’Ox tongue’ pastry
Mention this Daoxiangcun favourite to any Beijinger, and you'll get a response along the lines of ‘Hao chi, hao chi!’ (yum yum!). Before you throw up at the thought of a pastry containing cow parts (yuck!), rest assured there is no actual cow involved here - aside from the shape of its tongue inspiring the name. The combination of savoury spices and sugar inside gives rise to a unique and unrivalled taste that will have you pining for more ‘tongue-on-tongue’ action.
2. Xianhua meigui bing (鲜花玫瑰饼）- Fresh rose petal pastry
If there was a Daoxiangcun family, this pastry would be its graceful, elegant and youthful daughter, which is exactly how Beijingers speak of this pastry - with a degree of protectiveness. The subtle, sweet taste of honey and fresh rose petals, sourced from west Beijing's Miaofeng Mountains, gives this pastry a uniquely fragrant taste. Not too sweet, the pastry melts on the tongue with a lightness that makes you want to put on your finest embroided robe and head out to the nearest rose garden in Beijing.
3. Huangyou zaoni bing (黄油枣泥饼）- Butter Chinese date cake
This cake has a soft exterior encasing a smooth filling of date and almond paste with a slight creamy texture. It is distinctly date-tasting and great for when you need a sweet and filling dessert to make your stomach content.
4. Zhuangyuan bing (状元饼) - Champion cake
For a less creamy version of the huangyou zaoni bing, with more filling and a slight bitterness, opt for the Zhuangyuan bing, which is equally delicious.
5. Heima jiaoyan (黑麻椒盐) - Black sesame pastry
Covered with black sesame on top, this pastry’s filling is also made of black sesame, combined with a dash of salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar, giving it a distinctly savoury-sweet taste.
6. Migua su (蜜瓜酥) - Honeydew melon puff
Sweet and strongly fragrant, this dessert has its fair share of honeydew melon. A soft, crispy exterior with a slightly chewy filling, it’s the perfect choice if you are looking for something fruity. An alternative is the fengli su (凤梨酥) or pineapple puff (pictured), much loved by children.
7. Lvdou bing （绿豆饼） - mung bean pastry
Bite into the thick shortbread-esq (minus the butter, cream and other not-so-great-for-you things) casing made with fresh milk and eggs, and you'll discover its fragrant green bean flavoured core that, unlike many other Daoxiangcun pastries, is moist with an apple sauce-like consistency. Although not tasting strongly of mung bean, this pastry is nevertheless a scrumptious treat for anyone with a sweet tooth, so who are we to question?
8. Rousong juan (肉松卷）- Meat floss roll
Opinions on this roll are somewhat divided, and depend on your take on dried meat floss. The Chinese love meat floss, so if you're feeling distinctly Beijinger-like, give this a go. If your palate is amenable to curious eastern concoctions, you may soon be hooked on rousong
and find yourself eating it out of the can. For a more traditional and less oily
version of this cake, opt for the Rousong Bing (肉松饼）, with white sesame seeds sprinkled on the outside.
9. Mocha su (抹茶酥) - Green tea puff
This crispy, green tea-flavoured pastry filled with subtly sweet green tea paste is a light and refreshing option, perfect with a good cuppa
(we recommend English Breakfast, rather than Chinese tea!).
10. Zilai hong (自来红）- Naturally red
This is definitely a sweet treat with an edge. Bite into this ball of pastry with its distinct red circle insignia, and you'll get a burst of eclectic flavours, from osmanthus flowers, walnuts and melon seeds to rock sugar crystals and dried fruit shreds.
Daoxiangcun's pastries cost 1.5-2RMB per item depending on weight. We recommend you say upfront that you want all your desserts in the same bag (as they will pack different varieties separately) to save on paper/plastic.