Galloping through Beijing

Beijing's real secrets: This back alley market takes you beyond the usual tourist traps — scorpions for lunch, anyone?

With a population of approximately 21 million and skyscrapers crowding nearly every vista, ultra-urban Beijing maintains a number of inviting old world surprises beyond the antiquities of the Forbidden City and Summer Palace.

Just steps from the modern retail shrines of the famed Wangfujing pedestrian shopping street where major brands such as H&M, Forever 21, Chanel and Gucci rule, we stumbled upon Wangfujing Xiao Chi Jie or Wangfujing Snack Street.

The traditional marketplace is one where delightful chaos and local color are the order of the day.


Food stall offerings range from grilled lamb kebabs and corn on the cob to wriggling scorpions on a stick ready for the grill.

With its vast variety of foods, the area is considered a culinary map of China with taste treats ranging from remote Xinjiang to fiery Sichuan to the seafood favored in Canton.

Grilled starfish, anyone?

Yes, the scorpions above are alive and wriggling in creepy fashion as they await to be grilled like the larger variety in the bottom of the photo.

A closer look at the grilled scorpions. No, we did not try them. Nor did we try any of the other exotic food offerings.

The area is something of a maze of hutongs or alleyways filled with vendors, in addition to the food stalls, offering all manner of souvenirs .

Colorful and plentiful, the souvenir possibilities  are endless.

More than once, we encountered the visage of retired Houston Rocket Yao Ming on building fronts across the city including this storefront of Wangfujing Street.

Though he retired from professional basketball in 2011, he remains very much a sports hero in his home nation.

The red lanterns add color and cultural pizzazz throughout the market area.

This shop, dedicated entirely to candies, presents a contemporary counterpoint to the traditional market scene just outside its wide doors.

Satisfying a hunger for street food, these gents go for the kebabs.

The alley widens as it leads back to Wangfujing Street proper.

Along Wangfujing Street proper, the colorful souvenir offerings are enticing to the shopper less interested in American brands that line the street. McDonald's and KFC proliferate throughout Beijing and can be found on this major thoroughfare as well.

Reflections of the Mao Zedong era remain in the souvenir shops where Mao caps and knapsacks vie with hair ornaments, decorative chopsticks and embroidered silk bags for the shopper's money.