The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the most important holiday of the year in China. During this period Beijing empties out as all the migratory workers travel home to see their families. For those of us left in town one of the most popular cultural events of the season is the Temple Fair.
Most of the larger temples hold a fair. These started out as a purely religious gathering over 700 years ago but in more modern times tend to incorporate traditional entertainment and shopping opportunities. Of the ten or so fairs held annually in Beijing we opted for the most traditional, the Changdian Temple fair. Held in nearby Taoranting Park, this fair dates back to the Ming Dynasty, and the reign of Emperor JiaJing.
Some fairs have the emphasis on selling antiques or calligraphy, some have fresh fruit markets, and one or two still hold true to the religious roots, but this one was definitely all about eating. Both sides of the lantern adorned main walkway were lined with stalls selling freshly made snacks. The ever present Xinjiang skewers (chaunr), here are available using some less common meats such as venison and donkey, as well as the usual mutton and chicken. Yak jerky came in a number of flavours, all of which were delicious.
Something I’ve tried before, but seemed better here due to the cold weather, was wafer-thin slices of sticky rice with a strong garlic sauce. Perfect for warming up on a wintery day – not so perfect for conversation if you’re the only person to have eaten strong garlic sauce. Already smelly, I followed it up with some fermented Stinky Tofu.
A new flavour to me was YouCha, or oil tea. Made popular in Guilin county, oil tea is brewed by frying tea leaves with salt, garlic, chilli, ginger and anything else that’s lying about, in peanut oil. Water is then added and the concoction is boiled down until reduced to a slightly thick broth and then strained. The leaves are mashed further to release yet more flavour and stirred back into the broth. It’s an unattractive greeny-grey colour, but the taste is pretty good and the high caffeine content is perfect for waking up after too many snacks. It’s served in a bowl with puffed rice, dough sticks and peanuts and would make a decent breakfast.
On the main stage there were two comedians doing a cross-talk style comedy routine, most of which was lost on me but the crowd seemed to be enjoying them. Once they’d finished the acrobats did a few remarkable routines then gave way to a dreadlocked French chap who tried to impress with some juggling and a Diabolo. The crowd were somewhat underwhelmed and slowly dispersed, so we decided to take a walk around the lake to help digest all the snacks.
The entire lake was frozen over and as in Chaoyang Park there were ski bikes roaming around on the ice. Further round a small hill had been covered in artificial snow and a toboggan run created, as well as a Zorbing ball and people riding inner tubes being pulled along dangerously fast behind snowmobiles.
Back at the fair a dragon was dancing its way through the crowd whilst we sat and watched the rest of the entertainment with a couple of plates of steamed buns.