For a single street, it takes a surprising amount of time to work your way down Nanluoguxiang, Beijing's most famous, bustling hutong and tourist attraction.


What amused me endlessly about 南锣鼓巷 (Nanluoguxiang) was how you will literally find four branches of the same bubble tea chain, fried chicken chain and froyo chain down this little stretch of hutong - placed perfectly so that another chain will appear just as you finish eating what you bought at the previous branch. It reminded me of the way makeup stores were spaced apart in Myeongdong, though perhaps slightly less friendly on the waistline. But 12 yuan bubble milk tea? Who can resist? It also helps that Nanluoguxiang is conveniently attached to a Metro stop and, for once, right next to the exit.

On any given day, Nanluoguxiang is sure to be bustling with tourists but becomes quite overwhelming on weekends. Give it a wide berth on Saturday midday, unless you enjoy squeezing through crowds in the narrow shops that line either side of the hutong.

I avoided buying too many things while browsing here, suspecting a tourist tax but I actually found some items, like the wooden carved animal pens, were cheaper than they were elsewhere. And other items - like a genuine Baby Alpacasso - could not be found anywhere else (literally...three cities later).

An iconic Beijing street food you have to check out, according to my host family, is 宫廷奶酪 (gong tinai lao or 'imperial yoghurt') - a type of fermented milk drink that has the consistency of the custard part of an egg tart. It's a form of yoghurt but without any of yoghurt's acidic notes because it's flavoured with rice wine. The result is a dessert that tastes like slightly sweetened milk in custard form. Nanluoguxiang houses one of the oldest nai lao retailers in Beijing, apparently - follow the people eating from this cup and you'll be sure to find it.