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Snack attack
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The capital's early birds don't have to munch worms to eat for dirt-cheap. Beijing's traditional snack spots, such as Shougongfang, offer bountiful breakfasts of fare for the frugal. For just 4.5 yuan, you can start the day with a roast cake, an aiwowo - a soft mashed bean cake stuffed with mashed red bean, a "donkey-rolling-over" - a soft multi-layered bean cake, and a bowl of bean curd jelly. Low-cost meals make for high competition among the capital's eateries, making it tough for dim sum diners - especially the pricier places - to keep the lights on and the trolleys rolling.

But Shougongfang is confident enough in its cuisine, it made the gutsy move of opening a mere 20 meters away from Huguosi traditional snack restaurant - a longstanding Beijing institution.

The reason for the eatery's hyperactive self-confidence is that the chef, Wang Shihua, comes from a lineage of pastry-makers spanning back to the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) who have remained local legends for making the best sesame cakes and fried crisp flour loops in the city. Indeed, the restaurant's "smart Wang" sesame cake is made a terrific treat by its distinct layers and rich herbal flavors.

Other Beijing bites worth tasting include the crisp shelled cake with mashed red bean stuffing and deep-fried glutinous rice flour with mashed red bean stuffing.

More adventurous snackers can sample the fermented bean juice, which is usually ordered with a plateful of deep-fried crispy flour loops and a few pickled turnip slices. It is believed to be a traditional treat for old Beijingers.

The place also offers standards, such as fried shredded cake, noodles and cake with pork stuffing.

These meals can be washed down with millet and rice porridge, fragrant ried-flour tea or mutton giblet soup. The restaurant is small, with only five tables for four, and a Chinese-language menu displayed on the wall.

(City Weekend January 9, 2008)

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