When I think of China, I don’t exactly think “yogurt.” Great Wall + China? Yes. Dairy products + China? No.
How wrong I was!
“I’m gonna feed you something that’ll change your life,” proclaimed Gareth the day Colin and I arrived in Beijing.
Gareth has been a Peace Corps volunteer in China for a year, now, so we figured she might know what she was talking about. We followed her through the hot back streets of Beijing until we reached a dimly lit local store.
“What are those ceramic jugs strewn around the front entrance?” I asked.
“That’s it!” hollered Gareth. “Old Beijing Yogurt!”
“Whoa,” we gulped.
Gareth explained that not only would we drink this yogurt with a straw, but we could either order it at room temperature (otherwise known in Beijing summer as “hot”), or slightly refrigerated (as the Chinese don’t believe in very cold drinks).
I’m not sure which option YOU would pick, but we were rather firm on selecting the refrigerated option.
Gareth used her Mandarin language skills to select and pay for three palm-sized ceramic jugs with ornate blue and white paper covers. She plopped the jugs into our hands along with wrapped straws, then instructed us to stab the paper cover with the straw.
“Get ready for bliss,” Gareth commanded.
We stabbed the paper. We placed the straw between our lips. Then we slurped… slowly, fearfully…
The yogurt was like a thick milkshake, but tangy with the refreshing tartness of the live and active cultures that make yogurt so good for you. Sluuuuurp!
I was soon in a happy-food-item trance, skipping in delight out the door of the store and towards our hostel.
“Wait!” cried out Gareth. “We have to pay extra if we take the ceramic containers, so let’s finish these on the front stoop and leave the pots here.”
“Oh!” we said, stopping short. Our American brains were confused about this non-disposable, non-takeaway container.
That said, it took about ten more seconds before I’d slurped up the rest of my yogurt. Between sips, I shared fun yogurt facts with Gareth and Colin, including: “A recent study showed that one of the best foods for weight control is yogurt, because the cultures in it speed digestion,” and, “It is recommended that travelers eat yogurt regularly to help their tummies deal with foreign foods.”
“Good,” declared Gareth, “more excuses to eat this.”
So now this scrumptious China yogurt experience has me thinking: Which other places on this Earth have shockingly great yogurt? Further, what are other examples of delicious but surprising local foods that tourists never think to look for during world travel?
Perhaps squid soup in land-locked Laos? Oh no, wait– that was just how I got food poisoning in 2009. Indeed, there is a fine line between surprisingly delicious and just plain dumb. How happy I am that Old Beijing Yogurt turned out to be in the “delicious” category!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!
Thursday 5th of February 2015
I came across this while googling Chinese yogurt. I visited China in the 90s and didn't enjoy most of the food, but the yogurt drinks we would have for breakfast were amazingly delicious! I couldn't remember exactly what they tasted like, only that we really looked forward to them! Thanks for sharing your experiences!
Friday 6th of February 2015
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Saturday 14th of June 2014
Old Beijing Yogurt as "street food" is one of the many, many things we enjoy about our trips to Beijing. (My wife is a Beijing native & her family is still there...) The only problem is that, lately, the wonderfully traditional, reusable (1 or 2 rmb deposit) heavy ceramic stoneware containers in which the yogurt has always been sold are rapidly being replaced by cheap plastic containers. They still use the same paper wrapper on top, but those plastic containers, even though the same shape, just don't have the same "feel".
Tuesday 17th of June 2014
Aww, what a bummer to hear! Thanks for the update.
Tuesday 23rd of October 2012
When I went to China over the summer the hotel I stayed in brought me yogurt every night. I'm lactose intolerant so I was scared, but everything went better then expected. And the taste! I've tried so many times here in America to find something that came close, and last night I did. Kefir. My midwife recommended it because I don't eat meat or consume a lot of dairy, and it's super good for you with almost no milk sugars left in it. The fact that it's fermented frightened me, but after the first sip I was like, "Holy crap, someone needs to taste this!" It has the same tart, zingy flavor as the yogurt I got in Beijing, and it comes in different flavors: Plain, blueberry, pomegranate, and something else. So if you find yourself missing that small comfort from China, give kefir a try.
Tuesday 23rd of October 2012
Oooo, fabulous tip!
Sunday 10th of June 2012
The difference between Old Beijing yogurt and grocery store yogurt (at least the ones in the US) is that Old Beijing yogurt:
1. the yogurt culture is very much alive, unlike the dead ones in the pasteurized (meaning sterilized) yogurts in the US 2. no added thickening agents (like in the yogurts sold in the US grocery stores) 3. the milk is not homogenized (meaning that the milk fat floats to the top, and has not be blended into a homogeneous liquid), giving the yogurt a natural milk character. 4. the live yogurt culture also gives Old Beijing yogurt a slightly carbonated character, that I love 5. things just taste better when you are standing outside absorbing the character of a city
p.s. I think Old Beijing yogurt is thinner, and no way like Greek yogurt which is thicker than most US grocery store yogurts.
Thursday 7th of March 2013
I have found that Pavel's Russian Yogurt (http://www.pavels.net/about/ - available only on the west coast) is the closest thing to Beijing Yogurt in the USA. Quote from the Pavel's Yogurt website: "the same yogurt he made in Shanghai, and the same product we now make and sell in stores all over the West Coast".
Add some maple syrup, close your eyes, take a spoonful and get transported to Beijing (minus the ticket price and pollution :) )
Sunday 10th of June 2012
Thanks for these helpful details!
Tuesday 1st of May 2012
hi, all, Beijing yogurt is just like the plain yogurt in US without salt. I have no idea why the yogurt here need add salt. The Skyr yogurt jsut drinkable, you can buy from Mexican market, it is taste better than Yoplait.