Ghost St: Heart of Beijing’s culinary underground

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(Xinhuanet) – Doing business in the midst of all the coffin shops and morticians under the dim halo of kerosene lamps, the vendors looked like ghosts. That’s supposedly how Guijie first got its name.

But soon, people discovered there was a bit of the supernatural lurking as well.

According to long-time residents, many businesses have come and gone since the days of the coffin shops, morticians and the thoroughfare to the cemeteries. And many have gone bankrupt, including a State-owned department store.

Two things became apparent: Only restaurants seem to do well along Ghost Street, and only if they open after dark and conduct business in the night. And so, the superstitious believe that the spirits that linger are “hungry ghosts” who like to gather to the aroma of delicious food.

In these brash new days however, ghostly legends easily fade, and the shades from Hades are shunted aside in favor of culinary trends and distractions.

Ghost Street is now known as a paradise for the catering business. Today, the 1.5-km long alley is crowded with more than 150 shops, more than 90 percent of which are restaurants.

Its proximity to the Worker’s Stadium where thousands of football fans and concert-goers gather periodically is a good guarantee that the restaurant owners at Guijie never have to worry about empty seats.

Every night, winter and summer alike, more than 4,000 people patronize the restaurants here, according to Xiang Kui, a manager at Hua’s Restaurant, one of the street’s oldest restaurants, which established its first outlet in Guijie in 1998.

Ghost Street has also become a tourist attraction. During the Beijing Olympics, waiters here were trained to understand and speak simple English, and restaurants started offering menus in English.

It is also near Sanlitun, every expatriate’s favorite nighttime haunt, and that has helped Guijie become an expatriate hangout as well.

Out of the 1,000 diners that Hua’s Restaurant hosts each night, about 40 percent are foreigners.

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