Baking Bread in China: Flour Stores in Beijing
Basic Wheat Flours
Mid- and high-gluten flours are widely available (even in corner stores), especially dumpling flour (饺子粉 jiaozi fen), enriched flour (富强粉 fuqiang fen), or fine white snowflake flour (雪花粉 xuehua fen). This is because Chinese people buy flour mostly to make dumplings, stuffed buns, and steamed buns, all of which call for a good, strong, chewy dough. Good news for aspiring bread bakers, but not so much for cakes and cookies.
For low-gluten flour, you’ll have to travel a bit further, to a large supermarket or specialty grain or baking shops. In Beijing, you can try the Ziwei Baking Shop, and the Yonghegong Tongrisheng grain store (below). Or you can order cake flour 蛋糕粉 or low-gluten flour 低筋粉 off Taobao. Beware, however, that 蛋糕粉 can sometimes mean cake mix, which can contain added sugar, milk powder, and other chemical additives. It’s safer to search directly for 低筋粉.
A reliable and easy-to-find flour brand is 古船 Guchuan (“ancient boat”), but there are also smaller brands that claim to make organic flour, organic flour from wheat grown on Inner Mongolian grasslands, etc.
Large supermarkets carry a limited selection of whole grains and flours packaged and in bins. But for all my whole grain and specialty flour needs, I prefer to go to liangyou dian (粮油店), “grain and oil” shops that specialize in a wide variety of flours, beans, and grains. They’re small and family-run, instead of large corporate chains. Most importantly, the sheer variety of their stock is amazing, and quality is also higher, because flour and grains are their specialty, after all.
Dongbei Yonghua Liangyou Shop 东北永华粮油店
This shop is run by a sweet husband and wife from northeastern China. They mill all their flour themselves, and aside from their wide stock of grains and beans, they have some other things like delicious salted bamboo and wood ears (木耳 mu’er). One of the fun things about shopping here is that the wife will often inquire what you’re buying something for, and grunt in approval if you answer correctly. Sometimes I lie because I fear her disapproval!
Things I buy here: rye flour (黑麦粉 heimai fen), buckwheat flour (荞麦粉 qiaomai fen), oatmeal (燕麦 yanmai), pumpkin seeds (南瓜子 nangua zi’), raw peanuts (花生 huasheng), brown rice (糙米 cao mi) that can be sprouted, chickpeas (鹰嘴豆 yingzui dou), coix seeds / Job’s tears (a kind of grain, 薏米 yi mi), purple rice (紫米 zimi), and all manner of dried beans
Other things they stock: organic flour (sometimes; 有机面粉 youji mianfen), organic rice (有机大米 youji da mi), lots of varieties of white rice, lotus seeds, lotus seed flour, oat flour, almonds, grapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, etc…
19 Dongzhimen Nanxiaojie, Dongcheng District (150m south of Gui Jie)
Tel: (010) 8401 7569
Tongrisheng Lianghang (Grain Store) 同日升粮行
This adorable old-fashioned store has an amazing stock of grain and rice, including rare and hard-to-find varieties. Where else would you find four kinds of millet and three kinds of oat flours?
The old-school set-up is endlessly charming: go here if you want to have a better idea of what it was like to shop in China in the mid-eighties. The staff all wear long white lab coats and have that endearing mix of gruffness and friendliness particular to Beijingers. They scoop out your chosen grain, bean, or flour efficiently, weigh sesame paste, and sometimes even dole out no-nonsense advice.
As for the shop, every inch of space is filled with goods. Staples like salt, sugar, cooking condiments, and oils line two walls, while in the back of the store is a kitchen that makes steamed breads and rolls (馒头 mantou, 花卷 huajuan’r, 窝头 wotou), rice cakes, flatbreads (饼 bing), simple pastries, and my favorite, fresh noodles. Their daoxiao mian 刀削面 is not quite shaved from a hunk of dough by knife, but these thick, chewy noodles are worlds above instant or dried noodles, and can instantly transform your home cooking repertoire.
I also love their roasted sesame paste (芝麻酱 zhima jiang), which they ladle out into a jar you supply yourself. They have the rare “two eight” paste (二八酱 erba jiang), named for its composition, 20% peanut butter to 80% roasted sesame paste. This is an old-Beijing specialty, once offered up to emperors; anyone who enjoys peanut butter might enjoy this rich nut butter.
Now getting down to the flours and grains:
Wheat flours: Standard flour (标准粉 biaozhun fen), enriched flour (富强粉 fuqiang fen), bread flour (面包粉 mianbao fen), whole wheat flour (全麦粉 quanmai fen), as well as small boxes of cake flour (蛋糕粉 dangao fen) on the shelves between bins. They also have bran (麸子 fuzi)
Flour mixes: They sell flour mixes such as oat dumpling flour (燕麦饺子粉 yanmai jiaozi fen) and steamed corn cake flour (窝头粉 wotou fen).
Rice flours: We wish they had brown rice flour, but there’s plain rice flour (大米面 da mi mian), glutinous / sticky / sweet rice flour (江米面 jiangmi mian or 糯米粉 nuomi fen), which comes either coarsely ground (粗 cu) or finely ground (细 xi), and black rice flour (黑米面 heimi mian).
Other flours: Buckwheat flour (荞麦面 qiaomai mian), several kinds of naked oat flour (莜麦面 youmai mian), Japanese yam flour (淮山药粉 huaishanyao fen), red sorghum flour (红高粱面 hong gaoliang mian), millet flour (小米面 xiaomi mian), proso millet flour (糜子面 meizi mian), rye flour (黑麦面 heimai mian), sweet potato flour (白薯粉 baishu fen), pea flour (豌豆面 wandou mian), mung blean flour (绿豆面 lüdou mian), soy bean flour (黄豆面 huangdou mian), corn flour (玉米面 yumi mian), and corn grits / polenta (玉米渣 yumi zha).
Rice and grains: They have more kinds of white rice than you can imagine, labeled by place of origin. Barley (青稞 qingke, or 大麦 damai), buckwheat groats (荞麦米 qiaomai mi), rye groats (黑麦米 heimai mi), oat groats (燕麦米 yanmai mi), sorghum (高粱米 gaoliang mi), sticky sorghum (粘高粱米 nian gaoliang mi), red fragrant rice (红香米 hong xiang mi), purple rice (紫米 zi mi), purple glutinous rice (紫糯米 zi nuo mi), black rice (黑米 hei mi), black glutinous rice (黑糯米 heinuo mi), red yeast rice (a fermented rice with a reddish hue used in pickling, char siu, and rice wines; 红曲米 hong qu mi), multiple kinds of millet (小米 xiao mi), and coix seeds (薏米 yi mi)
Other grains and things: There’s a ton of seeds and dried beans with cute names like panda beans (熊猫豆 xiongmao dou). Samples include: lentils (小扁豆 xiao biandou), chickpeas (鹰嘴豆 yingzui dou), kidney beans (英国红豆 yingguo hong dou), flax seeds (亚麻籽 yama zi), pumpkin seeds (南瓜子 nangua zi) and sesame seeds (芝麻 zhima). The only caveat is that there can be a lot of tiny rocks and grasses in them too, which can be annoying to pick out. There are also nuts, raisins, and dried dates.
They also sell a variety of plants, herbs, and seeds, such as lotus seeds (莲子 lianzi), wolfberries / goji berries (枸杞 goqi), wuwei zi (五味子), and kudzu root (葛根 ge gen) that can be used in traditional Chinese medicine, herbal teas, and medicinal cooking. Did you know that kudzu flower is an ancient remedy for hangovers?
Tongrisheng has multiple locations around town:
56 Yonghegong Dajie (100m north of Beixinqiao, next to Cafe de la Poste) [map]
Tel: (010) 6401 0473
58 Meishuguan Houjie (on the road behind the National Art Museum) [map]
Tel: (010) 6404 4887
47 Ande Lu [map]
Tel: (010) 8412 7431