DUMPLINGS AND RICKSHAW RIDES
This is as touristy as it gets. When we told our guide we wanted to do this, she rolled her eyes and tried to talk us out of it. And when I found my notes written shortly after the tour, I see that I didn't like it then and thought it was a waste of time and money. However, five years went by, and I can no longer remember what bothered me about it. The only thing I remember was that it was interesting to see the hutong, practice making dumplings, and have our photos taken in a rickshaw. So maybe it wasn't such a bad decision after all.
Hutong is a Mongolian word for water wall. At nine meters (app. 30 feet) wide, it's now a lane or small street that originated in the XIII century Beijing. In the past, Beijing was composed of numerous courtyards around the Forbidden City, and the lanes (streets) stretched out in all directions, connecting different kinds of courtyards. There are ten famous hutongs in Beijing that you can visit, and you can either do it on your own or get a tour. We went to a hutong near the Drum and Bell towers.
The tour we took included making dumplings and eating lunch with a local family. It was very interesting to see how people live, although it does make you uncomfortable to intrude on them. I think the worst part is that you don't know how much are they actually getting from the tour, and you can only hope that the relatively high fee you paid for the tour will end up helping them. The house is really one room with a make-shift kitchen, but everything they make and serve is delicious. I do remember being cold inside though, so dress in layers.