Nostalgia: Beijing yogurt

In the Good Old Days before the customs of Beijing were neatly swept up into commodified, sanitized heritage flapdoodle, it was always a pleasure to stop off at a street stall for a fix of Beijing yogurt.

The ritual involved paying a deposit on the beautiful ceramic bottle, piercing the paper covering with a straw and sipping as one watched the passers-by, before placing it back in its crate and redeeming one’s dog-eared mao and flimsy fen.

Like most hallowed traditions, it may not be so old: the bottles seem to go back only to around 1981. OK, it’s not exactly Ming-dynasty blue-and-white, but those bottles that bore characters in blue afforded a further aesthetic frisson. I’m sure I’m not the only laowai unable to resist plundering the Chinese heritage to adorn my London home.

Indeed, the ceramic bottles aren’t quite yet museum pieces—you can still find emporiums that stock them. But These Days it’s all “Old Beijing” this, “Authentic” that; following glass bottles and cardboard cartons, most customers now go for disposable plastic containers in supermarkets, paying with their phones, and the whole rhythm of street life has changed.

File under “Call Me Old-Fashioned…”. Please feel free to read this in the style of Rowley Birkin QC (playlist here).

Cf. the celebrated Four Yorkshiremen sketch from At last the 1948 show  (“You try telling that to the young people of today—will they believe you?!”), and Faux nostalgia.

4 thoughts on “Nostalgia: Beijing yogurt

  1. Thanks for bringing back happy memories of stopping for said yogurt (v refreshing) when hiring a bike and cycling round the city on several occasions. The first time this happened I’d no idea what the pots contained – I’d just seen them and was curious, so a happy discovery. Never thought to bring a pot back home though…


  2. Thanks for giving these a warm mention, Stephen.
    I lived and worked in Beijing in the early 80s and visited PRC often for work in the late 90s. I brought a couple of these back with me. circa ’83/4. I was very upset this morning when I knocked one to the kitchen floor and it shattered. Beautifully simple things and of great sentimental value.
    Would anyone know where I can get these, preferebly in the UK? (There is one on French ebay: 144.00 euros, I ask you!)


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