Journey to Zhengzhou
Finally arrived exhausted in Zhengzhou via Beijing, after twelve hours in the air and 8 hours behind UK GMT so kind of understand how the dog feels in this picture. Zhengzhou (pronounced Jeng Joe), capital of Henan province, is a fairly typical medium-sized Chinese city of 4,500,000. High rise blocks stretch off into the distance, slowly disappearing into the haze of pollution despite the sunshine. It’s the capital of Henan province in central South China but I doubt if many visitors come here except perhaps to use it as a base to visit the nearby Shaolin temple, one of China’s more famous tourist-traps.
As far as things to do in the town, you could take an evening stroll into the city centre to see the Erqi tower, which at about 90 years of age is considered an old building around here. You can climb to the top for a view of the city and visit the night market nearby. The regional Henan museum on Nongwe Rd, near the hotel, is also supposed to be very good.
The Hotel Ramada where work put me is an unremarkable modern hotel with spacious rooms. It’s the kind of place that has glass-walled walk-in showers but no bath and far too many pillows on the bed. There’s a basic gym with a couple of bikes and jogging machines and a weight-station. However the best thing is its great location in the pleasant area of Jinshui with its tree-lined streets and cool little bars.
There’s a free internet connection via cable in your room but it’s rather slow. It will get even slower if you try to access Facebook which, along with Twitter, Youtube and WordPress (which hosts this blog) was blocked by the Chinese government after the riots in the western area of Xianjiang. My webmail account also seemed to be blocked for a while but was accessible again after a few hours.
The hotel breakfast is a comprehensive spread of Chinese and Western foods although the lack of takers for the latter means that the cheese and ham sits shrivelled and dry, alone and unloved in a corner. There are about twenty steaming cauldrons of Chinese dishes such as fried rice, steamed buns and stir-fried veg if you can persuade your stomach to want them. From my observations, the Chinese seem to eat similar foods whatever the time of day and some find no contradiction in eating an omelette and a doughnut off the same plate, with chopsticks of course! My favourite items were these miniscule Satsuma’s and another tiny unknown citrus fruit which were more pip than flesh but were refreshingly bitter.
The hotel is well situated for local bars and you will find several as you turn right out of the hotel, turn first left and walk along Jingliu Lu. Fairly soon on the left you will come to the Garden Lounge, a cool little dive with wooden tables playing grunge and hip hop. Beers here are Y20, about £2. A bit further along on the right you will find the Target Pub, an even divier reggae bar. The dimly-lit wooden interior is decorated with amateur graffiti, Bob Marley posters, boomerangs and other international bric-a-brac. Beers are Y25. Outside opposite there’s a late night street stall selling, amongst other things, fresh oysters.
The entrance is through an archway on the right, about halfway up the street. If you are looking for gruesome photo ops, this place is an unrefridgerated horrorshow. Other than the eels, I couldn’t name any of these things and will buy a drink for anyone who can!
Henan cuisine emphasises the use of seasonal ingredients and dishes are often lighter than elsewhere. Mutton and lamb form the basis of many soups but otherwise pork is the most common meat. It is also characterised by the extensive use of onions. Vermicelli noodles, which are otherwise only commonly found in the southern regions of China, are popular here.
The best upmarket place to try local delicacies that I found was the Henan Restaurant, in the Hotel Henan on the corner of Jinshui Lu and Huayuan Lu, about 15 mins walk from the hotel. When you walk through the front gate into the courtyard, the restaurant is the third building on the left, with the red neon signs on the roof. There is no English menu but I had a list of things I wanted to try. One of the house specialities, and a very famous Zhengzhou dish, is Liyu Peimian, carp in sweet and sour sauce served with dry vermicelli noodles to soak up the sauce. The carp has been soaked three times to get rid of the earthy flavour, still slightly present, and carefully sliced to allow big chunks to be pulled off the bony skeleton with chopsticks. I enjoyed it but it’s probably more of a sharing dish as there’s a lot of it. To follow I had another famous local dish, Hui Mian or mutton noodle soup, which in this instance included broad noodles, a few small chunks of mutton, two kinds of mushrooms and some baby pak choi in a white broth, with a saucer of fresh coriander leaves and pickled garlic on the side. Very nice. The dessert of watermelon, cantaloupe and apple looked like a modern art installation. All the food was very enjoyable, if slightly strange to my palate. My only gripe was they only had warm beer, a common problem in China. Total cost was Y98, of which Y78 was the fish.
Other local delicacies I didn’t get time to try are Mulateng (a spicy soup eaten for breakfast), Guotie Tofu (fried bean curd), and the local wontons and steamed dumplings.