To be fair I only spent two nights in Ningbo so this post hardly does it justice. It’s a seaport near Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, so known for seafood and also Ningbo Tangyuan; small glutinous rice balls which are stuffed with pork or sesame seed paste and boiled, although I wasn’t able to track any down.
It rained nearly all the time I was there and I had no time off so I didn’t really get to know the city at all. You can probably tell I didn’t have the greatest of times here but hopefully you will do better. This What’s On guide might help.
The Hotel Hai Ju Wenhua at 293 Caihong South Rd is a rather dark depressing place and isn’t really set up to deal with Western clients. Very few of the staff speak English and the breakfast has very little you’d want to eat unless you’re Chinese, just fruit and toast in my case. There are no health facilities and no English channels on the telly, which makes for quite a boring stay if the weather doesn’t allow you to go out. Also, be warned there are two in the chain so make sure taxi drivers take you to the right one.
On the first night I braved the rain and walked to the Shipu Restaurant in Tianyi Square (Tel. 574 8727 1777) in the centre of town which is very famous for its seafood. I had hotel reception make a reservation for me, give me rough directions (turn right at the church) and write the name down but still went to the wrong restaurant. However one of the greeters left her post to walk me to the Shipu! That’s how famous it is I guess.
It’s a huge place, on several floors. Upon entering you go to the aquarium area to choose your victim for supper which is then caught and cooked in the style you ask for.
Rather than a menu there are lots of dishes on display, both plastic and real, which you can point at to get what you want.
My translations and flashcards let me down though and I ended up with the most austere meal of the whole trip.
I was hoping for a steamed fish with maybe some ginger, spring onions and black beans but as I didn’t specify these I ended up with a steamed plaice adorned with a solitary sprig of coriander.
Also a plate of rather woody stir-fried Water Spinach and a bowl of plain rice. Cheap as chips, but nowhere near as tasty.
After all that healthy food I felt compelled to pop into a local supermarket on the way home to get a globalised chocolate snack for dessert.
At least you know where you are with these things.
On another night, thanks to a tip off from a local American teacher, I jumped a cab to Lao Waitan. It’s one of those modern touristy entertainment areas that now exist in most Chinese cities which have been designed to simulate the feel of ‘Old China’. The streets are cobbled with grey stone and the ersatz buildings are low rise with traditional tiled roofs. There are heaps of bars and several restaurants along Yangshan Rd and the streets leading off it with The Office being the bar of choice for off duty native speaker teachers.
Needing a change, I went to a Japanese Restaurant (sorry don’t know the name or address but walk around and you’ll find it) which fulfilled its purpose (B-). The Chinese Masta who runs the place had been trained in Kyoto and was delighted to have someone to practice his Japanese with, both of us being at the same low elementary level.
While reading the menu I had some Edamamae soya beans which were ok but not great, probably out of season and frozen (C+). The Hiyayakko (Cold Tofu) was much better though. (B+).
The Masta insisted I try the Fried Ray Wings which had been dosed in a sugary substance, deep fried and served with mayo. They were a new experience and interesting at first but I couldn’t finish them (B/C).
After this some California Roll (C+), a Salmon Temaki roll (B-) and some over-cold and tasteless Tuna Sashimi (C), attractively presented on a bed of ice with a small plastic bonsai tree. Some of this was for free, courtesy of my new friend, who even pinched another customer’s umbrella to come out with me in the rain to get a taxi.
I wasn’t so lucky the next day though when I tried to get to the train station. Leaving the hotel at 10am, I’d given myself an hour for the fifteen minute journey but couldn’t get a cab for love or money due to the rain and the never ending rush hour. Eventually I persuaded a dozing tuk tuk guy to give me an unofficial lift but he had to drop me round the corner to avoid the wrath of the professional cabbies. I legged it with my bags and actually made it to the platform while the train was still there. Unfortunately though they wouldn’t open the doors the doors for me and I had to stand and look at it for a whole two minutes before it left without me. Arrgh!
Fortunately, I had been given a mobile to call my local co-ordinator for just this kind of situation. With her help I tried to get another train ticket but they sell out days in advance and eventually she had to book a private car for about £250 to drive me the 6 hours to Nanjing. So, be warned; in cities with no metro, book your train tickets for around midday and leave at least ninety minutes early if it’s raining!
The journey was uneventful but we did stop off at a service area to stretch our legs and get some refreshments. The lady driver bought a bag of these bizarre nuts which I’d never seen before.
The shells are w-shaped and they have the consistency and texture of brazil nuts but taste much earthier. As my friend John mentions in the comments below they are called ‘water caltrop’ in English.