Dumplings in Nanjing

Nanjing in Jiangsu province has a long and venerable history, not all of it good. It was one of the greatest cities of ancient China, the capital of the ROC under the Kuomintang and the scene on a terrible massacre in the run up to WW2 which in part explains the poor contemporary relationship between Japan and China. In modern times it is the second largest commercial centre in Eastern China after Shanghai and has a population similar in size to London, although with much less going on. There lots to see here, like the old city walls and the lake area, but I was too busy with work to do much tourist stuff, other than eat…

Just around the corner from the Hotel Lakeview where I staying  is Hunan Lu, one of the main shopping streets in Nanjing, and just off it, Shizi Qiao, a food street with plenty of places to eat. As you walk down Hunan Lu you will see a huge neon tunnel on the right and a stone gate on the left, the latter being the entrance to Shizi Qiao.

It’s very convenient but unfortunately I don’t think any of the places along here are any good for food. On the left you will see a sign for a Thai place (suggested by Frommer’s) where I was served the worst ‘Thai’ fodder I’ve ever not eaten; Tom Yam chicken soup, fried rice and crab curry (all C/D). The food, in combination with a horrible waitress, led to me asking for my money back (I got about a third off). On the next night the Chicken Curry with Egg Rice in the neighbouring Punjabi restaurant wasn’t much better (C-) and the service was pretty brusque there too.

For a quick lunch there’s an ok noodle place about halfway down Hunan Lu on the right, called Ajisen. It’s a nationwide chain of Japanese noodle bars (so some things have been forgiven). It’s  basically an ok place to get a filling bowl of pork noodles (B) and maybe a rack of fried gyoza dumplings on the side (B). Not keen on their Pork Rib noodle soup though (C-) and probably not much else on their menu. Noodle soup and gyoza are enough for me here.

For a more upmarket dining experience jump a cheap cab (about 12 RMB) to the 1912 district on the corner of Changjiang Rd and Taiping North Rd. It’s quite commercial but the restaurants here (including an untried Thai restaurant) are much better than anything around Hunan Lu and are probably more likely to satisfy the Western palate.

Bellagio (Intermediate B+), 1912 District, Building A1, 5 Taiping Bei Lu. Visa and MC not accepted.

This is another nationwide chain serving up Taiwanese and other Pacific Rim dishes in comfortable modern surroundings. I had the Taiwanese Stewed Fatty Pork which is delicious but a bit too fatty for one person to eat a whole plate of (B-).

There are lots of other enticing things on the menu though. I love that they have a range of six greens (Chinese ‘Broccolli’, Bok Choi, Kang Kong ‘Water Spinach’, Guangdong Chinese Cabbage, Spinach, Crown Daisy)(see post on Chinese Greens), from which you choose three to be stir fried (B+). The Rice with Ham was ok too (B).

The desserts are quite healthy-looking and feature a lot of shaved ice and smoothies. I had the huge Mangguo Bingshan (meant for 2-4 people); chunks of fresh mango doused in condensed milk and served on a bed of shaved ice (B). Total cost with two small beers a very cheap 126 RMB.

Southern Beauty (Intermediate B+), 1912 District, Building 17, 52 Taiping Bei Lu, just a few buildings down from Bellagio above. Visa and MC not accepted.

Continuing the chain theme, this is a restaurant specialising in Sichuanese food which you will find all over the country. The decor looks very plush but the communal sofas are rather rickety. I had an excellent Kung Pao Chicken (A) and the Mapo Tofu (A), both searing hot. Also a side dish of Jacob’s Coat; yet another green vegetable, looking like skinny spinach on the plate but which releases a purple red juice when stir fried (B). With rice and two 500ml Tsingtao’s the bill came to a paltry 258 RMB.

If you want to see how moneyed Chinese youth like to enjoy themselves, you could check out the No.1 Bar a couple of doors down. It’s a glitzy late bar/club playing Western style music and with local singers occasionally vocalising over Chinese tracks. The decor involves throne-like sofas, over the top chandeliers, installations of fake steam pipes and dials, whole walls of video screens and lasers. Guys outnumbered girls about ten to one on the Tuesday night I was there. Everyone seemed to be on their phones all the time as they have free Wi-Fi. A tiny G&T cost me 45 RMB, about £5, roughly the same as the hotel.

If you’re working in the ICF building at Xinjiekou station a good place to eat lunch on floor B1 is the Onion Cafe which does an excellent spicy hot pot set (‘boiled beef and rice’) (A).

The non-spicy version with prawn filled pork dumplings and bok choi (‘steamed meat rice’) is pretty good too (B+). These were the nicest things I had during my short stay but probably not worth trekking here for.

Both come with rice and pickles and cost about £4. There’s an Ajisen here too.

So sadly I didn’t get to try some of the local delicacies like ‘Lion’s Heads’ and Pig Lung Soup. This wasn’t for lack of trying though but most of the authentic places I tried to go to that were recommended by the DB guide to China no longer seemed to exist or had changed their character.

An example of this was the highly recommended restaurant at the Hotel Metropole which is now a buffet set up. Luckily though they had a Korean BBQ place in the cellar (disguised as a toilet!) which was ok (B).

I had a plate of five kinds of beef and pork which was probably meant for four people. Along with all the side dishes it was quite a marathon but I managed most of it!

Hotel Lakeview Xuanwu (Advanced B)

Pros: very comfy beds, comprehensive breakfast, good view of the lake from the revolving restaurant on the top floor where breakfast is served, BBC world on the telly, free wi-fi in the rooms, right next to Xuanwumen Subway station.

Cons: annoyingly curvilinear pool, a medium sized gym with ageing machines and no space for floor work, caged minah bird on the breakfast floor, overpriced Chinese restaurant with service that can’t cope with Western customers.

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