Archive for the China Category

Stinky tofu in Changsha

Posted in Changsha, China, Hunan with tags , on March 10, 2014 by gannet39

20130831_141556Changsha is the capital city of Hunan, a province famous for its fiery food.

According to Wikipedia,  it differs from neighbouring Sichuan province in “its liberal use of chilli, shallots and garlic, Hunan cuisine is known for being dry hot (干辣) or purely hot, as opposed to Sichuan cuisine, [which is] known for its distinctive mala (hot and numbing) seasoning and other complex flavour combinations, [and] frequently employs Sichuan peppercorns along with chilies which are often dried, and utilises more dried or preserved ingredients and condiments. Hunan cuisine, on the other hand, is often spicier by pure chili content, contains a larger variety of fresh ingredients, and tends to be oilier. Another characteristic is that, in general, Hunan cuisine uses smoked and cured goods in its dishes much more frequently”.

I had just two days here and only managed to get downtown on one occasion.

20130831_201123The main entertainment district seems to be on the eastern bank of the Xiangjiang river, south of Juzizhou bridge and around its continuation Wuyi Avenue. The area has lots of glitzy shopping centres, branded shops, night clubs and eateries of all kinds which attract all ages but especially the young.

20130831_200436A lot of street hawkers were selling this strange vegetable. Can anyone tell me what it is?

20130831_200956Next to the river is the Xiangjiang Scenic Belt, a riverside walk where people go to listen or take part in outdoor karaoke. I enjoyed wandering around here just people watching.

As a lone, non-Mandarin speaking traveller, it’s a challenge for me to get to try traditional dishes wherever I go. I managed it in Changsha though, by doing the following:

I went to this Wikipedia webpage and took a photo of the ‘list of notable dishes’ from Hunan with their English/Chinese translations. In the restaurant I just zoomed in on the dishes I fancied eating and showed them the Chinese translation.The waiting staff were ever so relieved they didn’t have to communicate with me verbally (the source of surliness in some places?) and I got quite good service. The other diners that I was sharing my circular table with were gobsmacked at what I managed to get and I got several smiles as a result.  Ah, the wonders of technology.

20130831_193150On one occasion I had Changsha-style stinky tofu or Chángshā chòu dòufǔ or 長沙臭豆腐长沙臭豆腐 This dish is prepared by soaking the tofu in a brine and fermenting it for a number of months. Different styles take different colours but the Changsha version is coal black. It’s said that the more the tofu smells the better it tastes but the stuff I had didn’t have a strong odour and tasted fine (B+). It came with a spicy sauce but wasn’t too hot.

20130831_193810I also had another famous local dish; shredded pork with vegetables or nóngjiā xiǎo chǎoròu or 農家小炒肉农家小炒肉 (sorry about the blurry picture). Again a bit of spice but not too much. I loved the whole cloves of garlic though (B+).

I’m so sorry but I don’t recall the name of the restaurant I went to, and have lost my notes, but there are a few specialising in Hunanese food  on Tripadvisor you could try.

20130831_194435I was staying at the Grand Sun City Hotel (Block 3, 269 Furong Middle Road). I received good service here from most of the staff, though not many of them spoke English. In terms of facilities, they have a large triangular pool and a basic gym with a couple of fair-sized running machines. The breakfast is ok but limited for Westerners as is usually the case. The fried rice, pak choi and cold Harbin beer that I had in their Chinese restaurant was fine (B+). Go early though as you may be the only customer and they will want to close as soon as  your done.

There’s not much in the way of things to do in or near the hotel but, if listening to the usual piano recital in the lobby isn’t your thing, it’s only a short taxi ride to the downtown entertainments district. Just ask the receptionist to write the address for the cab driver, and grab a hotel business card so you can get back again.

Xiangyang Style

Posted in China, Hubei, Xiangyang with tags , on March 5, 2014 by gannet39

Xiangyang is a small city in Hubei of only half a million people, about 2.5 hours on the train from Wuhan. Foreigners are relatively rare here so you can expect to get stared at a fair amount but the flipside is that people will be quite friendly and well disposed towards you, unlike larger cities where you are less special. I had just two nights here so there is not that much I can tell you about the place. 

20130829_125051Xiangyang is also known for its old city walls although reviews on Trip Advisor say they are a modern reproduction. I didn’t have time to go see them but it may be possible to get to them on foot from the hotel in about 30 minutes. As you can see on this Google map, the fortress is just south of the Hanshui river, though I’m not sure whether either of the two bridges have pedestrian access. A taxi would be pennies probably.

I was put up at the Celebrity Hotel (Te No.1 Paopu St, People Square, Tel. (710) 348 8888), a rather old and dingy hotel that I doubt has ever seen a sleb. The rooms are a fair size but the carpets are pretty grotty and the TV didn’t work in my room. On the other hand I could access my email for the first time since arriving in the country.

The breakfast is probably fine if you’re Chinese but other than a couple of boxes of All Bran, some cheap white sliced bread with jam, melon and a greasy omelette there was nothing tailored for the Western palate. I went native for the duration and had the beef noodle soup each morning which was pretty tasty. Noodles are a bit risky for the work shirt though , it’s best to get your face right down to the bowl as the locals do to avoid splashes.

There is a rudimentary gym with some flimsy looking machines and a pool full of noisy kids, both of which I avoided. The staff were unimpressive except for Felix the assistant manager who was very helpful and spoke a bit of English, unlike any of his colleagues. The check out receptionist struck me as being a racist though as she didn’t even look at me or say thanks. An experience you occasionally get sometimes as a Westerner in China unfortunately. I just ignored her back.

So why stay here when you could be at the Crown Plaza uptown? In my case it was because my place of work for the two days I was here, the Happy Castle Disney Magic English Language Training Centre (!), was just five minute’s walk around the corner.

20130829_121937I couldn’t find any data about local restaurants on the net, or anywhere else, and the one time I did go out there was no picture menu to be had. Instead I just ate a big lunch and had the hotel’s complimentary fruit in the evenings. The school took me to a place down the side street over the road from the school (the restaurant is on the right in a small square/car park) where, rather than reading a menu, you pointed out what you wanted to eat from a series of cards hanging on the wall, although without help from the teacher I was with, I wouldn’t have known what most of it was.

20130829_121931On the first day we had some steamed pak choi in garlic (B+), thin slices of stir fried silk tofu with chilli in a tasty sauce (A) and a mixed plate of lean and fatty pork with yet more chilli (A+). It was so good I couldn’t stop eating it but the hot spice combined with the humid weather meant I was dripping with perspiration by the time I left. The next day I went for the much blander stir-fried lettuce (!) with garlic (C+) and some cold roasted duck (C) which were much less appetising.

20130829_204529For some entertainment in the evening I went to see what was happening in the People’s Square (turn left out of the hotel and go straight, over the crossroads, and you’ll see it on the left after a couple of minutes). Half of Xiangyang seems to be here letting their hair down in the cool evening air.

20130829_204540There’s a stage where the local kids can get a taste of stardom singing solos or dancing in troupes (love these kids in wigs and green outfits!) in front of an appreciative audience. There are several other competing sound systems where groups of middle aged women perform ballroom dancing moves together while the men stand around and watch. My favourites were the troupe of all ages doing the chachacha to Mercy by Duffy. The younger generation seem to prefer dancing to a frenetic form of electronic dance music (EDM) that’s all the rage in China, Korea and South East Asia generally. The dance style for this seems to basically be shuffling at high speed, as demonstrated by a couple of youngsters in the square.

Behind the square there are the back streets lined with street kitchens offering piles of greasy looking bird carcasses, pig trotters and hearts and quite a few other things I couldn’t work out. I have given these kinds of places a try in the past (for noodle  soups) but the lack of hygiene standards means that I can’t risk getting sick and jeopardising my job.

Xiangyang is not a pretty place from what I saw but it was friendly enough and I enjoyed working there for a couple of days.

Weary in Wuhan

Posted in China, Hubei, Wuhan with tags , , on February 28, 2014 by gannet39

Wuhan is the capital of Hubei prefecture in central eastern China. With a population of 10 million it is the biggest city in central China. During my brief stay, there was little that distinguished it for me from other Chinese cities except maybe the air pollution seemed even murkier than usual.

I stayed for three days, most of which were taken up with work or sleep as I recovered from the long journey, via Manchester, Amsterdam and Beijing. Thankfully my luxurious super modern room at the Hotel Marco Polo (Times Square, 159 Yanjiang Avenue) was an air conditioned haven from the heat (33C at the end of August) and pollution outside. I could lie in my bath on the corner of the 15th floor and gaze out over the river and other tall buildings sitting ghostlike in the soupy air. The view should have been much better but visibility was down to just a few hundred metres at times.

The hotel has a very well equipped gym and also a pool but the latter was closed for renovation when I was there so I can’t comment on it. Every staff member I met was really helpful and friendly. My only gripe was that I couldn’t access my BT Yahoo email account. I was prepared for having my WordPress blog and Facebook blocked by the Great Firewall of China but losing email as well was a new one on me. Whether Wi-Fi or cable, in the room or in the lobby, the internet was really slow and eventually I just gave up on it. Unusually though, the hotel did have both BBC and CNN on the TV, both of which are often blocked in other hotels where Westerners don’t usually stay.

20000101_141621The hotel breakfast is pretty comprehensive, catering for both Western and Chinese tastes. A typical Hubei breakfast food that I tried here was Hot & Dry Noodles, the spice coming from the dried chillies and the dryness from the sesame paste which the noodles are tossed in. There was a diced vegetable in the mix but I couldn’t work out what it was. It was edible enough but I can’t say I was wild about it (C+).

20000101_141626I also tried Doupi which is sometimes described as a kind of pizza. In fact it’s two large sheets of beancurd sandwiching a filling of rice and perhaps other ingredients like beef, shrimp or mushroom, although they just had the plain version at the hotel.

I did eat in the rather boring hotel restaurant one night as I was too tired to go out. The food was fine (A) but expensive. I paid double what I would elsewhere for three small beers, a plate of fried rice and some steamed pak choi. On another night I decided to get out and about, so I went to this place recommended by the Eyewitness guide for China.

Yanyangtian (aka Sunny Sky), (Advanced B+), Jiefang Dadao, Baofeng Lukou, Tel 027 8375 0706.

This place is a fifteen minute cab ride from the hotel but as taxis are really cheap it only costs about £2 to get there. There are two floors, a large, noisy and plainly decorated main room at ground level and a more intimate and nicely decorated smaller room upstairs. As is often the case, the staff were pretty shocked to see a Westerner but they were friendly enough. I was armed with my food flashcards (see my post on Getting Fed in China) and dictionary app so communications went fairly smoothly.

20130825_201104On the advice of the guide I tried Nongjia Xiaochaoru which was described as a spicy pork dish but was actually okra tossed in chillies and tiny chunks of cubed pork and some other ‘stuff’, all good (A) .

20130825_202613Usually, alongside my main fish or meat dish, I have a plate of stir fried green leafy veg of some description so I just pointed at something green on the picture menu without knowing what it actually was. In the end it turned out to be green peppers with larger slices of fatty pork sitting on chunks of a hard rice cake, which was fine (B) but resulted in a bit of an overkill on both the veg and meat fronts!

20130825_200353Both dishes were good but the portions were huge (meant to be shared by a group) so I couldn’t finish them. However, even with two 500ml Snow beers and a big bowl of steamed rice, the bill was much cheaper than the hotel even though this was quite a posh restaurant.

The Eyewitness guide mentions a few other restaurants which I list below, even though I haven’t been to them. It’s best to have reception call them first to make sure you can get in and also write the address for the taxi driver. Take the phone number so the driver can call if he’s not sure where to go.

Changchunguan Sucaigan (269 Wuchang, Tel 027 885 4229) is a vegetarian restaurant next to a Daoist temple, the decor of which it mimics. The guide suggests you try Lazi Tianluo, apparently a veggie version of river snails, or Xiaopinpan which is a sample platter of their most popular dishes.

Fang Fang Caiguan (1 Jiqing Jie. Tel 027 8281 0954) is the oldest and largest restaurant in town. Apparently you can pay to be serenaded with pop hits or trad classics which for me makes it sound like a place to avoid, but others might like that kind of thing. The Ya Bozi (duck’s neck) and caiyu lianou (fish and lotus root) are supposed to be good.

Mr Xie Restaurant & Pub (558 Jiefang Dadao, Baofeng Lukou, Tel 027 8577 7288) is a busy expat hangout which lots of locals also go to too. The steamed Wuchang Fish (Qingzheng Wuchang Yu) is recommended.

I wanted to go to Xie’s most of all but the taxi driver told me it was shut so I went to Sunny Sky instead.  I don’t know whether the closure is just temporary or permanent.

Other than this I can’t say much about Wuhan. Important historical events have taken place here (various uprisings and battles) but there is not much to see as far as I can make out. There are a few old buildings with some nice architecture along Yanjiang Avenue. If you turn left out of the hotel and walk straight you will soon come to the former Bank of Indochina building on your left which looks quite nice. There are a few bars next to it that look good but I didn’t have the time or energy to check them out.

Catching the train in China is much like catching a plane, complete with trolley pushing stewardesses and meals in trays that you can purchase on request. The stations in major cities are huge terminals where thousands of people sit waiting to be released onto the platforms. Rather than buy the tickets at the station (involving long queues and ticket sellers that don’t speak English) you should buy them, at least a day in advance, via the hotel concierge. Travelling first class guarantees you a seat but don’t hang about because all the seats in both classes usually sell out very quickly.

It’s also a good idea to aim to arrive at the station 45 minutes early as taxis can be scarce at peak times and traffic jams can seriously delay you (see my Ningbo post for the nightmare I experienced on my last trip). The hotel told me it takes about 20 minutes to drive to the station but they didn’t say that it can take nearly as long again for the bell boys to get you a vehicle. I eventually went out on the street and got one myself after only a couple of minutes but perhaps I was lucky.

Once at the station you need to factor in a bit of a walk due to the size of the building. Tickets and signs are all in Mandarin so you only have the numbers of your train, carriage and seat printed on your ticket to help you. There are usually two entrances down to either end of the platform which are numbered according to the carriages that are at the front or back of the train.

Thankfully after a traffic jam scare, I made it with about 20 minutes to spare. Next stop Xiangyang.

Spicing it up in Chengdu

Posted in Chengdu, Sichuan with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by gannet39

Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan (aka Szechuan), famed for its spicy and very delicious food. The province is also known as the home of the giant panda and for the big earthquake they had in 2008, some 80km north west of Chengdu.

Panda love

The city is also home to the Chinese sister club of Sheffield United (my team), who go by the name of Chengdu Blades. Sadly, due to time and weather constraints I didn’t get time to check out the pandas or the football, so I contented myself with the food instead.

Urban neonThe neon lights of the city’s tall buildings are not quite as awe inspiring as its hilly neighbour Chongqing, but it’s still fun to buzz around the broad streets in a taxi taking in the urban landscape.

Light showCabs are very cheap here, starting at 8 RMB, so you can get to all the restaurants below for little more than two or three pounds.

Huang Cheng Lao Ma (High Intermediate A), Er Huan Lu Nan Duan 3,20, Tel. 028 8513 9999

Conveyor hot potThis is a multi-storey restaurant and teahouse in a very modern and impressive building. I went on the recommendation that it was one of the best places to try hot pot (aka steam boat), another very famous Sichuan method of cooking. Unlike the north, where hotpot probably originated over a thousand years ago, the Sichuanese add Hua Jiao (Sichuan peppers) and chillies to make a red soup base.

HotpotThis style is called ‘numb and spicy’ to reflect these flavours, but you can opt for two soup bases and have a mild white stock as well. I prefer the hot one though.

Bok choiYou can have hot pot in many restaurants which I’m sure are very good but the great thing about how they do it here is that all the ingredients pass in front of you in small dishes on a conveyor belt so you can choose exactly what you want, and how much,  from a very wide range of options.

The spreadIn my case I chose bowls of mushrooms (straw, oyster and boletus), meat (pork, two kinds of beef, liver, tripe) and vegetables (pak choi, water spinach, bean sprouts) as well as tofu and transparent noodles. There are lots of fishy dishes on offer too as well as many other things you would need a Chinese friend to help you identify. Once cooked, ladled out and drained the food is then dipped in a bowl of garlic flavoured sesame oil and scoffed, a very enjoyable process.

There are other snacks, desserts and lots of fruit on separate buffet tables too. You pay a set fee of 140 RMB (drinks extra) and eat as much as you like, which is like a red rag to a bull to me! On both occasions I went I’d missed lunch and ate way more than a normal person, so they couldn’t wait to get rid of me by the end of the night! I really enjoyed this place and would definitely recommend it.

Ma La Tu Ji Spicy ChickenGinko Restaurant (Yinxing Chuancai Jiulou) (High Intermediate A), 12 Lin Jiang Zhong Lu, Chengdu, Tel. 028 8555 5588

Nice traditional style place with a second floor view of the river. I had shredded Spicy Chicken (Ma La Tu Ji) with peanuts, celery and some other unidentifiable things swimming in a pool of chilli oil and sesame seeds, as is the Sichuan way (B+).

Mapo TofuAlso the classic Mapo Tofu (A) in a sauce of ground Sichuan peppercorns, black beans and minced beef, doused in chilli oil again. In addition, Water Spinach stir fried with fresh red chilli (A) and a large Tsingtao which came in an unusual bottle and tasted stronger than usual.

Lovely smiley staff some of whom spoke some English. The Eyewitness guide says the Sichaun roast duck (Zhang Cha Ya) and steamed fish (Qing Zhen Gui yu) are also good here. They accept international credit cards.

PicklesSichuan Mangtingfang Langting Guibin Huiso (Advanced B+), Erhan Lu 15, Nan San Duan, Tel. 028 8519 3111

This is a famous old-school restaurant with an impressive facade but a relaxed atmospheric interior. When I arrived I was given some complimentary strange white pickles (anyone know what they are?) (B) and a plate of fruit which I saved for dessert.

Roast duckThe menu has some quite scary items but I bottled it as usual and went for the safer options. For a change on the duck theme I had crispy goose which came with a sweet sauce, plum I think (B+). The house fried rice is great (A) with lots of tasty morsels mixed in.

Stewed mushromsAlso a huge plate of mushrooms and pak choi In a white soupy sauce (B).

Dandan noodlesThe blandness of the pak choi and mushroom dish contrasted nicely with the mild heat of a bowl of Dan Dan Noodles (B+), another classic local dish. Points lost for the lack of cold beer.

Water Hotel (Intermediate C), 53-57 Taisheng South Road, Chengdu, Tel. 028 8298 8888

This is a big so called four star hotel trying to be posh but is actually quite basic with dingy rooms and aircon that you don’t have any control over. There are free Wi-Fi and internet cable connections in the rooms. The staff are friendly but have weak English skills which made booking restaurants a bit of a chore. The gym is pitiful with tiny unusable machines. Breakfast is good if you’re Chinese, sparse if you’re not. There are lots of noodle bars down the side street opposite and to the left of the front entrance.

Other than the hotel, I really enjoyed Chengdu and ate very well while I was here. The city also featured in the 2012 BBC series about Chinese food; Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure, (here’s the You Tube link) which was aired in the UK while I was here. Although I seemed to have had a lot of the same dishes I wish I’d seen it before I came for restaurant tips. Yu’s Family Kitchen looks to be the place to eat according to the programme. Can’t wait to try it next time…

Drinking in Jinhua

Posted in China, Zhejiang with tags , , , on December 12, 2012 by gannet39

Jinhua is in Zhejiang province, just to the south of Hangzhou. After the hectic streets of Nanjing, Jinhua feels really relaxed and chilled out. The traffic is much calmer and the taxis sometimes actually stop to let you walk over pedestrian crossings! The relaxed atmosphere reminded me a lot of my hometown. It was also the only place I’d been to so far on this trip where it didn’t rain although it was a blistering 35 degrees all the time I was there. Which is where the parallels with Sheffield end!

In terms of food, Jinhau is famous for its ham but I was dissuaded from trying it by two of the local teachers who told me it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be and is actually quite unhealthy due to the high salt content. Also a small crispy bun (either sweet or savory) topped with sesame seeds called ‘subing’, although I didn’t see these anywhere. Not that was looking too hard. I didn’t do much quality eating in the two days I was here but I did do plenty of drinking! In fact I had the best time here out of any of the cities I visited on this trip.

I stayed at…

Twin towersBest Western World Trade Hotel (Intermediate B+), 737 Bayi North St, Jinhua, Tel. 0579 8258 8888 www.jhsmhotel.com

I like Best Western as they usually have a decent breakfast and the rooms are quite plush. This one met the grade although their plumbing needs sorting out with a whiff of effluent sneaking into the bathroom every now and then. The staff were very nice and not over-helpful as they can be in bigger cities. The buildings seem to modelled on the twin towers of the world trade centre.

There’s a gym with four virtually pristine machines but no mats for floor work. Sports and gyms are a new concept to many Chinese people so they don’t get used much. I saw one guy walking backwards on the treadmill which was a different take from the norm.

Not a joke apparentlyDanny’s Cafe (Intermediate B), closes 9pm. Tel. 5798 230 4799

I found it a bit difficult to find this place but you could phone ahead and ask Danny (who is North American) where it is. Basically, turn left down Bayi St, the main road outside the hotel. After a couple of blocks you’ll see a restaurant called Shannana with red lanterns outside. Turn left down the small side street here and you’ll see Danny’s on the left.

This is a place to come if you are missing Western food. I had a small Spag Bol and a huge plate of chips which were  both fine if nothing special (B). With two Tsingtao beers and two G&T’s the bill came to a paltry 160 RMB.  They have Wi-Fi too so you can hang out for a while but it was pretty quiet when I went. It seems the local customers need a sign to tell them how to use the sit-down loo…

The Red Cactus (Intermediate A), closes 1am.

This is hard to find as well but from the road just outside Danny’s (ask him for directions), just walk straight over the park, crossing the two main roads, and go up the side street to the right of the ‘Facebook’ building. You will notice some fairly decent graffiti on the right hand wall and the entrance is soon after this. The area is very residential with lots of tower blocks but they have a courtyard with tables outside.

This place is a (Canadian owned?) bar and live venue and it was very raucous when I arrived with a band playing Nirvana covers and noisy young patrons playing games of liar’s dice. I quite liked the atmosphere and stayed for a while, taking advantage of their free Wi-FI.

CheersCheers (Elementary A)

One of the Chinese teachers recommended this dive bar, one of many bars along a pretty scruffy street, a taxi ride from the hotel. I couldn’t understand why she would come here at first as the street seemed to be full of brothels and the grotty bar was empty and had no atmosphere when I arrived at 9pm.

Burning BacardiThings livened up around 11 though with more people arriving and a girl taking to the small stage with her guitar to sing a few covers, including some Oasis songs. Before this though Hua, the hospitable owner, treated me to a few shots of dark Bacardi with a flaming lemon and brown sugar top. After a couple of  these we became good friends despite our limited abilities in each other’s languages! I met a few of the other customers too and had a good old chinwag, Cheers style, and after being the first to arrive I was the last to leave. This is a good place to improve international relations!

I quite liked Jinhua and would be happy to go again. If I had time I would have checked out the Architecture Park.

Dumplings in Nanjing

Posted in China, Jiangsu, Nanjing with tags , , , , , , , on December 5, 2012 by gannet39


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…

Nanjing traffic
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.

Art tunnel
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.

Hunan Rd neon
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.

Ajisen

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-).

Stewed Fatty Pork
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).

 

Spoilt for choice
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.

Mangguo Bingshan

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).

Spicy hot pot
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.

pork dumplings
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.

Hot pot set
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).

BBQ meat
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!

BBQ Side Dishes

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.

Not a lot in Ningbo?

Posted in China, Ningbo, Zhejiang with tags , on November 29, 2012 by gannet39

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.

Ship
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.

Aquarium
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.

Menu display

No idea, you tell meMy 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.

Steamed plaice
Also a plate of rather woody stir-fried Water Spinach and a bowl of plain rice. Cheap as chips, but nowhere near as tasty.

Water Spinach
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.

Local shop

At least you know where you are with these things.

Global productOn 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+).

Edamame

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).

Ray Wings

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!

Bullet train
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.

Weird nuts

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.

%d bloggers like this: