Archive for the Guandong Category

Futuristic Shenzhen

Posted in China, Guandong, Shenzhen with tags , , , , on November 16, 2012 by gannet39

Shenzhen, in Guandong province, used to be a fishing village until the late 70s when the government designated it as the first SEZ (Special Economic Zone) to complement neighbouring Hong Kong. It is now one of the most modern and richest cities in the country, quite an amazing accomplishment for a city that’s only existed for thirty five years. The downtown area reminds me a lot of central Tokyo with its super-sized buildings and broad boulevards. The populace comes from all over China, so the predominant language is Mandarin, despite the city being located in a primarily Cantonese speaking province.

OCT Graf
As Shenzhen is such a young city, even the locals feel that “there is no culture here”, whether culinary or artistic. There is very little to see or do other than go shopping, and the days out suggested to me generally involved a one hour taxi ride to somewhere else.

Happy Lion

Also, when I searched for restaurants on the web the only ones I found were suggested by Frommer’s but when I called them up the numbers weren’t working and the hotel receptionists couldn’t find the places on the web so they perhaps aren’t open any more.

One area of some interest though is the trendy Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) in the Nan Shan district, which is about 30 minutes walk from the Hotel Mercure, or a cheap five minute taxi ride (to Jinxiu North St).

Jeep art
There are several converted factories and office blocks which now house modern art galleries, lifestyle shops, design agencies, restaurants and cafes. I spent a couple of pleasant hours wandering around. It’s quite peaceful by day but I’d imagine it gets busier in the evenings.

OCT building
I love Eastern ceramics and found a teapot shop where a nice lady brewed me some Cha in the traditional style using beautiful teapots and cups.

Making a cuppa
You could also check out the bizarre creations in the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT) (free entry).

Gallery installation too riveting for some

I also had an excellent bowl of Niu Rou Mian (beef noodle soup) for lunch in the OCT at My Noodle (Intermediate A). They make your noodles in front of you (quite a skilled job, like a game of cat’s cradle with elastic bands), before chucking them straight in the pan (video here).

The broth was fine (B) but the freshly made noodles were some of the best I’ve ever had, silky and smooth (A+). Apologies but I couldn’t get the exact address as the staff didn’t speak English and it wasn’t on the bill. There is no sign over the door but there are white glass orb lamps and brown wicker chairs outside and the interior has varnished wood tables with circular stools and an open kitchen.

Beef noodle soup

I was put up at the Grand Mercure Shenzhen Oriental Ginza in Futian, one of the better hotels I stayed in when I first came to China in 2008, although it’s a little run down now (A-).

I particularly like it because it was the only hotel in the country where I could access internet sites like Facebook and WordPress and watch the BBC on TV. Usually these are all blocked by the Great Fire Wall of China but apparently you can get these media in certain hotels run by Western chains (although the censor will still black out BBC news reports on China if anything sensitive is discussed).

They also have an excellent gym and a 25 metre pool which is all I need to be happy. The youthful staff have always given me excellent friendly service.

The Chinese Restaurant in the hotel is much like any other in that it serves over-priced but attractively presented cuisine in pretentious surroundings. The food is ok but nothing special (B). On the first night I had the Kung Pao chicken with the meat chopped into little pieces with fragments of bone left in, as is the Chinese style (C). I wasn’t keen at the time but apparently if gives the food more flavour.

Kung Pao chicken

On another night, two bowls of plain rice and a plate of stir-fried seasonal greens (Choi Sum?) with tea and a beer came to about £15 which was a lot for what it was. You do get a plate of complimentary fruit at the end though.

Beers in the sports bar upstairs cost a hefty £3.50 for a 330ml. The bartenders will happily give you a game of pool if you’re by yourself. The girl who played me was so serious she even had a glove for her cue hand!

The hotel breakfast buffet is pretty comprehensive with just about everything you could imagine and a whole lot more you couldn’t. They even know how to make proper bircher museli (soaked in hot milk the night before) which is more than many hotels in Europe do. Pictured is the white flesh of Dragon Fruit which looks interesting but is actually pretty tasteless (C).

Dragon fruit
If you want to escape the clutches of the hotel you could try your luck on the back streets of the dingy residential area behind it. It’s full of life in the evenings with hawkers setting up temporary outdoor kitchens and small tables with mini-plastic stools (Initial B). You can get a plate of fried noodles or fried rice (Initial B-) and a 550ml beer for under £2 at these places. Ok, so it’s not haute cuisine and can be a bit greasy but at least you’re not being ripped off.

Street noodles


One night my local work colleagues took me out to a big modern Sichuan restaurant which was pretty good. Again I don’t have the address but the neon outside said ‘Elegant Sichuan Food’.

Our dishes included a bowl of Mature Tofu with Black Fungus…

Mature Tofu with Black Fungus

…Tomato and Chilli Soup (B+), White Fish, Celery, Straw Mushrooms, Sichuan Peppercorns and Dried Chillies (B),…

White Fish, Celery, Straw Mushrooms, Sichuan Peppercorns and Dried Chillies

…Deep-fried Rolls which I think contained lotus seed paste (B).

Lotus paste rolls

My favourite was the Fried Beef with Dried Chillies (A) which I think had been dusted in flour and deep-fried.

Fried Beef with Dried Chillies

However I wasn’t as keen on the Congealed Pigs Blood with Beansprouts and Tripe (C)…

Congealed Pigs Blood with Beansprouts and Tripe

…or the balls of vegetable matter which came with a bitter green cucumber like vegetable (C).

Not sure what this is

I relearned the most important sentence of Putonghua (Mandarin) here. My workmates taught me that ‘ii be bing pi jiu’ means ‘one bottle cold beer’, a crucial bit of survival language. You could just take a picture of a bottle of beer and show it to them but odds on it’ll arrive warm. Same if  you ask for a glass of water. The Chinese believe it’s better for the digestion to drink warm drinks.

Police bikeTo sum up then, I doubt you’ll have many good cultural and culinary experiences here, unless you you’re a fan of modern architecture, but on the positive side, Shenzhen is cleaner and more livable than most Chinese cities. In my view it’s a place to make money and do business but not much else.


Guangzhou goings on

Posted in China, Guandong, Guangzhou with tags , , , on December 5, 2010 by gannet39

After shivering in 5C in Beijing at the beginning of November it was bliss to step off the plane into 20C in sub-tropical Guangzhou, capital of Guandong. Of course the city is still shrouded in pollution but at least it’s warm pollution.

I stayed at the four star Riverside Hotel which is a bit old and run down but cheap (£45 a night) and very central. The breakfast is pretty average and the waiters are so bored that they hover like vultures waiting for your used teaspoon. Each level also has a floor captain whose main job seems to be pressing the lift buttons for you. I found the front desk staff to be very friendly and helpful however. There is a small 10 metre pool and a gym with several old weight machines and one serviceable running machine, for an average-sized person that is. The sauna is pretty pointless with cracks in the door jamb letting all the heat out. The pool terrace, and hopefully your room, has a great view of the Pearl River which is quite a spectacle at night when the waterfront buildings, bridges and pleasure boats are all lit up in multi-coloured neon.

Pearl river at nightBridge and ferryFerry

Freaky ferry
Dong Jiang Hai Xian Jiu Jia aka Hong Xing (East River) Seafood Restaurant, (Advanced C). Turn left out of the hotel and walk along the riverside for about ten minutes, continuing nearly as far as the first bridge, you will see the restaurant on the right just before Hai Zhu Square.

Hong Xing Seafood Restaurant
Hong Xing is the best of their many branches. In Britain we like to think that Chinese people will eat just about anything. In China the saying goes that Cantonese people “will eat anything with four legs except the furniture”. Cantonese people in turn say that about people from Guangzhou, and in Guangzhou this is probably the place where you can get them all, as well as two, six and multi-legged life forms.

Hong Xing Sea World

Come on thenCrayfishRazor shellsDeath to all crabsRed lobsterScallopsWith five floors of dining rooms and seating for two hundred and fifty on my floor alone, excluding the private rooms, you would think this would have to be the biggest place in town, but apparently there’s somewhere even bigger (Fisherman’s City in Panyu).

Normally I would avoid such places but it is quite a spectacle, mainly because of the big tanks full of various kinds of sea life on the ground floor. It’s kind of like being at Sea World, except you can pass the death sentence on anything you see.

Paint spiral shellsFingerling

Geoduck ClamLoad of balls

Water beetlesCroc
The atmosphere is pretty raucous, like any busy restaurant in China, but made more so on the night I went by the close basketball final of the Asian Games between China and South Korea on the telly. (China won 77 points to 71).

China vs South Korea

There are tables outside on the ground floor but if like me you’re a lone diner you’d probably better arrive sometime between lunch and dinner (3-5pm) to stand a chance of getting one.

The twenty page menu has plenty of scary pictures but rest assured there are plenty of other highly edible things you can tolerably eat. This is primarily a Cantonese restaurant but there are pages for Japanese Sushi, Szechuan and Thai food.

Scorpio soupStone fishHoptoadSea horseGoose footTongueFoot and cumberSteamed crocCumber with honeyFish heads


My friend John tells me there are even good veggie options but other than a page of greens and the odd bunch of mushrooms, these didn’t jump out at me.

I’m a huge sushi fan so I jumped at the chance to have some fresh sashimi and went for the Sendai Sashimi Platter for 380 RMB. For that I got nine kinds of raw seafood (octopus, white tuna, whelk, sea bream, two cuts of salmon and three cuts of mackerel, one with red sea-urchin roe and another with a yellow roe I couldn’t identify). You get four slices of each on a bed of ice with a flower arrangement and a garnish of lemon and erm… maraschino cherries.

Sashimi platter

The roe/fish hybrids were something new, as was the white tuna (bottom right on the plate), which I’d never come across when I lived in Japan.


The reason I found out later is because it’s banned there for health reasons! It seems there are two fish which are both misleadingly called ‘white tuna’ in some countries. One is Albacore tuna which actually has light pink flesh in relation to other kinds of tuna, and the other is Escolar which isn’t tuna at all but a deep water fish, also known as Butterfish.  It seems the wax esters (similar to omega fatty acids) it contains can have negative effects on some people (not me) if eaten in large amounts but a few slices of sushi shouldn’t do anyone any harm. Here’s the debate on Chowhound.

I thought all the sushi was generally ok, except the sea bream was still partly frozen and soya sauce wasn’t Kikkoman (pretty essential) and the waiters had no idea of how much wasabi to put in the dipping dish. It was nice enough (C+) and fulfilled my craving but I wouldn’t have it here again.

I also love bean curd so I also incongruously ordered the ‘house special’ of braised tofu but sadly this wasn’t special at all when it arrived (C-).

The picture

Eight thick slabs of overcooked tofu in a meaty sauce which looked nothing like the picture in the menu (a common problem in China).

The reality

At the bottom of each page there is the disclaimer “the real dish is up to the cuisine, the picture is only a sample” which translated into Yorkshire means “tha’ll get what tha’s given and effin well like it”. There was little to no chance of being given a clip round the ear here though so I pushed it to one side.

To finish I had an order of six piping-hot Portuguese egg custard tarts which I couldn’t fault them too much on (B) except there were too many and I could only manage five!



At 541 RMB (with 3 beers, a bowl of steamed rice and another round of salmon nigirizushi because I like it so much) this was my most expensive meal so far in five weeks of being in China but it was my penultimate night before leaving the country so a treat was in order (any excuse).

I put this place in the advanced category simply because of its sheer size but to be honest the food is nothing special, and fairly expensive. It’s worth going though just for the experience, although you could just walk in, take pictures and leave.

With thanks to John Harrop.
Bingsheng (Advanced A), 33 Dongxiao Lu.

This is a famous time-honoured restaurant that my friend and work colleague Nicky took me to for a great meal.


Bingsheng interior

He knows the manager so bagged us a private room although I wouldn’t have minded sitting in the large modern main room.
Nicky and me
While we perused the menu, a couple of appetisers arrived. The first was raw cucumber with a shot glass of soya sauce and wasabi for dipping, a nice combination I hadn’t considered before (B).

Cucumber with soy wasabi shot

Less inviting was the beef tripe that came with it but I literally swallowed my inhibitions and got stuck in and it was delicious! It came in a white liquid with small chunks of carrot and giant radish (mooli or daikon) and had a very peppery aftertaste that was very pleasant (B).

A load of tripe

Nicky ordered for us, taking into consideration my desire to try the suckling pig which is very famous in Guangzhou. The first taste of little piggy was two squares of fatty pork skin on a gem lettuce leaf with small chunks of pineapple and peach in a white sauce, utterly delicious (A).

Pork two ways

We also had a dish of two kinds of pork, one which seemed to have been steeped in honey and barbequed (A) and another perhaps grilled and tossed in hoisin sauce (B).

Sweet little piggy

Bean curd (dofu) seems to be a speciality here too with three pages of the menu given over to it. We had the ‘three style bean curd’ which had two slabs each of white, cream and black silk bean curd made from three different kinds of bean in watery soy based sauce and sprinkled with chives, again wonderful (A).

Three styles of curd

We also had some roti-like fried pancakes which seemed Indian in origin to me but are apparently a local dish (B).


On the veg front we had Huai San, a kind of root vegetable paired with mange tout and tossed in a sauce of minced pork, which was interesting but didn’t do much for me (C).


Huai San

Much better was my favourite of stir fried baby pak choi (called something else here) which I just couldn’t stop eating (A). Great food in a great restaurant, go if you can.

Pak choi

Another famous place for roast suckling pig is Datong at 63 Yanjiang Xi Lu (Tel. 8188 8988 or 5933) but Nicky says it’s not as good as it once was. They are also renowned for inventing a dish of crispy chicken skin and have good dim sum in the mornings. The restaurant takes up several floors with great views of the river from the roof top terrace.

Guangzhou also features in Episode 4 of the 2012 BBC series about Chinese food; Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure.

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