Archive for the Jiangsu Category

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…

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.

Wuxi – What to do?

Posted in China, Jiangsu, Wuxi with tags , , , on November 24, 2012 by gannet39

Unfortunately I didn’t find much to do on my day off in Wuxi although there’s always the shopping if you’re running low on Gucci or Louis Vitton handbags. I spent my Sunday walking in Xihui Gongyuan (Xihui Park) which contains Jichang Yuang, a Ming dynasty garden that inspired the gardens in the Summer Palace in Beijing. Just click on the pictures to blow them up.

Near the garden is a group of three wells called Tianxia Di’er Quan (Second Spring Under Heaven) which in the Tang period were considered the second best source for water to make tea in the whole country. Can’t be as good as Yorkshire tea though I’m sure…

You could also go to see the fabled Lake Tai, which was probably formed by a meteor seventy million years ago. It’s also a source for bizarrely shaped limestone formations called ‘Scholar rocks‘ that adorn classical Chinese gardens, one of which you can see in the gallery above (third row, middle picture). They were so sought after that one emperor nearly bankrupted the state collecting them.

From the sounds of things though the modern lake is very polluted and the tourist experience quite tacky so I left it for another time. For the same reason I wasn’t tempted to taste any of the local delicacies that came out of the lake.

Wuxi – What to Eat?

Posted in China, Jiangsu, Wuxi with tags , , , , , , , on November 23, 2012 by gannet39

Wuxi is in Jiangsu province, very near Shanghai which is just to the east. The Grand Canal snakes through the city on its way to the sea and there are lots of smaller canals though these seem to be disused or being filled in now.

Grand Canal

I came in mid-August when it was 35 degrees and extremely humid. You can expect rainstorms in the afternoons or evenings on most days so it’s probably a good idea to carry an umbrella with you when you go out to eat.


Sangfeng
(High Intermediate A-), 240 Zhongshan Lu (next to Bank of China, on the corner with Chongning Lu)

Wuxi is apparently best known for ‘Hong Shao Paigu’ or braised spare ribs, cooked in a ‘red style’, that is, a sauce of rice wine and soya sauce flavoured with ginger, cloves, anise and black pepper. Sangfeng is a famous shop where these can be bought vacuum packed and they have a restaurant above the shop, the side and main entrances to which are just around the corner on Chongning Lu.

Ribs

Unfortunately as a lone diner I found it really difficult to get in here, probably because they only have one room which was full on weekend nights. I managed eventually on the third attempt by going on a Monday night at around 8pm (when most Chinese diners have finished eating) and sneaking in the smaller side door and going straight to the dining room to avoid the nay saying greeters on the main door.

The ribs were worth the effort (A) and the bill was very reasonable, just 71 RMB for a triple portion of ribs, steamed pak choi, plain rice and a beer. The only downside was the staff who were far from helpful and don’t speak any English except for one young guy. I left my brolly one night and although I went back for it five minutes later, it took me another two visits and a thirty minute wait to retrieve it from lost property, with the young waiter’s help! Sometimes getting the simplest things done can take forever in China.

Wuxi Roast Duck Restaurant (High Intermediate A), 222 Zhongshan Lu (on the corner with Chongning Lu, on the opposite corner to Sangfeng above), Tel. 827 57093
Just over the road from is the Wuxi Roast Duck Restaurant who were much more accommodating and had smaller tables for one or two. They have a menu in English and some of the staff have a smattering too.

Having had duck the previous night in Beijing I passed on most of their menu and went straight for the ‘Marinated Spare Ribs in Wuxi style’ that I’d tried to get over the road. They were tasty and tender (just as good as Sangfeng) with the meat flaking off the bone (A). I had them with my usual accompaniment of a bowl of plain rice and a plate of greens, in this case ‘Cantonese Flowering Cabbage’ (Choi Sum) with watery soya sauce (B+).

Choi Sum
I wasn’t quite full so topped up with some local Xiao Long Bao (gravy filled steamed dumplings, another Wuxi speciality, sweeter than their Shanghai cousins) which were pretty good too (B). You should eat these slippery customers with your mouth as near to the plate as possible, to catch the dumpling when it slips and also the juices that spurt out when you puncture it, wearers of white shirts beware.

Xiao Long Bao


Xixin
(Intermediate B-) (first alley on the left as you go down Chongning Lu, near the end on the right)

This is a longstanding local restaurant supposedly with three branches, although I could only find this one. It’s a bit run down and dingy but the (non-English speaking) service was friendly. The ribs here are less tender and refined than at the other places but are basically ok (B-). I also had another local speciality, ‘You Mian Jing’ (Fried Gluten Balls, in this case stuffed with pork), which were ok but didn’t get eaten (C).

Gluten balls
The spinach with ribbon tofu (from the picture menu) was the most enjoyable dish (B+). I don’t particularly like the Suntory beer they have here but its drinkable I guess (C). Massive overkill again but with some boiled rice, the bill only came to 110 RMB. Probably wouldn’t return though as there are better places.

Spinach with ribbon tofu

Blue Bar, Chongning Lu (a fair way down on the right, opposite a police station)

The local teacher hangout but also frequented by locals, this is a chilled American style bar with a pool table and a soundtrack of commercial dance and rock, quite a haven for the local expats I’d imagine. They have Tiger on tap and lots of other bottled beers on the menu, as well as bar snacks. You could come here to get a business card (for the taxi driver) for their sister bar, The Red Lion, at the other end of town.

For a change of scene…

Wuxi’s main bar area is located to the east of Nan Chang Jie, near the Hotel Nikko. It’s just a 10 RMB taxi ride away from the Belgravia Suites which are at the other end of town. Just over the road from the Hotel Nikko is a renovated area by a canal that has a few modern bars and restaurants. There are lots more places directly behind the hotel too, including a Japanese restaurant.

Red Lion, directly opposite the Hotel Nikko at 7-2 Jingtai Yongle Dong Lu, Tel. 8502 5827

Friendly Aussie-owned bar, heavily frequented by the local ex-pat community. The same people own the Blue Bar above. There’s an open mic night on Tuesdays if you want to show off your musical talent. It’s a good place to go after a curry at Ganesh below although Les the owner reckons their Bangladeshi cook makes a better one.


Ganesh Indian Restaurant
(Intermediate B+), behind the Hotel Nikko at 37-39 Yangchun Xiang, an alley off 9 Yongle Dong Lu, Tel 0510 8501 8660, www.ganeshchina.com

Like Irish pubs, most cities seem to have an Indian restaurant, although this place seems to have a foot in both camps as it doubles as a pub selling international beers. Not sure if this plush modern place is the real deal or not but it succeeded in helping me beat the homesickness blues. The lamb curry, basmati rice and garlic naan were fine (all B) but the tandoori chicken was nothing special and the raita a bit watery for my taste (both C). Service is slow but friendly.

Tandoori Chicken & Raita

Blue Marlin (behind the Hotel Nikko, a few doors and some steps down from Ganesh)

A live venue selling cocktails. The music is pretty loud so not great for conversation but the band was pretty good when I was there.

I stayed at the Belgravia Suites at 531 Zhongshan Rd (the main street in the city centre) www.belgravia.com.cn There’s no gym and the breakfast is pretty poor but there is a washing machine which is a godsend in my line of work. The building is so high you have to programme the lift for the floor you want and are wooshed up in a matter of seconds. From the 38th floor you get a great view of other tall buildings disappearing into the distance in a haze of pollution.

View from Belgravia Suites

The city centre was a construction site when I was in town but hopefully they’ll have finished by the time you get there. During a night time lightning storm the scene looked like the gates of hell but the city grew on my slowly the longer I stayed. The local teachers say it’s very comfortable and much less stressful than living in nearby Shanghai. For some free time suggestions, see the next post ‘Wuxi – What to do?’.

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