Archive for the Zhejiang Category

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

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.


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.

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.

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+).


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.

Hanging out in Hangzhou

Posted in Hangzhou, Zhejiang with tags on December 2, 2010 by gannet39


If I was going to set up home somewhere in China I would probably choose Hangzhou, one of China’s most attractive and livable cities. The West Lake, upon whose shores the city sits, is one of the country’s biggest tourist draws, especially now that it only takes only 40 minutes on the bullet train from Shanghai. It’s a very wealthy area with the highest GDP in China. Dingy communismShiny capitalism

It’s very pleasant to take an early morning walk through Yongjin Park by the lake early in the morning where you can see groups of locals practising Tai Chi with fans or swords. Close dancing seems a popular way to start the day too. You can walk around the entire lake (it took me about 2 hours 15 minutes at a brisk walk via the causeways) or hop on a passing buggy if you feel tired. Pleasure boats cross the lake from all sides too.

Hefang StBrass BhuddaHefang St carvingHefang St shopGinseng shopHangzhou, capital of Zhejiang, has an ancient and venerable history with successive emperors choosing it as their playground. Little remains in the way of old buildings but Hefang St has been reconstructed to give you a feel of what it must have been like in the past. This is a fun area to come at night as there are lots of street stalls and shops selling take home trinkets. The parallel Gaoyin St has lots of restaurants. There is also a night market at Huixing Rd, 5 minutes from the Friendship Hotel.

The local cuisine is known as Zhejiang Cuisine, one of China’s eight famous cuisines, and has a reputation for using fresh ingredients in subtle dishes. Famous local Hangzhou delicacies include Beggar’s Chicken, West Lake Sour Fish (xi hu cu yu), Steamed Dumplings (xiao long bao), Dongpo Pork, Longjing Shrimp Meat, Jiaohua Young Chicken, Steamed Rice Flower with Pork wrapped in Lotus Leaves, Lotus Root Powder Soup and Braised Bamboo Shoots.

Wang Xingji fan shopThe city is a centre for some of the best silk and tea in China, perfect items for the homeward suitcase. For silk, go to Jiankang West Rd, which is between Fengqi Lu and Tiyuchang Lu. It’s a long pedestrian street lined with at least 100 silk stalls, with more off side the streets. I bought Pashmina scarves here for 18 RMB, and a silk dressing gown for 100 RMB. Fans are a famous product too; Wang Xingji on Hefang St is the best shop for these.

Hefang St tea shopThere are tea shops all over town selling the famous local brew, Long Jing (Dragon Well) green tea. The best stuff comes from Xi Hu, a village near Hangzhou. There are five grades, rated according to date of harvest, position on the branch etc. Ming Chien and Yu Chien are the best, Yu Hou, San Chun, Si Chun less so. Prices are usually on the jars but you should ask which grade is which, and then proffer the amount you would like to spend. I paid 100RMB for 250g of Yu Chien, which seemed reasonable.

The biggest downside to life here is the traffic, as any local will tell you, but hopefully this will change when the new subway system is finished. Getting a taxi during rush hour is a major task, as bizarrely this is also when all the drivers change shifts and many will refuse your custom if you’re not on their way to the garage. Expect to wait on the street for at least 20 minutes if you’re trying to get a cab between 3.00 and 6.00. A fair few private cars will offer you a lift but at least double the price.

I’ve stayed twice at the four star Friendship Hotel which has become a little dingier over the years. The rooms are pleasant enough, although the bathrooms are a bit poky, and most have great views of the lake (remember to specify you want one with a good vista). The only English TV channel I managed to get was the local CCTV. There’s internet but most things I wanted were blocked. There is a gym with a couple of serviceable running machines, although the rest of the equipment is a bit clunky. The extensive breakfast buffet is in the revolving restaurant on the top floor. Although the views are great, I’m not a fan of eating while slowly turning in a circle. Although you can barely feel the movement, except for the occasional shudder, I always leave with a faint feeling of motion sickness. It got too much once so I tried to leave with a piece of fruit to eat elsewhere, only to be told by the banana police that I had to eat it in the restaurant. I tried the food up here in the evening too a couple of years back but wasn’t too impressed.

Lou Wai LouInsideThe most famous and supposedly oldest restaurant in town is Lou Wai Lou, at 30 Gushan Rd on Solitary Island. Walk along the Bai Causeway on the lake and it’s about the fourth building on the right as you come on to the island. This is perhaps the best place to taste many local delicacies, including my choice, Beggars’ Chicken. Beggars Chicken Stage 1whack it with a hammercut it open

Legend has it that a beggar had a chicken but didn’t know what to do with it so he wrapped it in a lotus leaf and buried it in mud. On another day, when one of his friends was starving, he dug it up and threw it on the pass the parcelooh the suspenseand here's dinnerfire, still covered in mud, with apparently delicious results. These days it’s slightly more sophisticated with more flavour added by a marinade of local Shaoxing wine. The bird is smashed into small pieces with a hammer and the wrappings (newspaper, plastic and finally the lotus leaf) are cut with scissors and the bird revealed for you to pick through. It was an experience but I could only give it a B, too many bone fragments and not sure what the beef was doing in there.

Kui Yuan GuangSpice potThere is a great noodle bar near the hotel called Kui Yuan Guang, famous in Chilli pork noodlesHangzhou since 1867 although the building is pretty new. (Turn right out of the Friendship hotel, immediate right and turn third left onto Jiefang Rd, it’s about 3 blocks down on the left). They do an excellent (A-), if slightly oily, pork chilli noodle soup for 12 RMB, which goes great with a cold beer. There are 17 noodle soups on offer in all, in three different sizes, all with English translations. Remember to slurp your noodles as the extra oxygen adds to the taste, as well as cooling them down. People will think you are strange if you don’t!

Zhuan Gyauan GuanThere’s another famous noodle bar on picturesque Hefang St called Zhuan Gyauan Guan which serves Shaanxi style noodles. They have a picture menu but I needed my dictionary and some help from an English speaking waitress to work out what everything was. Zhuan Gyauan Guan noodlesIn the end I plumped for beef noodle soup with green chillies, which was delicious (B+) but needed a few dollops of chilli sauce to bring it up to my heat level. The menu is pretty scary; one noodle soup seemed to be topped with a whole turtle! There are other non-noodle dishes too.

Wan Grun XingWang Grun Xing ribs and pak choiAnother supposedly old restaurant (since 1738) in an ersatz building on Hefang St is Wan Grun Xing. The carved wooden interior is quite nice and it looks like it should be a good place. However, I got the worst service I’ve had so far in China from a gaggle of rude and lazy staff who were too busy chatting and shouting at each other to do any work. I was shown to a bare table with rubbish strewn on the floor around it. All the tables in the rest of the place were beautifully laid out but I just got a plate with bare chopsticks shoved onto mine. I don’t mind if people don’t understand me but kind of resented the fits of giggles that attended my presence as all the waiters tried to get out of serving me and get their mates to do it instead. I nearly walked out at this point but my beer arrived so I stayed and got my camera out and started taking pictures and writing notes, which seemed to change their behaviour. Or at least the manager realised what I was doing and started to get the others into line a bit. I wanted to try the house speciality ‘Fishhead Bean Curd’ but my appetite went when I saw the bulbous opaque eyes staring back at me from the vivid picture menu. Also I’d forgotten to get their other special ‘Door Board Rice’ written in kanji so didn’t get that either. Instead I played it safe again and got spare ribs in a chilli and sugar sauce and a plate of steamed pak choi with small shitake mushrooms. The ribs didn’t look anything like the picture, small and without the fancy garnishing and just splattered onto the plate, as if the chef was making the least possible effort. Everything tasted good however and with rice and two beers, only came to 77 RMB. Never going back though.

Lotus soup dragonLotus root powder soupAlso on Hefang St there is a shop selling Lotus Root Powder Soup, another famous local product. It tastes of nothing but is famed for it’s health giving qualities. I didn’t get the name of the place but look out for a huge teapot with a dragon spout. The guy who does the pouring is quite a character.

Edamame, Tofu and KimichiTuna sushi and squid sashimiJust over the road from the Friendship Hotel, on the first floor of the Marco Polo Hotel, is an all-you-can-eat-and-drink Japanese restaurant (which is like a red rag to a bull to me). They give you two hours for a set price of 140RMB. The food isn’t great but no worse than a very cheap Izakaya in Japan, and you can’t argue with the price. I like to go here just to have fun with the waitresses as we practice our rudimentary Japanese on each other.

I was working evenings but didn’t get time to try any of the local bars. However my friend, and Hangzhou native, Xin Shu recommends a reggae bar called Gen Jiu Ba at 131 Xueyan Road, near Wen’er Rd (Tel 86575749).

A chilly lunchBamboo ShootsSizzling carpDuck down pak choiChicken and spring onionsBean paste and buffalo milk pud

Xin Shu also took me to a great little restaurant somewhere on the West shore of the West Lake. You need a car to get there and everything was written in kanji so I don’t know the name but we had some great food; bamboo shoots. ‘duck down’ pak choi, carp in soya sauce and rice wine and my favourite, chicken and spring onions. The pudding was made from water buffalo milk and bean paste, a new combination on me and very healthy. It was a bit chilly but the secluded location and bamboo and wood decor made it a lovely place to be, and some of the best food I had in Hangzhou. Xin Shu, if you read this, please share the name and contact details!

Other famous places I didn’t get time to try this time are Shan Wai Shan at 8 Yuquan Rd (Tel. 8798 6621) and Zhi Wei Guan at 83 Renhe Rd (Tel. 8706 5871). Here’s a useful local website with a list of restaurants.

Wontons in Wenzhou

Posted in China, Wenzhou, Zhejiang with tags , , , , on November 29, 2010 by gannet39

Wenzhou is a prosperous port and industrial city of a couple of million people on the Eastern seaboard. Shrouded in dense smog and without any cultural aspects to speak of, even the locals I spoke to weren’t particularly keen on the place. There’s no real reason to come here unless you are doing business, particularly in shoes, fertiliser, electrical goods and fakes of all kinds. Historically it has been isolated from the rest of the country by a mountain range and has developed a different culture as a result.

On the culinary side of things, it’s known for its seafood and inhabitants who have a reputation for travelling overseas and starting restaurants in other countries. However a survey of travel sites and guides failed to bring up any recommended places to eat at all. Unusually there was nothing on Trip Advisor, Virtual Tourist or Chow Hound and only one mention of an eatery selling local food in the Lonely Planet, which turned out to be factually incorrect.

Chang RenLP lists Wenzhou Mingdian (which suspiciously translates as ‘Wenzhou Restaurant’) as being the oldest restaurant in the city (100 years) and a good place to try the local specialities Yu Yuan Mian (fish noodles) and Yu Bing (fish cakes). Maybe things have changed since they were here last, but the business at the same address (195 Jiefang Jie) is actually called Chang Ren and is famous for its Wonton soups. Rather than an ancient restaurant, it’s more of a dilapidated cafe in a relatively modern building with plastic tables, rudimentary fittings, a filthy floor and a downmarket clientele who will be very surprised to see you. No matter, the main thing is the food, and it’s great! Hun TunFire DumlingsI had the shrimp wontons (hun tun) which come in a clear broth with shredded carrot, spinach, seaweed, spring onions, a couple of tiny prawns and something else pickled and green. On the side I had a plate of ‘fire dumplings’, which I guessed contained pork and spring onion, and a saucer of vinegar and soya sauce for dipping. The dumplings were good, if a bit singed (B), but the wonton soup was wonderful (A) and everything was really cheap. Share them with a loved oneOther varieties of wontons are available too (pork, beef, chicken) but its best to get your choices written down by a Chinese person before you go as there is no menu at all, just signs in Chinese on the walls. They don’t sell beer either, or in fact any drinks, but there is a wine shop about a block down on the same side. It’s very close to Wuma Jie, a pedestrian shopping street where you can take a stroll afterwards.

If you do want to eat Yu Yuan Mian, there are a lot of little places in town that specialise in them. Here are two links (one and two) to some other local delicacies that I didn’t get to try in the 18 hours I was there.

On my first trip here in 2008 I had an unmemorable stay at the Dynasty Hotel. This time however work put me up at the much nicer Ex Palm D’Or Hotel on the next corner up. It’s a very pleasant boutique hotel with small but comfortable rooms which have free internet and a Bose speaker system that you can plug your music player into. There is no gym or other facilities but they do have an Italian Restaurant which I tried for lunch as I was pushed for time. Spaghetti VongoleThe Spaghetti with Clams, Cherry tomatoes and zucchini didn’t of course taste like it would in its country of conception but it was well cooked and nicely presented, if a bit steep at 88 RMB. There were two types of clams, one exactly like vongole verace and another with a grey shell I was unfamiliar with.

I ended up in the hotel for lunch because my first choice from my last visit, the Taj Mahal, had moved to a new location and was closed by the time I found it. Originally at 532 Nampu Lu, about 10 minutes from the hotel, it has now moved a block down onto the other side of the street to a more modern second floor location. If you can’t find it (the English sign is tiny and very missable), ask the people in the Italian Restaurant at the original address where it is, as both have the same owner. The curries are ok, if rather mild, but it’s good if you are feeling a bit homesick and fancy a change.

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