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Archive for China

Getting fed in China

Posted in China with tags , , on February 1, 2011 by gannet39

Beijing 006It can be quite tough at times to find a square meal in China to suit the western palate. There is of course great food to be had but if you don’t know the Chinese for it you are on a non-starter, quite literally. Some places have picture menus but they tend to be the exception.

2014-11-29 12.41.00By way of example of the perils involved, here’s a picture one of my colleagues sent me of something she found in her food while in Dongguan. She was uncertain whether it was fungus, seaweed or intestine!

My solution is to have friendly Chinese people you meet write down the Cantonese or Mandarin characters (kanji) for the dishes you like when you encounter them. You can ask them to write the pinyin (romanised script) too if you want to have a stab at the pronunciation but don’t assume all Chinese people will be able to read it. Also be aware there are regional variations of pinyin!

With the help of accommodating hotel receptionists and teachers, I’ve built up a set of food flashcards that I can show to waiters to get such staples as fried or steamed rice, various stir fried greens, beef noodle soup and cold beer. It sounds like a bit of a cop out, but your server will appreciate it, and you’ll get the food that you actually want to eat.

There are also picture flashcards, which use the three scripts mentioned above, that you can download for free here and here. I also recommend the Lonely Planet phrasebook which has a handy dictionary with kanji translations you can show to the waiters. Now of course you can download dictionary apps for your smart phone as well.

For specific local dishes, take a photo of the relevant regional list on this webpage and just show the waiter the characters for the ones you want to try. Do it before you travel as you probably won’t be able to access this page (or many other websites) once in China.

You should also remember to say if you want your drinks cold (‘bing’). If you don’t, you will get probably get warm beer or water as Chinese people believe they are better for the stomach than cold beverages. A useful phrase might be 不冰不给钱! or ‘bù bīng bù gěi qién!’ which I think translates to “no cold, no give money!”

Most restaurants close at 2pm lunchtime and by 10pm at night and are pretty rigid about it. There are always night markets and stalls around should you want to eat later.

In the smaller local establishments, hold on to the little packets of tissues they send you as there’s often no loo roll in the toilets.

Airport restaurants are surprisingly not too bad, which is a godsend if you’re like me and can’t abide any of the stuff served on planes.

If you can bring yourself to do it, serving staff can be summoned by clapping your hands above your head football supporter style! I only ever do this if I have been completely abandoned though.

While we’re at it, there are a few local habits that were sources of culture shock for me:

Most (though not all) waiters I have met have been very friendly and attentive, even a bit too attentive at times. Hovering hotel servers will pounce on any plate or spoon that looks used, even reaching over you as you eat in their eagerness to procure it and thereby justify their existence. It’s very annoying but I’ve learned to roll with it or you would be constantly losing your temper at breakfast, admittedly a time when I’m not at my best.

Once I returned from getting a coffee to find everything gone; my milk and spoon I’d just collected, my food and even my newspaper. I went round replacing everything but but by the time I came back my coffee had gone! I just had to laugh. Breakfast can take a while in China…

Probably the most unappealing cultural habit for Westerners is public spitting, which is mainly but not exclusively practised by males. I can live with it on the street but when trapped next to several hockers on a plane, and even a spitter in a sauna! (as has been my misfortune in the past), you risk being driven to the point of insanity.

My solution is to use a PET (Politeness Enforcement Tactic) to make them stop, in this case offering them a tissue to embarrass them! If only there was a flashcard for ‘please don’t hock or spit’. Posher restaurants have signs with this message, both in kanji and cartoon form.  If you see one, my suggestion would be to take a picture of it and show it to any offenders that enter your personal space. People know it’s not acceptable because if was made illegal by city governments during the Beijing Olympics and Shanghai Expo.

Hopefully these tips will make your trip more enjoyable.

Good luck!

 

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Drinking Alcohol in China

Posted in China with tags , , , , , , on February 1, 2011 by gannet39
Lager is generally fairly good in China which is, surprisingly (or maybe not), the world’s biggest producer and consumer  of the amber nectar. The ubiquitous Tsing Tao (they have bought up over forty local breweries) is one of the best but other personal favourites include Snow (now the world’s best selling beer), Yangjing (from Beijing), and Harbin which is the oldest brand in the country (from 1900) and named after the city where it’s from. There are a few duff brands to avoid, but they are usually overseas brands like Budweiser (pronounced bai wei’) which is of course the original Duff, and Suntory from Japan. You can read about the history of beer in China here.

Alcoholic beverages have a long history in China. Any ethanol based drink is called Jiu (more facts here) and the most famous stuff comes from Shaoxing in Zhejiang province although I wasn’t that impressed with what the stuff I tried there, it was like drinking distilled dry leaves.  However, the bottle with the red label that you buy in Chinese supermarkets for cooking generally comes from Shaoxing. My favourite brand that I’ve come across so far is Mao Tai, a rice wine of about 40%, from Renhuai in Guizhou.

Jiu is served in thimble size glasses. When drinking with Chinese friends it is traditional to toast one another and thank each other for favours done. If glasses actually touch, you should down all the contents in one whilst shouting ‘gambei’ (empty glass) and show each other the bottom of the upturned receptacle. If you want to avoid getting out of it too quickly then don’t touch glasses, which is what many Chinese women do, if they drink at all. It shows respect to your toastee to place your glass lower than theirs when toasting. Juniors should always pour for their seniors.

Most business deals end with a celebratory drinking party where it can be necessary to toast a lot of people over the course of the evening. Whilst helping to carry my manager out of a private restaurant room after such an event, he informed us that a friend of his had actually died of liver failure in similar circumstances. A salutary tale for anyone thinking of doing business in China!

Personally I’d stick with beer and Jiu as I’m not convince of the quality of the grape wine, although it is improving apparently. The best local tipple is Great Wall Red but I think  it’s overpriced, over hyped and not very good. However, according to Ken Hom who I heard on the radio discussing this subject, it’s now becoming more common for wealthier Chinese to drink wine with their food. Wine imports are growing year on year and there is huge potential for the Chinese market in the future.

Beijing Bites

Posted in Beijing, China with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2010 by gannet39

Hmm, capital of China, wonder if they have any decent restaurants…

CourtyardDecorLiu Zhai Shifu (Intermediate A), 8 Meishuguan Dongjie (at the end of Wangfujing Dajie) about 15 mins walk from the Kapok. Tel. 6400 5912.

This great little place is about one block before the end of Meishuguan Dongjie, the continuation of Wangfujing Dajie, before it kinks forty five degrees to the left. Make sure you get someone to write the name down in kanji so you can ask for local directions as you could easily miss it otherwise. Look for the last alleyway on the left hand side of the road before the turn (as opposed to the right as Time Out would have it); it’s between a hairdressers and a convenience store. You will see two red lanterns a few metres down the hutong and a wooden door,with a green padded curtain to keep the heat in, on the right side of the alley. Inside this one hundred year old former family home there is a covered courtyard with a trellis with hanging flowers and lanterns, all very atmospheric. There are quaint private rooms too but I was seated at one of the wooden tables in the yard which was a bit cold in November, so make sure you wear warm clothes.

Mung Bean Curd with chilliDeep Fried Peaflour ‘Box’Stewed Chicken with ChestnutsSpinach with peanutsZha GuandungStir-fried Duck Liver with Spring OnionsThe food here is typical Beijing cuisine and there is an extensive picture menu with English translations to help you. I did my usual over ordering act and received, in order of preference; Stir-fried Duck Liver with Spring Onions (A), Pan Fried Mung Bean Curd with I think spinach mixed in, and topped with chilli oil and dried red chillies which had a smooth texture, broken by the occasional crunch of a whole mung bean, and a lovely sour aftertaste (B+).  I also had Zha Gezi mung bean chips or as the menu would have it, Deep Fried Peaflour ‘Box which came with a dip of dark soya sauce and raw garlic (B); nice but I couldn’t finish them unlike the previous dishes. Finally I had Zha Guandung; thin slices of sausage, battered, deep-fried and served with a garlic sauce, which were edible enough but failed to impress (C). The bill came to 98 RMB with two 500ml beers i.e. about £10. On another occasion I had Fried Spinach and Nuts (sunflower seeds and peanuts) which was ok (B-) but I wasn’t overly keen on the vinegary aftertaste. The waitress recommended Stewed Chicken with Chestnuts which included onion, red and white bell peppers and huge unpeeled and for me inedible chunks of ginger. Although I liked the sauce other veggie ingredients, I’m not keen on the Chinese habit of chopping up meat and leaving the fragments of bone in so only scored this dish a C. Bad choices the second time but it wouldn’t stop me going again. They open from 11am till 10.30pm so you can show up anytime. However, according to Time Out, this place is always packed with locals at peak time every night so maybe get there early, as I did at 5pm, or reserve.

Huanghe Shui Shaanxi Miangian (Elementary C), A24 Meishuguan Dongjie (the continuation of Wangfujing Dajie). Open 24 hours according to the sign outside.

Ribbon NoodlesThis is a simple noodle bar selling Shaanxi food immediately opposite the entrance to the alley above, on the right of the road as you near the end. The menu on the wall is in Chinese with only a few pictures so I resorted to pointing to ‘pork’ and ‘chilli’ in my dictionary hoping I would get my favourite soup. What arrived were huge ribbon noodles with shredded pork, a few tiny members of the pak choi family and a dollop of chilli sauce but only a splash of soy based liquid. A kindly waitress came and mixed it all together for me when she saw I was at a bit of a loss. Of course it tasted delicious. It cost 15 RMB for the noodles and 5 for a beer, about £2.

Roujia MoDumplings in Hot and Sour soupOn another occasion I had Roujia Mo, a small ‘hamburger’ with shredded pork and small pieces of green pepper in a bun of unleavened bread, a tasty snack for 6 RMB. After this a bowl of pork filled dumplings in hot and sour soup with spring onion, coriander, sesame seeds and chilli oil. The sour part was the vinegar which spoilt the broth for me but the dumplings were delicious. Thick noodles and the use of vinegar are characteristics of Shaanxi cuisine.

If I’m honest the hygiene standards in this place always leave me feeling a bit queasy but if you’re after a cheap late night snack and a beer, this is a handy place.

From here I walked for about 15 minutes to Nanluoguxiang Hutong. This is a very cool little strip with lots of small bars, intimate restaurants and funky little shops. I particularly liked Reef Bar (on the right at the far Northern end of the hutong) for its laid back atmosphere, comfy leather seats and friendly staff. A Gordons and tonic is 25 RMB here. A more happening place is Salud, about halfway up on the right, but I wanted somewhere more peaceful to write my blog. You could walk here from the Kapok Hotel in about 30 minutes by going straight up Beiheyan Dajie till the end, turning left and first right. A lot of taxi drivers don’t like making such short journeys but you will probably get one eventually, especially if it’s off the meter.

Being the capital, Beijing can offer the chance to try lots of regional cuisines from places I’ll probably never get to. I had some good meals in the restaurants of two local government offices. Both are a bit hard to get to but the food is great and authenticity is guaranteed. Remember to get the names written in pinyin or preferably kanji to show people for directions along the way.

Yunteng Shifu (Yunnan Restaurant) in the Yunteng Hotel attached to the Yunnan Provincial Government Office(Intermediate A), 7 Donghuashi Beili Donqu (between Chongwenmen Dongdajie and Donghuashi Dajie). Open from 11am to 10pm.

Yungteng ShifuFrom the massive intersection of Jianguomennei Dajie and Jianguomen Nandajie, head south while keeping to the right of the slip road, and keep going till you have crossed over two big intersections. On the way you will see some of the remains of the old city wall on your right. When you get to the intersection with Chongwenmen Dongdajie go over the foot bridge, under the railway bridge and two other road bridges, keeping on the same direction to the south. The slip road will curve to the left and fairly immediately you will come to another small road leading off to the right onto a housing estate. The Government Office is on the right at the beginning of this road. You will recognise it by the stone clad drive leading up to it, gold letters going down the side of the building and red letters going across the front above the entrance. The kind doorman confirmed I was in the right place and took me inside, past the hotel reception desk and down into the restaurant at the back. The decor is pretty startling, like being in a plastic jungle, but there’s a nice relaxing atmosphere nonetheless.

Dishes for making Crossing the Bridge NoodlesPutting it togetherCrossing the Bridge NoodlesThe next challenge was ordering the food but it was relatively painless as I had some suggestions courtesy of Time Out and a web review I had read, as well as the help of the picture menu, two waitresses, the chef and my dictionary. The best thing to go for is probably the classic ‘Crossing the Bridge Noodles’ (Guo Qiao Mixian) which arrived on the table as a big bowl of soup stock, probably chicken, and with four small side dishes. The first contains a raw egg which should go in straight away and left a couple of minutes to cook. Next the thick white noodles go in and the dish of four different kinds of ‘meat’, one of which was a cured ham tasting very similar to prosciutto. The final dish had coriander, spring onions, ribbon tofu, something that may have been shredded mushroom but looked like seaweed and some yellow flower petals. It tasted great and had a slight afterburn, perhaps from chilli in the stock.

Rubing grilled goat’s cheesePineapple Rice Bolo FanQuigoji Chicken Soup

In addition to this I had Rubing, Grilled Goat’s Cheese, which came with salt on the side mixed with a strange spice that left my lips numb for a few minutes. It was really nice but there was a lot of it. I also had Bolo Fan, aka Pineapple Rice, which came in a hollowed out pineapple and filled with rice mixed with the fruit and what may have been miso beans (Japanese name), giving it a purplish colour. Didn’t think I would like this too much at first but it grew on me and I polished off the lot. The only thing I didn’t eat was the Quigoji or Chicken Soup which had hunks of meat and what seemed like pieces of prawn crackers floating in broth. I picked out the chicken which was very tasty but left the broth which was a bit tasteless.

Dali Yunnanese beerWith two local Dali beers I paid about 120 RMB which was very good value. Yunnanese food is very trendy in Beijing and you would pay a lot more elsewhere. The province borders with Myanmar, Laos and Viet Nam so the food is an interesting fusion of several cultures. Things I didn’t manage to order (bad pronunciation?)but which are apparently very good were the Dai mint salad, deep fried Bee Pupa (?), battered and fried cactus and rice wine made with black rice. Also there are several types of wild mushrooms (niuganjun, jizhong, songrong) but these were a bit expensive so I’ll wait till I go to Yunnan for those.

Chuanban (Intermediate A), 5 Gongyuan Toutiao, Jianguomennei Dajie, Dongcheng. Open from 4.30pm to 10pm.

As the nights started to get colder I fancied some chilli heat so I headed for this backstreet restaurant in the Sichuan local government office. It’s a bit hard to find but once you get near, keep saying the name to locals and they will point you in the right direction. Walk east along Jinbao St and turn right onto Chaoyangmen Beixiaojie. Cross over the street and take the second small road on the left, there’s a fruit shop on the corner and a red arrow saying Dongzongbu Hutong pointing down the long straight road. The office is a few hundred yards down on the right, behind one of those concertina metal gates on tracks that most institutions have. You will see the windows of the restaurant on the ground floor but once you are through the gate, turn right and go round the back and in through the ornate entrance in the courtyard.

Cosying up to the managementTwice cooked pork with green pepperOn the first night I tried to go they were finishing up at 10pm despite Time Out saying they were open till 2am; however a friendly staff member took me to a Sichuan cafe on the other side of the block and got me fed there. For 23 RMB I got a beer, two bowls of rice and the typical dish of Twice Cooked Fatty Pork which involved what seemed to be belly pork sliced like bacon, sliced onion, spring onion, green and red mild peppers and black beans cooked in chilli oil. Although a bit oily it was just what I was hankering for (B).

Beef lungTwice cooked porkMadofuKungpo ChickenA few nights later I legged it down to Chuanban again after work and got there for 8.45 which meant I could get a table (although a big place it’s very popular and always full at peak times) and still left me time to enjoy the great food. I had Kungpo Chicken(B), Madofu (tofu in a mince and chilli sauce) (B) and Beef Lung(B). The best dish however was the Twice Cooked Fatty Pork again and it was interesting to compare it to the one I had in the cafe above. This was a more classic version with beautifully tender pork and made with spring onions rather than capsicums (A).

Din Tai FungDin Tai Fung (Intermediate A), 22 Hujiayuan, Yibei Building, Dongcheng, Chaoyang, Tel. 6462 4502, Open 11.30-2.30 and 5-10pm daily.

Din Tai Fung RestaurantThis is primarily a dumpling restaurant but also specialises in other dishes from the Eastern provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu.The surroundings are modern but rather stark and uninteresting, rather like a hotel breakfast room. The staff are pleasant and efficient and some spoke English and the picture menu also has an English translation.

Xiaolong Bao in steamerCairou Zhengjiao in bamboo steamerXiaolong BaoCairou ZhengjiaoTheir signature dish is Xiaolong Bao, steamed dumplings wrapped in transparent light dough, has won accolades from some quarters for being the best dumplings in Beijing. I had the pork version (they have seafood and crabmeat too) which were wonderfully juicy (B+). Even better were the Cairou Zhengjiao dumplings, also in a delicate dough and stuffed with a small bok choi called ‘youcai’, pork and a little lard to taste (A).

Hairy Gourd with Shredded JellyfishSautéed Water LilyOn the side a dish of Sliced Hairy Gourd with Shredded Jellyfish which was nice enough (B) though the gourd dominated, and a plate of Sautéed Water Lily (B), yet another green vegetable, which tasted err…very green!

Dousha BaoTo finish the rather suggestive Dousha Bao, much larger dumplings in a thicker skin, stuffed with sweet red bean paste which were nice (B) but a bit heavy for my already very full stomach. Total cost for my lunch, with two Yanjing beers was 170 RMB; pretty good considering how much I had.

Han CangInside Han CangHan Cang (Intermediate B), Shichahai Dongan, Xicheng, Houhai (6404 2259). Open 11am – 10.30pm. Get the taxi driver to drop you off on Dianmen Xi Dajie by Qinhai Lake. As you face the lake, walk down the right hand (east) side and the restaurant is the second building on the right.

Continuing my search for minority cuisines, I came here to try the food of the Hakka people; a hearty south-eastern style that emphasises the texture of the food. Apparently many Chinese restaurants in the UK and other countries are owned by Hakka, a sub-group of the Han Chinese.  The ambience is nothing special, crude wooden furniture in two big rooms and the odd black and white photo on the wall but if you get a seat by the window you will get a nice view of the lake, especially in the private rooms upstairs.

Three Cup DuckBoletus EdulisThe picture menu has English translations and is quite scary with spicy donkey, ‘duck chins’, chitterlings and steamed turtle all featuring, but I went for the house speciality, and one of the signature dishes of Hakka cuisine, Sanbei Ya, or Three Cup Duck, where the birdie is braised in equal amounts of dark soy, rice wine and water before futher cooking. It was good but not as exciting as I’d hoped (B). My favourite, and the most expensive dish, was the ‘Boletus Edulis’ (B+), stir-fried with red and green capsicums, garlic, spring onion and ginger, and which tasted just like European ceps/porcini.

'Self-grounded’TofuBlack Bean SproutsI also liked the Ngiong Tew Fou or ‘Self-grounded’ Tofu which had been lightly fried and served in a light brown sauce with small balls of pork on top of each slice (B+). I also had sautéed Black Bean Sprouts with red capsicum, dried chilli (imperceptible)and the odd black bean in a clear sauce(B). I ordered a Baiwei beer but when this turned out to be Budwieser I sent it back and got a Pure Yanjing beer instead. Total cost 172 RMB, massive overkill again but still pretty cheap and very tasty.

Qinhai LakeQinhai Lake dockHardy soulYou can walk it off round the lake and go to one of the many nice bars for a digestif afterwards, although be warned a small beer can cost 45 RMB in some of them.

Guo Yao Xiaochi (Advanced A) 58 Bei Santiao, Jiadoa Kou, Andingmennei Dajie, Dongcheng, Houhai Tel. 6403 1940, Open 10am-2.30pm and 5.30-9pm daily

As you head north up Andingmennei Dajie,  from the crossroads with Jiaodaokou Dong Dajie, it’s the third alley on the right by my calculations, but the fourth according to the Time Out map. #58 is the first building on the right of the alley, with red lanterns hanging outside, whereas Time Out has it at the other end.

Guo Yao Xiaochi dining room entranceGuo Yao Xiaochi dining roomGuo Yao Xiaochi ceilingThis is a great place, still deserving its award for Best Restaurant for Private Dining in 2005 from the Beijing Culinary Association. The food is cooked in the aristocratic Tan style, a cross between Guandong and Huaiyang cuisines, which is very delicate and light. Tan emphasises flavour and uses only the best ingredients (so for example only the most tender stems are used for vegetable dishes), judicious use of heat and intricate steps and techniques. You can see the hands of Chef Guo Xinjun at work through the kitchen hatch on the left as you enter. He has cooked for numerous Chinese leaders and American presidents during his time at the Beijing Hotel.

Guo Yao Xiaochi doorsGuo Yao Xiaochi door detailIt’s a tiny room with just five tables and seats for twenty two and has the feel of being in a museum with aged ornately carved door panels, old wooden lanterns with red tassels, glass-covered tables that double as display cases for more wood-carvings and period pictures pointing face down from the overhead trellis. The service is exemplary with highly attentive waitresses, one of whom spoke English. The menu has an English translation but no pictures. Whilst perusing it I drank some wonderfully perfumed Mou Ti Hua tea and nibbled on some spiced pumpkin seeds.

Nongtang YaduYasi DanjuanTo start I chose Nongtang Yadu, a yellow soup of fish maw (the air bladder) where the stock is made by double boiling chicken, duck, ham and scallop which didn’t look like much but was tasty and full of flavour (B). To follow Yasi Danjuan (A), a crepe filled with shredded duck, spring onion and a little red pepper, deep-fried and cut into slices.

Steamed Baby Napa Cabbage with Glass Noodles in GarlicI also had Steamed Baby Napa Cabbage with Glass Noodles in Garlic where the noodles were hiding under a topping of red pepper and spring onion in a sauce of light soy (A). I grabbed rather too many of these with my chopsticks and they wouldn’t separate as my sticks went higher and higher towards the ceiling which caused one waitress to leave the room in a fit of giggles while the other rushed to my aid with a knife and fork to cut them up, although I think scissors would have been more appropriate! Anyway they were beautifully presented and completely delicious (A), if a bit much for one.

Almond Paste SoupTo finish I had a bowl of hot almond paste soup, again quite simple (B)but very warming for a cold November day in Beijing. Total cost 128 RMB with a bowl of rice and a beer i.e. about £12. The sausage is also apparently good as are the other dessert soups made from peanut paste or osmanthus flavoured red bean paste. All wonderfully satisfying food; a must visit I would say.

Three Guizhou Men (Intermediate B), 6 Guanghua Xili, Chaoyang, Tel. 6502 1733

Guanghua Xili is a side street next to the Mexican Wave restaurant on Dongdaqiao Lu. As you head North it’s on the right, quite near the beginning of the road. Don’t get in confused with Guanghua Lu which is a main road. Go through the arch adorned with red characters and it’s the second building on the right. On the windows there is a picture of a mask and the words 3G Chairman. There are other branches around town but there flagship branch near the Worker’s stadium doesn’t answer the phone so may be closed, although it’s still up on several websites.

Guizhou is a prefecture in the south-west of China, bordering Sichuan province, so the food is hot and spicy. The chain intentionally lowers the heat (still pretty hot) and uses less oil so the food makes a healthier alternative to Sichuan cuisine where the food is often submerged in chilli oil. The dishes they serve are apparently a fusion of popular dishes of the region. My waitress was helpful, writing the pinyin translations for me, but we needed the English picture menu. The decor here is pretty plain and uninteresting, surprising given the original three owners are supposed to be artists. The soundtrack was quite appropriately the Spice Girls’ first album.

Guizhou PaocaiXiangban BoheTo start I had Guizhou Paocai /paushai/, a pickled dish with cabbage and another indiscernible vegetable which you dip in a dry chilli powder similar to peperoncino i.e. with the seeds still in, but more finely powdered. Also Xiangban Bohe /bohoye/, a peppermint salad with more peperoncino and a soya sauce dressing. Both were interesting with powerfull flavours (B) but too much for one person.

Fried Spicy PrawnsWith these dishes I also had Guizhou Fried Spicy Prawns /shaa naa sha/ with a chunky dressing of peanuts, dried red chillies, Sichuan peppers and spring onions. The prawns had been deep fried so you could eat them whole; shells and all. Very tasty (B+) but there were about twenty of them so I left the heads to save room for what was to come.

Beef on FireFor round two I ordered Beef on Fire which is a dish of marinated and pre-cooked beef on a bed of chives with red and green capsicums and onion. The food is on a wire rack on top of a plate containing petroleum jelly (hot coals at other branches?) which the waiter lights to heat the food rather than cooking it as such (B+).

Ants Climbing a TreeIn addition I had Ma Yi Shang Shu, which translates as Ants Climbing a Tree; glass noodles with chilli oil and some unknown but pleasant enough flavouring and garnished with spring onions (B). As usual, it was total overkill but the bill only came to the equivalent of about £18 with two large beers. Next time I go I’d like to try the spare ribs, Guizhou mashed potato and the aubergine with coriander.

LAN Club (Advanced A) Floor 4, LG Twin Towers

Being a lover of modern design, I had to go to this Phillipe Starck styled restaurant, bar and club, even if a lot of his other creations leave me cold. After coming here though I can just about forgive him for that ridiculous lemon squeezer.

LAN 003LAN 022LAN 027LAN 005LAN 004LAN 011LAN 020LAN LooLAN 013It’s a huge place with lots of private dining rooms for corporate entertainment and smaller ones that can be curtained off. The decor is an amazing blend of influences, freaky plastic chandeliers, fragments of Renaissance paintings facing down from the ceiling, cowhide sofas, ceramic mushrooms, metallic faces and display cabinets of Maoist porcelain, stuffed birds and medicine jars. The air conditioning pipes in the ceiling are left exposed in true modernist style but there’s also the odd shoplifting camera up there for some reason. Each bathroom has a beautiful water tap in the form of a silver swan. The soundtrack is a mixture of acid and latin jazz befitting the trippy atmosphere.

Sashimi SetAbaloneDipsOystersThe prices are pretty steep as you’d expect with most things around 250 RMB. Time Out recommends sticking with the Szechuan classics on the menu, as opposed to the Cantonese and Fusion dishes, but I went for the Sashimi Set for 198 RMB which turned out to be a good choice. It included two oysters in shot glasses with a slice of lemon, two sliced pearl abalone beautifully presented in their glittering shells, three slices each of smoked salmon, yellowtail and white tuna and some diced scallops and shrimps served in a chrysanthemum leaf in a shell. On the side came Kikkoman soya sauce (essential) and Tabasco (not essential).

RiceI filled up with two orders of Rice in a Bamboo Bucket, which came with tiny pieces of ham, peas and corn with pickles on the side. At only 10 RMB this is a cheap way to fill up if you need to. The service was rather hovery but friendly and not at all snooty which can be a problem in these kinds of places. With a couple of beers my bill came to 390 RMB, one my more expensive meals in China but although the food is good, it’s really the surroundings you are paying for and they are quite spectacular.

Wangfujing MarketThe star of the showSpidersSilkwormsAnother must visit on the foodie front is Wangfujing Food Market, more for the shock factor than to acutally eat anything, although I am gearing up to munching on a scorpion which aren’t too bad apparently. You know they are fresh because some are still moving! A stall holder told me the tastiest things are the big spiders, but it might take me a while for me to get round to them.

Kapok atrium

Kapok room

Another really nice area to walk around is Hou Hai, one of 3 lakes to the north of Beijing. Catch line 2 to Gulou Dajie and take in the drum and bell towers which have commanding views of the hutongs around the lakes. The streets immediately around the Silver Ingot Bridge at the south-eastern end of Hou Hai are very pleasant to walk around in the daytime with lots of nice shops and old buildings. You can hire a rickshaw for a tour if you wish. The southern shore of the lake is lined with bars and is perhaps the best area to go out to in the evening. In the daytime, the Mansion of Prince Gong on nearby Liuyin Jie is an extensive former royal residence with beautiful gardens; it costs 20 RMB to enter. Right next to the entrance is one of Beijing’s oldest restaurants, Sichuan Fandian, selling spicy food from that province. I didn’t get to go myself because I arrived at five past two and missed lunch, but Deng Xiaoping has eaten there so it must be good.

Nearly all the eateries and bars described in this post were gleaned from the Time Out Guide to Beijing, the best guide for urbanites as far as I’m concerned. However, be warned the maps in the 2005 edition do have some errors and their directions to some of these places could be better. Always get the restaurant name written in kanji so you can ask locals for directions and the telephone number so the driver can phone the place. I would refuse to get out unless I could see the sign! The 2010 Time Out came out just after I came back, so hopefully the mistakes have been rectified. A useful website is www.thebeijinger.com The restaurant and nightlife scene in Beijing is constantly changing (for the better) so there are probably lots of new places to try by the time you read this. Personally I can’t wait to go again.

Beijing also features in Episode 1 of the 2012 BBC series about Chinese food; Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure.

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.

Sashimi

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!

Tartlets

RIP

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

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).

Roti

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.

Chongqing Home of the Hotpot

Posted in Chongqing with tags , , , , on December 3, 2010 by gannet39

With 31 million people Chongqing is the biggest municipality in China, bigger than Shanghai and Beijing and possibly the largest in the world.

Chongqing at night

The city is known for its fog and heavy air pollution due to massive industrial development, earning it the nickname ‘Fog Capital’. It’s particularly bad in winter and the November day I arrived on was no exception with visibility down to a few hundred meters, which is a shame because its hilly terrain and huge buildings make it an awe inspiring place to drive around, especially at night when it’s lit up. Apparently things are improving though and a drive to reduce air pollution by the municipal council has led to an increase in ‘blue sky days’, though I have yet to see one.

It’s also very near Yao’an which suffered the devastating earthquake in May 2009.

Chongqing is the capital of Sichuan province, which has one of the most famous cuisines in China. They like it spicy here and many dishes will include dried red chilli, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, garlic and black beans. Chonqing Expat is a useful website that lists specialities and restaurants.

Chongqing is where hot pot (huo guo) originates from and the Cygnet Hot Pot Palace is accepted by most as the best place for it in town. There are several branches all over town but their flagship on Minzu Lu in Yuzhong is the place to go if you would like some live entertainment (folk dance, music, theatre) with your meal.

Entertainment

The location at 22 Minzu Lu is a little hard to find if you are illiterate in kanji like me, (make sure you have the name written down by hotel reception) but the entrance is in an elevated square next to the Chongqing bank, the lift to the sixth floor is on the right as you go in. They have a swan symbol before the name so you know you’re in the right place when you see it.

The Cygnet shows the way

Sadly it was just finishing when I arrived at 8 (inept taxi driver) and many people were already leaving in a state of loud inebriation. It’s quite a party place.

Lao Sichaun Dajilou doorway

The friendly lady on the door looked after me really well and found an ancient menu in English for me to look at. Ducks blood, chicken gizzards and pig snouts were all in evidence but sticking with the maxim ‘what tastes good is what tastes familiar’ I went with the safe bets: sliced fatty beef, ‘silver’ mutton, sheets of bean curd, ‘drumstick’ mushrooms, Chinese leaves and Cos lettuce. I also got an unasked for plate of local ‘jack fish’ but my chopstick skills weren’t up to deboning it so I abandoned it as a mangled mess.

My choices

For the stock I opted for the classic ‘red and white composite hot pot’ which consists of two sauces in concentric bowls, The central red stock was a searing combination of red chillies and Sichuan peppercorns (you should shake these off the food or spit them out to avoid a numb tongue), oil, ginger and lemongrass with other unknowns floating around while the outer white stock is without any spice but with scallions and cucumber bobbing on the surface.

Stocks

About halfway through the meal a chef came and replenished both rings with the same kettle of white stock so I guess they have the same base. Needless to say I went for the red every time and soon had a small mountain of tissues next to me as the heat from the gas ring and the chillies started to take their toll.

Taking a few pinches of uncooked ingredients at a time, you simmer them briefly before fishing them out and dipping them in a watery brown sauce thickened with a big dollop of raw minced garlic and a pinch of a salty powder (not MSG because that was in another dish) or in soya sauce before making the final journey to the eagerly awaiting gob. Utterly delicious if a bit messy. They even had Snow beer, my favourite Chinese ale, on hand to cool things down.

Snow beer

To finish some complimentary cooling watermelon and err… cherry tomatoes (a dessert fruit here). Total bill a mere 78 RMB. A must do I would say.

The oldest and most famous restaurant in town is Lao Sichaun Dajilou (Old Sichaun Hotel) which the locals abbreviate to ‘Lao Su’. The address I was given was 186 Minzu Lu but the taxi driver seemed to disagree so perhaps it’s moved or there are two locations.

I meant to get some recommended dishes written in kanji (such as wool beef, smoked duck rice, cold pork garlic and chrysanthemum aubergine) but it was hard enough just getting the name and address of the place so I didn’t go there. Unfortunately there were no English translations in the menu but it did have pictures so I played it safe and just pointed at safe and familiar looking dishes (as opposed to the beautifully presented but daunting sea cucumbers/slugs and what looked like a deck chair made of tripe!).

Tripe deckchair

First to arrive was a dish of steamed pak choi with chopped red and green chillies doused in soya sauce.

Pak choi with chillies

This came with another dish of chopped greens with shredded pork and dry red chillies. Both dishes were great for me as they played straight to my soya sauce and chilli addictions.

Greens with pork

To go with this I thought I’d ordered crispy duck pancakes but this turned out just to be just duck skin covering a mound of prawn crackers. No problem, the skin was delicious wrapped in the delicate pancakes with cucumber and spring onion and smothered with hoisin sauce.

Duck skin pancakes

Alongside was a huge bowl of rice, enough to feed eight people, as well as a couple of local Shandong beers.

Shangdong beer

Don’t quite know how but I managed it but I ate about two thirds of the food, excluding the rice, despite massively over ordering. The bill came to 112 RMB, under £12, so I didn’t feel too bad.

They were starting to switch the lights off at 9 on a Thursday evening so I’d get there early if you can.

Last time I was here in 2008  I stayed at the five star Harbour View Hotel and found it very pleasant, though the pool is a bit small. The hotel is very central and within walking distance of Minzu Lu and Wuyi Lu which have lots of good restaurants.

On this occasion I stayed in the 5 star Park Hotel which is on the other side of the river from the downtown. It’s absolutely huge, 32 floors that look out onto a Blade Runner cityscape and high speed lifts on the outside of the building that give you a bird’s eye view. From inside I could only look down the central atrium for a split-second before my vertigo drove me back from the edge.

The rooms and bathrooms are large and comfortable and have free internet via a cable connection but only CNN and HBO on the telly. There is a well equipped gym in the basement but the whiff of car fumes from the underground car park opposite make it rather unpleasant to be in there on some days.

I tried the Japanese restaurant in the basement for lunch once but the ingredients of my raw fish set, although nicely presented, weren’t as fresh as I would have liked. The waitresses didn’t want to let me in at first even though they were still officially open at ten to two. I also had a lunch of Youngchow fried rice, steamed Pak Choi with black beans and a beer for RMB 100 from the second floor Chinese restaurant which was very tasty but a bit pricey. I also thought the prices in the bar were rather extortionate at 45 RMB for a Tanqueray and tonic (30 RMB in Wenzhou) but when they added on another 7 RMB service charge I nearly choked on my peanuts.

If you go down to the basement floor and past the breakfast room, there is an escalator that will take you down to the entertainment city which is under the urban park in front of the hotel. Besides a supermarket, there are more restaurants here, as well as pubs, karaoke and hostess bars, betting shops, amusement arcades and internet cafes. There is a swimming pool down here somewhere too but I couldn’t find it.

Although it’s easy not to go anywhere when everything you need is on your doorstep in the hotel, one good reason to go to these restaurants is the taxi ride there.

Crossing the river

You get some amazing views of this futuristic city when it’s all light up at night.

Imagine the electricity bill!

 

Taxis are cheap as chips too, just a couple of quid, though you may have to wait a while on the street to get one for the return journey.

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.

Journey to Zhengzhou

Posted in China, Henan, Zhengzhou with tags , , , , on November 7, 2010 by gannet39

Finally arrived exhausted in Zhengzhou via Beijing, after twelve hours in the air and 8 hours behind UK GMT so kind of understand how the dog feels in this picture.

A dog's life

Zhengzhou (pronounced Jeng Joe), capital of Henan province, is a fairly typical medium-sized Chinese city of 4,500,000. High rise blocks stretch off into the distance, slowly disappearing into the haze of pollution despite the sunshine. It’s the capital of Henan province in central South China but I doubt if many visitors come here except perhaps to use it as a base to visit the nearby Shaolin temple, one of China’s more famous tourist-traps.

Erqi towerAs far as things to do in the town, you could take an evening stroll into the city centre to see the Erqi tower, which at about 90 years of age is considered an old building around here. You can climb to the top for a view of the city and visit the night market nearby. The regional Henan museum on Nongwe Rd, near the hotel, is also supposed to be very good.

JinshuiThe Hotel Ramada where work put me is an unremarkable modern hotel with spacious rooms. It’s the kind of place that has glass-walled walk-in showers but no bath and far too many pillows on the bed. There’s a basic gym with a couple of bikes and jogging machines and a weight-station.  However the best thing is its great location in the pleasant area of Jinshui with its tree-lined streets and cool little bars.

There’s a free internet connection via cable in your room but it’s rather slow. It will get even slower if you try to access Facebook which, along with Twitter, Youtube and WordPress (which hosts this blog) was blocked by the Chinese government after the riots in the western area of Xianjiang.  My webmail account also seemed to be blocked for a while but was accessible again after a few hours.

SatsumasOranges are not the only fruitThe hotel breakfast is a comprehensive spread of Chinese and Western foods although the lack of takers for the latter means that the cheese and ham sits shrivelled and dry, alone and unloved in a corner. There are about twenty steaming cauldrons of Chinese dishes such as fried rice, steamed buns and stir-fried veg if you can persuade your stomach to want them. From my observations, the Chinese seem to eat similar foods whatever the time of day and some find no contradiction in eating an omelette and a doughnut off the same plate, with chopsticks of course! My favourite items were these miniscule Satsuma’s and another tiny unknown citrus fruit which were more pip than flesh but were refreshingly bitter.

The hotel is well situated for local bars and you will find several as you turn right out of the hotel, turn first left and walk along Jingliu Lu. Fairly soon on the left you will come to the Garden Lounge, a cool little dive with wooden tables playing grunge and hip hop. Beers here are Y20, about £2. A bit further along on the right you will find the Target Pub, an even divier reggae bar. The dimly-lit wooden interior is decorated with amateur graffiti, Bob Marley posters, boomerangs and other international bric-a-brac. Beers are Y25. Outside opposite there’s a late night street stall selling, amongst other things, fresh oysters.

Have fish, will travelMah jong all day longMeat to goEllo duckCan you get me something from the shopIf you turn right out of the hotel and continue up Weisan Lu, there is a seafood market in the next block.

Business is goodEels are usThe entrance is through an archway on the right, about halfway up the street. If you are looking for gruesome photo ops, this place is an unrefridgerated horrorshow. Other than the eels, I couldn’t name any of these things and will buy a drink for anyone who can!

Cocoon, the returnMean greenMmm...What the f...Henan cuisine emphasises the use of seasonal ingredients and dishes are often lighter than elsewhere. Mutton and lamb form the basis of many soups but otherwise pork is the most common meat. It is also characterised by the extensive use of onions. Vermicelli noodles, which are otherwise only commonly found in the southern regions of China, are popular here.

The best upmarket place to try local delicacies that I found was the Henan Restaurant, in the Hotel Henan on the corner of Jinshui Lu and Huayuan Lu, about 15 mins walk from the hotel. When you walk through the front gate into the courtyard, the restaurant is the third building on the left, with the red neon signs on the roof. There is no English menu but I had a list of things I wanted to try. One of the house specialities, and a very famous Zhengzhou dish, is Liyu Peimian, carp in sweet and sour sauce served with dry vermicelli noodles to soak up the sauce. The carp has been soaked three times to get rid of the earthy flavour, still slightly present, and carefully sliced to allow big chunks to be pulled off the bony skeleton with chopsticks. I enjoyed it but it’s probably more of a sharing dish as there’s a lot of it. To follow I had another famous local dish, Hui Mian or mutton noodle soup, which in this instance included broad noodles, a few small chunks of mutton, two kinds of mushrooms and some baby pak choi in a white broth, with a saucer  of fresh coriander leaves and pickled garlic on the side. Very nice. The dessert of watermelon, cantaloupe and apple looked like a modern art installation. All the food was very enjoyable, if slightly strange to my palate. My only gripe was they only had warm beer, a common problem in China. Total cost was Y98, of which Y78 was the fish.Sweet & sour carp with noodlesHui Mian noodlesModern melon

Other local delicacies I didn’t get time to try are Mulateng (a spicy soup eaten for breakfast), Guotie Tofu (fried bean curd), and the local wontons and steamed dumplings.

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