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China - Beijing, Xian, Shanghai
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  • China - Beijing, Xian, Shanghai

    Post #1 - August 2nd, 2005, 3:30 pm
    Post #1 - August 2nd, 2005, 3:30 pm Post #1 - August 2nd, 2005, 3:30 pm
    The lovely Susan surprised me with a birthday present - a trip to China (early October). Never been before. We're definitely going to Fangshan in Beijing, but need recommendations for food, and other things in all towns (it's a tour, so we'll be going to all the obvious places, but I'm looking for more out-of-the-way suggestions).
    Last edited by nr706 on November 16th, 2015, 1:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #2 - August 6th, 2005, 4:35 pm
    Post #2 - August 6th, 2005, 4:35 pm Post #2 - August 6th, 2005, 4:35 pm
    I was in Beijing on biz in March and my one "real" restaurant experience was provided by the business people with whom I was meeting. Unfortunately, I didn't get the names of the place but the food as fantastic! However, all is not lost. I stayed at the Peninsula Palace which was only a few blocks from the Forbidden City and only a block away from the Wangfujing shopping district. This is a pedestrian mall and is bustling all the time. Looked like there were some outstanding restaurants. On my one sightseeing day, I had lunch at this "dumpling house" located on Donganmen Street right at the intersection with Wangfujing.

    Image

    No decor, just formica tables. No one spoke English. As a foreigner, they automatically hand you a menu printed in English and Chinese. About a zillion various dumplings to choose. You pick your dumpling and then how many, 6-10-15-25. There are also a few straight vegie dishes. I was able to finagle a mixture of different dumplings and also had a plate of cooked spinach with garlic. A bottle of water to wash it down. I'm not too ashamed to say that I had 15 dumplings and they were fabulous! Total check came to about $3.

    In the evenings, just down Donganmen St. past this dumpling place, the street turns into a Food Street with about 50 carts set up selling anything you can imagine and things you can't imagine. I believe that Cathy2 would love this. There were on sticks: crickets, silkworms, mice, regular worms, snakes, frogs, lizards, etc. The deep fried star fish seemed to be a crowd pleaser. I passed and settled on banana fritters and spare ribs.
  • Post #3 - August 8th, 2005, 8:53 am
    Post #3 - August 8th, 2005, 8:53 am Post #3 - August 8th, 2005, 8:53 am
    while i can't get you specific locales, the best meals i've had in china were all non-descript. ie:

    i sat, alfresco (more like.. in a dirty alley), on a 12" plastic stool, bent over a 2' tall rickety table, drinking pee-colored beer (more sanitary than water), sucking on God-knows-where-it came-from sea snails, accompanied by golden fried man-to buns, or scallion da-bing, etc.

    there were hardly signs for most of these shanty shacks, much less written in English (see picture in post above)... i think this holds true in majority of Asia as the experience was replicated in Taipei/Jakarta/Hong Kong & Shenzhen (stewed dog in the nite market anyone?), etc.

    unfortunately, i do not believe it can be fully accomplished w/o a local's assistance, or local language skills.
  • Post #4 - August 8th, 2005, 3:04 pm
    Post #4 - August 8th, 2005, 3:04 pm Post #4 - August 8th, 2005, 3:04 pm
    TonyC wrote:unfortunately, i do not believe it can be fully accomplished w/o a local's assistance, or local language skills.


    Thanks for the comments so far - we will have local guides in all three cities, but I wonder whether they'll direct us to particularly good places, or the places with the best kickbacks.
  • Post #5 - October 18th, 2005, 8:28 pm
    Post #5 - October 18th, 2005, 8:28 pm Post #5 - October 18th, 2005, 8:28 pm
    The day finally came, so it was onto the airplane, fly over the North Pole, and 13 hours later arrive in Beijing.

    Beijing is a large, bustling, metropolitan city. Remnants of “Old Beijing” are being torn down to make way for tall, slick, expressionless skyscrapers – with activity accelerated in the wake of being awarded the 2008 Olympics. (About 50% of Old Beijing – aka the hutong – has been torn down to make way for skyscrapers, although a few of the areas of hutong will be preserved, as the Chinese have discovered they’re a good tourist draw.)

    As the economy has skyrocketed in the past decade or so, many more have bought private cars (although bicycles are also still a major transportation mode). Highway construction hasn’t kept up, resulting in some of the worst traffic jams imaginable. The worst of the Dan Ryan at rush hour would be considered normal, non-rush hour traffic in Beijing.

    A few highly authoritative generalizations about China, based entirely on a 9-day tourist itinerary:

    Reasons why the Chinese will dominate the world’s economy within the next decade or two:

    - Many Chinese structure their life around their finances. They see finances as the main consideration in all their life decisions. They tend to be opportunistic and pragmatic. The Communist state recognizes that capitalism is alive and driving the economic renaissance.

    Reasons why they won’t:

    - McDonald’s and KFC are ubiquitous. It’s rare to see an overweight Chinese adult; reportedly 1 out of 2 young children in the big cities have weight problems, but they love their fast food,

    - Most adult males smoke. Young girls view smoking as glamorous. Only the most progressive restaurants have no-smoking sections.

    - Early retirement is encouraged with hefty pensions, to free up jobs for younger workers. Apparently, no one’s figured out how to finance this practice, long-term.

    On to the food:

    There was some discussion before we left that Chinese food in China wasn’t very good. Not true – unless you go to typical tourist spots, where the food is “dumbed down.”

    First night, jet-lagged, was with the son of friends who’s studying business in Beijing. He took us to a hole-in-the-wall, satisfyingly grubby, surprisingly in the Central Business District. We were the only Westerners. He ordered for us, seven courses, starting with roasted peanuts, then egg & tomato, eggplant, fatty pork, bone-in chicken, yard-long beans, and satay-like grilled meat from another vendor (aka “Meat Girl”) set up outside the restaurant. It was accompanied by the local beer (a German-lager inspired beer, similar to Molson Blue), and one of China’s many distilled beverages (not as strong as Maotai [110° proof]) which I believe was called something like Xin-Chou – similar to Korean Soju). There were three of us, seven courses, five pints of beer, and two small glasses of spirits (the toast translates to “dry your glass”). The total came to about $14 US.

    I was told that piling up the empty beer mugs helps “create face” with the locals. Apparently, several tables were discussing us Westerners – Ben spoke pretty good Mandarin, so at least one table surmised that we were Russians, since no other Westerners could be expected to know Mandarin.

    Unfortunately, my camera batteries died, so I was able to get only one shot of the tomato and egg, with peanuts and eggplant in the background.

    Image

    As this is a food-oriented board, I’ll try to avoid the typical tourist pix. But I thought others might be interested to see what the Emperor had in his private residence, within the Forbidden City (aka Imperial Palace).
    Image

    After seeing the Palace, we waded through Bejing’s miserable traffic to a locally popular noodle house. Large, boisterous, with greeters shouting names over the room to find good tables. Again, way too much food – but the tradition in China is that if you clean your plate, you disgrace your host, because your host interprets it as if he/she didn’t provide you enough of the given dish. A lot of food gets thrown out in China. Very difficult to adjust to when you’re brought up to believe a clean plate means you liked what was on it. Our “light” lunch:
    Image

    Next was dinner at one of the many “roasted duck” restaurants in Beijing (how can you argue with having Peking Duck in Beijing?). First came appetizers:
    Pork & Cucumbers
    Image
    Mushrooms & Chicken
    Image
    Then the chef carved the duck:
    Image
    And the dish was assembled:
    Image

    We also roamed several of the hutong – Old Beijing neighborhoods virtually unchanged over the last few hundred years.
    Image

    We had lunch in the home of Madame Wu, in the hutong. Note that this picture was taken after four of us had become completely stuffed from all the food. Again, finishing a dish is an insult to the host, suggesting that not enough food was provided. Clearly, we didn’t insult Madame Wu.
    Image

    The hutong also is peppered with many small mom & pop restaurants. Here’s one that specializes in a specific meat. As I understand it, their steamed dumplings are Bao WOW! (Note the animal’s face on the sign.)
    Image

    Probably the most disappointing meal in Bejing was at the Royal Palace – supposedly the local hot spot with government officials, just outside the Forbidden City, and one of the city’s primary spots for an Imperial dinner. But there are separate dining rooms for members; we were in the public room, very stylishly decorated, but on a Monday night, the staff may have been mostly trainees.

    The meal started with appetizers, sliced pork and noodles with bean sprouts:
    Image

    Then on to Fried Chicken
    Image

    And bamboo shoots
    Image

    Tempura-type perch
    Image

    Unfortunately, this relatively new restaurant didn’t have its act together. We asked for the local beer; all they had was the non-alcoholic version. I appreciate restaurants that anticipate a diner’s needs, but to have a waitress eyeing your table from about two meters away throughout the meal was a bit much. Worse, the waitress walked over to pick up our plates and replace them with clean plates – just after I’d plucked a piece of fish for my plate. I ate a part of the fish, but as she was standing over my shoulder anxious to grab my plate and plop down a clean one, I gave up. I let her take my plate away, just to get her off my shoulder, even though I’d liked to have that last piece of perch.

    For an Imperial dinner, Fangshan is probably a better bet.

    I’ll post more on Xi’an and Shanghai later.
  • Post #6 - October 19th, 2005, 4:10 am
    Post #6 - October 19th, 2005, 4:10 am Post #6 - October 19th, 2005, 4:10 am
    nr706 wrote:I’ll post more on Xi’an and Shanghai later.

    Tom,

    Interesting post, great pictures, looking forward to your followups.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #7 - October 19th, 2005, 8:00 am
    Post #7 - October 19th, 2005, 8:00 am Post #7 - October 19th, 2005, 8:00 am
    Tom:

    Ditto on all that Gary says above.

    I like the idea of gaining face through piling up empty beer mugs; they might think well of me, if I ever make it out that way... And the comments on the service at the Royal Palace are really funny, though cleary the experience wasn't quite so amusing...

    So, how were those bao at the specialty meat shop? C'mon, do tell!

    :P

    Looking forward to more.

    A
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #8 - October 20th, 2005, 5:50 am
    Post #8 - October 20th, 2005, 5:50 am Post #8 - October 20th, 2005, 5:50 am
    Antonius wrote:So, how were those bao at the specialty meat shop? C'mon, do tell!


    I like to think of myself as a reasonably adventurous eater, but having just had a big lunch, I passed on the dog meat. Sorry to disappoint all LTH'ers...
  • Post #9 - October 20th, 2005, 6:09 am
    Post #9 - October 20th, 2005, 6:09 am Post #9 - October 20th, 2005, 6:09 am
    More Beijing …

    A tourist can’t visit Beijing without seeing the Great Wall. There are several sections open to tourists; we went to Mutianyu, supposedly less touristy than the closer Badaling, but still hundreds of tourist junk stalls, all selling the same stuff. “T-Shirt – one dollar” they claim, hoping to get you into their stall. But once you go in, choose your shirts, and offer the US bills, they say – “no, must have Chinese money – no bank” … slightly annoyed, I offered 20 yuan (one ¥ approximately equals 12¢) for two t-shirts. Haggling is expected, but they wouldn’t go for my best offer. Bait and switch at its best. I almost thought they were going to tear my shirt off as I tried to get away after they rejected my offer.

    So we climbed the Great Wall – to the top of the Mutianyu section. It was a fortuitous decision, as along the way we ran into a party of French people celebrating a birthday on the Great Wall.

    They had run out of the Moet White Star, but still were willing to share their remaining bubbly with Western interlopers. Crazy French guy celebrating his birthday on the Great Wall with Champagne:
    Image

    But at least they shared their lesser bottles:
    Image

    Climbing to the top of the Mutianyu section of the wall reminded me of my participation in the “Hustle Up The Hancock” a couple of years ago (I made it to the top from the ground floor in 22 minutes – which was relatively slow for my age group). And, there wasn’t much, other than a spectacular view, from the top.

    On the way down:
    Image

    After the Great Wall, we went to a local seafood restaurant, a couple of kilometers away. You know your fish is fresh there, since if you can’t catch it, you don’t eat (unless you let the owners do your fishing for you). Here’s trying to catch a trout:
    Image

    Got one!
    Image

    They started us with bitter melon, spicy cucumber, and beans with chicken:
    Image

    Then was “local wild herb” — no English translation – tasty, but not as much as the other dishes.
    Image
    Then the just-caught fish, with a spicy BBQ coating (well, they called it barbeque [or maybe that was the guide’s translation] but for the purists here, it was probably grilled rather than barbequed).
    Image

    Here’s what the joint looked like:
    Image

    One last Beijing photo, in the airport (as I mentioned previously, smorking is common …):
    Image
    Last edited by nr706 on October 25th, 2005, 8:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #10 - October 20th, 2005, 10:22 am
    Post #10 - October 20th, 2005, 10:22 am Post #10 - October 20th, 2005, 10:22 am
    Then was “local wild herb” — no English translation – tasty, but not as much as the other dishes.


    This looks like Kon Shin Sai ("empty heart vegetable" - so called because the stalks are hollow - Water Convovulus).

    Mmmm, keep the pictures coming!
    CONNOISSEUR, n. A specialist who knows everything about something and nothing about anything else.
    -Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

    www.cakeandcommerce.com
  • Post #11 - October 21st, 2005, 10:23 am
    Post #11 - October 21st, 2005, 10:23 am Post #11 - October 21st, 2005, 10:23 am
    Queijo wrote:
    Then was “local wild herb” — no English translation – tasty, but not as much as the other dishes.


    This looks like Kon Shin Sai ("empty heart vegetable" - so called because the stalks are hollow - Water Convovulus).

    Mmmm, keep the pictures coming!


    You could be right, but I don't remember the stems being hollow - I would have noticed something like that.
  • Post #12 - October 21st, 2005, 1:48 pm
    Post #12 - October 21st, 2005, 1:48 pm Post #12 - October 21st, 2005, 1:48 pm
    I took another look at your photo...I'm almost positive it is Kon shin sai...the stems and greens are textbook...

    check this out: http://www.agrohaitai.com/leafveg/waterspinach/waterconvolvulus.htm

    so, what, no more pictures? Did you stumble into any of the night markets in Beijing and taste the grilled scorpion or...grubs?

    I couldn't make myself do it when I was there.
    CONNOISSEUR, n. A specialist who knows everything about something and nothing about anything else.
    -Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

    www.cakeandcommerce.com
  • Post #13 - October 21st, 2005, 9:20 pm
    Post #13 - October 21st, 2005, 9:20 pm Post #13 - October 21st, 2005, 9:20 pm
    Queijo wrote:so, what, no more pictures? Did you stumble into any of the night markets in Beijing and taste the grilled scorpion or...grubs?

    I couldn't make myself do it when I was there.


    No grubs ... but the Beijing nightlife was amazing - especially since they'd just had their "National Day" celebration, and there was still a significant hangover from that. Night in Tian'anmen Square was crowded, with kite hawkers and more digital camera flashes than you'll see in the next two weeks at Comisky Park (I don't buy into purchased names for sports stadiums, with the possible exception of Cubs Park).

    Over on Wangfujing Street, the neon was going full blast (think Times Square on steriods), and the admittedly touristy food stalls just off the street were hopping - the noodles, the stuffed pancakes, the grilled satay-like meats ...

    but no photos ... the 13 hour plane ride back from Shanghai left me with a nasty cold that's got me moving at about 35%, so it may (or may not) take a while to get the Xi'an installment up.
  • Post #14 - October 21st, 2005, 10:29 pm
    Post #14 - October 21st, 2005, 10:29 pm Post #14 - October 21st, 2005, 10:29 pm
    The Chinese say that if you want 60 years of Chinese history, visit Shanghai. If you want to see 600 years of Chinese history, visit Beijing. If you want to see 6,000 years of Chinese history, go to Xi’an. Xi’an (pronounced She-Ahn) was the capital of the Middle Kingdom, and the end of the Silk Road, which reached from Xi’an to Turkey. China reached its height of worldwide sophistication during the Tang Dynasty, which explains why people in Xi’an were so offended when I told them that, in the US, Tang means cheap powdered imitation orange juice.

    So the main reason to go to Xi’an is for the history – about 2,200 years ago the first emperor of the Qin (pronounced Chin) dynasty had 7,000 workers spend nearly 40 years crafting at least 8,000 terracotta warriors, horses and chariots, each different and unique (more are still being uncovered) to protect his tomb. (Can you say self-indulgent? If you crafted a warrior out of terracotta and the emperor thought it wasn’t good enough, you’d get killed. But he’d keep the sculpture.) It didn’t work. A few years after it was completed, a warring general came in with his troops and destroyed the whole thing. It was forgotten until 1974, when two farmers were trying to dig a well and found a terracotta arm. Since in China, all the land is owned by the state, their fields were immediately seized, but they got full-time jobs in the gift shops signing autographs – they’re both still there (but each wants to be known as the sole discoverer, so they have to be separated, in different gift shops). And they don’t allow photos.

    But other than history, Xi’an has a couple of things to recommend it. It’s the capital of Shaanxi province, and considered the defacto capital of Western China (although if you look at a map, it’s really not that far west). Being west, it has a greater proportionate Muslim population than either Beijing or Shanghai. It has one of the largest and most complete walls among all walled cities in the world. And, they’re experts at dumplings.

    Before the dumplings came, there were, of course, appetizers;
    Onion and wood ear, sugar snap peas, tapioca noodles and vegetables, and chicken and wheat noodles.
    Image

    More dumplings
    Image

    Chicken dumpling that looks vaguely like a chicken:
    Image

    Even more dumplings (walnut dumplings at the upper right; some of the others seemed a bit heavy on the 5-spice powder for my tastes):
    Image

    Pot stickers and spring rolls:
    Image

    Then they served the generic dumplings:
    Image

    And, finally, dumpling soup, heated at the table:
    Image

    The square outside the restaurant:
    Image

    If you happen to find yourself in Xi’an, someone will undoubtedly tell you about the Tang Dynasty Dinner Show. For the record, it’s dumbed-down Chinese food (I kept expecting to hear someone from Arkansas say “finally, real Chinese food like we get at home, not like all the weird stuff they serve here”). And the show is China meets Branson, Missouri. Although, in a perverse way, I guess it’s worth going to see, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into. Okay, I promised to avoid typical tourist pix, but here’s one of the show anyway.
    Image

    But more interesting is the Muslim Quarter, centered around the Great Mosque. It’s in many ways similar to Beijing’s hutong, although the Muslims aren’t nearly as obnoxiously aggressive at getting you into their shops. And they offer great street food. Stews and steamed buns:
    Image

    Note the tricycles sellers use to bring in food from their outlying farms to the marketplaces.
    Image

    Sweets are also popular:
    Image

    Not to mention nuts and grains:
    Image

    Shanghai later …
    Last edited by nr706 on October 22nd, 2005, 10:11 am, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #15 - October 22nd, 2005, 6:48 am
    Post #15 - October 22nd, 2005, 6:48 am Post #15 - October 22nd, 2005, 6:48 am
    Hi,

    Tang means cheap powdered imitation orange juice


    :roll:

    I think if you added the fact it was developed for the NASA space program to nourish the astronauts in space in the early days, and perhaps even today, would have given these people a lift!

    terracotta warriors, horses and chariots, each different and unique


    We saw quite a collection of these in Memphis a few years ago. We drove down especially to see them because they were not coming to Chicago.

    &&&

    Thanks for the pictures of the various dumpling shapes. I'm sure there is a dumpling shape for each type of dumpling. Years ago, the Tribune published an article translating the various shapes and swirls on chocolates indicated which fillings. I'll bet somewhere there is a book covering this topic of dumpling shapes with how-to-shape them tips and with my luck it will be in Chinese!

    Great travel report!

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #16 - October 22nd, 2005, 7:18 am
    Post #16 - October 22nd, 2005, 7:18 am Post #16 - October 22nd, 2005, 7:18 am
    Cathy2 wrote:We saw quite a collection of these in Memphis a few years ago. We drove down especially to see them because they were not coming to Chicago.


    Quite a collection, like this?

    Image
  • Post #17 - October 22nd, 2005, 7:43 am
    Post #17 - October 22nd, 2005, 7:43 am Post #17 - October 22nd, 2005, 7:43 am
    Nothing approaching the quantity you observed, though they had several hundred amassed for this exhibit. Very impressive in Memphis and spectacular at their point of origin.
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #18 - October 22nd, 2005, 8:56 am
    Post #18 - October 22nd, 2005, 8:56 am Post #18 - October 22nd, 2005, 8:56 am
    And the show is China meets Branson, Missouri.


    You mean, like this?

    Whoops, I guess that's Japan meets Branson...

    Seriously, great report and photos.
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  • Post #19 - October 23rd, 2005, 3:07 pm
    Post #19 - October 23rd, 2005, 3:07 pm Post #19 - October 23rd, 2005, 3:07 pm
    A quickie - I forgot the noodle-stretching demo at the restaurant inside the Terracotta Warrior complex. Sure, it’s a tourist bit, and I’ll bet that most LTH’ers have seen videos of Chinese noodle-making by hand, but it was still fascinating to watch in person. Having seen it, I WILL try this in my kitchen someday … especially if someone else volunteers to clean up the inevitable mess.
    Image
  • Post #20 - October 23rd, 2005, 5:27 pm
    Post #20 - October 23rd, 2005, 5:27 pm Post #20 - October 23rd, 2005, 5:27 pm
    nr706 wrote:Image


    That's an incredible photo, but I've never scene a person more bored with his job in my life.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #21 - October 25th, 2005, 11:24 am
    Post #21 - October 25th, 2005, 11:24 am Post #21 - October 25th, 2005, 11:24 am
    Shanghai – the most European of cities in China (not that that’s a good thing). It was after the Opium wars (slightly before 1850) that Westerners (Germans, French, British and Americans, mostly, although somehow the Japanese got themselves in there, too) divided up the city into separate independent “concessions” which were under the rule of the particular country governing that concession, and not subject to Chinese rule. During WWII the Japanese took over the whole place, and afterwards, when that war didn’t turn out exactly as the Japanese had hoped, all the concessions returned to Chinese control. What had been the American and British concessions (they merged) is now Pudong – a former area of fields and farming across the Huangpu river from the Bund (the very European street on the west side of the river). Pudong, since 1990, has gained over 3 million residents and has become the heart of the new city.

    Like Chicago, Shanghai was built on a swampy mudflat. Unlike Chicago, Shanghai gets its water from underground wells. As Shanghai has grown rapidly, so has the uptake of water from the underground aquifers. So, like Venice Italy, Shanghai is sinking. They’re trying to solve the problem by pumping water back underground during the winter months, when water is more plentiful, but it doesn’t seem to be working particularly well.

    There’s also a “tourist tunnel” under the river from the Bund to Pudong; it’s convenient, you ride in a small CTA-style train car, but otherwise its light show is reminiscent of the connection between the B and C concourses in the United terminal at O’Hare, but without the tasteful artistry.

    There are fancier streets in the French Concession and in Pudong, but Nanking Road is the State Street of Shanghai. And our hotel (the Sofitel – not recommended; the Howard Johnson’s [!] in the same area is much better). Here’s Nanking Road from the hotel room:
    Image

    For our last night in China, I ate alone. The lovely Susan, migraine-laden, preferred a quiet dark room curled in the fetal position over a dinner of Shanghainese food. A particular pity, since the name of the Shanghainese restaurant in the Sofitel Hyland is called “The Cornell.” Guess where Susan did her undergraduate work. (As my father used to sing, “High above Cayuga’s waters, there’s an awful smell …” My Dad and I both went to another, smaller [i.e. far more exclusive] college about 80 miles away, also starting with the letters CO, and subjecting us both to a life of toothpaste jokes. At least our Red Raiders of the Valley of Chenango beat the much larger Cornell – inappropriately named The Big Red - in football this year. I have no idea what any of this mini-rant has to do with China.)

    On to the meal.

    I don’t know what it was about the chicken feet. I did my best to gnaw every little fatty, chewy chilled morsel off the bone. So I really didn’t understand when the waitress came back to refresh a plate, saw the spent chicken feet, and broke out in gales of laughter. She then composed herself, forgot completely about the concept of a fresh plate, went back to her station and whispered something to one of the other waitresses, turned back and looked at me again, and apparently more hilarity ensued. I just missed the joke. Here they are before I started gnawing:
    Image

    The fish balls with crab that I ordered somehow miraculously transmogrified into tofu with crab. Didn’t matter; it was still pretty good.
    Image

    A dessert of, essentially, quiche with pureed fish:
    Image

    As good as Xi’an was with dumplings, the Shanghai street food was also dump-ilicious. One dumpling maker, just off Nanking Road (and next to the Chicago Pizza Factory):
    Image

    And her steamed dumpling, fluffy, with a slightly spicy pork filling:
    Image

    But being so close to Nanking Road, she undoubtedly had high overhead in terms of rent, which explains why she had to charge the outrageous price of 2 ¥ (about 24¢) per dumpling. Compare that to another joint, about two blocks further off the road, which offered these two dumplings:
    Image

    Yeah, they were a little smaller, and the one on the right was mostly sticky rice, but these two, together, were only 1 ¥ (12¢).
    Then we blew another entire 2¥ on a tasty, oily Chinese version of foccacia:
    Image

    Also, it was rambutan season, and the rambutan vendors were out in force, especially on the Bund and Nanking Road. Couldn’t bring ‘em back through customs, so had to skip ‘em.
    Image

    A final Shanghai note (except for another one coming later) … since I commented on the cheesy Tang Dynasty Dinner Theater, I should add a few words on the Chinese Acrobat show next to the Ritz-Carlton in Pudong. It was good. Okay, that’s a few words, but perhaps I should elaborate. These people had amazing athletic ability. They were flipping young girls across the stage and catching them on each others’ shoulders, as they themselves were perched on others’ shoulders. They were balancing trays of champagne stacked 5-high on their feet while contorting their bodies into impossible shapes. Keeping 20+ plates, Ed Sullivan Show-style, spinning while running from extreme stage-left, to extreme stage right … One of the lesser stunts, balancing on chairs:
    Image
    Last edited by nr706 on October 26th, 2005, 11:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #22 - October 25th, 2005, 1:00 pm
    Post #22 - October 25th, 2005, 1:00 pm Post #22 - October 25th, 2005, 1:00 pm
    A few words about beer in China:

    Shanghai claims the best beer scene; understandable, because Germans had one of the concessions in the early 20th century; they also helped found Tsingtao brewery – the national beer, and influenced all breweries. In fact, ales are virtually impossible to find; unless you go to a place that specializes in imported beer, all you’ll find are German-style lagers. But at least the typical beer bottle size is 655ml.

    Shanghai has three places that claim to be brewpubs, they range from horrible to barely okay. The first one we tried was just off the Bund – Fest Brew House:
    Image

    It’s not a good sign when a brewpub’s entire beer list consists of “light” and “dark.” So, of course, we tried both. The dark was almost drinkable.
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    Irish moss and various finings seem to be subtleties lost on Chinese brewpubs (although the commercial brewers are much better). I don’t mind cloudy in a hefeweizen, but unless the beer’s name suggests that yeast should be lingering throughout, it should be at least relatively clear.

    Our hotel – the Sofitel Hyland – boasted a brewpub called Le Pub 505. The English signs promised “home-brewed beer.” Initially I though it was just a bad translation problem. I was wrong. The beer was the epitome of what a first-time brewer would make at home, using hopped malt extract – no trace of actual barley malt, a mash, a lauter tun, or real hops. And, again, the concept of finings and clear beer clearly (no pun intended) escaped them. I tried to have a conversation with the bartender about their beers; I asked what style they were. He couldn’t understand the question (and, yes, I’m as much at fault for not speaking Mandarin or Shanghainese as he is for not speaking much English). He was able to describe it (accurately) as German-style. But German includes lots of different styles – from Kölsch and Dusseldorffer (both ales) to Berliner Weisse, Märzen, Maibock, and many others. I asked if it was a lager – that was beyond what the language barrier would permit. When I said lager, he kept interpreting as “light” beer. (Light, as in color. Thankfully, in China, what Americans call light beer is virtually unknown, suggesting that their culture is still far more sophisticated than ours.) I don’t believe the beer was lagered; whether or not they used an actual lager yeast was debatable (of course, lager yeasts at ale temps can yield interesting beers – the classic version being from the scion of an appliance factory owner who bought a brewery in San Francisco named after a device which can stabilize boats by linking them to the bottom of a body of water, and who has proven extremely litigious if anyone else deigns to use the term “steam” to describe a brew made from lager yeasts at ale temperatures.)

    But, as inauspicious as the beer list at Fest Brew House was, 505’s list of “home-brewed beer,” which consisted of “beer” – albeit in 0.25, 0.5 and 1.0 liter versions, was especially telling. I don’t think further comments are needed. It wasn’t worth a photo. And it wasn't worth drinking.

    The third brewpub we visited was Paulaner, in the French Concession. They had a dark, an Oktoberfest, and a hefeweizen. The latter was actually pretty good – a solid B+. But the Oktoberfest suffered from the same lack of clarity as the other brews at other places that should have been better fined. From the street (notice the street lined with Sycamore trees; Paulaner is in the French Concession; apparently the French were the only ones truly into tree-lined streets):
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    Inside:
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    The was also a delightful, large outdoor patio, where we enjoyed these: Hefeweizen in foreground, Ocktoberfest in background:
    Image

    Any of these places would be blown away by the likes of Goose Island, Mickey Finn’s, Flossmoor Station, Rock Bottom, Three Floyds, Two Brothers, Sprecher … need I go on? Bottom line, don’t go to China for the beer.

    For what it’s worth, China has a relatively small (considering the country’s size and population) wine industry; the one Chardonnay I tried was decent, albeit way overpriced.
    Last edited by nr706 on October 26th, 2005, 12:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #23 - October 25th, 2005, 8:49 pm
    Post #23 - October 25th, 2005, 8:49 pm Post #23 - October 25th, 2005, 8:49 pm
    oh no! the pictures broke. :cry:
  • Post #24 - October 25th, 2005, 9:03 pm
    Post #24 - October 25th, 2005, 9:03 pm Post #24 - October 25th, 2005, 9:03 pm
    mby385 wrote:oh no! the pictures broke. :cry:


    I've noticed some trouble with some of the pix loading lately too - although they were okay when first posted. But I didn't think this was appropriate thread to discuss that issue.So I posted my technical questions here.
  • Post #25 - October 26th, 2005, 9:52 pm
    Post #25 - October 26th, 2005, 9:52 pm Post #25 - October 26th, 2005, 9:52 pm
    nr706 wrote:A few words about beer in China:


    Thanks for the post & pictures. I visited China in 1999, and had some similar beer experiences as you did. I did have one good beer experience in China, but it was finding Hoegaarden on tap in Shanghai.

    The strangest thing I found were cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Apparently, PBR got in early when China started opening it's market. It became the largest American brewer to have a presence in China. The cans I saw had the PBR logo with Chinese text. In retrospect, I should have bought a can as a souvenir.


    Tim
  • Post #26 - October 27th, 2005, 6:13 am
    Post #26 - October 27th, 2005, 6:13 am Post #26 - October 27th, 2005, 6:13 am
    I didn't see any PBR, but there were lots of bars with Budweiser signs - especially in the couple of stretches of Beijing's hutong that have been turned into "Western Bar" streets. One place I wanted to try - just not enough time - was The Tree, Beijing's only bar specializing in Belgian beers, including Hoegaarden and De Koninck on tap, and many more in bottles.

    But my philosophy was to sample whatever was indigenous. I can get a better lineup of Belgian beers at The Hopleaf in Andersonville.

    One other thing I found amusing … confirming that the Chinese are still a little backwards in most things beery, the local brew in Shanghai is named “Reeb.”

    The Tree - Belgian Beer Bar
    43 Bei Sanlitun Nan
    Chaoyang District
    Beijing
  • Post #27 - April 23rd, 2006, 7:56 pm
    Post #27 - April 23rd, 2006, 7:56 pm Post #27 - April 23rd, 2006, 7:56 pm
    Last week we had the chance to try a few restaurants in central Beijing. Comments and pics below. (See Flickr for larger photos.)


    DONGLAISHUN

    After touring the Forbidden City on our first morning, we walked over to Wanfujing Street, the main shopping avenue in Beijing, to find a place for lunch. We settled on Donglaishun, a century-old hot-pot place whose heritage you'd never guess from its present, rather ordinary location in a modern shopping mall. We'd never had hot-pot before, but we understood the concept -- order some raw meat, vegetables, noodles, etc., and cook them at the table by dipping in seasoned, boiling water kept hot by a metal cone of smoldering lump charcoal. Once you've got it cooked and in your bowl, you can add diced onions, cilantro, and Donglaishun's trademark sauce (which, according to an old article in Food & Wine, consists of roasted sesame, pickled garlic and Chinese chives). Every diner gets their own bowl of sauce -- we saw other customers simply dropping their cooked items directly into the sauce bowl and using the bowl as their dinner plate.

    For dipping, we ordered lamb, "tender beef," and rice vermacelli. (Strange to see one of Northern China's most emblematic foodstuffs being called by an Italian name, but apparently that's what they call it for English menu readers like yours truly.) Donglaishun is known for their Mongolian lamb, and ours was fantastic -- thinly sliced, delicately textured and flavored. All in all a delicious lunch, topped off by two liters of Yanjing, Beijing's hometown brew and the official beer of the Houston Rockets. (You can guess why.)

    When we visited the Summer Palace a few days later, we noticed a branch of Donglaishun out there as well.

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    Donglaishun (in Sun Dong An Shopping Center - 5F, look for the huge hot pot)
    No 130 Wangfujing Dajie Street
    Dongcheng District
    86 10 6528 0932
    http://www.donglaishun.com


    KEIJIA CAI

    We had heard good things about Hakka cuisine, and also that the Back Lakes area was a nice place to have dinner, so we took a flyer on a place we saw in Frommer's Beijing: Keijia Cai. (Apparently it’s the same place mentioned here under a slightly different name.)

    We had a little trouble finding this restaurant. The cab driver dropped us off in the vicinity, but there are about a dozen restaurants in the same area along the lake, and we started up the wrong (left) side of the lake until we realized the place was actually to the right.

    The place was jammed (Saturday night about 7pm) and we waited in the lobby with about dozen other people until a table was ready. This was ok, because servers passed through the lobby on their way to one of the dining rooms, so we got a peek at some of the dishes. The most popular items seemed to be the fish cooked in foil, and the salt-baked shrimp. The staff is young, and there's a lot of energetic running up and down the stairs and shouting back and forth.

    The servers don't speak English, but they have an English menu with pictures. We ordered the shrimp, broiled beef in a stone pot, and griddled chicken. The first featured about 20 shrimp in the shell on skewers, buried in a small wooden bucket filled with hot sea salt. This was very tasty, peeling and eating the salted shrimp being (in a tactile sense) an experience akin to eating blue crab at a Maryland crab house. The beef was the most satisfying dish. It was served not in a stone pot, but in a conventional metal pot that had hot black stones in the bottom. We saw a similar dish in several other places in Beijing. The beef was terrific. The chicken was very good though not spectacular; seemed like a stir-fry preparation not too different from what you'd get in a good Chinese restaurant in the US. Except for the chicken foot.

    (Apologies for this and later photos where we tucked into our dinner before we thought to get the camera out. ;-)

    This was probably our favorite place in Beijing: great food, good service, crowded and fun atmosphere. Love to go back and try everything else on the menu, except possibly the bullfrog and the (nicely circumlocutory) "meat of dog."

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    Kejia Cai
    Southeast Bank of the Qian Hai
    86 10 6404-2259


    DIN TAI FUNG

    Taiwan-based Din Tai Fung was one of our favorite places when we went to Seoul last year; the xiao long bao was better than anything we had in the home of xlb, Shanghai. On Sunday night, looking for something familiar but still can't-get-at-home, we decided to check out the Beijing branch.

    We ordered pork xaoi long bao and the chicken soup. The xlb were, like last time, absolutely wonderful. Although they had thinnest shell imaginable, they didn't let even a drop of the precious juice leak out. A saucer of soy-and-lemongrass dipping sauce came with.

    In addition to xlb, Din Tai Fung does a fantastic job with soups. In Seoul we had an amazing braised beef noodle soup. This time we tried their famous chicken noodle soup. Too bad we didn't get a shot of the soup before we ate - the noodles come perfectly folded like a blanket. Note the chicken neck, back, etc.

    For dessert we passed over the traditional red bean snow ice for the fancier "almond jelly" snow ice. This consisted of shaved ice, a sweet almond syrup, and cubes of almond gelatin. Nice enough, though half-way through an important question occurred: can you safely eat a snow-ice dessert in a city in which you can't drink the water? (The answer, in this case, was yes.)

    In contrast with the Seoul branch, which is hip and modern, the Beijing DTF is comfortable, more brightly lit, more generic. We were struck by the number of families dining the night we went. It felt just like a neighborhood place - albeit one that has the greatest steamed dumplings on earth.

    ImageImage
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    Din Tai Fung
    22 Hujiayuan (near YuYang Hotel)
    86 10 6462 4502
    http://www.dintaifung.com.tw/eng/


    SOUTH BEAUTY

    The Oriental Plaza Mall is at the base of the Wangfijing shopping street, where the street meets Chang'an Avenue (the street the runs between Forbidden City and Tienanman Square). The mall has a nice little food court (Megabite). If you're staying nearby, it's worth a walk-through just to identify different items you'll find at smaller shops and restaurants throughout the city. We came to the Plaza to visit a local branch of South Beauty, a Beijing-based Sichuan chain with outlets in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu.

    They have an English menu and a separate, partial picture menu. We ordered pork with red pepper and ginger slice, chicken with red pepper and peanut, and dan dan noodles.

    We split on this dinner, with J loving it and L thinking it was too spicy and not varied enough. It was true that the pork was extremely spicy, and that the chicken, though milder, didn't offer much relief from the pork's scalding heat. Un-Beijing-like, we ordered white rice with our meal, which helped moderate the heat somewhat. But of course Sichuan is not just about the pepper, and if we visit again we'll probably explore some of the rest of the menu.

    ImageImage
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    South Beauty
    1 Dongchang'an Jie (In Oriental Plaza mall)
    86 (010) 8518 6363
    http://www.qiaojiangnan.com/main1.html


    MADE IN CHINA

    There are many places to have Beijing's famous duck -- Quanjude, Da Dong, and Ya Wang to name a few -- but we read that one of the best place was Made in China, which is (hard to believe) inside the Grand Hyatt hotel.

    We went at lunchtime, and ordered Peking duck; crispy pancake stuffed with lamb, cumin, and coriander; and Chinese cabbage salad. The whole duck was carved at the table, and we were served in three stages: just the skin, with small bowls of sugar, minced garlic, and duck sauce as condiments; just breast meat, with thin rice wrappers served in a bamboo steamer and thinly sliced scallions and cucumber to add to the roll-up; and finally meat and skin, also to be rolled in rice wrappers. The duck was superb - the skin was crispy and the meat very moist and flavorful. The Chinese cabbage was a nice complement, and we were glad the server recommended it, saying it was good to order something from the vegetable side of the menu to counter all the duck meat. We order half a duck and we finished everything we were served.

    After the duck we were served the lamb pancake, and that was a treat, too. It reminded us a little of one of our favorite Lebanese dishes, arayes: a rich meat filling inside a crisp baked pocket. Not at all what we expected, but spectacularly good. This was L's favorite meal.

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    Made in China
    1 East Chang An Avenue (in Grand Hyatt Hotel)
    86 10 8518 1234
    http://beijing.grand.hyatt.com/hyatt/ho ... /index.jsp


    DONGHUAMEN NIGHT MARKET

    We had seen the Night Market several evenings from a taxi heading out to other destinations, and on our last night we decided to go over for a taste. The most popular items seemed to be on skewers: beef, squid, tofu, starfish, snake, frog, silkworms, millipedes, crickets. You can see just about all of those in the pictures below. Mindful that we had a 24-hour journey back to the to US the next morning, and that 30,000 ft might not be the best elevation for experiencing the ill effects of ingested insects, we stuck to more ordinary fare: a nice stuffed sandwich with chicken and other ingredients fresh off the griddle, and some vegetable pot stickers. And enterprising young man worked his way through the crowd with a sack of cold cans of Yanjing, which came in quite handy. All in all, a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth.

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    Donghuamen Night Market
    Donghuamen Avenue at Wangfujing
    Dongcheng District


    STEAK & EGGS

    A classic greasy spoon, run by an American, in case you get an urge for a cheeseburger or an American breakfast on your way to or from the Friendship Store, Silk Alley, etc. Hits where it aims.

    Steak & Eggs
    Xiushui jie (Behind the Friendship Store)
    86 10 6592 8088
    http://www.beijingtraveltips.com/restau ... d_eggs.htm


    COURTYARD

    The CourtYard is basically a very good contemporary restaurant with a good wine list, in a nice spot overlooking the Forbidden City. J had the onion tart with parmesan for starters, and pork chop with prune and mushroom for entrée. L started with the arugula salad and dined on the chicken breast with lemongrass and curry. We shared the lemongrass creme brulee for dessert.

    Given the kind of meal you can have for $20 for two in Beijing (including the first four meals described above), the locals probably consider the prices here obscene, but they're still less than you'll pay for similar fare in the States. Nothing bowled us over here, but it was a nice "spacer" to keep authentic local fare from growing too familiar. The lemongrass crème brulee was nice too.

    CourtYard
    95 Donghuamen Ave (east gate of the Forbidden City)
    86 10 6526 8883

    That's it -- can't wait to go back.
  • Post #28 - April 23rd, 2006, 9:19 pm
    Post #28 - April 23rd, 2006, 9:19 pm Post #28 - April 23rd, 2006, 9:19 pm
    NR706 - great photos, they brought back a lot of memories of my visit to Beijing ~1998. I ate at the same Peking Duck restaurant and fish farm. When we ate at the fish farm, we had these makeshift hook and line on a bamboo stick that they gave us to "fish" up our meal. We had trout grilled as you did and also a salmon that they sashimi-ed for us immediately; Thinking back re: parasites that was probably a high-risk activity to eat "fresh" sashimi. The vegetable you labeled bamboo shoots looks more like "shaved/peeled" gai lan stems (Chinese broccoli). I agree that the "local herb/weed" looks very much to be like on-choy or tong-sum-choy (in Cantonese - the hollow vegetable); Also looks like it was cooked traditionally in a little bit of fermented beacurd (hence the murky off-white sauce). Great photos.
  • Post #29 - April 23rd, 2006, 11:26 pm
    Post #29 - April 23rd, 2006, 11:26 pm Post #29 - April 23rd, 2006, 11:26 pm
    Jay - thanks for the nice comments. When the dish at Royal Palace was identified to us by our local guide as bamboo shoots, I vaguely remember thinking at the time that it didn't seem right, but there was so much else going on, I didn't question it. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure you're right about it being gai lan stems.

    At the fish farm, they were almost impossible to catch using a net. I can't imagine trying it with a hook and line. But you're also right about the bean curd - I'd forgotten about that added flavor.

    J - two things about the Donghuamen Market off Wangfujing. I wish I'd gotten food pix as good as yours; I don't know why I wasn't shooting pix that night. But I was intrigued by the musical performance that took place at one end, on a stage over the food stalls.
    Image

    And, of course, at the other end, there were stands with a few souvenirs.
    Image
  • Post #30 - April 24th, 2006, 6:30 am
    Post #30 - April 24th, 2006, 6:30 am Post #30 - April 24th, 2006, 6:30 am
    Wow -- we didn't see any musical performance the night we visited the market -- maybe it's a weekend thing? How cool.

    BTW, re fish farms, it's amazing how many of those places you see along the road on the drive out to the Great Wall at Mutianyu. There must be about a dozen out there, each with their little concrete pool, outdoor patio, dining room, and parking lot jammed with cars. I doubt I would even have known what I was looking at -- people with long poles standing around a swimming pool -- if I hadn't read your post and put two and two together!

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