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Across China with the vermin


Peter Green
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Also -- in Beijing, did you have any street food -- like Jian Bing?

I've got a few pages and lots of photos on the street food. Once I can get uploads working here, that'll be the next post.

It was Yu Yuan Gardens for the shuffle and elbow show today here in Shanghai (it is way too crowded) so Scud and I stopped in at Nan Xiang for dumplings. Serena's not doing too well right now, so I may be taking the boy out to dinner while Yoonhi minds the girl. A pity, as I'd wanted to get to Lotus on 36 at the Shangrila. Some of my ex-Bangkok friends here have it down as a must eat, and the weather cleared up today, so the views of the Bund would be excellent.

In the new, the big fast food guys (KFC, Pizza Hut, and McD's) have been told that they have to pay their casual staff the minimum wage. They'd been getting by with around 4 to 5 Y/hour while the legal minimum is 7.5 Y/hour (around $1). If you're interested in a career change, McDonald's was paying the lowest at 4 Yuan, KFC was 4.7 Yuan, and Pizza Hut was doing the best at 5 Yuan an hour.

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Peter: Thank you so much for this gastro-blog. If I keep reading posts and seeing pictures from people like you, it just might push me over the edge and book a visit to my native land! :biggrin:

Carry on!

Dejah

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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interesting, actually 4y/hour is fairly common at places like starbucks or MCD/KFC. In Beijing I know a lot of expat owned places that require english-speaking staff pay about 7-8 normally.

But anyway it's good to see some people taking notice and changing things, cause 4yuan!! horrifying

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Okay, today's update...given we're in an upload-challenged place for photos.....

After the lunch thing at Nan Xiang at Yu Yuan, Scud and I did pre-dinner beers at Fest Brewhouse just off the Bund. Then we did dinner at New Heightsl, which was good, and we've got plenty of photos for.

Back at the room, Serena's doing better, so Yoonhi and I head out for food.

Back to Fest for Shanghai cuisine (which they do well) then over to I <heart> Shanghai for their Absinthe Annhiliation III night, where we spent an hour or two talking with Jack the bartender over places to see in Asia.....plus we drank a lot of absinthe.

Then, walking home, we turned in to the old Pilot's House to use the bathroom, and found one of the nicest bars on the Bund. Yoonhi had Cavas with peach, and I had a tumbler of Principe Igor vodka.

Not a bad night.

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I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to get some more of these pictures loaded and get this moving. Given that I probably earn more than a Pizza Hut employee here (at least those on part-time), I've shilled out a dollar to use the business centre's internet for uploading.

The good part is that it's done.

The bad part is that I end up spending an hour in there instead of ten minutes as I have to explain all of the food photos to the young ladies manning the office.......okay, maybe that's not all bad.

Back to work for me!

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Snack Street

The Donghuamen Night Market, aka snack street, had caught my eye when I’d been walkabout before. This was something I didn’t want to miss. Here are the details:

“Originated from 1984, from the east of Donganmen Street to the north of Chengnang street, Donghuamen night market collected more than 60 speciality snacks throughout the country based on Beijing snacks. In 2000, to carry forward the Chinese culinary culture and enhance the friendly exchanges with foreign countries, the people’s government of Dongcheng District rebuilt the night market for dainty snacks Assembling nearly 100 kinds of famous, special, delicious and new snacks all over China integrating the traditional delicacies with the modern business facilities, combining culinary culture and sightseeing, adding flowers to the brocade of Wangfujing Business Street, the night market becomes an enchanting scenery of the Capital night when the evening lights are lit.”

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And when the evening lights aren’t lit, it’s just plain dark.

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The obvious first impression is that this is ground zero for finding things on sticks.

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There’s pork, mutton, beef, chicken, all of our usual barnyard friends, all broken up into indistinguishable hunks of flesh threaded onto wooden sticks.

But then, when you start looking, you find all sorts of other stuff.

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Tofu, crayfish, corn, silkworm larvae and, to my delight, sea urchins. That I couldn’t pass up, even if I still felt slightly stuffed, so I had to have one.

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It came split in half and in its own tray. I spooned out the internals, and was pleasantly rewarded with that super-rich slimey taste. I remember back in the 90’s my guides staring at me when I’d eat these. It’s nice to see it’s becoming more mainstream.

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The offal boys were having a field day. I’m up for guesses as to who’s stomach this shot was of, but I’m betting on oxen.

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Of course there was no shortage of noodles. They were piled high in many of the stands.

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And big pots of something were stewing away. (Feel free to jump right in here!)

The crab looked good, all bundled up with those little Predator faces glaring at us.

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And beside the crab was an interesting assortment of things. Sea horses, silk worm larva, lizards, snails, squid, and other items generally found in the Creepy-Crawler Expansion kits.

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And, of course, there was the rest of the selection of things that crawl or hop: scorpions, grasshoppers, more silkworm larvae, centipedes, and a variety of protein sources.

Yoonhi was having a great time with all of this, fond memories of bundaeggi coming back to her from her childhood days. Then you would get a little paper cone filled up with the crispy critters from the itinerant stall that would always set up outside of school.

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And then we found the starfish. Just how do you go about eating a starfish? We saw a lot of people looking somewhat puzzled around this stand, but one girl finally bought one and starting chewing down on the arms.

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The tray of oysters sizzling away on a grill was more mainstream, but they looked really good, with a dollop of herbs and spices in each one.

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The kids went for sweets for dessert – caramelized strawberries on skewers, and fresh coconut milk to clean out the sugar.

This was a great street. I wish we’d had more appetite that evening, but as was we got in a few treats.

From there we strolled down Wangfujing itself, dropping into the side alleys to take in some more of the eateries that were there.

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There’s more of a selection of things on sticks and other Muslim foods down in the side alleys, with small shops up and down the sides for more eating, and plenty of sidewalk chairs if you chose to freeze outside .

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(Here’s Serena playing with her food).

Stopping in at one of the public toilets (I said I had limited appetite, not limited thirst) I was able to indulge in one of my favourite hobbies here – trying to figure out the local advertising.

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With this one I can sort of appreciate their direct-marketing approach (although in the stalls might’ve been better than over the urinals), but just what does chicks peeping out of their egg shells have to do with the hospital's services?

Anyways, that was the day. We were only a short haul from the Dong Jiao Min Xiang Hotel, so walked off some of our tummies and tucked in for the night.

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Okay, one more day of Beijing, and we'll move onto Xi'an in the pictorials.

Please feel free to jump in and identify anything you see in these shots. Especially with the street food, a lot of our conversations on this trip consist of:

"What do you think it is?"

"I dunno, what do you think it is?"

"If I knew why would I ask you?"

"Well, it looks like food, let's buy one and eat it."

Obviously, we need help (and you can take that on many levels).

In other news, an abyssmal breakfast in the hotel today (we might be biased by the absinthe binge last night), Serena's feeling herself again, lunch was at Jean-Georges, and we'll do dinner at the Shanghai place around the corner before we go to do the acrobats tonight. After that, maybe Xintiandi once we get the kids duct-taped in for the night.

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I remember going to that snack market!! It was awesome. I saw so many different types of food that I have never seend before. And everything was on a stick! :laugh:

Thank you for posting these pictures. I'm looking forward to going back there this fall and actually trying some of this food. My grandmother wouldn't let me eat any of those foods except for roasted sweet potatoes and candied dates on a stick. :hmmm: She was afraid I would upset my stomach before we even made it back to Wuhan. :rolleyes:

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I think you're right. This looks like Ox stomach. Well atleast it looks like the darker version of a cow's stomach.

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YUM! noodles!! I love noodles!

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I think this might be fish balls stewed in spices. At least that's what I think the sign says anyway. :laugh:

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I wonder what a star fish taste like. Did they cook the star fish or did the lady just grab it and start nawing on it right away? :blink:

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I think next time I would spend the night next to this stand. YUM! :wub:

Thanks for sharing the pics Peter! I hope to go to China in the fall and will definitely need suggestions and reccomendations!

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Peter, did any of the family members eat any of the crunchy critters on a stick? How about you? ny offal experiments? I was drooling over that sea urchin photo.

I'd agree with XiaoLing's grandma, I'd be scared to eat any of those food-on-a-stick. But I would be sorely tempted.

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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Peter, your wonderful pictures and prose are making a super birthday present for me, the armchair traveler. Thanks so much! :wub:

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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Peter, did any of the family members eat any of the crunchy critters on a stick? How about you? ny offal experiments? I was drooling over that sea urchin photo.

DG,

Alas, no. After Fangshan we were all pretty stuffed, so we were limited to my sea urchin and the kids doing the caramalized strawberries on sticks and some coconut. But I came away from here thinking that we could just do a full dinner on this street on Day 5.

But the best laid plans of mice and men oft gang aglay (and I was born in the year of the Rat, so I was doubly aglay).

Day 5 coming up soon.

Peter

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Hi Peter,

Just a quick note. I'm now hot on your trail !

I've done Beijing (3 nights) and am now in Xi'an having spent our first night here last night...

We arrived late in the evening and headed straight down to the Drum Tower muslim area for some skewers of meat and our first Yangroupamo ! It was good although I'm not passing the final verdict until I see how my internals handled the food for a good 24 hours :-)

We have two more nights in Xi'an and then on to Chengdu !

Where are you now ?

Regards

Rick

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Hi Peter,

Just a quick note. I'm now hot on your trail !

I've done Beijing (3 nights) and am now in Xi'an having spent our first night here last night...

We arrived late in the evening and headed straight down to the Drum Tower muslim area for some skewers of meat and our first Yangroupamo ! It was good although I'm not passing the final verdict until I see how my internals handled the food for a good 24 hours :-)

We have two more nights in Xi'an and then on to Chengdu !

Where are you now ?

Regards

Rick

Hi, Rick

I've sent you details on some of the places we liked (and some to avoid). I'll keep it out of here as I'd hate to spoil the suspense.

That said, we're on the last night of Shanghai. Excellent brunch at Sens & Bund, and a romantic dinner tonight for Yoonhi and I at Lotus on 36 at the Shangrila while our two little heathens eat McDonald's and beef jerky back in the room while watching anime on YouTube.

The jerkey I can understand....but McDonald's??????........

Peter

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your kids sinned. At least have them eat KFC which has a reasonably advanced sinocized menu compared with locations in other places!

Not the worst deal in the world.

I spent several months in Shanghai and throughout Zhejiang/Guangdong with a colleague that for the first 4 months would insist on eating at mcdonalds every time! Beat that! I still just barely converted him.. but barely. He still wouldn't eat anything with bones in or nearby and the same for seeds for fruits... which were also called 'bones'. Also the idea of eating bamboo was crazy enough to always suggest to other diners that he'd take them back to north america and feed them 2x4s.

I always wonder about families like your in china frequenting the MCDs' and KFC's and i can just imagine the arguments and frustration the parents must go through. You are all troopers! But I think by the sound of it your kids did quite well overall no?

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The kids have been great overall, but they do need their fix from time to time.

For Serena, it's been the McD's cheeseburger happy meal (I think mainly for the Hello Kitty camcorder.....okay, I might even buy one for a Hello Kitty camcorder).

Scud - the boy - summed it up best today, though, from a young teenager's perspective......

"God, it's been so long since I've had foie gras, caviar, and champagne."

It's a hard life.

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The kids have been great overall, but they do need their fix from time to time.

For Serena, it's been the McD's cheeseburger happy meal (I think mainly for the Hello Kitty camcorder.....okay, I might even buy one for a Hello Kitty camcorder).

Scud - the boy - summed it up best today, though, from a young teenager's perspective......

"God, it's been so long since I've had foie gras, caviar, and champagne."

It's a hard life.

:biggrin: Peter, that's exactly how my son used to sound a few years ago whose dreams were a) fly first class to get unlimited caviar b) go to a party where Cristalle was the only drink c) have easy access to fois gras source

....can you tell he grew up in HK?? :biggrin::biggrin:

ps. he must have a good fairy on his shoulder as all his wishes were granted :huh:

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Okay, 90 more minutes and we go off-line for the trip home.

It was Bao Luo for lunch, that Tardis of a restaurant - a tiny shop front and a huge dining hall hidden inside through some odd intra-dimensional trick the Shanghainese do. Good pork and a great Greedy God dried goose pot. But we'll get to that in time.

Last night will take awhile to work out, but I'll try and get the guts of it down during this flight. Lotus on 36 at the Pudong Shangri-La. Outstanding meal, and a lot of neat tricks to try at home (I've been missing my kitchen). Some fun blues at the Cotton Club

And I've been missing my home internet connections, too. I'll get things uploaded and get through the trip as fast as I can.

Cheers,

Peter

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Day 5 – The Beijing Death March

Just as our forefathers before us migrated across the ice sheets, and as our parents would pile us into station wagons to traverse the breadth and width of the Americas, so to do I feel that it’s a crucial part of any family vacation to spend at least one day traveling for hour after hour for no apparent reason.

It was a free day. One of those glorious moments that I had pried from Yoonhi’s schedule of cultural antiquities. Of course, the way I had managed this was by promising to include several cultural antiquities, so I suppose it was something of a zero-sum game.

Still, we were afoot, with hours to go before we would have to be back at the hotel.

We began by walking over to Tian An Men, admiring the Olympics advertising, and cutting up through the Eastern streets by the Forbidden City, stopping by the odd gallery in a restored building and admiring the little cafes and holes in the walls that lined the sides. Many of these were, literally, holes in the wall; small counters over which you could conduct business, buying steamed buns, fried wheat cakes, and more.

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It’s great fun wandering down the streets, their clean, scrubbed facades falling away into happy chaos once you look inside.

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Here’s a shot of what the Koreans would call yon tan. Charcoal briquets, the primary cooking fuel for a lot of the country. I still blame the use of this for my chronic string of lung infections I’d always incurred while traveling in China (and which we avoided this trip).

Coming out of the Forbidden City area, we crossed the street and stopped in at the Big Tree Café for some coffee and a rest.

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I liked this place. Pretty good English, and lots of signs up for services ranging from organized tours to the “rent-a-buddy”, where you can get someone to handle your translation and general problems, and basically act as a great reference source on just about anything except the historical stuff.

Refreshed, we headed North, towards the Bell and Drum Towers where we’d done our “rickshaw” ride of the day before. We’d felt this was a part of town that deserved more attention, particularly as it looked to have a lot of good cafes, bars, and video game places. Now, that’s culture.

However, as a sop to Yoonhi, we were going to do the Drum Tower. I can’t get away with everything.

Before that, we had lunch.

The people at Big Tree Café had said that the area at the Ping An Dajie Lu on the NorthWest corner had some good eats, so, after we went past the place selling the rubber Osama Bin Laden masks we came upon a good sized façade with two guys with gongs. How could we pass up on gongs?

Okay, I have no idea what the name of this place is, so if anyone wants to chime in based on the photo, please do.

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Once we got to the door, we got gonged and yelled at, and then shown to our table. I kept looking for Chuck Barris.

As this was our last day, I wanted to get the kids some more duck while we could, so we ordered the Peking Duck, and then I was interested in the chicken I saw at someone else’s table, so we ordered that, too. And I drew a picture of noodles for the waitress, and she nodded (which could mean anything). I suggested pork while pointing stupidly at another page, and she nodded again.

You can tell that I’m coping well.

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The duck was good, nice skin and good fat content.

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The pork was really interesting; it came as a cold dish, a jelly of bits and pieces, with a light chewiness to it. There were lots of carrots, tofu, onion, and bean sprouts in there.

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And the noodles were a welcome sight. Yoonhi said “jya jyen myen” and the waitress perked right up and agreed. This Northern Chinese dish is one of the Koreans’ favourite noodle dishes. Good solid noodles with a topping of sauce that then all gets mixed together.

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The chicken worked out well, too. It had been butterflied, it’s head held proudly erect in death, and the sauce tasted a lot like the “strange flavour” chicken. But there was something in the sauce as well, almost the texture of chopped lemon grass.

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Lunch in hand (or stomach) we were on the march again, heading up to the Drum Tower where we took in the view and the short little show they do. Perhaps the best part was the staircase. It was pretty close to vertical, and was all sorts of fun to do with the remnants of a half dozen beers still swimming around.

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But, we survived that with anything being broken, and then we headed East on Ping An Dajie Lu (at least, I’m pretty certain that was it). The street is a lot of fun, with game stores, anime shops, music stores galore, and a good selection of live music venues.

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My plan had been to walk over to Yonghegong – the Lama Temple – but, with the time we’d spent dilly-dallying (okay, the time I spent dilly-dallying) we made it to the orange part of town just as the monastery was closing to visitors for the day. Still, that’s all part of the fun of marching your family into the ground.

At this point I pulled out the map and suggested we could walk over to the Noodle Loft on Xi Dawang Lu. If we made good time, we could be there before daybreak. I was unceremoniously gagged and tossed into a taxi.

Armed with the address, we headed out for Shanxi noodles.

Unfortunately, I was armed with the address and no means of communication. I flipped a coin and we went the wrong way up Dawang Lu. Disembarking there, I did something no self respecting man should ever do…..I asked for directions.

This resulted in heads being scratched, followed by a unanimous pointing of fingers in different directions. This was a place that had been very well recommended, and I wanted noodles, damn it! I spotted what looked to be a relatively new hotel a few blocks south, and headed there in search of a concierge.

This worked out, and he was able to phone the Loft and get directions. Then, when we got a taxi, good luck kicked in. As soon as I’d said “Mian Ku Shanxi Shiyi” our driver got all enthusiastic – smiles and thumbs up, followed by eating motions – and headed off with us in an attempt to break the land speed record.

The Loft looks good. It reminded me a lot in style of the late lamented Dark & Duck on the 3rd Ring Road by the Kempinski (I’d driven by the day before and saw that, indeed, that whole area was rebuilt). Big space, and two floors. We went upstairs first, then realized where we wanted to be was downstairs where all the noodle bar action was going on.

The menu looked really good, and there’s a lot there I’d like to go back for, beyond just the noodles. But my big interest here was noodles, so that’s what I went with.

At this point, a near mutiny was on hand. All good road trip days should end in near-mutinies. (Bad road trip days end in real mutinies).

We had the “noodle made with one chopstick with beef brisket”, and the noodle with eel, and cold blended oats noodles, and kaolaolao oats noodle.

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The noodle bar was loads of fun to watch. We observed one of the guys man-handling a large green lump about the size and weight of a small child, kneading the dough and working it over. Then he took this over the side and, as best I can describe it, he threw one long string of noodle off of it and into the pot. It was like watching yarn being spun out.

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And there was plenty of kalgetsu action like we’d seen at lunch a few days earlier, the dough hoisted up on one shoulder and shaved into the pot. And then there was the flattening, folding, dusting, folding, and finally cutting of good noodles going on.

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The flavours were (for me) great, with a lot of vinegar in the food, with a hot bite that grew on you. Thankfully, they scissored the noodles at the table so you didn’t have to take the whole thing as one string (Yoonhi always holds that scissors are an important part of any kitchen’s equipment).

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The Kaolaolao oats noodle was more like a big waffle than anything else, or a honeycomb. This came with a couple of good, burning sauces to dip in.

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The noodle with eel was beautifully executed. Both the noodles and eels were equally slippering, giving a matching texture that was lots of fun to slurp down.

Given the amount of chili oil heat going on, it made sense to get Serena a simple bowl of noodles without a burning hot sauce.

I should’ve done more stills of all the work going on, but I was busy videoing. Luckily, we were early, so I wasn’t being too much of a nuisance. The only other business at this time was a thriving trade in take-away, people getting their noodles, and then heading out, bags in hand.

If the family had let me walk back home, it could’ve been a perfect night. However, it was a taxi back to the Dong Jiao Min Xiang, a moment’s debate about running up to Snack Street again, another minor munity, and an early night to bed to be ready for our 6 a.m. pick up the next day to head to Xi’an.

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ooh that strange noodle-like dish you have in the steamer there is pretty rare to find in most places. I've lucked upon it only once in Beijing, and it was near the fragrant hills. They usually serve it with like a vinegary hot sauce right? Oh delicious.

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Okay, I have no idea what the name of this place is, so if anyone wants to chime in based on the photo, please do.

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I can't quite make out the first character. Is it the Jing in Beijing? If it is, then it's Jing Wei Mian Da Wang, which would be Beijing Taste Noodle King in English.

I think. I'm not a very reliable translator.

May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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I went to the other branch (at the Heping bridge and 3rd ring road) the weekend after your trip with some friends who'd never had Shanxi food before.

We ordered (among other things) the kaolaolao noodles - and it was so funny....despite having just beforehand eaten our way through a suckling lamb, sundry cold dishes, two bowls of the other noodles and a basket of the red sorghum dumplings -we still were picking away at the kaolaolao noodles for ages and kept on saying...OK, this is my *last* one.....OK, that was my *2nd to last* one....OK I'll just have one more..... hmmmm....that one looks nice, I'll just have that one....

and so on until the whole basket was demolished. The texture is so curiously wonderful!

I really want to know more about these noodles - there's a Chinese Wikipaedia entry on them, but I can't get the page to load! :sad:

If you read Chinese, there's a little help on:

Kaolaolao query

But next time I'm at Loft, I'm going to hang around the kitchen to get a good gander at them!

<a href='http://www.longfengwines.com' target='_blank'>Wine Tasting in the Big Beige of Beijing</a>

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I can't quite make out the first character. Is it the Jing in Beijing? If it is, then it's Jing Wei Mian Da Wang, which would be Beijing Taste Noodle King in English.

I think. I'm not a very reliable translator.

It is indeed, 京 the jing of Beijing. Your translation is perfect.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Day 6 – Xi’an

Dust.

I always used to think of dust when I thought of Xi’an. I blame the Terracotta warriors, as all I ever conjured up at the mention of Xi’an is an image of line after line of brown statuary.

But as I looked down from the Boeing, what I saw were green fields cut by the dendritic tendrils of rivulets. And flowers. I hadn’t seen any flowers for a week (I don’t count the pots of plastic flowers adorning Wangfujing Lu in Beijing).

This was our first internal flight in China this trip, and the first ever for the family. Yoonhi was a little nervous about the old reputation of Chinese carriers (CAAC – China Airlines Always Crashes), but I’d told her that those days were in the past, and she should reserve her fears for Russia instead. And I told her that the headrests on all the seats advertising “Pompei” were not an omen of flaming death.

As we came in lower, I pointed out all the pretty little graves overlooking the runway; the runway being dug lower into the ground than the surrounding fields, itself like an open grave waiting for the aircraft…….

Okay, I wasn’t helping.

Our guide – Li Zhi – was female. I hate to sound sexist, but I do find that female guides work better with families, in particular with Serena, who latched onto her with her lamprey-like hug and wouldn’t let go for much of the trip.

Li Zhi and our driver, Mr. Li (a neat coincidence, as our driver in Beijing was also a Mr. Li) took us into town and delivered us to the rather schizophrenic Hotel Royal Garden, which was a step up in quality and room size from the Dong Xiao Min Xiang that we’d left behind very early that morning.

I say schizo as this hotel, according to the bits and pieces I’d found around the room, along with my 1994 edition of Lonely Planet China, indicated that this place had started off as the Royal Hotel, part of the Nikko Hotels group (Japanese), then fell under Le Meridien’s sway, then changed it’s name to Hotel Royal Xi’an when it was passed off to the Huang Cheng Hotels International group, and was now the Hotel Royal Garden.

We were on our own now for the rest of the day, so we wasted little time in the room, heading out for the street and the city.

Identity-challenged or not, I liked the location of the hotel. We were just a couple of blocks from the central Bell Tower, and from there to the South Gate, which Li Zhi had advised would be a good place to look for food.

But the clan wasn’t going to wait that long. We’d missed breakfast, and it was now lunchtime, so I ducked us into the first place that looked easy.

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This turned out to be the Yummy Restaurant and Pub. It was a nice bright shopfront, and I was hoping that the “pub” part might mean there was a pool table.

No pool table, but what we did find was a nice clean little place, with a definite Korean-Japanese feel to it in the decorations. Call it a homey-ness, but it did look like something out of a Banana Yoshimoto novel. (When we talked with Li Zhi the next day, she did say that - with all the industry in town – Japanese were the most common expats, and Koreans the next biggest group).

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The kids had strawberry banana milks, which came across very much as smoothies. You had to keep stirring them as they quickly separated, but they were quite good. And Serena had fish ball soup, nice and mild, with slices of ham resting at the bottom. She followed this with a bento, a box set containing soft spareribs, rice, soy daikon pickle, vinegar pickles, and Chinese cabbage.

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Meanwhile, Scud had ordered the fried cabbage and bacon, with garlic and chilis. This was wonderfully greasy while still crunchy.

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The 3 Cup Squid we ordered came with pine-cone hunks of very soft squid, and garlic the size and texture of small potatoes.

And my choice, the “bot and spicey chitling pot” had a very mild burn, and excellent broth. There was plenty of chicken bits in there, as well as noodles, blood, tofu and even some chicken meat.

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The broth was good enough that we dared to order rice. As a comment, and I know I’ll draw flak for this, we were never too happy with the quality of steamed rice in China. It never held together well enough, and the texture wasn’t quite right for us. But what we received here was good, standard Calrose style rice, artfully sprinkled with some toasted sesame and bit of spring onion.

I considered ordering a Choya – “since 1914”, but from the advertising it was hard to tell if it was a beverage or a beauty aid. It had a happy woman’s face, and a picture of a bottle with something that looked like sheep testicles floating inside. As I was feeling a little rough, I opted for a local beer instead.

Li Zhi had advised me on the local beers; there was Han’s, and Royal Wolf, and something local made from bitter gourd called Ku Gua. What I found here at Yummy was the Han’s 90. Upon inspecting the bottle, it turns out that Han’s – while local – is owned by the Tsingtao empire. Their tendrils are everywhere.

After lunch we made our way down to the Bell Tower, passing through a gauntlet of hair salons. Forget about dust, now if I think of Xi’an I think of endless crowds of teenagers with Korean pop-star hair. As we went by the salons we saw some interesting gear, a large circular contraption with hoses dangling down from it. Hooked up to some kid’s head, it looked like a Roswell alien probe moment.

From the Tower we headed to the South Gate, taking in the window dressing in the shops as we went.

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(What this tableau had to do with Little Nemo, I have no idea, but Serena definitely felt she belonged in there).

Despite the feeling that something was going seriously wrong with my internals (a feeling that had been growing on me since the plane flight) I was beginning to like this town. It had flowers, sunlight, and nobody seemed to be in too great a rush. The traffic wasn’t as aggressive as Beijing, and people seemed to be more laid back.

And it felt accessible. This was in large part due to the old city wall containing and defining certain limits. This is an illusion, of course, as the city is quite large, and primarily industrial, enlarged by Mao as an attempt to redistribute some of the economy away from the coast. But the city wall defined the older part of Xi’an, which had been the centre of the Han civilization for centuries before, some of the oldest remains dating back 6,000 years.

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And it was a really nice wall, as city walls go. Well restored, tastefully decorated with lamps and concessions around the old towers, and wide and level enough that Yoonhi and Serena could take off on a tandem bike and spin around to the East gate while Scud and I hiked on foot, taking in the sights below on either side.

When the girls returned on bike, we descended to a collection of restored old houses to the east of the South gate. Again we noted that the youth hostels seemed to have the best locations, this one being right at the entrance to this gentrified part of the old town.

We wandered through the stalls selling brushes, paper, chops, and trinkets, and stopped for a couple of snacks (our motto “if in doubt, eat it”).

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This one Muslim lady we came across had little steamers, each with a sticky rice cake inside which she would extract, and then dip in sugars and toastings.

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We ambled down the street, seeing it change from the idealized tourist version to the comfortable squalor of a Chinese back street, with more and more eateries lining each side of the road, each of a size to accommodate about 8 people or less. Noodles, buns, and meats. And lots of things on sticks.

In particular, I saw one place with excellent-looking sausages – a foot or more long, and as big in circumference as my thumb. But my appetite wasn’t quite there for me, so we passed on.

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We also came across a popcorn maker. Yoonhi perked right up at this. If a simple pressure cooker makes Anthony Bourdain nervous, this would have him trembling. Corn or rice is brought to the vendor, he puts it into the sealed canister, and then puts it over a charcoal brassiere and waits. When it’s ready you get this huge banging noise. Hence, the Korean name “bang” (appropriate enough). Yoonhi doesn’t think they have these things in Korea anymore…..at least in the South.

Noodles looked good down here and on the busier commercial street leading back to the hotel I found the wonderfully named “First Noodle Under The Sun”. I wish I could’ve eaten more, but I was dragging.

Back in the room, I rested, washed, made use of the coffee shop internet to write a bit, and then Yoonhi wisely dragged me out of the room to keep me moving.

We did things in small stages. Across the street was a small market, and we stopped in here to see what there was.

The claustrophobic centre strip was the usual collection of hair pins, makeup, and other necessities, but the outer aisle had all sorts of places selling dried fruits and nuts galore. There were dried kiwis and persimmons

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and mountains of walnuts, the specialty of the Muslims – the Hui minority here in Xi’an, culturally close to the Han, rather than like the Uighurs to the West who are more aligned with the Turkmens.

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The merchants were keen for us to try different things, and were constantly pushing samples our way. And the dried fruits and roasted nuts were fresh, rather than the last-year’s crop that we’re used to. We bought some dried mangos and fresh roasted chestnuts, a bag of this and a kilo of that, and then, my vitality slightly revived, we went in search of dinner.

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We retraced our steps from earlier in the day, aided in our quest by the odd rice crispy explosion. I wanted to find that sausage. On the way we passed countless steamers with buns, and tried a few at random, getting a selection including vegetables, sweet bean, shiitake mushrooms, and pork and chicken fillings. We have no idea what they were (although the female vendors eagerly explained to us what each was, to little effect).

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Back in the alleyway I found my pork man, but he had already sold out of the sausage. I was devastated, and consoled myself by ordering a nice ham hock.

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I assumed that the attached shopfront was the rest of his establishment, but it appeared that wasn’t the case, so we ordered the most expensive thing on their menu (9 Yuan), a bottle of Han’s 9, and pulled out water bottles for the kids.

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With the beer and the mystery dish, we also got some cheerful little pickles, reeking of vinegar and helping to settle my stomach a bit.

The mystery dish turned out to be offal soup, with nice large intestines and sheets of honeycomb tripe in a rich pork broth. I ate what I could, while Scud and I gnawed the trotter down to size.

With dinner out of the way, we strolled sedately back to the hotel, bracing the hairdressers that were offering internal probes with their alien artifacts (at least that’s what it seemed like to us).

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Back home, feeling worse and worse, I took Serena downstairs for some ice cream. I nibbled a little, and felt much better for the little umbrella. Like the donkey said in Shrek “Everybody loves parfait”.

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