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One Month in China


eternal
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The wife and I just completed one month in China, including a few days in Hong Kong. Since mlb.tv isn't working too well right now and I just opened a nice cold SNOW beer, I figured I could at least write some of this up.

We started in Hong Kong, arriving from New Zealand via Singapore where we had a 14 hour layover, but at SIN you can waste the time on free internet, LAN games, etc. The 14 hours literally flew by. Of course, you could go into Singapore too but I had been to Singapore 3 times in the last 2 months so we didn't feel the need.

Hong Kong is like China 101 or Intro to China. You get some of the best parts of China, cleanliness and lots of English speakers. Also, many Hong Kong buyers don't trust the Chinese distributors anymore after the milk problems, orange scandal and just the generally poor or mislabeled stuff that comes out of China so they are more likely to go with goods from other places - in other words, the quality tends to be higher. My father-in-law even claims that the Peking Duck is better in Hong Kong because they use American ducks.

In Hong Kong, we were ready to dive back into Asian food after a month away. We woke up the first morning and walked through a few markets, including places to pick out your own chicken before it is slaughtered...

And you can't go to Hong Kong without getting Dim Sum, which we had at Laung Haung or something like that. It was a recommendation of a "low-class" place to get good dim sum. It was a total mess, the service was awful and well, we thought it was great!

From the Market

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Veg

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Fresh Frogs

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Butcher

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Dried Goods and assorted

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Name that Fish! Looks wonderful. I have no idea what it is

Some Meals

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Chicken and Potato Curry (near Soho, on the street)

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Beef Dumpling and Noodle Soup - i think it was mostly beef innards

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Dim Sum Madness!

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On the left, dried shrimp burritos ( didn't like) and on the right, fish on rice

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This seemed to be a favorite so we mobbed the cart like everyone else when it came. Some sort of fish paste wrapped in cabbage leaf and steamed - very tasty

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Look at this wonderful pork! It was damn good. My favorite

And that was all I have for Hong Kong.

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After Hong Kong, we took a quick 2 hour Hong Kong express flight to Kunming, Yunnan Province where we would spend the next couple weeks traveling to Dali, Lijiang and Shangrilia. The food was excellent in Kunming and Dali, mediocre in Lijiang and pretty good in Shangrilia, including a few favs. Here we go....

We stayed at the Mingdu Hotel (200 yuan) in Kunming and breakfast was included. I still don't go head on into Asian breakfasts. I tried but finally gave up in Laos. My belly prefers yogurt and fruit to steamed veggies, fatty pork and noodles. But we wouldn't see an American or Euro style breakfast for awhile so I had to give in a bit. I'm glad I did because the hotel had some of the best noodles I've had in China. Really surprising, good stuff made to order with lots of heat and my belly handled it well. Wish I would've taken more pictures there.

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Breakfast at Mingdu

We were only in Kunming for a couple of days and we just walked around by the old pagodas and market. We picked up some just made peanut butter that we would eat for the rest of the trip for i think 2 or 3 yuan (50 cents)

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Making Peanut Butter

The last night we had a wonderful meal at a 4 table restaurant 2 min away from the hotel that the FIL had spotted the night before. The restaurant had about 20 or 30 containers of fresh produce and protein and you could just walk up, point to what you wanted and they would make it for you. I thought this was a really novel concept and was pretty excited y the whole thing. Turned out this restaurant was not unique and for the next two weeks we'd see tons of restaurants just like this.

But nothing to complain about. The food was good. Everything had a nice amount of heat and acid in it, something I miss being in Shanghai now. We picked out some stuffed peppers, dried fava beans, a whole fish and some cold DALI beer (no cooking required :) Dinner for 3 came out to 45 or 50 yuan (6-7 USD).

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Stuffed Peppers

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Crispy Fish in Chili Oil - Amazingly not greasy for so much oil around it.

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Fried Tofu in chili Oil -

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Fried, dried favas with chili - this would be a good beer snack but not what I was expecting - I hadn't realized the favas were dried when I selected them - guess I should look closer next time...or drink less

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DALI beer - With chili oil, but luckily only on the outside :)

After Kunming, we took the long and uncomfortable minibus to Dali. I won't tell you about that, let's just get to more food.

FIL talked to the hotel staff of the hostel we were staying in and they pointed us to a hole-in-the-wall place down the street. Didn't even look like a restaurant from outside but the bins of food inside, just like our Kunming restaurant (though twice as many here) gave it away. We sat inside a little compound and had a nice big lunch...

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Here are the choices for your lunch...

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Pork with green onions (used in all Yunnan food it seems) and eggplant? It isn't eggplant, but check out the little yellowish veggie at the top of the pile of food. It adds a bitter/sour element to the dish. It doesn't taste so good on its own, but does complement the dish well. I forget the name but can get it later..

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The wife was craving fresh tofu so we got this dish that came with black fungus (one of my favorites) and a citrusy sauce.

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This is what I had meant to get the day before. Fresh favas! I love em. Didn't even bother to unwrap them, just ate them whole shell and all...

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The FIL loves soup and so he ordered this eel looking fish soup to end the meal. Pretty good though I still have to get used to eating 20 of these eel looking things in a serving...

The next day we went back to this restaurant and ordered some different dishes. I had spotted some razor clams and wasn't going to miss out on those....

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Followed by some mushrooms (they must have had 7 different types around) and tofu

Good stuff.

next up, Lijiang and Shangrilia

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After a couple days of touring around Dali, which is a beautiful town btw. I highly recommend that you stay there for 3 or 4 days if you are heading to Yunnan. Just grab a bike and get out of town. Lots to see as farmers work all the local fields and life moves slow.

But we couldn't be slow because we needed to get to Lijiang. We didn't yet know that our plans to go to Tibet were not going to happen.

Lijiang, in my opinion, is like Ancient China Disneyland. I don't really like it as it is mobbed with Chinese tourists and is now really catering to this crowd. But some people love it so maybe you shouldn't trust me. We did see whole suckling pig on the spit and other good things, but the prices were sort of out of touch with China and nothing looked like it was being prepared with too much skill or care.

My favorite dish was probably what can only be described as a Chinese Breakfast Burrito. We picked them up from a cart one early morning. It was rice paper wrapped around a Chinese doughnut, bean sprouts and hot sauce/chili oil and it was really good.

We did have some nice meals in Shangrilia. In particular at a Korean place (we were really craving bibimbap) and at a dumpling and noodle soup spot run by Manchurians. The best dumplings we've had so far, not including the Shao Long Bao from Yang's here in Shanghai

Onto the pictures...

At the market in Shangrilia. This was one of the dirtiest markets I've been to and with deformed dogs walking around, it did NOT make for a good atmosphere. I seem to remember even getting a little queasy at the end because of it - though I've yet to get sick from eating in Asia

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Chopping up a duck for us. Total price: 10 yuan ($1.50)

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Duck in the bag, rice and veg

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Ugh. Sorry for the poor photo. This was hot and spicy dumpling soup made by a nearby soup lady - there were several. She also threw in some pig rinds. Pretty good, cheap and contained about 20 dumplings!

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The soup lady. She would keep a pot of the meaty, red chili sauce going to the side and then dump some of it towards the end into the pot containing the water and the noodles. I was worried that it would be too watered down but it wasn't.

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The dumplings for my soup. I couldn't believe how many she put in.

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That's a little better...

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Ever wonder how they make Yak Butter Tea? Well from Yak Cheese, of course. It isn't too far off from an extra sour goat cheese, but Yak Butter Tea is really thick and tastes a lot like, well, butter. My limit is one cup....

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I wish SAFEWAY sold cuts like this...

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This being a market, there was of course lots and lots of veg...

So one night in Shangrilia, after a particularly frustrating day of watching our plans for Tibet go down in a big flaming pile of shite, we went out to watch the old people dance in the town square...and then picked up some blood sausage and mushroom skewers in hot sauce and followed it all up with a visit to a small dumpling restaurant where the family was just finishing up for the night. I'm glad they let us in because the homemade noodle soup (they used a pasta machine to flatten and cut the noodles) with its chewy noodles and super spicy sauce along with the steamed and fried dumplings were a meal I won't forget for awhile. Simple, but oh so good....and served with a smile that awaited your approval...

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Fresh Noodle Soup

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Blood Sausage Skewer

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Making Dumplings and other Dishes

Up Next: Chengdu, Capital of Sichuan

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Well, I wish I had more pictures for Chengdu, but I don't. I remembered taking a lot of pictures there but now realize they were all of pandas. If you ever go to Chengdu, do make it out to the Panda Breeding Center. They are the coolest little animals. They look just like people, with panda suits on. Maybe stoned people because they are pretty slow going. But a joy to just watch play. Good times.

The other thing Chengdu has going for it, other than Sichuan cuisine, of course, is the whole lazy tea house culture. There were people all over just sitting aroundf during the middle of the day drinking tea, playing mahjong or cards or just chatting. It was great. We even met some old granmas and talked about when the communists took over. bad times for them as they were educated and the communists didn't like the educated. Interesting stuff

So the one meal that really sticks out in Chengdu wasn't anything fancy, but it was a nice restaurant near the WengZu temple. The deep fried fish we had there, about 10 cm long and spiced up were delicious and not at all fishy, which chinese fish tends to be...especially this far inland. The thick pot of mushrooms was also good...

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Spicy Fried Fish

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Oh yea, those little balls of tofu and custard were delicious as well. Very creamy, soft and silky...

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We topped it all off with some crispy fried pancakes of green onions and pork

We also tried out the local tea-smoked duck (this is where it comes from) and mapo tofu (ditto). There are places that just specialize in this stuff and it doesn't disappoint..

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Notice the topping. It seemed to be a big of corriander, cumin and pepper. Very nice

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Tea-Smoked Duck - If you live in NY, you can find a good version of this at Spicy and Tasty in Flushing..

After Chengdu, we headed off the X'ian, known for a soup you crumble a really hard bread into. FIL and wifey didn't think it was that great, but I liked it. if you combine both big and small pieces into the soup, then it thickens up AND it tastes like soup crackers in a really good lamb broth. It's simple food, but good, though the real reason to come to X'ian is for the Terracotta Warriors and they do not disappoint, but that's for the non-food blog.

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Soup and Bread...

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i like your brief 'report', mine is too long... each trip is 6-7 week long. i too like Kunming very much, in fact the entire Yunnan province. [after Sichuan that is]

surprisingly the best chips/fries and savoury flat bread i've ever had were in Tibet, cooked in an old oil drum on a mobile bicycle rig by the roadside. didn't you try Tsampa in Tibet?

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didn't you try Tsampa in Tibet?

No. We never made it to Tibet. It all just became too expensive and we would have been rushing it, so we backtracked to Lijiang and jumped a cheap flight to Chengdu.

Will have to do Tibet next time... Would like to spend a couple weeks making our way to Nepal. Maybe this is a trip for the guys though, and not for the lady....

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My Chinese is non-existent, but we were traveling with my father-in-law who in Chinese and speaks Mandarin and Shanghainese so language wasn't generally a problem.

To get at what you're asking though, yes, it can be a problem. Most people in China do not speak English. Very, very few do and without him, we would have missed many things.

Having said that, a lot of places do have pictures in their menus. Not everything is represented that way but a lot of our favorites were and for the most part, all staff were very happy to work with us and our language difficulties when it was the occasion that we were eating without the old man.

Sometimes the pictures don't help a ton. I remember going to the mapo tofu place and having a Lost in Translation moment like when they ordered shabu shabu. On one page of the menu there appeared to be 8 pictures of the same mapo tofu. Of course they were different somehow but who knows how unless you know Chinese.

Finally, many places (like the dumpling/noodle soup shop or the soup lady or the duck guy) really only do one or two dishes so you can just point to what you want.

The hardest thing would have been figuring out what was going on at the places where you could see the veggies and meat and choose what you wanted...but even then if you knew what was going on, you could just point and they might ask you questions to which you might not understand, but in general you just nod and say yes :) You might get something a little unexpected but as long as you are OK with that, I think it would for the most part work out well...

Don't let it stop you from going :)

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Hi Eternal,

Looking forward to more great reports!

Just a note on your first post, it's interesting that you use "burrito" as your descriptor for the cheung faan which is more like a soft, steamed, rolled rice flour noodle with a slightly sweet soy sauce. The emphasis tends to be more on the noodle than the filling, which is intended to provide some flavour and textural contrast.

The versions we encounter here in Singapore and Malaysia more often use fresh prawns rather than the dried ones in your photo.

Julian's Eating - Tales of Food and Drink
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My father-in-law even claims that the Peking Duck is better in Hong Kong because they use American ducks.

....

And you can't go to Hong Kong without getting Dim Sum, which we had at Laung Haung or something like that. It was a recommendation of a "low-class" place to get good dim sum. It was a total mess, the service was awful and well, we thought it was great!

Ducks in HK come from China, and I can't imagine a good restaurant using a frozen US duck over a less-expensive fresh China one. Probably best not to disagree with your father-in-law, however.

Going by your photos, "Luang Haung" is Lin Heung, an old-style dim sum place on Wellington St.

Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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Name that Fish! Looks wonderful. I have no idea what it is

I wish I knew more about how to navigate this site's search engine, but I don't. I do remember that fish, though. There is a thread about seafood species and this fish is pictured and identified in that thread. That is such a unique fish (never seen one here) that I know I'll never forget it. If my memory is really good, and I'm not betting on that -- then it's on about pp. 10-12.

Rhonda

Edited by PopsicleToze (log)
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I found it, but it wasn't the right fish. This one has polka dots on it instead of the stripes.

Coral Trout/Grouper (Plectropomus spp.). Very good eating, but a lot are farmed.

Worth looking at post #199 on this thread :wink:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=70254&st=180

Rhonda

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  • 4 weeks later...

Onto Beijing...

Beijing is great for food. You can access much of the regional food without walking very far from your hotel. We had memorable dinners at two different Peking Duck restaurants (one famous and one not), a spicy Hunan restaurant, a very formal dinner at the Telecom Hotel (written up in Beijing Dining), lunch at The Loft and many snack along the way...

On the first night we arrived, we had dinner at a Peking Duck house that was recommended by the Hotel (we stayed at one of the Hating Hotels, which is a great, reasonably priced ($20-30 USD) hotel chain that is both modern and VERY clean - recommended for quasi-budget travelers)

The duck was the best I've ever had - though I've only eaten it before in NY and Seattle..No. They don't carve it at the table. This isn't a super fancy restaurant, but it was a nice place (ie no bright white lights or food on the floor)

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Peking Duck - Yum! Behind is a plate of duck spring rolls

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A side of mushrooms and bok choy

The Hunan Restaurant nearby was probably my favorite restaurant with 4 Yuan (65 cents) draft beers of Tsingtao and super spicy food. If only I had taken more pictures! I was too busy eating...

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Caramelized cauliflower

The Loft was seen in No Reservations and has been written up on here before. It is trying to be a modern restaurant in a place (China) that is still new to the idea of clean, modern and "fancy western" style service. It was only me for lunch so I couldn't order that much. The standout was the lamb (thanks for the advice from egullet!)

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My Meal

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Totally dry and bland. The least favorite

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The delicious lamb

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Up close

After a morning of walking the hutongs, where we stopped for this little snack...

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we stopped by for lunch at a BBQ restaurant and dived into this spicy fish dish...

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You can barely see the fish through all the chillies

I have to say that I really like Asian heat - no. not the weather but the spice. It is hot but not overly lingeringly so like Mexican and American (and correct me if I missed a location) chillies. Here, the spiciness makes your mouth tingle and numbs your lips but accents the food nicely.

And I did mention we stopped at the famous Peking duck restaurant on the equivalent of Universal Studios Walk Beijing, right? Here it is in all of its plastic plate glory. 5 times more expensive then the place we ate at the day before and not as good. The atmosphere is awful as well...

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Moving onto Shanghai...

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I have to apologize up front for this pictures. My wife and I carry around two different cameras - a Canon G10 (which we love) and a Sony DSCW-120 (a cheaper point and shoot). For whatever reason, exhaustion, laziness or whatever, I stopped carrying the G10, which is actually a pretty small camera and these pictures are almost all form the Sony. The color is off and some are fuzzy but hopefully you can get past that.

We started off in Shanghai with a formal dinner with family in the French Concession Area...

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The starters

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I forget what this was, but it had the consistency of sweet potatoes..

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Wrapped Greens

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Braised Pork

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Turtle!

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More Sweet and Sour Crispy Fish

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Sea Cucumber - a delicacy

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Our first Xao Long Bao of the trip - mediocre

Food picked up during random walks...

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Squid Balls - I tried and I still don't like. The Japanese version Takayaki, I prefer.

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Making Squid Balls

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BBQ!

Honestly, we were a bit burned out on Asian food at this point in the trip (4.5 weeks into China) and we went out a lot for Euro food - mostly pasta, pizza and salads and so there isn't a ton more here except dumplings/Xao Long Bao. We tried the famous Nanxiang and had the ones with a straw and crab innards....

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Another overpriced place with mediocre food...

But the best place BY FAR was Yang's fry dumpling. I saw two different locations and ate here three times. I never made it past the dumplings but the curry noodle soup seemed to be a favorite among the locals too...4 yuan (65 cents) for 4 dumplings. The best deal in town---and maybe the world...These dumplings are TO DIE FOR in my humble opinion. This location wasn't far from the Four Seasons Hotel.

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The Spot

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Unlike most things in China, preparing dumplings at Yang's is incredibly efficient - good thing too as they are eaten as fast as they are made

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A big pot of dumplings

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Dumplings on a plate with vinegar and scallions

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Look at this glorious, crispy on the bottom, soft on the top and filled with at least 3x the juice of anywhere else!

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Taking a Peak inside

On our last night in Shanghai, we went out for another fancy meal at some place that could have been right out of Vegas. The food was very good but the place ws mostly about the "Grandness" of it all with high ceilings, only bottled water and big, gaudy furniture pieces that only work in Asia. The Shanghai love it because it screams $$$ and according to the other Chinese, the Shanghainese are all about the money...

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You tell me

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Shirmp and um, stuff...

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Highly marbled and very tender beef...and bone. It is OK in China to just pick up the bone and suck on it, which my auntie demonstrated later in the meal.

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Pork!

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Cereal Prawns

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Pork Tenderloin?

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The Whole Meal

And that sums up our month in China. After Shanghai, we took a flight to Japan and spent a couple weeks between Hiroshima and Kyoto. I guess I'll have to do a food post from there as well...

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I forget what this was, but it had the consistency of sweet potatoes..

I can't be completely sure, but I do think those are lotus root. After cooking for a while, they do have a potato texture. The lotus seeds on the plate may also hint at it too.

Great pictures, lovely food :)

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