China trip recs
- Chris Rising May 20, 2006 03:10 PM
I'm leaving next week for a two week trip and I am already dreaming about the chow possibilities. Here's the itinerary: Shanghai, Xian and Beijing. Any specific restaurants for any meal would be appreciated, but more so what foods are not to be missed. Are there specific cuisines to seek out? I know there has to be more than hunan, cantonese, and szechuan.
What can I eat on the street? Are vendors to be avoided, or are there some really tasty bites I can find?
Any ordering hints for restaurants? Is there anyway not to get the total tourist experience?
Here are some restaurants that we have heard of elsewhere. Any complete mistakes? Shanghai: Whampoa Club, Nanxiang Steamed Buns. Beijing: Red Capital Club, China Club, and Quan Ju De Duck.
Thanks for any help and pointers.
Hi there - Speaking and/or reading Chinese will help, but even if you don't, many restaurants with great food also have English menus. You can probably read up on China's regional cuisines in your guidebook. In Beijing (where I live now) look for strong flavors, garlic, cilantro, vinegar. Dumplings, noodles and flat breads are also really popular. Sadly, I can't speak for Shanghai. I would avoid the Red Capital Club unless you prize atmosphere (and it is gorgeous) over cuisine. I've never eaten at the China Club and Quan Ju De is famous for duck, though I vastly prefer Made in China at the Grand Hyatt. Even though it's a hotel restaurant, it really is filled with Chinese people. Their duck is exquisite.
Here are a few other restaurants excerpted from one of my other posts on Beijing restaurants:
I love hot pot, and I love Ding Ding Xiang's hot pot the most. Individual pots, addictive sesame dipping sauce, flaky sesame-crusted shao bing (a type of bun). Yum! As an added bonus: they've just added an English menu. Be prepared to wait for a table. 2/F Yuanjia Int'l Apartments, Dongzhimenwai, Dongzhong Jie 6417 9289
Dishes to order: thinly sliced rib-eye beef or lamb, fish balls, fish dumplings, shao bing
For the see-and-be-seen crowd, head over to Bellagio, late night. Actually, first go dancing next door at Babyface and THEN head to Bellagio where their Taiwanese fare will sate your 4am munchies. Don't miss dessert: tremendous mounds of shaved ice covered with red bean, tapioca, sago, condensed milk, you name it. 6 Gongti Xilu 6551 3533
Dishes to order: Chongqing laziji (fried chicken nuggets flavored with sichuan peppercorn), Taiwan doufu bao (tofu claypot), niurou youtiao (beef with crullers), bao bing (shaved ice desserts)
As for street food... When I first got here, I had a deep passion for it, but a few real and serious bouts of food poisening really put me off it. If you are determined, I would seek out "jianbing," a huge crepe, cooked with a fried egg, brushed with salty-sweet bean sauce, and hot sauce, and folded with a sheet of fried dough. Look for this at the Night Market on Wangfujing.
600 Fuzhou Lu
This place is not nearly as spiffy as the three that follow, which could be good or bad. I couldn't resist the dofu and preserved egg dish.
556 Fuzhou Lu
Not as good as the following two, but worth visiting for a look at some serious Shanghainese eaters and some good dumplings.
603 Fuzhou Lu
Excellent crab dishes. The service was spotty--some nights excellent, other nights laughably inattentive. Go for the food, expecially the river shrimp and crab leg meat dish.
255 Dalian Xi Lu (Hongkou)
4. No. 240 Lane, Beijing Xi Lu
18 Xizang Zhong Lu (newest branch)
Excellent food and excellent service. I visited the branch on Xizang Lu (second floor).
All these places have either English or picture menus, but knowing a little Chinese can make the meal go much more smoothly.
First, be aware that relatively few restaurants have English menus. And those that do often feature 'westernized' food. Pictures can be helpful, but aren't a guide to quality. Also, be aware that local tourism has taken off and you will find literally thousands of Asian tourists in each destination. Also the cultural differences mean a different dining experience (even in the top places, such as Whampoa Club, expect many diners to be accompanied by children - 1 per couple of course).
Shanghai food we found relatively bland, often greasy, and usually slightly sweet. You'll get many references to the dumplings. Not worth an hour line-up, but quite good. Assuming you have limited time, the Whampoa Club in Shanghai is probably your best bet - very interesting ideas and some great dishes. Wine list expensive - but at least they have one! And as you MUST visit the Bund at night, why not take in the view from the Whampoa Club anyway. Jean-Georges is a pale imitation of the New York version and the staff really don't know English - they just parrot what they've been told to say about the dishes (I'm not criticising - their English is far better than my Mandarin).
Also in Shanghai, although I didn't try it (ran out of time) my research suggested that, after the Bund places, the restaurant to try would be Fwu Luh Pavilion (in the Grand Gateway Mall) which serves Yangzhou food. And because of tourism, make reservations everywhere.
Xian has great spicy hot pot, and wonderful dumplings. Have fun at the Tang Dynasty Show/Review, and order the multiple dumpling dinner, including duck shaped duck dumplings and great black walnut dumplings. In the mosque area near the Bell Tower are good muslim lanb dishes, including the aforementioned hot pot. Xianese people are very friendly: have a great time!
Just got back from Beijing and Shanghai...if you can, you MUST try this place called Ye Olde Station in Shanghai (Shanghai Lao Zhan). The decor was beautiful, and the food was perfectly cooked Shanghainese cuisine. Just ask for the most typical Shanghainese dishes, such as braised pork in soysauce, lightly sauteed shrimp, and little dragon buns. The jellyfish heads was amazingly crispy too!
For Peking duck, I went to Duck King (Ya Wang) because my local friends there all said that Quan Ju De is too greasy. Actually, the food court at the Oriental Shopping Mall (Dong Fang Guang Chang) is pretty amazing. They even have a special dish from Yunnan province called Guo Qiao Mian, or Crossing Bridge noodle, because it has a legendary story behind it about a wife who brings her husband his meals by crossing over a bridge.
Get ready to eat!
I studied in Beijing for a semester in 2000, so this is kind of dated, and I don't have any specific restaurant recommendations. But as far as ordering tips go, I have a few. I was fortunate enough to speak Chinese well enough to ask questions of servers, but classmates of mine who were not Chinese speakers used the following tactics with some success...
1) learn the characters and pronunciation for the different kinds of proteins you would want to eat (beef, duck, pork, tofu, etc.). Oftentimes, menus are arranged by heading under the type of protein, so you can at least have some idea what you're looking at. Be aware that many dish titles will not have the name of the meat/tofu/gluten/etc. in them.
2)learn the chinese words for flavors you like (spicy, cilantro, sour, salt, etc.) - if you know the name of a protein and a flavor you like, you can go a long way toward getting something you wil like to eat.
3)if you know just a tiny bit of Chinese, ask your server what s/he likes, or what they are eating at the next table (if it looks good to you). Then say, "I want that." Be aware, however, that if you ask your server what to order, and if you are a "Westerner", they will often point you to one of the several dishes that must have been identified as favorites of "Westerners" - cashew chicken, gongbao (kungpao) chicken, hongshao chicken, etc. You can get some excellent versions of thses dishes, but I'm sure as a chowhound you're looking for something more interesting and less available where you live.
4)depending on how adventurous you are, and the prices at the restaurant (you wouldn't want to do this at an expensive place), you could just point at random things on the menu and see what shows up at your table. friends and I did this several times with varying degrees of success, but it was always fun and adventurous. We discovered some amazing dishes we never would have otherwise tried. Of course we ended up with some pretty unappetizing dishes as well!
Regarding street vendors, you can get some really great-tasting, very inexpensive vittles. However, as a previous poster noted, your risk of food poisoning and parasitic infection does increase. Since your stay is so short, and a bout of salmonella or an amoeba infection would really ruin your trip, I'd recommend sticking to safer stuff (grains, starches, sweets) and avoiding the riskier stuff (meats) if you opt to try street vendors. If you do choose to try the riskier stuff, maybe wait until near the end of your trip so if you do get sick you won't waste any precious China time.
Enjoy your trip, it's a fascinating place and I miss it every day. Let us know how you fare!
Xi'an is where I'm from, and my friends and I just came back from a five day eating feast there, so here are my recs:
DO NOT MISS: the lamb kebobs, the dumplings, and what is called yang rou pao muo ( literally lamb soaked breads.) Lamb Kebobs you have to get in the muslim street by the Great Mosque (which is by the Southern Gate. you will see a McDonalds and people flying kites on the plaza underneath the drum tower. Go through the city wall and you will come upon the street. Going at night is the best time to go, as that's when all the locals go.)
Also, when you're eat on that street, you should try their Ba Bao Zhou (Eight Treasure Porridge) and can be ordered at the same place as you get lamb kebobs. The best place to go is a hole in the wall place that you have to go through an alley for called Ma Jia, but if you can't find it, all the restuarants are pretty good for getting the local flavor.
If you have time to return to the street or left enough room on the same trip, another place to eat is a famous restaurant for Guan Tang Bao (Kind of like Xiaolongbao, but with soup inside as well) Ask the locals where the best restaurant for this is, and they should all give you the same answer. You do have to walk past butcher shops for it, but the actual restuarant is very good. You have the options of vegetarian, beef, and lamb.
Have time for desert? Jing Gao, or Mirror cake, are sold by the cart vendors on the same street. It's Xi'an's local sweet, mixed with rose petals paste and other sugars.
Go to the computer plaza (Dian Zi Cheng) for the lamb soaked bread. I would recommend Shang Fang Ren instead of Lao Sun Jia for this dish, and you'll have missed out on Xi'an entirely if you do not try it.
Other eats: Liang Pi, Rou Jia Muo, Zhao Liang Fen.
Keep in mind that Xi'an people are known for their love of food, and restuarants are alllll over the place. If you're really into the small snack eats, try going to Qiou Lin Supermarket, as it is actually just a marketplace with stalls of local eats for very cheap that is cleaner than most other places.
Hope this helps!