Nanjing + - Can we recapture the magic?
My wife and I are going to Nanjing at the end of Sept (she is speaking at a conference) Before/after that we plan on spending 2 weeks in China.
6 years ago we went to Guilin and still treasure sitting at a corner noodle shop on little pre-school sized stools slurping down noodles in delicious broth topped with chopped crispy/fatty pork, peanuts and scallions.
But the best memory of that trip was the following:
We wanted to get outside the city for an authentic meal - someone at the hotel wrote the name of a village on a piece of paper and directed us to the bus station. After a 45 minute bus ride we disembarked - nobody spoke English and as we wandered through the market and town we didn't see anything that looked like a dining establishment. We were getting really hungry when my wide saw a young college-aged man and guessing/hoping he spoke English told him of our predicament. His English wasn't much, but he got the message and we followed him as he led us down to the river.
We got the message that we were going to take a ferry to an island in the middle of the river where we were going to be able to get something to eat. When the ferryman tried to overcharge us for the crossing our new friend decided that he would accompany us.
At the island we walked down a narrow footpath to a small cluster of houses. We entered one where we sat on the floor and a woman brought us tea. Our friend chatted up our hosts and then turned to us and asked if we would like chicken. At this point we would have eaten anything and we nodded vigorously.
Up and out of the house we were back on another footpath. Somehow we came to understand that this island was an agricultural cooperative and that often city folks would come out here to recapture the country lifestyle. We came to another compound where a bunch of chickens were strutting around the yard. Our friend said they wanted us to pick the one we wanted for lunch. I pointed at a likely suspect, a brief chase ensued followed by the beheading and plucking. We adjourned to a room where the 3 of sat on cushions around a low table while 5 or 6 members of the family stood around and watched us.
After a couple of beers the meal arrived - a large pot of delicious chicken soup.
We don't expect (or want) to duplicate that experience, but that is the kind of memories we hope to create on our return to China. What should we do? We want to experience great food, we love big cities, small villages, festivals and natural beauty (but we're not trekkers). We have little desire to visit major tourist destinations.
We have stayed in contact with our friend from the story - he now lives in Shanghai - so we plan to vist him there. From reading the boards that looks like a place where many a food dream can come true.
What else should we consider: Beijing? Yunnan? Wherever we go we want to spend time there - don't want to hop from place to place.
Thanks in advance for any advice.
The Yangzi Delta (Shanghai/Suzhou/Hangzhou) can certainly offer you more than you can handle in two weeks, being such an ingredients-rich area (it's "The land of Fish and Rice", after all). Yunnan is also very produce-rich (especially on the veggie side) and is a big foodie destination for domestic foodies in China, according to one of my contacts (she has an article on eating in Yunnan coming out in the June issue of Gourmet). I don't know much about Beijing cuisine beyond street foods, other than the bad rap it has amongst my Shanghai inlaws.
re: Gary Soup
I was in Yunnan province for six weeks a couple of years ago and ate very well indeed. I had never seen such a wide variety of mushrooms. The variety of other vegetables was nearly as wide. Yunnan ham is marvelous--silky and deep-flavored. And the many ethnic minorities in the province ensure a range of unfamiliar food. Moreover, September in the Shanghai/Nanjing area can be quite warm. Most of Yunnan is high--if I recall correctly Kunming is over 6,000--so the weather is pleasant. Look into Lijiang, Dali, and Jianshui as well as Kunming for good to great food.
re: Michael Rodriguez
We've decided that it will chew up too much travel time to go all the way to Yunnan. Any tips if we stay in the Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou areas? The hairy crabs at Yangcheng lake sound like a destination - is there any escape from urban sprawl and tourism in this region?
End of September the Hairy Crabs will be coming into season, but there's no need to go to Yangcheng Lake. It will be jam-packed with (domestic) tourists and the price of Yangcheg Lake crabs will be higher there than at some of the reputable restaurants in Shanghai that have crab feeds.
Shanghai still has many neighborhoods that have escaped "development" where you will find few tourists; there even are beautiful, quiet tree-lined streets with stately manses in the heart of the French Concession. Go looking for the Old China Hand Reading Room coffee house and you will be in the general area I'm talking about.
There have been plenty of tips for Shanghai on this board; dig them out and ask further questions. I'm tentatively planning to be in Shanghai in the mid-September to mid-October window this year myself, so keep in touch. I may have my personal translator (a.k.a. Shanghainese wife) with me.
You can email me if you like at gary@[the website identified in me profile].
Beijing would be good. I know when I studied abroad there, we went on some overnight trip to the "village." It was an outdoor area where city people go to spend the night. It goes something like this:
You arrive mid-day and can wonder around the village or go hiking in the mountains. You stay with a local family in one of their rooms/houses where there is a bed. They make you dinner at night, a traditional Chinese meal with various dishes. They also have an outside yard where people gather at night for karoke and beer. You sleep and they make you breakfast. All I remember was the bathroom was really gross, but it was an interesting experience to live in the "village" for a night.