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Nov 2, 2012 07:06 AM

Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, Shanghai, Fuchsia Dunlop and Wild China

Just back from the most amazing tour ever - organized by Wild China - with Fuchsia Dunlop picking the restaurants and ordering for ten of us. WOW. I just loved it. I can list some of the restaurants, but really, what you order really matters. I thought the food was just so great - such variety, such fresh food and the food is allowed to shine.

There is another tour happening Oct 2013, if you can afford it, then do not miss it. This was my first time in China, and I can't wait to go back.

Some photos here

Some restaurants -

Qing Yun Lou
Hai wan ju
(also not on the tour but we liked Black Sesame Kitchen and Middle 8th


Lao Sun Jia
Xi'an hotel

Shun Xing at Century City (one of my favorites)
Yubo (also fantastic)

Dragonwell Manor in Hongzhuo (absolutely stunning amazing great OMG fantastic)
Jade Garden
Yang's Dumplings

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  1. Those were utterly beautiful photos of the amazing food you all had. Thanks for sharing!

    3 Replies
    1. re: klyeoh

      thanks! Charles really loves food photography. As each new dish came out everyone would get a chance to photograph it before anyone started eating it. It was great to be w people who loved food so much.

      1. re: debbieann

        debbieann, which (if any) of the restaurants do you think you could order in without a Chinese speaker?

        1. re: mr_gimlet

          It is hard to say since Fuchsia did all the ordering for us and I didn't even see a menu in most places. And she said she had to work hard to convince the people that foreigners would eat the strange things she ordered. Charles has this great app on his android called Pleco that does not need the internet and will OCR and translate the chinese. I think it was $40 for the full app and well worth it. A lot of menus now have pictures. I would certainly try - you could point at other tables.

    2. Lovely to read about and see the photos. What a great time you all must have had.

      Nothing from the Southern parts of China, though? (I suppose not, as Dunlop is more of an expert on Sichuanese and Northern-ish Chinese cuisine and *not* Cantonese, Fukien, Hakka, Teochew, etc, I think?)

      Dunlop's blog entry on your tour where she described it as a "gastronomic tour of China":

      "生在苏州, 活在杭州, 吃在广州, 死在柳州"

      24 Replies
      1. re: huiray

        Wild China appears to organize the gastronomic tour and Dunlop is along for the well paying ride!

        1. re: scoopG

          Scoop - that seems to be a very cynical view. She has expertise having done the hard yards at Chinese Culinary institutes, she speaks Mandarin, and she loves the food. Many people have one of those, a few two, but how many all three? I can see her value - although it is out of me league - unfortunately.

          1. re: PhilD

            I know Fuchsia and she deservedly was well compensated for her expertise. My comments were more an indirect nod to the $500 a day price tag!

            1. re: scoopG

              A agree not cheap but the hotels they use (peninsula, Shangrila) probably average RMB1,500 (US$250) a night without transfers etc. Add the food, other extras and you would find you could have DIY version for $350+ a day plus the cost of internal flights/trains in China it may get to a very real $400 a day. So is $100 a day too much for the guides, organisation and Fuchsias added value?. Obviously they will get group discount pricing so they have a good margin. But when you add it up it isn't extreme.

              1. re: PhilD

                Not sure what hotels they are using but they are cheaper off season and can be had for RMB 1200 (US$ 200) a day at places like the Peninsula in Beijing. Wild China will then get a nice discounted rate. Food in China is very inexpensive. (That said, there is plenty of conspicuous consumption going on right now.) Also Fuchsia was not with the group 24/7.

                1. re: scoopG

                  Well the Peninsula in Shanghai (which is where they stay) has a rack rate of RMB3,500 ($560) and for the dates they are there next year the advance rates are RMB2,500 ($400), and the Beijing Peninsula is RMB1,900 ($305) on their promotional rate (add another RMB300 with breakfast).

                  I agree Wild China will get better rates but not certain Capital cities in China really have off seasons, I travel up to China quite a lot and hotels are pretty expensive, plus you generally need to add in transfers and the 15% tax or service charge that gets loaded onto the bill.

                  It is definitely not the cheapest way to eat round china but if you stay in 5 star hotels it ain't ever going to be cheap.....I am in Chengdu in a few weeks so it will be interesting to see how much it all costs.

                  1. re: PhilD

                    The Peninsula Beijing rates I quoted were from their website yesterday. Of course I would expect those rates are much higher in the summer.

                    1. re: scoopG

                      I think your rates last minute ones for this week, the next trip is October 2013, my rates are for then. In my experience rates rise around Chinese holidays like New Year in Feb, and the National Day holidays which are the first week of October. You can get better package deals in the middle of winter but even then the (business) demand for hotels in China is high enough to keep rates pretty high.

                      Also always remember that on-line hotel prices across Asia may not include service charges and tax until you pay, in China this is often 15% , plus you need to add breakfast (to equal the package rate).

                      1. re: PhilD

                        I never eat in hotels in China! Sometimes a discounted rate is available through local connections.

                        1. re: scoopG

                          Their package included breakfast......

                          1. re: PhilD

                            Major added expense then! Especially these Western style buffets.

                            1. re: scoopG

                              Yes there are cheaper ways to do this, and yes we've always gone on our own and inexpensively, but whatever way people are exposed to China and the food is fine with me.

                  2. re: scoopG

                    You could certainly do a food trip like this for much less money, staying in cheaper hotels, eating in cheaper places, not hiring a driver, guide, expert, and car for the entire day every day, but that would be a different tour. I personally would have preferred to stay in something other than five star hotels, but if you think about the supply and demand for a small tour (ten people) with Fuchsia Dunlop as the food expert, it's clear there's going to be a lot of demand from western aficionados of chinese food, and of Fuchsia personally.

                    So from WildChina's point of view, given the large demand, there's no point in making it cheaper. Makes more sense for them to do an upmarket tour with a famous name. Do they also have cheaper food tours? I have no idea.

                    As for the food specifically, one of the huge plusses for me was that EVERYONE on the tour was keen to try everything. Everyone on the tour was 吃货 (chi huo - "foodie") which meant that all of us got to try the most interesting, most locally authentic foods. I'm willing to pay a premium for that.

                    Finally, while there is lots of great cheap food in China, there are also unique food experiences that are NOT cheap. On this trip, the Long Jing Manor, Yu's Kitchen, and Da Dong were not cheap, and for me personally Long Jing Manor was the high point of the trip. It epitomized everything about encouraging local artisanal "heirloom" organic farming methods, and using the economic power of a high end restaurant and garden to support it. It's an amazing place and I love what Dai Jianjun (戴建军) is doing.

                    1. re: haynes

                      Charles - you make a good point, food can be really cheap in China but it can be really expensive, and a lot of the really high end stuff is pricey. As you say Dragon-well Manor is expensive with an entry point of RMB1,600 ($256) so they ain't cutting corners on the food.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        Also, we were not eating the flashy expensive stuff for the most part - no shark fin soup, not abalone in every meal etc. Fuchsia was looking for food particular to a regional cuisine. She was able to order things that we could not have managed ourselves and to balance the meals in certain ways, both within the meal and over the whole trip. At several places the chefs know her and would send out special treats and come talk to us afterwards.

                    2. re: scoopG

                      The itinerary made it clear that Fuchsia was not going to spend every minute of every day with us. The tour includes some non-food venues, and I can understand that Fuchsia has no need to see the Forbidden City or Great Wall again, nor would her presence particularly enhance the experience for us. On the other hand, I was impressed at Wild China's ability to be flexible. There were a number of occasions where the group decided that either they didn't want to do something that was on the tour or that we wanted to do something that wasn't (we went to Yellow Fish Noodles instead of Sun Yat Sen's house, we added the Great Mosque in Xi'an instead of the Shaanxi History Museum.) Even outside of the meals Fuchsia was generous of her time showing us local produce and spice markets, artisanal noodle makers, and suggesting interesting things to see and do in the cities we visited.

                      She even would sometimes come out drinking in the evenings with those of us searching out the best local beer joints. I was entirely satisfied with the amount of time Fuchsia spent with and on us.

            2. re: huiray

              Glad to see it avoids southern Chinese cuisine entirely. I realized too late that Hunan should be where I visit from now on, since Xiang restaurants have proven themselves time and again.

              1. re: BuildingMyBento

                Not sure what you mean by "Xiang" restaurants. Do you mean "Xian"? If so they would be about a thousand kilometers from Hunan.

                I presume your opinion on the avoidance of Southern Chinese places is your personal opinion.

              2. re: huiray

                HuiRay (are you Hui btw?) It was a considered decision on Fuchsia's part. She had done an earlier trip that was a little longer and tried to include all four of the great cuisines, and it was just a little too long and a little too much. People were burned out at the end. So she chose to do a shorter trip and leave out one of the great cuisines. It wasn't an easy choice! She might do shorter, more focused trips another time - I urged her to do one purely on Sichuan :) but that's my personal preference. (Actually I'd love a Yunnan, Hunan, Sichuan, Chonqing trip.)

                1. re: huiray

                  吃在苏州 is my idea of heaven, actually. Fuchsia's tastes do seem to run more northern and western.

                  1. re: buttertart

                    We did do a trip on our own to Suzhou after the main tour was over (which was a bit of an adventure in and of itself, since I discovered AFTER we got to Hongqiao train station that I had left my passport in the hotel. Fortunately some of the ticket vendors can be... flexible.)

                    We managed to visit Wumen Renjia (吴门人家) which was fantastic. I'll be posting photos, but it was a prime example of why it would be better to travel with 10 people. We were only two and ordered enough food for five because there were so many dishes we wanted to try. River shrimp with biluochun tea leaves was probably my favorite. Debbie and I both loved the watershield in egg white - a dish primarily about slippery textures and not flavor per-se.

                    1. re: haynes

                      I love that shrimp with tea, watershield I've only had in soup and did not like.
                      Next time go to 王 四 Wang Si, I love that place.
                      Hope you got to some of the gardens too.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        We went to Master of Nets Garden and the Lion Grove Garden, I wish there were a way to visit them with fewer people. We sat in the tea house in Lion Grove Garden and drank tea while we watched the garden and the people.

                        1. re: haynes

                          My two least favorite ones...the Lingering Garden and the Humble Administrator's Garden are nicer, in my opinion. The latter is right near the SZ museum (I.M. Pei-designed, his family is from there...come to think of it they owned the Lion Grove Garden at one time too).

                2. Debbieann - thanks for posting. Great to see this and a list of places I will try some of the as we are in Chengdu in a few weeks. Good to see you are Charles are enjoying the offal and spice.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: PhilD

                    hi PhilD! fun to see you here - you are so lucky to be in Chengdu! Yubo is on a very touristy street, and I think it is mostly private rooms, and served in courses, more fancy than the others. At Shunxing try the street foods, I think it came as a set menu. Another place we really loved is at 64 Jun Long St - we had yellow eels, pork in pig stomach, fish fragrant eggplant, twice cooked pork - they still do things the old fashioned way. and around the corner from there is a guy who roasts and grinds his own sesame paste and sesame oil - which is so delicious. this is a photo of the place:
                    It was good, not expensive, beloved by locals. we went for lunch.

                    we also went out to the sichuan culinary museum, which was lots of fun. Charles and some others got to take a short cooking class.

                    1. re: debbieann

                      Hey Phil,

                      You really should have Sichuan hot pot while in Chengdu. Make sure they let you order offal, I found the duck intestines and rabbit kidneys especially delightful, but I'm a big fan of offal. :) They were NOT on the english language menu.

                      Small warning, even native Sichuanese consider hot pot to have a slightly... purgative effect. :) But so worth it!

                  2. Can you tell me about the Fish Fragrant Eggplant as shown in the photo? It is so radically different looking than Fuchsia's recipe which I frequently make. I can't even decide what the ingredients are in it, looks heavenly though.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: chilibeanpaste

                      I'm not sure, but I'll try to figure it out. One of my favorite dishes.

                    2. How much did you spend on this trip, debbieann? Everything looked divine :)

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: M_Gomez

                        Wild China website shows the basic cost of this 12-day Gastronomic Tour to be US$ 5999.00

                        1. re: scoopG

                          yup, it was a lot of $$, a type of trip we have never done before, and basically a once in my lifetime trip. now we'll go back to our ordinary life.

                          1. re: debbieann

                            Debbieann they are virtusio. Did you use a virtuoso travel agent? I would also suggest Imperial Tours based on what people say on flyertalk!