We started off our last day in Xi’an with a dessert-heavy breakfast at the hotel. Although the Shangri La Golden Flower was one of nicest hotels we stayed in, the breakfast buffet was only so-so, but we made do with what was available.
Egg custard tarts, fried spring roll, shumai, steamed bun, hash brown, powdered donut
Steamed bun, sticky rice, shumai, hash brown, bacon, fried spring roll
Hand pulled noodle soup
After breakfast we went to a local folk art museum in Xi’an to kill some time before our flight. The museum was on the small side but there were a lot of interesting pieces, though I’m not sure how authentic all of them were. For example, when they introduced us to shadow puppets, we were allowed to touch the puppets to feel that they were made from animal hide. I kind of feel like if these were valuable artifacts, we wouldn’t be allowed to do that. Regardless, there were some beautiful pieces, and we learned about the origins of some Chinese characters.
The shadow puppets
After the museum, we headed straight to the airport for an early lunch before our flight to Shanghai. We ate at the Airport Silk Road Restaurant, which is right in the front of the domestic terminal in Xi’an. The food, as with most airport food, was just passable. Nothing inedible, but far from impressive.
Chicken with cucumber and celery
Beef with celery and a stalk vegetable
Egg drop soup
Sauteed lettuce and cabbage
Sauteed green beans
Fried pork strips
Vegetarian meatballs in a sweet and sour sauce
After our flight to Shanghai, which was thankfully nowhere near as turbulent as the flight to Xi’an, we went for a quick visit to the Temple Bazaar area and to the Bund. The Temple Bazaar is one of my favorite areas in Shanghai. It’s full of beautiful historic-looking buildings and tons of shops and food stalls. Unfortunately, our guide only gave us 10 minutes of free time, which meant we couldn’t wander off for more than 20 feet from where he was standing. Nevertheless, as soon as he set us free, everyone dashed off to closest food stalls. It was actually pretty funny, because we were like kids let loose in a candy store.
The Taiwanese people in our group, myself included, followed our noses to the stinky tofu stand. The tofu wasn’t as good as in Taiwan, but for someone who sorely misses stinky tofu and thinks about it often, it was passable. The tofu wasn’t as stinky though, and it had a denser, greasier texture than the ones we get in Taiwan.
The stinky tofu stall sign
Freshly fried stinky tofu with hot sauce
Josh, who was in Shanghai last year on a business trip, remembered a place where he got really good xiao long baos, or small soup dumplings. He ran over to where the stall was but the line was too long, and we didn’t have enough time to wait. Instead, he went to a closer dumpling stall and bought giant soup dumplings that were steamed in their own baskets. The dumplings were about the size of my fist, and came with a straw so that you could suck the soup out. That was a bit dangerous, as the soup was hot, but the broth was porky and tasty. The filling itself was pretty good, though the skin was a bit too thick. I guess that’s the only way they can maintain the shape of dumpling, given its abnormally large size.
The shop with the giant soup dumplings
Look at the size of those soup dumplings!
We happily slurped away on our soup dumplings, but I was really disappointed that they didn’t give us more free time in the Bazaar. I really wanted to do some shopping, and more eating of course. Sadly our guide quickly walked us back to our bus, but we did manage to squeeze off a few shots along the way.
After leaving the Temple Bazaar, we made the short drive over to the Bund, which is a riverfront area that faces the Shanghai skyline. The buildings along the Bund are European style, relics from western settlement in Shanghai. Across the river are the skyscrapers that are rising at an astonishing pace, representing the “new” Shanghai. It’s a really beautiful area, and I wished that we had more than 20 minutes to spend there.
After leaving the Bund, we took over a two hour bus ride to Hangzhou. Traffic was pretty terrible getting out of the city, so it took longer than that I think. Watching the “countryside” go by was actually pretty interesting, seeing all the farms as well as a lot new houses being constructed. Halfway through the trip we stopped at a rest area on the highway to take a bathroom break, and to pick up some snacks. The rest area had a famous zongzi shop, which we of course had to try. Zongzi are a sort of rice dumpling formed in a banana leaf. The rice is stuffed with either savory ingredients, like pork and egg, or sweet ingredients, like red bean paste. This version was savory, and the rice was super sticky and a bit hard to eat while on a moving bus. The filling was tasty, with lots of egg and pork, but it was a tad dry.
The name of the zongzi shop at the rest area
The zongzi all wrapped up in a banana leaf
In addition the the zongzi, we couldn’t resist getting more stinky tofu. There was a huge food stall set up right outside the rest area that was serving a variety of snacks, and our noses smelled the tofu immediately. This version was better than the one at the Temple Bazaar in texture, but it was a bit too salty. We slathered them with lots of hot sauce.
The food stall selling assorted snacks
More stinky tofu
Lastly, when we got back on the bus I saw people eating giant bings – a sort of stuffed flat bun – and I immediately coveted one. So I sent Josh back off the bus to buy one for me, of course. They were made from a flour dough, filled, and then pressed down and pan fried in oil. The outside was lightly browned and the inside was filled with suan chi – a sort of preserved pickled vegetable. It was really tasty, my favorite of all the snacks we got at the rest area, but it was also super greasy.
A flat "bing" filled with preserved pickled vegetables
After some more driving, we finally reached our destination for the evening, the city of Hangzhou. By the time we got there, it was dark so we didn’t get to see much scenery, but it didn’t matter because we would spending the next day there. We were tired and stiff from the long bus ride and immediately went to dinner because it was pretty late. When we got to the restaurant, the lights were off and they were scrambling to get things set up for us. Bad sign. We also noticed that our plates and glasses were dusty, which was kind of off-putting. We wiped them down as best we could, but it didn’t bode well for the rest of the meal. This was by far the worst meal that we had in China, so it was good that we had eaten the snacks at the rest area, because otherwise we would have gone to bed hungry. We barely touched our food, and couldn’t wait to get out of the restaurant.
Shrimp with heads and a soy dipping sauce
Braised whole chicken. How whole? See the next picture.
Yes, there was a chicken head in there...
Braised bamboo shoots
Eggplant in garlic sauce
Hot and sour soup
Sweet buns to stuff with ground pork bits
Braised cellophane noodles
Braised pork belly
Whole fish covered in a gloppy, brown, vinegary sauce
Needless to say, we really didn’t enjoy this meal and couldn’t wait to get to our hotel. It was at this point that we were disappointed not to have free time to go off on our own and to choose our own meals. At least the food at the rest area was good, and sustained us through the night. It was a pretty long and tiring day, between the flight and the long bus ride. Maybe we judged the food so harshly because we were cranky? Oh well.