Posts Tagged ‘China’

China Day 10 – Flight Home and Trip Wrap-Up

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 by virginia

We left Shanghai really early in the morning because we had a connection in Beijing before flying home to NY. Our hotel provided a box breakfast of some pastries, a hardboiled egg, yogurt, and fruit, but we didn’t eat anything until we got on the plane. We opted for the Chinese breakfast of congee.

Congee (rice porridge), yogurt, pickles, soy sauce egg, roll

In Beijing we had some time before our next flight, and with Josh’s airline status we were able to get into the Air China business class lounge. We ended up eating some lunch there while we waited until it was time to board the plane.

Lamb curry, shumai, chicken in tomato sauce, rice with peas and carrots

And we ate on the flight home of course, but the food was pretty terrible. I got seafood noodles again, but this time, it was mushy spaghetti with super watered down tomato sauce and a few shrimp on top. Bleh. Classic bad airplane food.

Super bad spaghetti with "tomato" sauce and shrimp, roll, salad with corn, and some unidentifiable dessert

Overall Josh and I had a good time seeing all the sights in China, but we were truly disappointed with most of the food we had on the trip. I guess it was because our tour company, Ritz Tours, arranged all the meals for us and we didn’t get a choice of what to eat. As a result, we ended up eating a lot of the same things during each meal. Chinese food in China is obviously different from the Americanized Chinese food that we eat here, but I think I prefer the Americanized kind better. The food we had was pretty bland, unseasoned, and very oily.

We also found the meat in China to be very strange. Most of the meats seemed unnaturally tender, and it was hard to distinguish between pork and beef. Chicken was good if it was served on the bone, but when it was cut up into strips, it was also pretty indistinguishable.

I did like a lot of the vegetables, which were simply prepared. We had sauteed cabbage and lettuce often, and those tasted clean and refreshing. We also had a lot of cucumbers during the trip, something that surprised me, but they also tasted fresh and flavorful.

My favorite meals involved the little snacks, like the lunch we had at the Expo, the snacks we bought at the rest stop, and the dumpling feast. I think the next time we go to China, if we go, we’ll make sure that we can arrange our own meals. I would have loved to check out some of the night markets and had more time to buy food from streetcarts!

With regard to the sights, the Great Wall was definitely the highlight for both Josh and myself. It’s truly incredible, and something that shouldn’t be missed. Josh also liked the Terracotta Warriors, but I had seen them before and was not as impressed this time around. My favorite part of the whole trip though was seeing the looks on Josh’s and my dad’s faces, since this was their first time seeing these places. My mom and I were excited to see them excited, and that was the most rewarding aspect. Overall we did have a good time, and it’s always nice to go away for a while to visit new places. We’re happy to be home but we’re already planning our next trip!

China Day 9 – Shanghai (World Expo, Nanjing Road)

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 by virginia

Our last day in Shanghai was supposed to be a free day, but we were fortunate enough to be there on the opening day of the Shanghai Expo. As such, our tour company arranged a group ticket for us, and we were super excited to see what the Expo was all about. Because our ticket had a set entrance time, we were able to sleep in a bit before getting breakfast. The buffet at the Swissotel Grand had quite an eclectic mix of foods.

Deep fried veggie dumplings, hash brown, roasted potatoes, muffin, baguette, smoked salmon

Noodle soup with leafy greens and ground pork

After breakfast we made our way over to the Expo and luckily, there was no line to get in. One of the best parts of being there on opening day is that all of the facilities were still brand new and spotless. Unfortunately, reservations to the China pavilion and the Taiwan pavilion were already sold out by the time we got there, so we weren’t able to see those exhibits. We also missed the U.S. exhibit, because our guide told us there wouldn’t be much of a line. We entered the Expo right by the U.S. pavilion but decided to head all the way to the other end first, and then work our way back. By the time we got back, the line was three hours long, and we only had an hour before our bus left.

I have to say, though, that I was really disappointed with the Expo. I expected it to be like the World’s Fair of previous years, where new inventions and foods were introduced. The hamburger, for example, was introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Instead, most pavilions just had tourism videos, random artifacts, and no exciting foods. The Belgium pavilion, for example, had a frites stand. That’s not something unexpected. The U.S. pavilion had a Budweiser stand. Ugh. There were super long lines for most of the countries, so we ended up only seeing the ones where there were no lines, like North Korea, Nepal, and Peru. There was nothing that wowed us, and we didn’t think it was worth waiting on those lines in the heat.

The coolest part of the Expo was seeing all the different buildings for each country. China had by far the biggest pavilion, as to be expected. Some were really cool, like Romania, which had an apple shaped building, and the Switzerland pavilion had a chair lift operating on top. We had fun looking at all the buildings and taking lots of pictures, especially of countries that we knew our friends would appreciate seeing. The Expo site was huge, and it took us a few hours just to walk all the way down from one end to the other. We stayed there from about 11 am until 6 pm, and we covered most of the grounds. We were glad to have the experience, but we just wished there was more to it.


South Africa and Egypt




"And then there was the UN, and the UN UN-nazied the world..."


The Philippines

Sea Baby - the Expo mascot



South Korea


North Korea

We stopped for some ice cream because it was really hot that day!

Cool, creamy, and refreshing


China (it's shaped like an emperor's hat)



Switzerland (the track on top is for the chair lift)


Great Britain


At this point we were exhausted, and decided to take a break for lunch. Because it was early afternoon by this point, the lines had died down and we were able to find seats fairly quickly. There are lots of different restaurants spread throughout the entire Expo site, but we decided to stick with Chinese food rather than chancing it at an Italian joint, or copping out and going to a KFC. We ended up at the Shanghai Snacks Kingdom, which was a giant food court/cafeteria. You pick up a tray and pick out all the things you want, and then have the cashier ring up all your purchases. We got an assortment of goodies, making this one of the tastier meals that we had on the trip.

The massive cafeteria style restaurant. The brightly colored pictures along the walls are all of the food options available

Stinky tofu (though the least stinkiest that we had on the trip)

Pork skewers

Pan fried pork and leek dumplings

Pork and crab soup dumplings (xiao long bao)

Sauteed pork with noodles

After lunch, we continued on our way to see all of the country buildings.






Back to the USA

There were tons of other countries, so if you have any desire to see a certain one, just let me know and I’ll post the pic! You know what else we saw at the Expo?

Hell yeah!

I love this place! Josh wouldn’t let me check it out in China though, the party pooper.  There were a surprising number of Papa John stores though. We passed one in nearly every city we visited.

We had a little bit of time to kill before meeting up with the rest of our group to get the bus back to the hotel, so we had a soda and watched the sunset.

"New" Sprite - tea flavored

When we got back to the hotel, we cleaned up a bit and then headed back out to Nanjing Road, the shopping street in Shanghai, as we needed to pick up some more souvenirs. The street was totally packed with people, and while there were lots of clothing stores, there wasn’t much by the way of souvenir shops. We finally found one off an alley way, and got what we needed. Phew! We were pretty exhausted after spending the entire day walking around the Expo, so we skipped dinner and headed straight to bed. We needed to get up super early for our flight the next morning anyway.

The sea of people on Nanjing Road

China Day 8 – Wuxi (Yuantouzhu Park and Lake Tai) and Suzhou (Lingering Garden and Hanshan Temple)

Monday, June 7th, 2010 by virginia

We woke up bright and early in Wuxi and had the usual buffet breakfast at our hotel, the Jinling Hotel. It had the usual mix of Chinese and western offerings, with a welcome addition of salted duck.

Salted duck, sesame ball, fried egg, soup dumplings, roasted potatoes

Wontons with tofu and mixed greens, ready to be made into soup

After breakfast we boarded our bus and headed to Yuantouzhu Park, or “Turtle’s Head” Park, which is next to Lake Tai. The lake is humongous, four times the size of Singapore. Now I know firsthand that Singapore isn’t the biggest country, but a lake that is four times its size? Crazy! The park had a lovely path that followed the shore of the lake, and there were lots of pretty trees, bridges, and rock formations.

After leaving the park, we went to yet another designated shopping stop, this time, a pearl shop. We tasted tea made from pearl powder, tested creams made from crushed pearls, and also plucked some seed pearls that were growing in an oyster. We also saw gold pearls, which are quite unique but also super expensive. We did pick up some bracelets for souvenirs, my first purchase the entire trip!

From the pearl shop we drove to Suzhou and went straight to lunch at Choyers Restaurant, which, coincidentally, is attached to a silk factory. Can you guess where we went after lunch?

Oranginator orange drink

Tasty shrimp with heads

Sauteed cabbage

Sour tomato soup with potatoes and carrots

Deep fried fish with sweet and sour sauce

Sauteed lettuce

Sweet red bean soup

Pieces of chicken

Beef with onions

Scrambled eggs with tomato

Curry potatoes and fishballs

So yes, after lunch, we went into the silk factory. And despite my cynicism, it was actually kind of cool. We saw silkworms eating mulberry leaves and how silk is made from silkworm cocoons, which is just one long thread of silk. We also saw them making silk quilts from twin cocoons, when two worms get wrapped up in one pupal. The larvae are taken out of the cocoon, which is then dipped in water and stretched out, creating a silk panel. When the panels have been stretched multiple times and then dried, they are hand pulled into the size of a quilt. It takes many many layers of these panels to make up a quilt, which is soft and fluffy and almost seems like super delicate cotton. The quilts are supposed to be super warm, and so Josh and I couldn’t resist and ended up buying one to test out.

Inside the silk factory, where the machine is pulling the cocoons into a thread

Whole cocoons on the right, already unspooled cocoons in the bucket on the left (you can see the larvae are still inside)

Stretching out a twin cocoon

Stretching out a panel by hand to make a quilt

See how big the panel has stretched out?

After the silk factory, we went to Lingering Garden, which is one of four classical gardens in Suzhou. It’s not one of the largest ones, but it was still quite beautiful.

Our next stop was Hanshan Temple, which is located next to canal. Suzhou is often called “the Venice of the East” because of the canals that run through the city. We were able to climb one of the towers in the temple, which offered a nice view.

After leaving the temple, we took another long bus ride back into Shanghai. We arrived there at night, just in time for dinner. It was our last dinner with the tour, so they chose a slightly more upscale restaurant for us. It was Zip 18, on the 18th floor of the Bund Riverside Hotel. The food was good but the service was terrible. We had a hard time flagging anyone down, and this was the only place where tea was not free. Nevertheless, it was a bit bittersweet to know that the tour was coming to an end, even though I know we complained a great deal about the meals on this trip.

Fried rice

Soup with egg, ground meat, and cilantro

White shrimp with carrots and cucumber

Mapo tofu

Puffy fishballs wrapped in dough

Salt and pepper fried chicken with peppers

Broccoli cooked with bacon

Beef with onions cooked in a foil packet

Whole steamed fish

Sauteed spinach

After dinner we went to our hotel, the Swissotel Grand. We knew we were going to the Shanghai Expo the next day, so we actually ventured out of our hotel at night and went to a supermarket to pick up some snacks for the Expo. The city was brightly lit, and we saw the firecrackers from the opening ceremonies of the Expo in the distance. The area we were in had tons of shops and restaurants, and it was nice to get out on our own for a short while.

The view from our hotel room

China Day 7 – Huangzhou (West Lake, General Yue Fei’s Mausoleum, Tea Farm, Fei Lai Feng, Lin Yin Temple)

Monday, June 7th, 2010 by virginia

We woke up bright and early in Huangzhou and had a pretty good breakfast buffet at our hotel, the Grand Canal Crowne Plaza. I liked that it had a lot of savory lunch-type foods, since I’m not always the biggest fan of breakfast. Josh and I both ended up eating the same thing, in massive quantities.

Lo mein noodles, dan bing (egg crepes), pan fried pork dumplings (yum), fried spring rolls

We definitely filled up since we had a long day of walking ahead of us. Our first stop was the West Lake, which is famous for its beauty. We walked around the perimeter for a while (it’s massive), and then got on a boat and took a little cruise around the lake. The weather was great, and the boat ride was pretty relaxing.

After getting off the boat, we walked over to the temple area of General Yue Fei’s Mausoleum. He was a famous general known for his loyalty and was wrongly put to death.  The mausoleum was built to restore his honor, and there are statues of the people who betrayed him who are now forced to kneel in front of his tomb.

Our next stop was the requisite “shopping” stop, this time at a tea farm to taste/buy tea. The tea we had was called Dragon Well green tea, and it was tasty but super expensive. We like tea, but any old tea bag does us just fine, so we didn’t feel the need to spend so much money on tea leaves. We did learn about the antioxidant properties of green tea though, which was kind of cool. And the tea fields were pretty, as were the grounds of the farm.

After leaving the tea farm, we went to get lunch at a restaurant called Sky Beyond Sky. There were some interesting local dishes, but still nothing that really wowed us, unfortunately.

Pork belly with a super dark, slightly bitter leafy vegetable

Egg custard topped with soy sauce and oil

Fried tofu skin

Shrimp with heads

Sauteed lettuce

Fried beef coated with curry powder

Sauteed peppers and beef

Whole fish covered in a thick brown vinegar sauce (I guess it's a popular dish in this region)

Soup with greens picked from the lake

After lunch we went to see the Buddha carvings at Fei Lai Feng, which is translated into “Peak Flying from Afar.” The Buddhas are carved right into the side of a mountain, and they’re pretty impressive.

Right next to Fei Lai Feng is the Lin Yin Temple, which is just enormous. It’s made up of several different structures, and it’s quite a climb to the buildings on top of the hill. They gave us a lot of time to wander the grounds.

After leaving the Lin Yin Temple, we took another long drive to the city of Wuxi. We had dinner at Hongli Dynasty Restaurant, a large banquet hall with multiple rooms. There was a wedding going on while we were there, and the restaurant was definitely one of the nicer and prettier ones that we went to on our trip.

Pumpkin cubes

Pickled vegetable

Pickled string beans

Pieces of black duck

Yet another pickled vegetable

Duck feet

Braised chewy balls made from flour (texture similar to tofu skin)

Pork ribs

Corn and peas and some weird pink thing

Curry chicken and potatoes

Braised bean curd

Soup with tiny white fishes

Cabbage soup with meatballs

Steamed whole fish

Wuxi style xiao long baos (soup dumplings) - sweeter than the usual kind

After dinner we went to our hotel in Wuxi. Can you guess what we did? That’s right, we went to bed immediately. Hey, it was a long day with lots of walking and a super long bus ride!

China Day 6 – Xi’an (Art Museum), Shanghai (Temple Bazaar, the Bund), and Drive to Hangzhou

Saturday, June 5th, 2010 by virginia

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

Sauteed zucchini

Sauteed cauliflower

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.

Old Shanghai:

New Shanghai:

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

Zongzi innards

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

Bing innards

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

Sauteed cabbage

Eggplant in garlic sauce

Tangerine chicken

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.

China Day 5 – Xi’an (Wild Goose Pagoda, Terracotta Warriors, Imperial Dumpling Banquet)

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 by virginia

Another day, another breakfast buffet. The selection at the Shangri La Golden Flower Hotel wasn’t bad, but things weren’t as well prepared as the hotel in Beijing. They did have an interesting selection of dim sum though, and I liked being able to eat dumplings for breakfast.

Shrimp dumplings, steamed bun, fried egg, hash brown, spring roll filled with red bean paste

Congee with pickles and pork floss

Miso soup, assorted dim sum, dragon eyes, assorted other fruit

Soy milk with over-fried, stale cruellers

After breakfast we went to see the Wild Goose Pagoda, a tall Buddhist pagoda built in the Tang Dynasty and is now leaning slightly. We walked around for a bit and saw the bell and drum towers in front, a few of the temple buildings.

After walking the grounds of the Wild Goose Pagoda, we got on the road towards the Terracotta Warriors. They’re a bit outside of the city, so we stopped for lunch along the way. The tour guide warned us beforehand that the food wouldn’t be great, and sadly, it was true. The restaurant had a salad buffet that was decent, but the family style items were a bit lacking.

Soybean salad

Cucumber salad

Bean curd salad

Bean sprout salad

Crunchy clear noodle salad

Tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and orange salad with mayo dressing

Shrimp crackers

Dense flatbread

Pieces of chicken

Sweet potatoes with a sugar crust

Broad flat noodles

Sauteed celery

Sauteed cauliflower

Beef with a kind of winter melon

Sweet and sour chicken

Hand pulled noodle soup

After lunch, we made our way to see the Terracotta Warriors. They were built to guard the tomb of the first emperor of China, who founded the Qin dynasty. It is believed that there are over 8,000 of these warriors buried, each one unique and modeled after an actual person. In addition to the warriors, there are horses, chariots, and weapons.

There are four pits that have been excavated, though one is empty. When the soldiers were first discovered, they were covered in bright paint and intricately detailed, but the paint has faded over time and due to oxidation. They were also found in millions of pieces, having been looted and burned over the years. Archeologists are still digging for more soldiers, and continuing to restore ones that have already been found.

Standing in front of the pit and staring down at the terracotta army is a bit surreal. It’s astounding to think about how much effort and how much manpower went into building this emperor’s tomb. Each warrior is in a specific type of pose and wearing a specific type of clothing that indicates his rank, yet each face is very different.

After spending several hours walking around all of the pits, we headed back into the city for our imperial dumpling banquet dinner. I was super excited for this meal because I had great memories of the last time I was in Xi’an, with my mom in 2002. The dumpling banquet we had was one of my favorites, due to the intricately shaped dumplings and tasty fillings. I don’t know if we went to the same place, but this time we were at De Fa Chang, or DFC for short, which is one of the most famous places in Xi’an.

The dumplings ended up being decent, but not as good as I remembered. And the shapes weren’t the same as I remembered. I remembered have duck dumplings in the shape of ducks, little rabbit dumplings, etc. These were more generic in shape, and they brought a whole bunch of them all at once so I lost track in the middle of what was what. We were pretty stuffed by the end though, and really, who doesn’t love dumplings?

Driving by the old Xi'an city wall on our way back into the city

The drum tower

Park with the bell tower in the distance

The entrance to DFC

Cute dumpling display at the front of the restaurant

Giant golden dumpling statue

Roasted peanuts

Bean curd salad

Pork ribs

Sauteed greens

Cabbage and jellyfish salad

Sauteed spinach

Corn on the cob

Soy sauce noodles

Boiled pork and leek dumplings

Fried pork and leek dumplings with thin skin

Flaky dumplings filled with a sweet paste

Veggie dumplings

Shrimp dumplings

Spicy pork dumplings

Chicken dumplings

Dumplings filled with wood ear

Ham and mushroom dumplings

Pumpkin and pork dumplings

Spicy chicken dumplings

Grape dumplings

Tomato dumplings

Ok now is when I started to lose track, because they were bringing them out faster than I could write down what each one was. But here are the pics:

Last but not least, we had dumpling soup with miniature chicken dumplings, each about the size of a fingernail.

The tiny dumplings bubbling away

See how teeny they are

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and promptly went to bed, as was our custom in China. We had hoped to take a walk on the city wall, which was beautifully lit up, but our hotel was a bit far and our guide was worried about us getting back safely. Too bad though, because Xi’an did seem like it had a more lively nightlife than Beijing. Maybe next time.

The drum tower all lit up

China Day 4 – Beijing (Temple of Heaven) and Xi’an (Tang Dynasty Show, Hot Pot Dinner)

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 by virginia

Our last day in Beijing started off with yet another tasty breakfast from the buffet at our hotel. While the New Otani was not the nicest hotel we stayed in, I must say that it did have the best breakfast, with the most options and the greatest variety of cuisines.

Spring rolls, steamed pork bun, bacon, waffle, pain au chocolat, focaccia bread

Wonton soup

Pain au chocolat, peach tart, pound cake

After breakfast we headed to the Temple of Heaven, where the Chinese emperors used to go to pray for a good harvest. Now the grounds are a public park and boy, was it a happening place! We were there earlier in the morning and it was jam packed with groups of people (mostly middle aged retired folks) exercising, singing, dancing, playing instruments, playing games (cards, chess, and dominoes), and just hanging out. It was quite noisy but there was a festive atmosphere, and it was really nice to see people meeting up with their friends and enjoying their free time.

The temple itself was also quite lovely, with lots of bright colors and intricate patterns.

After the Temple of Heaven, we had lunch before heading to the airport for our flight. We ate at the Yanyulou restaurant at the Yanxiang Hotel in Beijing.

Fried triangles filled with curried vegetables

Chicken with sweet and sour sauce cooked in parchment paper

Meat with peppers and onions

Sauteed green beans

Super sweet egg drop soup with corn

Fried pork strips

Super fishy fried fish floss

Sauteed bok choy

Sauteed cabbage

After lunch, we took the short flight to Xi’an, but landed in an awful sandstorm. There was a huge cloud of brown dust when we came down, and the turbulence was almost unbearable. The sky had a dirty haze to it, and when we stepped out of the airport, we could taste the dry, dusty sand when we breathed. Totally gross. But the city itself was actually quite nice, and seemed very lively. We saw tons of vendors selling barbecued meat on sticks, and I wish we had a chance to stop and eat some.

After we got into the city, we had an early dinner at a local hot pot restaurant located next to the Xi’an Hotel. Hot pot is kind of like fondue. We each had a small bubbling pot of broth over a flame flavored with various spices. The table was full of raw meat, vegetables, and noodles, and we selected our items to dunk into the boiling broth. Once cooked, we plucked the items out and dipped it into peanut sauce and sa cha sauce, a sort of Chinese barbecue sauce. It’s a fun process, though with so many steaming pots on the table, it got really hot. The broth at the end is really flavorful, having cooked all the various ingredients, and drinking it is the best part (for me at least).

Bubbling broth awaiting ingredients

Super thin slices of beef for dunking

Thin slices of lamb

Fish balls

Slices of potato

Fresh noodles

Rice noodles

Bean curd noodles


Leafy green vegetable

Another leafy green vegetable

Raw eggs for poaching in the broth

Fried rice

Peanut dipping sauce

The spread on the table

After dinner, we enjoyed a Tang Dynasty show, with singing and dancing. The period costumes were gorgeous, and the musicians were really talented. It was actually pretty interesting to watch, even if we didn’t know what they were saying/singing.

Afterward we went back to our hotel, the Shangri La Golden Flower Hotel, and promptly fell asleep. The day wasn’t as strenuous as some of the others we had, but that flight really did wear us out!

China Day 3 – Beijing (Olympic Village, Great Wall of China, Peking Duck Banquet)

Sunday, May 30th, 2010 by virginia

Our second day in Beijing was one of my favorite days of the whole trip. We didn’t have to get quite as early a start so we were able to sleep in an extra hour before having a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. Though the buffet options remained the same, there was so much variety that we got to try other items we didn’t get on the first day.

Purple rice congee, assorted pickles, potato wedges, grilled beef

Sunnyside down eggs, fried rice, pound cake, fried noodles, ham, grilled beef

Fried spring rolls and fried dumplings

After breakfast we took a short drive to see the Olympic village, where the 2008 Beijing Olympics were held. I really enjoyed this particular Olympics and it was great to see the iconic Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, both of which were pretty huge.

The Bird's Nest

The Water Cube

Hotel next to the village that is supposed to look like a dragon, with a huge LCD screen on the taller building in front

Olympic torch

After we walked around the Olympic village for a bit, we had some time to kill before lunch so they took us to a “Jade Museum”. Translation: shop selling really expensive jade wares that gives the tour company a cut on the sales. There was one guy behind a glass working on a piece of jade (carving, polishing), and that was the extent of the “museum” aspect. There were some pretty spectacular pieces on display though, with the giant cabbage being our favorite.

The "museum display"

The really cool jade cabbage

Jade tiger

Jade boat

After window shopping.. err.. browsing? viewing? the pieces (all of which are for sale), we got on the road and headed for the highlight of our trip, the Great Wall of China. On the way we stopped at the Friendship Shop to have lunch. It was basically a huge souvenir shop and a tourist restaurant combined as one.

Thin slices of BBQ beef

Pickled cucumbers

Grape tomatoes

Slices of sausage

Super bland pork soup with rice noodles and mushrooms

Spring rolls filled with red bean paste

Bok choy with mushrooms

Beef with peppers and onions

Deep fried fish with sweet and sour sauce

Chicken and cucumber

Sauteed pork, scrambled egg, cucumber, and black wood ear fungus

French fries

Fried cumin lamb on a stick - yum!

Orange and apple slices

The food wasn’t spectacular but we definitely needed to fuel up in anticipation of our next stop, the Great Wall of China. This was by far the highlight of our trip, and is really something pretty spectacular. We drove for an hour into the mountains, and our first glimpse of the wall just made my heart race. There are several different “sections” that you can visit, and we went to one of the more popular ones, at Badaling.

We spent several hours walking on the wall, and some sections are pretty steep. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy and hazy on the day we were there, so we didn’t have much visibility in the distance. Luckily the weather held up until after we got off the wall, as it started pouring rain as we were waiting to get back on the bus. Out of all the sightseeing destinations in China, the Great Wall is my favorite.

We were pretty exhausted from climbing up and down all the stairs on the wall, so most of us slept on the drive back into the city. Our next destination, however, perked us up right away. We arrived a restaurant for our peking duck banquet, something that we had been looking forward to. I don’t know the name of the restaurant though, because I’m illiterate. We took a picture of the sign in front, if someone can read Chinese and let me know what it says, I’d really appreciate it!

The duck turned out to be decent, but not wonderful. The skin was crispy on the outside but there was still a big fatty layer underneath that I found off-putting, and it was greasier than I prefer. They slice the duck right in front of you, which was impressive, but I didn’t like the thin slivers they gave us, as I like a meaty bite when I eat peking duck. Still, I thought this was one of the better meals we had on the trip.

Lotus root

Strips of spicy dried beef

Spicy pickled cucumbers

Cubes of pumpkin

Sauteed pork with egg, cucumber, and black wood ear fungus

Beef with peppers and onions

Ground meat wrapped in a fried skin

Meat with assorted mushrooms

Fried bird's nest with ground bits of meat wrapped in a lettuce leaf

Whole steamed fish

Bok choy with mushrooms and bamboo shoots

Braised lettuce with oyster sauce

Egg drop soup - super sweet

And now for the highlight of the meal: the peking duck!

The chef preparing to carve the duck on a cart tableside

The first cut

Meticulously cutting thin slivers off the bones

He really cut the duck neatly and cleanly

The slivers of duck arranged on a platter

Thin crepes to wrap the duck in

Hoisin sauce, cucumber, and scallion to go with the duck

A dab of hoisin sauce, some cucumbers and scallion, and a thin slice of duck with skin, ready to be rolled up in the crepe and eaten

As I said, the duck wasn’t the best that we’ve had but it was pretty good. They did give us a lot of duck, though we ran out of crepes in the end so we just ended up eating it plain. We were pretty exhausted after climbing the Great Wall so we got back to the hotel after dinner and promptly fell asleep. It was a pretty good day overall, jade “museum” aside.

China Day 2 – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace)

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 by virginia

We spent our first full day in China touring some of the major attractions in Beijing. Our day started off bright and early with a pretty good breakfast buffet at our hotel, the New Otani Chang Fu Gong. The dining room was bright and airy, and there were people doing Tai Chi right outside the window in the hotel garden. We had many western and Asian options to choose from, so we both decided to mix it up a bit.

My breakfast plate:

Steamed pork buns, grilled marinated beef, sunny side down eggs, bacon, and a croissant

Josh’s breakfast plate:

Pain au chocolat, omelet, bacon, fried rice, grill marinated beef, steamed pork buns, peach tart

Our first stop on the tour was a shopping street near Tiananmen Square. There were lots of western name brand stores, but the buildings were all old Chinese style. It was kind of funny to see such a weird mismatch. Our guide didn’t give us any time to go shopping, but we did get to admire some of the buildings along the street.

Pretty blossoms near Tiananmen Square

The entrance to the shopping street

Starbucks, of course

Cool lanterns lining the street

Intricate detail on some of the buildings

Afterward, we walked the short distance over to Tiananmen Square. It’s the largest city square in the world, and it’s quite hard to imagine just how big it is until you actually see it. The square was pretty crowded, and we were shocked to see how many people had already lined up to view the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. We walked across the length of the square, which was quite a hike. The highlight was the iconic Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City.

The line of people on the left stretches for longer than the eye can see

Monument to the People's Heroes

Tiananmen Gate

Next we walked through the Forbidden City, which is also massive beyond imagination. There is building after building, courtyard after courtyard, and it seemingly never ends. The buildings, while intricate, all start to look the same after a while but are still incredibly impressive. We walked inside for hours, but I’m sure we barely covered a fraction of the city.

After all the walking we did, we were starving so luckily the tour had arranged for us to have lunch before we toured the Summer Palace in the afternoon. The restaurant they took us to was called “Jing Jiou Long”, roughly translated to “Gold Nine Dragons”. Not really sure if that’s what it’s meant to be called, but this is about as good as my Chinese is.

The name of the restaurant in Chinese

Because all of the meals we had on this trip were arranged by the tour company, we didn’t get a choice of what to eat or where we could eat. All the meals were served family style, and we were seated in groups of 8-10 people. Basically we just ate what they gave us, some of it good, some of it bad. To be perfectly honest, we couldn’t identify a lot of the dishes on this trip (all the meats looked and tasted the same) so we tried asking the servers, or we just guessed. I took notes on most of the dishes but from here on out, I’ll just describe each dish rather than critique them.

Our meals came with a glass of beer or soda, and unlimited quantities of hot tea. The local beers were pretty light and tasteless but refreshing (as long as they were cold).

Assorted sauteed vegetables - onions, carrots, cucumbers, black wood ear fungus

Eggplant in garlic sauce

Chicken in orange sauce - super sweet dish

Pork with a thin, stalk-like green vegetable

Sauteed cucumber with pork and black wood ear fungus

Red and green peppers with pork ribs

Whole steamed fish

Assorted sauteed mushrooms with pork

A light soup with mushrooms and leafy green vegetables

After lunch we drove over to the Summer Palace, which is NW of the center of Beijing. It’s a huge complex located on a lake, comprised of many buildings and gardens. There is a covered walkway, called the long corridor, that stretches for 728 meters and is covered in over 14,000 paintings. The Summer Palace is one of the prettiest places we visited on this trip.

After taking a ride in a dragon boat across the lake, we headed to a Chinese acrobats show, where we watched some talented youngsters dance, tumble, and contort. The highlight of the show though was when five motorcyclists rode inside a not-so-large metal ball cage  – terrifying but spectacular!

The motorcycle cage

Those trails of light? The freakin motorcycles!

After the show we headed to dinner at Yu Shan restaurant. Yet another tour company choice, served family style.

Crunchy jellyfish

Slices of sausage

Savory pumpkin "jello"

Cubes of bean "jello"

Black pepper beef

Pieces of fish in a xiaoshing wine flavored sauce

Mushroom soup

Tangerine chicken

Sauteed pork and cucumber

Fried pork strips wrapped in bean curd

Fried chicken strips

Bok choy and shitaake mushrooms

Cabbage soup

Sweet, dense triangles of mantao-like bread

Sesame buns to fill with ground pork bits

Bean paste filled with haw fruit and dipped in sugar

Phew! That was a long post. But it was a long day for us, jam packed with lots of sightseeing and lots of food. I think most of our China posts will end up like this, but please let me know if it gets to be too much – I can always cut back on the pics. I’m just excited to share our experiences with everyone, and I’m glad to be posting again!

China Day 1 – Flight and Beijing

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by virginia

We left for China on Thursday afternoon, flying on Air China from JFK to Beijing. The flight itself was fine, with minimal turbulence, but the amenities on the plane were lacking (no personal tvs and bad movies at random intervals on grainy projection screens). The food was pretty decent though, as far as coach airplane food goes. Nothing spectacular by any means, but definitely edible and relatively flavorful. We ended up having two meals on the way over, dinner and lunch, and while the entrees changed, the sides did not. Both times we were given a tuna salad and a roll on the side, and a pre-packaged mango shortcake for dessert. I had chicken and rice first, which came in a nice black bean sauce.

Chicken in black bean sauce with rice, tuna salad, bread, and mango shortcake

Josh had beef and rice, with chewy beef and blandly steamed broccoli and carrots.

Beef with rice, broccoli, and carrots

For my second meal, I had seafood noodles. The noodles were pretty limp but still had some chewiness to them, and the four accompanying shrimp were fairly edible.

Seafood noodles with shrimp

I don’t remember what Josh had. Pork maybe? It was in a gloppy brown sauce with more bland broccoli. Meh.

Possibly pork with rice and broccoli

We landed in Beijing in the early evening but by the time we got through immigration, got our bags, met up with members of our tour group, and took the hour bus ride from the airport to the city, it was pretty late. We were still hungry though so we ventured out of our hotel, the New Otani, and went in search for food. We wound up at a restaurant on the street behind the hotel that seemed to be the most crowded. The restaurant’s specialty appeared to be seafood (like whole fish in a spicy chili broth), but none of us were in the mood for fish so we ended up picking mostly familiar dishes and a few fun snacks.

The name of the restaurant on the menu

We started out with some beer, of course, one that was local to Beijing. It was pretty light and fairly tasteless, but refreshing enough.

Yanjing beer

Our first dish was sweet and sour deep fried crullers (yeo tiao, or “oil sticks”). These crullers are popular in Taiwan wrapped in sesame pancake and dunked into bowls of hot soy milk, so I was intrigued to see them served in a different way. The sticky sweet and sour sauce was more sweet than sour, and had a subtle maple flavor to it. It went well with the crunchy pieces of cruller. I actually liked this dish a lot, even though I originally thought it would be weird.

Sweet and sour deep fried crullers

We had to order Josh’s favorite dish, shredded pork in garlic sauce. It had a good amount of spice and lots of fresh ginger mixed in. I was only slightly turned off by the weirdly soft texture of the pork, but that was something I would have to learn to deal with over the course of the next week.

Shredded pork in garlic sauce

I was excited to have the marinated duck, since I’ve always found poultry to be better in Asia. This was a bit disappointing because the duck was quite small, and the skin was not rendered and super fatty. Flavor-wise it was good though, with lots of duck flavor shining through.

Marinated duck

The mapo tofu we ordered was SUPER spicy and burned my mouth so much that not even plain rice or beer could calm it down. You can just see how much bright red oil is coming off the dish, though Josh really enjoyed it. I like a little spice, but not when my mouth goes totally numb. The chunks of tofu were good though, a bit firm but still quite silky.

Super spicy mapo tofu

From the snack section of the menu, we ordered baked buns with sesame. They were nicely browned on the outside with a lot of sesame sprinkled on, and the inside was filled with pork.

Baked pork buns with sesame

The bun part was a bit thick, but the pork inside was pretty tasty.

Porky innards

For dessert, we had fried sesame balls with black sesame paste filling. I’ve had similar balls in Chinatown but they’re usually filled with red bean paste. These were also significantly larger than the ones in Chinatown, practically the size of softballs. We asked our waitress to cut them in half so they would be more manageable.

Fried sesame balls filled with black sesame paste

Overall we thought the food at Fei Teng Yu Xiang was quite good. Everything was well seasoned and there was lots of spice involved, as it is a Sichuan restaurant. We weren’t in the mood for seafood but I’ve read that it’s their specialty, so maybe we missed out but I still liked what we had. We definitely ordered way too much food for the four of us but the meal was super cheap – less than US$25 TOTAL, including the beers we had. It’s hard to beat that!

Fei Teng Yu Xiang
Beijing, China