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Nibbling Through China : Part II

…. After a long bus ride back to our base in Chengdu from the giant Buddha in Leshan, we were ready for a quiet spot to have dinner.  That can be hard to find in China, but we ended up enjoying a typical Chinese style meal in a gated courtyard tucked away from the noisy street.  The standout on our table was a salad – a julienned toss of smoked tofu, red pepper, cucumber and carrots in a vinegary dressing – really delicious.

Dragonfruit – lovely, delicious & very common in China!

The next day, our last in Chengdu, we had a traditional Chongqing hotpot lunch – when we walked into the restaurant our eyes burned from the sichuan pepper laced steam rising from the bubbling pots!  Chongqing is a city in southwestern China famous for it’s hot weather and spicy, spicy hotpots.  Mouths on fire, after lunch we headed to the lively People’s Park to relax in its famous and very old teahouse.  Then we caught our flight back to Beijing!

Some serious hotpot eaters. Look at all those fresh ingredients!

On Sunday morning Kate had us scheduled to attend a Malayasian brunch in the Hutong, the same place where we’d attended our cooking class the week before.  The brunch was prepared by a special Chinese Malaysian chef.  It was a wonderful event and we enjoyed talking to other Westerners about their experiences in the East.  Malaysian cuisine is truly delicious, fresh and unique – a great place to try it at home is the Banana Leaf on Arch St in Center City, Philadelphia (one of Kate’s favorite restaurants).

A plateful of Malaysian goodies!

After a visit to the Drum Tower and a little boat ride on Houhai Lake, we spent the afternoon wandering around the traditional narrow lanes and alleys, stopping to enjoy a couple of craft beers at Great Leap Brewing.  Founded two years ago by a man from Ohio, this brewery is an important fixture in China’s emerging craft beer scene. Later, at a trendy cocktail bar called Mao Mao Chong we played more pinochle while sipping Asian inspired artisinal cocktails, our favorite was called “Sichuan Mule” and its ingredients included sichuan pepper infused tequila and spicy mango syrup. Dinner that evening was at a sidewalk table at a seafood restaurant on Gui Jie – or Ghost Street – at night the street is just blocks and blocks of restaurants with a sea of red lanterns hanging from their eaves. The restaurants display what they are offering in fountains and tanks and I felt like I was in a pet market – lots of turtles, shellfish, snails, frogs, fish, crabs, etc.

Seafood in a restaurant on Gui Jie.

On Monday morning Kate made a western omelet frittata in her apartment which is quite a feat since Chinese homes don’t have ovens!  Then we were off for our last adventure – The Great Wall!  The wall did not disappoint, and after all the walking we were starving.  The kids took us to their favorite neighborhood restaurant, which is owned by Uyghurs, a Muslim minority of Turkic descent from Xinjiang, the northwestern-most province of China.  The food was great & very different.  I particularly enjoyed the fried nang bread and lamb. There was also a wide noodle dish, they translate them as “flour slices,” with a tomato-based sauce and the most traditional Xinjiang dish, “da pan ji,” or “big plate chicken” – a huge plate with one whole chopped up chicken, curried potatoes, carrots, peppers and noodles – the ultimate Chinese comfort food!
After a quick visit to Tian’anmen Square on Tuesday and one last lunch of traditional Chinese dishes we bid zaijian to China and headed to the airport for the long flight home…

With my husband, Herb, at dinner among the lanterns on Gui Jie.

Nibbling Through China

Now that I’ve been in China for a week, it’s time to make note of a few culinary experiences! We are currently in CHENGDU, the capital city of the Sichuan Province. Its also the culinary hot pot of China and a UNESCO recognized world city of gastronomy!

Enjoying dumplings in Beijing!

We’ve been able to enjoy some amazing and authentic food, thanks to my daughter Kate & her fiancé Jim. They live in Beijing and have a good handle of the language and culture. We spent our first two nights in Beijing where on our first night we a enjoyed an authentic Peking duck – Kate even had to place an order for it that morning.

Carving the duck.

The next night we had a wonderful dinner at a Yunnan restaurant. Yunnan is the southwestern province bordering Viet Nam, Burma, Thailand and other countries – the food is like a fusion of Chinese and the cuisines of those places. We were with several of the kids’ friends, so we ordered many dishes, all so good! Kate has been learning Yunnan cooking from a friend from that province so she will teach a Yunnan class at the Cooking Cottage when she gets home.
Speaking of cooking classes, Kate & I took one at a place in Beijing called the Hutong – it was all about Dim Sum. Very imformative with delicious results – I’m anxious to give the recipes a try.

Kate & I with the Singapore Noodles we cooked up at The Hutong.

In Xi’an, our next stop, we wandered through the Chinese Muslim, or Hui, quarter. Xi’an was the former capital of China during the Silk Road days, and lies at the end of that famous trading route so the food has a Middle Eastern flair. We explored a street bazaar there, eating hot salty spiced walnuts and then sat down to a wonderful street food lunch of  “yang rou po mo,” a soup of braised lamb and shredded flat bread with vermicelli, garlic, wood ear mushrooms, ginger, green onions & cilantro. So delicious – even my non-mushroom and lamb eating husband loved it. The cost for lunch with drinks – about one third of what the four coffees we had at Starbucks an hour earlier cost!

Fruit for sale at night in Xi’an.

That evening we had an amazing hot pot dinner after cycling around the top of the wall that surrounds the city.  Hot pot is a traditional Chinese gastronomic experience that is both tasty and invigorating.  You sit around a table with a big boiling pot of spicy broth in the middle and you cook the raw ingredients in the pot yourself, it’s so spicy and yummy and lots of fun.. Of course cold beer helps!
In Chengdu we are enjoying the wonderful peppery noodles, the most famous are called dan dan mian, in tiny little restaurants you find tucked into lanes everywhere. Sometimes all the employees come out to get a good look at us – they don’t get too many western patrons. Our favorite here so far has been The Little Rain Drop – only 6 tables.

Dinner at the Little Raindrop in Chengdu.

Today we took a cab, several buses & a rickshaw to arrive at the dock in Leshan to board a boat to see The Leshan Buddha – literally carved into the side of a cliff, this magnificent Buddha is the largest in the world.

The Leshan Buddha.

We had lunch in a fly – so named because it’s a restaurant so small people literally fly in & out for their food. Also, the sanitary conditions leave much to be desired, though I didn’t actually see any flies! The noodles & dumplings were spicy and delicious and  the veggies were fresh and green! Also, you could throw your trash right on the floor!
We are headed back to Chengdu and…… It’s almost dinner time, so stay tuned!

Dried fruit for sale in Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter.

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