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My parents took me to Quan Ju De when I visited them in Beijing earlier this month. The duck, as described above, was top-notch. Aside from the signature roast duck, we were also served duck feet (as a cold appetizer), duck kidneys (sauteed with vegetables), duck neck, and duck liver. A lovely meal all around.

Couldn't bring myself to eat the sea horses and grasshoppers on a stick that were sold by the Wangfujing street food vendors, though. I'm fairly adventurous when it comes to food, but have to draw the line somewhere!

We also had some great meals in Xian (including a dinner with 18 types of dumplings), Yangzhou, and Shanghai, but unfortunately I forgot the names of the restaurants.

--

[This thread has been split off from the Hong Kong thread, where sparkycom has some Beijing reviews in this post.]

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This is also super-belated, but my sister, her fiance, and I went to the Olympics last August. Our parents live in an ex-pat apartment complex across the street from a behemoth shopping complex called Shin Kong Place (a cross between Tysons Galleria and White Flint) on the east side of town. There is a food court on the lower level with a gazillion different kinds of regional Chinese cuisine, including an A&J! My mom did not take us there because we ended up eating three times in two weeks at Din Tai Fung (world-famous chain of dumpling joints) on the 6th floor. ZOMG it was even better than advertised. I don't think any soup dumplings in the DC area are anywhere near as good when it comes to the richness of broth and texture of dumpling skin. Their fried rice is surprisingly great as well. I wonder if the quality at the Los Angeles-area branches are comparable. They really need to open one up on the east coast, here if not NYC!

Another restaurant worth trying at Shin Kong Place is Bellagio, a trendy Taiwanese joint where all the female waitstaff have spiky short hairdos. My favorite dishes were the shrimp-stuffed youtiao and the stewed fatty pork ("lu rou") over rice. Best non-Shin Kong Place meal was at South Beauty, a Szechuan restaurant in my dad's office building. Their mushroom soup was laced with some kind of liquid crack, and their rack of pork ribs had a perfect combination of spice and crunch.

My only disappointment, apart from getting the stomach flu during the second week, was the whole duck at Beijing Da Dong. It was fine, and certainly less greasy than what we would've had elsewhere, but nothing spectacular taste-wise.

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My mom did not take us there because we ended up eating three times in two weeks at Din Tai Fung (world-famous chain of dumpling joints) on the 6th floor. ZOMG it was even better than advertised.

Starts to salivate. My avatar is a pic I took when I was in Shanghai branch of Din Tai Fung two years ago. I heard the CA branch is decent, but not as good as the Asia branches.

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I've been in Shanghai now for about a week, leaving tomorrow. After spending all day wearing a suit and sitting in a meeting room, I really wanted to eat simple and casual. A few eating recaps:

Due to my meetings, I ate most lunches at Food Live down in the basement of the Jin Mao Tower. Solid lunch fair, with a variety of choices including clay pot dishes and good noodles. I ventured over to the Bund and to Nanjing Dong Lu, but found it touristy and too much of a headache to deal with the constant stream of people trying to sell me watches, dvds, cigarettes, and 'services', so I moved on to some of the quieter areas of Shanghai Puxi.

South Beauty was a real winner, serving pan-China cuisine, so far as I could tell. It appears to be run by a larger restaurant group and like many successful restaurants in China has multiple branches (at least two in Shanghai and one in Beijing that I know of). We went to the one on the 10th floor of the Super Brand Mall (Lujiazui Metro station) in Pudong. We ordered 16 dishes for the 10 of us--perhaps more than we needed, but the bill per person with beer was less than $25. Real highlights were the whole fish served in something like a sweet and sour sauce, the crispy jellyfish, and the pork belly (served as part of what was essentially a Chinese charcuterie plate). The view over the river to the Bund is great.

Wujiang Road is one of the Shanghai snack streets (Nanjing Road West Metro station), and I ventured over there one afternoon. The Shanghai daily reported that there was a food festival going on, but it seemed like a typical Chinese snack street to me other than the stage that was set up. I followed the crowds, and wherever there was a sizable queue I jumped in, paid my 5-10 yuan and waited to see what I would get. I had some very good xiao long bao, some really good hand pulled noodles, served cold in a spicy sauce with vegetables, and the ubiquitous meat skewers. Less exciting but still interesting were what I could only describe as noodle pretzels, bunches of noodles braided and rolled in something savory and baked or fried before being rolled in something savory (couldn't quite place it). Pretty funky. There were durian sellers there, but it must have been frozen as the smell was not overwhelming unless you were less then 6 or so feet away.

I ducked into a Chinese place one night just north of the Dongtai Lu market and had Hainan Chicken Rice. Having never had that before, I had no idea what I was in for. The flavor was good, but it seemed like it was just, literally just, this side of cooked, and while I enjoyed it the whole time in the back of my head I was thinking that I was headed for some food poisoning. I was fine.

Dinner one night at Sichuan Citizen on Donghu Road in the French Concession area (Changshu Rd Metro station) was pretty good--dirt cheap, of course. The menu didn't wow me but I found black chicken with sichuan peppercorns and hot peppers and more of the crispy jellyfish. The chicken was interesting visually, and tasted good, but wow was that dish hot--the chicken to pepper ratio must have been 1 to 6. The crispy jellyfish was good but South Beauty's was better. This is a good restaurant for hanging out--good mellow vibe, with good music, good food, in an area full of Expats.

I also grabbed some noodles one afternoon at Ajisen Ramen--I wish we had this chain in the US--good simple fast noodles.

All that is left on my list for this trip is more dumplings, potentially at Din Tai Fung this afternoon.

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Just to follow up on my last post--had a late lunch at Din Tai Fung in Xintiandi and the xiao long bao were fantastic. I'm no dumpling connossieur, but these were so flavorful, so perfectly made--wow. The service was spot on, the pacing of the dumplings coming to my table ideal. For me a great way to end my trip to Shanghai.

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Going on a tour that covers Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. I've never been to China and could use a nice guidebook that has good restaurant coverage as well as food market coverage. Any suggestions? Most of our meals are actually included in our package but I don't want to eat breakfast buffet for 8 straight days at our hotels and I have no idea where the tour is taking us for dinner. I need a backup plan!

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Going on a tour that covers Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. I've never been to China and could use a nice guidebook that has good restaurant coverage as well as food market coverage. Any suggestions? Most of our meals are actually included in our package but I don't want to eat breakfast buffet for 8 straight days at our hotels and I have no idea where the tour is taking us for dinner. I need a backup plan!

I think you've gotten good advice at Chow and think you shouldn't be worried about being ripped off in the taxicabs. For my trip there 2yrs ago, I just went with the flow on the tours. They really don't like you deviating. Expect to be sent to bad or mediocre places for lunch, as well as shops that they have dealings with. If you are worried about the taxis, then keep an eye on the meter for sum total from point A to B and then for the same next trip, make sure the meter ends up the same. If it's off too much, you can argue with them about it.

Btw, it won't be that easy to grab baozi in the mornings because, iirc, there aren't any at the carts. The carts mostly sell 蛋餅 (egg-crepes?). There was a baozi place that was pretty good in Beijing by the central shopping square, 王府丼.

There aren't a lot of street food in Shanghai that I can recall. For XLB, the best place that I liked was 佳佳小籠包. It is on 62 liyuan road (麗園) & it was juicy and flavorful (eat the 82RMB crab roe special). The shop is tiny, so expect to wait for a seat. 浦東 (pudong) is the place to be with a lot of shopping/urban district with a wide-variety of restaurants. Puxi (浦西) is less-exciting, but has a nice K-town area (with dog meat too!). A big culture shock for me was actually how the soymilk tastes here - it has a slight burnt-smokiness to it that can be off-putting. If you like bakeries, I ended up buying a lot breads at BreadTalk and Ichiban (my brother just informed me of a new Taiwanese-opened bakery called 35 or 38degreeC). There was also The Bund is beautiful at night and the stroll along there is nice too.

Beijing has a huge, very popular-but-you'll-get-slightly-ripped-off street food area that has scorpions, other bugs and assorted popular street food also near 王府丼. They're at slightly higher vendor prices compared to a supposedly different part of town that has street food vending too. But I thought it was a lot of fun.

I thought the Xian dumpling place was overrated but probably because we went with the inexpensive version. The (muslim?) area behind where that restaurant is located has a lot of street food. Don't flame me, but I really liked the Xian Starbucks by the subway station. They has pretty good pastries, and if you are a coffee addict, Starbucks will be the best place to get coffee, as the coffee trend has not caught on here. Don't buy any of the terra cotta statues from anyone, as most of them are fake-fakes. Nearby the terra cotta area is this place:

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which had pretty good noodles. This is also the longest stroked character to-date, I think. The other must have for me were the coal-roasted yams - these were sooooooo good. I guess it's because they were warm and it was cold when I went, but the yellow-kinds are yummy.

You will be bombarded by tea shops on your tour, I'm sure, stopping at tea places to be pushed to buy their tea (Same with jade). If it's the grassy kind, well, beware for fakes.

Do NOT ever buy water bottles from a street vendor, but from a grocery or convenience store. Street vendors usually rebottle tap water, which you also shouldn't drink. This goes for anywhere.

Bring lots of tissue packets and wipes or sanitizer because some places run out, especially at the lunch stops you'll be making on these tours. There are a lot of squatters still, so prepare to work your muscles. Have fun!

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Going on a tour that covers Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. I've never been to China and could use a nice guidebook that has good restaurant coverage as well as food market coverage. Any suggestions? Most of our meals are actually included in our package but I don't want to eat breakfast buffet for 8 straight days at our hotels and I have no idea where the tour is taking us for dinner. I need a backup plan!

Which hotels are you staying at? The breakfast buffet at the Crowne Plaza in Beijing was surprisingly excellent. I can't say the same for the ones where we stayed in Xian and Shanghai though.

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This is also super-belated, but my sister, her fiance, and I went to the Olympics last August. Our parents live in an ex-pat apartment complex across the street from a behemoth shopping complex called Shin Kong Place (a cross between Tysons Galleria and White Flint) on the east side of town. There is a food court on the lower level with a gazillion different kinds of regional Chinese cuisine, including an A&J! My mom did not take us there because we ended up eating three times in two weeks at Din Tai Fung (world-famous chain of dumpling joints) on the 6th floor. ZOMG it was even better than advertised. I don't think any soup dumplings in the DC area are anywhere near as good when it comes to the richness of broth and texture of dumpling skin. Their fried rice is surprisingly great as well. I wonder if the quality at the Los Angeles-area branches are comparable. They really need to open one up on the east coast, here if not NYC!

Another restaurant worth trying at Shin Kong Place is Bellagio, a trendy Taiwanese joint where all the female waitstaff have spiky short hairdos. My favorite dishes were the shrimp-stuffed youtiao and the stewed fatty pork ("lu rou") over rice. Best non-Shin Kong Place meal was at South Beauty, a Szechuan restaurant in my dad's office building. Their mushroom soup was laced with some kind of liquid crack, and their rack of pork ribs had a perfect combination of spice and crunch.

My only disappointment, apart from getting the stomach flu during the second week, was the whole duck at Beijing Da Dong. It was fine, and certainly less greasy than what we would've had elsewhere, but nothing spectacular taste-wise.

One-week trip to Beijing earlier this month to see my parents. Din Tai Fung is as good as we remembered. Same with the mushroom soup/rack of pork ribs South Beauty.

New restaurants (for me) this time around:

(1) Hai Di Lao (a popular chain of hot pot restaurants), which had super-friendly and attentive service and lots of variety in make-your-own sauces. The noodle-spinning performance is quite entertaining.

(2) Fei Teng Yu Xiang, known for its fish poached in spicy/numbing oil filled with Szechuan peppercorns and chiles. Great stuff. We really liked the dumplings and the yam with blueberry sauce as well.

(3) Bai Family Mansion, complete with dance and face-changing ("bianlian") performances. Lots of unusual items on the menu like deer meat and foie gras in aspic. Food is way overpriced but the overall dining experience is one-of-a-kind.

(4) Yonghe King, a fast food noodle chain. I think we got sick from a lunch here, but can't say for sure.

(5) The breakfast buffet at the St. Regis Beijing is spectacular, possibly the best I've had anywhere. It's just a buffet, but still. The breakfast at the Westin Beijing Chaoyang's Executive Lounge was pretty good too.

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Irony: the greatest soup dumplings in Shanghai still come from Taiwan-based chain Din Tai Fung, where they're small, hauntingly translucent, and bulging with soup. But it would be a crime to miss their black truffle and pork xiaolongbao. At 88RMB (approx $13.25 in Oct 2010) per basket of five they're pricey, but the intoxicating truffle aroma compels you to reorder more.

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We've just returned from a two week journey through Shanghai and the lower Yangtze region. My siblings have been there before, but it was my first visit to the region where my parents spent their childhood and where my ancestors once lived, and it was personally unforgettable. That was the entire point of my trip, and the reason we went with my mom - who both holds a degree in Chinese history and is a foodie in her own right - as our tour guide. We visited Hangzhou, Wujiang, Suzhou, Nanjing, Yangzhou, and a few places in-between before returning to Shanghai.

Of course, we ate an alarming number of meals along the way, seeking out the local specialties whenever possible. I've never eaten so much Huaiyang food in my life, both incredible and so-so. Despite having visited numerous times over the past 20 years, mom still found an item or two she hadn't eaten since before the Chinese Civil War ended. In a place with such a disparity of incomes, it really bothered me to leave as much food behind on the table as we did. We ate at rest stops. We tried "Chinese fast food". Some of the restaurants we visited represented the recent investments of hospitality barons based mainly in Taiwan. Other places had held their reputations for hundreds of years. I took a lot of food photos, but will ultimately only post a few dozen.

It'll take me a while to start posting about specific foods and restaurants, because I need some time to get the details down, both of the places and of the dishes. Don't expect a massive amount of info; I just want to share a few bits of travelogue that someone might find interesting. My Chinese is terrible, so apologies in advance for any errors. Romanization here will be in pinyin, and as for characters...who knows.

For now, a few general observations for the American traveler about dining in (mainland) China. You probably already know that dishes are served family-style. What surprised me was the degree of resistance we encountered to requests for serving utensils, and to a lesser extent, napkins. Part of this is because sharing the dish directly is considered part of the communal experience, but I suspect that part of it is that certain mannerisms were lost on the mainland during the latter 20th century.

Service is, in general, still a developing concept. Even fancy hotels tend to have lots of staff around, although many don't seem to have a clear idea about what they should do. Tipping is unnecessary - service is included in the meal total - and tips are often actively rejected once you're away from Shanghai proper.

One major challenge (for me, anyway) is that China is a country with a smoking problem. Surveys show that up to 70% of the male population smokes, and the concept of non-smoking areas is still rare outside of establishments with a significant foreign clientele. A few cab companies have supposedly begun prohibiting their drivers from smoking in the car, at least while a fare is present. Fancier restaurants tend to have ceiling-mounted air purifiers installed, but their effectiveness is often limited by the tallness of the ceiling. Generally, your best bet is to dine on the early side, before the air gets too polluted.

On the plus side, food is downright inexpensive, often incredibly so. Menu prices often work out to less than $5 per dish, except in the posh districts of Shanghai. You can eat like a king for $30 a head, private dining room and all.

And finally, one photo.

Aftermath of lunch for five, Monday Oct 25

post-710-053491200 1288626902_thumb.jpg

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I haven't experienced any problems with napkins, though restaurants typically charge a yuan or two for disposable napkins. A lot of Chinese people tend to pack a small sachet of kleenex to avoid using the restaurant's napkins.

Smoking is quite terrible. If you're in a larger group, you can request a private dining room away from the main dining room. Otherwise, you can try to get seated next to a wall/annex and cross your fingers.

For service, you just have to develop a certain rudeness towards the waitstaff. Most waitstaff in China has not been trained to anticipate your needs, so you have to rudely grab them as they're walking by and loudly make your demands.

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Fucshia Dunlop ranks these restaurants as her favorites in China...blatantly stolen from this WSJ article (http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2010/12/16/fuchsia-dunlops-favorite-restaurants-in-china/)

so someone go visit these places and report back :)

1. Beijing Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant

For the Peking duck, obviously.

22 Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng District. Tel 86-10-5169-0328

2. Yu’s Family Kitchen in Chengdu, Sichuan Province

This restaurant, run by Chef Yu Bo and his wife Dai Shuang, is probably the most thrilling I’ve encountered in more than 15 years of eating around China. It’s a small place, with only six private dining rooms, and the food is exquisite.

43 Zhai Xiangzi. Tel 86-28-8669-1975

3. Dragon Well Manor in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province

The food here is organic, sourced directly from artisanal producers and peasant farmers, cooked by master chefs without MSG and served in private rooms scattered around a beautiful garden in the Longjing tea hills. It’s like visiting the Prospect Garden in the classic Chinese novel “Dream of Red Mansions” (“Hong Lou Meng”). One of my favorite places in China.

399 Longjing Lu. Tel 86-571-8788-8777

4. Cheung Fat, Hong Kong

A fairly scruffy-looking café in Kowloon City that serves marvelous Chaozhou food.

60 Shing Nam Rd. Tel 852-2383-3114

5. The Lu Family Mansion, Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province

Theirs is possibly my favorite breakfast in China: delicious Yangzhou baozi and dumplings served up in the restored mansion of a salt merchant.

22 Kangshan St. Tel 86-514-8790-7197

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Irony: the greatest soup dumplings in Shanghai still come from Taiwan-based chain Din Tai Fung, where they're small, hauntingly translucent, and bulging with soup. But it would be a crime to miss their black truffle and pork xiaolongbao. At 88RMB (approx $13.25 in Oct 2010) per basket of five they're pricey, but the intoxicating truffle aroma compels you to reorder more.

Was just posting on a different thread about xiaolongbao maybe coming to The Source here in DC and was curious, put the term into the dr.com search window and found this--a discussion from last year about soup dumplings! How very cool--one of Asia's greatest contributions to international cuisine in my view. But, oh so very, very hard to find made well.

Anyway, I must disagree respectfully yet strongly wtih ol ironstomach.

DTF (of Taiwan, LA, and many other locations) does indeed make excellent Shanghai Soup Dumplings.

But, make no mistake, Shanghai's (and the world's) greatest soup dumplings are found here:

Jia Jia Tang Bao

90 Huanghe Lu, by Fengyang Lu


Shanghai

China


If you like xiaolongbao (or think you might like it) and are going to Shanghai, please, please don't commit the crime of visiting the local outpost of DTF, an experience you can have on our own left coast. Go to Jia Jia Tang Bao. It's a foodie pilgrimage all should make...if you like soup dumplings.. :)

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A couple of reliable chains in Beijing. First, Qing Feng Steamed Dumpling shop. The baozi have a bigger filling to bread ratio than some, but the filling in the ones we had was really nicely done. I can't remember the name, but it was mushroom. The soups are purple rice and foxtail millet, and the salad is golden mushroom and cucumber. It's not five-star dining, but it's reliably good and always crowded.

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Xibei Youmian Cun is another restaurant that sells an obscure but ethnobotanically fascinating noodle made from naked oats. The waiter tears it into pieces, then you dip it into the bowl of salty sauce.

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That's one noodle in the steamer, and there was an interesting conversation about how it was made. Traditionally they are folded. At any rate, everything we ordered here was very good.

Qing Feng has pinyin and English on the restaurant, and Xibei has a papercut tiger. We went to the one outside the Summer Palace. Exit the east gates, walk north, see the McDonalds, avert your eyes, then notice the large, white building with the red script and tiger.

I've been eating most meals at the Olympic Restaurant because it is walking distance from the Institute, and they have some sort of account. This is a higher end restaurant with an extensive menu. I wish I had taken more photos, and will try to do so in the future. There is a dish of tofu, crumbled and shaped like a flower, then layered with leaves of Toona sinensis. Delicious.

Several people expressed concern about eating vegetarian in Beijing. It is probably a side effect of having wonderful colleagues and students as guides, but it has been easy. Learn how to say, "vegetarian" - sushi, literally, vegetable person - and waitstaff will be quite helpful, even pointing out when things like chicken stock are used. Plus, how can you not love being a vegetable person? It's so Arcimboldo.

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Da Qing Hua is another group of restaurants in Beijing, and their specialty is jiaozi. They have an extensive selection of fillings and the service is quick and efficient. These are the best jiaozi I've had thus far.

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Those are enormous mung-bean starch noodles on the left with a sesame sauce (really delicious), and the dumplings on the right. I can't remember the filling - egg and leek, maybe? The tea is a puer. One of the post-docs has taken me on as a project because I'm willing to try pretty much anything set before me, so we are having a different tea with each meal. Puers are not my favorite, but this one was fairly mild in comparison to others.

I also have a caveat emptor for Da Yali on Datun Road. OK food, but abysmal service that we had heard about previously, but thought it was probably hyperbole. We figured we'd give it a try anyway, and suffered the consequences. Sparing the details, but giving one example, it took more than half an hour just to get our tea.

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A couple more recommendations for the northwest section of the city. Jin Ding Xuan is a group of restaurants focusing on Cantonese dim sum. They are open 24 hours, a nice thing for jet lagged travelers and students. The mushroom/rice noodle roll was fantastic, the soups were quite good, and I even got down a durian pastry at the urging of my much more enthusiastic host. Quality ranges from quite good to inedible, but the inedible stuff was probably our fault for being a bit too adventurous. I can't recommend the yam buns rolled in chrysanthemum flowers - think bitter glue with a tasteless filling, and if you order any of the "teas" that are medicinal rather than tea leaves, they will be cloyingly sweet.

Beijing Hechuan Restaurant on Kexueyuan Nanli Middle Street off Datun Road is a mid-priced restaurant specializing in Sichuan food. I can't remember what everyone had, but it was all very good, and the bamboo shoots were particularly good here. They also brought the tea in a glass kettle so I could see it. We didn't ask for this, but it happened quite often. People went out of their way to make me comfortable and share the lovely aspects of dining and tea.

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I went with my sons to China in April, 2015.  We asked our tour guide to arrange a meal at one of the top "Peking Duck" restaurants in the city. The guide took us to Da Dong (the WangFuJing location).

It did not disappoint. We were impressed by the modern decor. The roast duck was the best I've ever had!  (I have not ranked Peking Duck as one of my favorite foods in the past, but now I will have to change my mind.)

 I would take a trip back to China for a dinner at Da Dong!

Fucshia Dunlop ranks these restaurants as her favorites in China...blatantly stolen from this WSJ article (http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2010/12/16/fuchsia-dunlops-favorite-restaurants-in-china/)

so someone go visit these places and report back wink.gif

1. Beijing Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant
For the Peking duck, obviously.
22 Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng District. Tel 86-10-5169-0328

 

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I went with my sons to China in April, 2015.  We asked our tour guide to arrange a meal at one of the top "Peking Duck" restaurants in the city. The guide took us to Da Dong (the WangFuJing location).

It did not disappoint. We were impressed by the modern decor. The roast duck was the best I've ever had!  (I have not ranked Peking Duck as one of my favorite foods in the past, but now I will have to change my mind.)

 I would take a trip back to China for a dinner at Da Dong!

So, we also went to the Wanfujing Da Dong, but it was not the best duck of our trip. Touted as a "healthier" duck, too much of the fat is rendered out, leaving the flesh... well, not exactly dry, but it doesn't melt in your mouth like some of the duck we had in beijing. However, In addition to the normal bing, da dong also brings two puffed seasame bing to the table-- those were delicious. Da Dong was not cheap, we spent around 650 yuan overall for the duck, a small beer, bao, and a noodle dish. I will say that the interior design, especially of the raised stage with three ovens and racks of ducks going in and out, was very impressive and attractive.

The utterly amazing duck we had in Beijing came from å››å­£æ°‘ç¦ Siji Minfu at 32 Dengshikou. Crispy skin, moist without being overly fatty, this duck was amazing both times we had it, and our first meal was half the price of Da Dong. The second time we went a little (a lot) overboard, and had the duck, a large beer, a carafe of hawthorne juice, an entire broiled "Mandarin fish"  on a bed of greens, and zha jiang mian, and it *all* was amazing, and only slightly more than 500 yuan. The fish was a little hard to negotiate ordering-- it was listed as 128 yuan in the menu but I think that was actually a per pound price. they called to the kitchen and gesticulated and eventually a manager came over and showed us something that said 1.8, which I took to mean that the fish they had would be 230 yuan. That was the best cooked fish I have had in a long while. They did an amazing job deboning it, as well. Have I said amazing enough times? So much love for Siji Minfu. There was a wait both times we were there, they have a machine that dispenses numbers for tables. A waitress will bring you a tray with some crackers and vegetables and shrimp chips to much on while you wait, which is cool. A tinny speaker will announce the table that is ready; it turns out my ability to count to 10 in mandarin actually came in handy. (serious eats link about siji minfu: http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/07/where-to-eat-peking-duck-beijing-china-how-peking-duck-is-made-served-how-to-order.html )

We had some tasty sustenance from what I think was the Haihan Food shop- a window of various bing on the east side of Donghuangchenggen street north of Dengshikou W street. There are also a bunch of food places along Qihelou St if you are in the vicinity of the Forbidden City. Speaking of the Forbidden City-- so, if you are in Tienanmen Square and get herded towards the ticket booths for the city, there isn't any way to get back to the fronting street except by paying 2 yuan to get through Zongshan Park. Most people just pay the tax to get back where they want to be, but the park is lovely with a cypress grove, some more buildings including the Imperial Ancestral Temple, rose gardens and winding paths. And it's nearly empty, except for roving bands of tai chi practitioners. I enjoyed the park a lot more than the press of people in the Forbidden City. I also enjoyed Jingshan park, which is directly north of the Forbidden City, and has a buddha on the hill, and extensive rose and peony gardens. (Jingshan is 2 yuan or 10 yuan depending on the day. Worth it either way. There are a couple food/drink vendors in the park, as well as some trinkets.)

Breakfast one morning came from the Wedome (or Wei Duo Mei) pastry shop at 14 Dengshikou -- wife cakes and dan tat and sausages in pastry, etc. Another morning we found a delicious jian bing cart near the citibank on Dongdan St, near Meizha Hutong. A handful of freshly-made awesome for 5 yuan. Walking down Chaoyangmen S towards the Beijing Railway Station one morning, we had a plateful of steamed dumplings and two tea eggs for 12 yuan.

There was an outpost of A&J in a food court near our hotel, but we didn't make it there when they were open. I'll report on Shanghai and Hong Kong separately.

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Right. Shanghai. We were staying in the Jing'an Temple area, which was fairly centrally located; we were able to walk to a lot of our destinations.

Now, the important thing about Shanghai is that Christopher St. Cavish had recently published The Shanghai Soup Dumpling Index, which is a towering testament to OCD. And dumplings. We had four days in Shanghai, and hit many different dumpling shops with varying success.

1. å°Šå®¢æ¥ Zun Ke Lai. St. Cavish's top rated shop, it's underneath the soccer stadium and has the english name "Welcome Revered Guests." We went and asked for xiao long bao, and got yelled at. No idea why, I don't understand enough mandarin. We left sad and hungry.

2. è‹æµ™æ±‡ Jade Garden (Jardin de Jade, 1121 Yan'an Zhong Lu). This restaurant chain is rated third on The List. Sadly, the restaurant was *filled* with smoke despite multiple no smoking signs. The XLB were more in the delicate din tai fung style, but better-executed. Translucent wrappers, better grade of meat, neutral broth but not quite enough of it. The chicken with chili and garlic was tasty, as was the dead simple napa cabbage in broth. Veggie bao were also good. We left in a hurry due to the smoke.

3. 佳家汤包 Jia Jia Tang Bao. As Darkstar said upthread- I think these may have been the best dumpling of the trip, though I wish the vinegar had been sharper. St. Cavish has this as #11. Jia Jia was the only dumpling shop we saw to fully embrace the Index-- they had a giant poster of their analysis hung up outside the restaurant. Like many shops in Shanghai, you queue up, pay for the dumplings, and then find a seat. It's expected that if there is an empty chair you will sit in it-- we shared a table with two strangers.

4. 鼎泰丰 Din Tai Fung. We went here after striking out at Zun Ke Lai because it was on the way home and for science. DTF dumplings always leave me wanting, and this branch was no exception. Thin wrappers, small amount of soup, bland. Good vinegar. Decent greens and a few other dishes. The dining room was filled with americans. Number 7 on the list.

5. 富春å°ç¬¼ Fu Chun. Touted by some articles as the most authentic xiao long bao, we ended up going here twice. Again, pay upfront. Hunt/fight for a table, and then a waitress will take your dumpling receipt and put it into the kitchen. There is an extensive menu and some really tasty-looking dishes coming out of the kitchen, but we had no way of pointing and ordering. I suppose we could have just randomly chosen a few dishes. Maybe next trip. These bao had good soup, good meat, good flavour. The skins were thicker than DTF and jia jia, but I have to say these were probably the most *satisfying* XLB of the trip. St Cavish has rated them as a "Class B" shop, 17th on the list, next to last of the ones worth going to. There is an upstairs, but you can't sit there if you are just doing the dumplings. It may actually be table-service, but the upstairs was full of smoke so I couldn't stay to find out how it worked.

One thing to note is that I have seen others say that what jia jia and dtf are making are actually nanjing tangbao, and that what fu chun is making are more authentically shanghai xiao long bao. St. Cavish doesn't address meat quality or broth flavour, because he wanted to focus on things that he could quantify at the table. I think the answer, for me, is that i prefer xiao long bao to tangbao, which is why I don't agree with his rankings and why DTF leaves me perennially disappointed (tokyo, hong kong, shanghai, seattle have all left me equally sad).

It wasn't all xiao long bao. I have a well-known weakness for sheng jian bao, the doughy, fried soup dumplings.

1. å°æ¨ç”Ÿç…Ž Yang's Fry-Dumpling is pretty ubiquitous and consistent and wonderful. We went first to the one in the food court in the basement of the Reel Building, right by the Jing'an Temple subway stop. Didn't find it at first because we were looking for their trademark purple signage, but the counters in the center only get to have the shop names in discreet silver characters. These were the mouth-burning pockets of deliciousness I had been looking for. Ah. Perfect. There is also another Yangs across from Jia Jia, if you want to double up on dumplings. And there is also one at the Longyan Road station, where we transferred to take the maglev to the airport. To get to that shop you have to take exit 3, I think, then turn to the left and go up the stairs to the 2nd level of shopping in the station. Once you enter the mall it should be not too far on your left.

2. 大壶春 Da Hu Chun. We tried to go to the Wulumuki Rd branch, only to find it demolished. We dejectedly walked over to the shop on  Yunnan South Rd, and had fantastic dumplings. They only had the ones with shrimp and pork, but the shrimp were plump and flavourful and not overcooked. I never would have ordered them if they had had pork only, but OMG they were delicious. We got multiple orders, and then hit up Uncle Milky Tea which was a bit north afterward. Yunnan South Road appears to be fully of tasty food, sadly I only have one stomach. Again, you pay upfront, find a table, and then take the receipt to the kitchen window yourself where they will ask if you are eating here or taking to go.

It wasn't even all dumplings, all the time. We had a european breakfast at Mr. Pancake, which was entirely decent, and has a magnificent logo. There appeared to be some tasty scallion pancake action going on a few doors down. Mr. Pancake can only seat about 20, so there is a wait.

There is a Beard Papa in Jing'an temple, which nick hit up twice. And finally, chance led us to åšå¤šæ–°è®° Bo Duo Xin Ji, which is in an alley (Baoqing Lane), with outdoor tables along the lane, and some indoor tables. We had some deliciously peppery prawn chips, some tasty leeks and scrambled eggs, delicious eggplant hotpot, and decent whole garlic chicken. A giant beer and free barley tea rounded out the meal, for a total cost of $25 for three of us.

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I had a lot of great food in Beijing, but unfortunately my Chinese wasn't good enough to learn or remember most places' names. The ones that stood out were:

Da Dong (木樨园 location). I'm apparently not a huge fan of Peking Duck, because I went to a few well known ones and couldn't really tell the difference, even enough to say they were definitively superior to the ones in the US. However, Da Dong's other specialty, their Braised Sea Cucumber, was one of the single best dishes I've had in my life. The order our party of 4 got was so big I'm not sure you could wrap your arms around the plate, and obscenely expensive at over 1500 yuan, but in my opinion well worth it. Braised in a brown sauce with large green onion ends, this was decadent and luxurious, with huge chunks of sea cucumber that melt in your mouth, and addicting enough to ask for several extra bowls of rice. The rest of the menu is something like Chinese molecular gastronomy, my favorite being cherries paired with foie gras spheres painted with a red glaze to look like cherries. Beautiful presentations, and mostly solid execution on dishes with a few standouts. The duck came last and was fine, although I admittedly may not have enjoyed it as much after filling up on the sea cucumber earlier. Either one is easily rich enough to be the centerpiece of a meal.

望京一å·, just outside the northeast corner of Fifth Ring. Excellent Sichuan in an expansive courtyard. Their 水煮鱼 was unlike any I've had before, served in a clear broth with plenty of peppercorns. The stewed frog legs were more like the usual æ°´ç…®é±¼, with a deep red spicy broth. The heat and ma la built up gradually throughout the meal, with a pitcher of plum juice on the side in case you needed to cool yourself down.

三å§å®¶ä¹¡èœ. Yunnan cuisine. Great pineapple rice (served inside of a hollowed-out pineapple), rice noodles, and wood-ear mushrooms sauteed with peppers and ground pork.

Hai Di Lao. Huge and rightfully popular hot pot chain. As silentbob mentioned above, they have pretty much anything you could want for hot pot, and the noodles are hand pulled tableside with a sort of ribbon dance show. The spicy broth was really spicy, to the point I was happy when they added soup to water it down.

Not sure of the name, but there was a very good sushi place in Wudaoying Hutong to the west of Yonghe Gong, the huge Buddhist temple.

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Well that was quite a trip... few things

1) Air China is very low cost compared to other airlines, and there is a reason for it. 3 of our 4 flights were at least 1.5 hour delayed (3 hours, 2 hours, 1 hour). One was on time. They cannot help you in the US, if you are certainly going to miss your connection. And it sure is a lot of fun trying to talk to representatives in Beijing after a 14 hour flight at almost midnight. If you look at their average delay from IAD to PEK, it's remarkable. 

2) The air quality is so bad, especially in first tier cities. Beijing was incredibly challenging to deal with. White out conditions on many days. The trees were not covered with pretty white snow for the holidays. That was pollution. Masks necessary. Sore throat within hours of landing. Sinusitis got really bad. Eyes burn.

 3) You can't use Google or Gmail. Just kidding. You certainly can. Download Hexatech VPN and you're good to go. But, every time you connect to a new wifi, disconnect and reconnect the VPN. Don't google too much about this and overthink it. Download the app and hit connect. You're good to go! Crush it on Instagram or Facebook. Watch videos on YouTube!

4) Labor is cheap, cheap, cheap.. cabs are better than the first world and inexpensive. Utilize! But, you'd better know where you are going or have the address in Chinese on a piece of paper if you have a phone. In first tier cities, can get an English speaking driver for $140-150 for 8 hours. Good idea for the Great Wall. We roughed it for some extraordinary reason, using a train. Dumb. Get massages or your hair did. Get those custom shirts you've always wanted. 

5) The Chinese century is not this one. I don't care what people say about these massive first tier cities. This is a very, very poor country, as any trip 20-50 miles outside a first tier city. Their income inequality is like India's, despite official government numbers. The rural people live in extreme poverty, and get none of the "promises" of mandatory 9 years of schooling, minimum moderate income, health care. See pass the glitz and propaganda ... oh, and any educated Chinese person (we met several friends of friends know that there is the "official" new (sort of like our fake news) and then the real news (probably sort of like our mainstream media, but presented through oral discussions, the internet, and other more clandestine means). 

6) The government is always around, always armed. Assault rifles and surveillance cameras everywhere. Me no likey.

7) They assume you don't like unusual foods, organs, or spice. Just use google translate and tell them you are okay with it. Unless you aren't. Then saying nothing will get you some pretty ordinary stuff.

8) Like other Asian countries (Thailand, India, Nam) - food courts at malls and markets are your friend for food.

9) Very few people speak English. But most of them know the words to some American pop songs, and that made me very happy.

10) Extremely nice people that really like American tourists. They love taking pictures with us. I felt like a celebrity. Or, maybe it was my 6ft blond/blue eyed friend. I was probably thought of as his manservant.

On to the food in the next post.

 

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1 hour ago, Simul Parikh said:

Well that was quite a trip... few things

1) Air China is very low cost compared to other airlines, and there is a reason for it. 3 of our 4 flights were at least 1.5 hour delayed (3 hours, 2 hours, 1 hour). One was on time. They cannot help you in the US, if you are certainly going to miss your connection. And it sure is a lot of fun trying to talk to representatives in Beijing after a 14 hour flight at almost midnight. If you look at their average delay from IAD to PEK, it's remarkable. 

2) The air quality is so bad, especially in first tier cities. Beijing was incredibly challenging to deal with. White out conditions on many days. The trees were not covered with pretty white snow for the holidays. That was pollution. Masks necessary. Sore throat within hours of landing. Sinusitis got really bad. Eyes burn.

 3) You can't use Google or Gmail. Just kidding. You certainly can. Download Hexatech VPN and you're good to go. But, every time you connect to a new wifi, disconnect and reconnect the VPN. Don't google too much about this and overthink it. Download the app and hit connect. You're good to go! Crush it on Instagram or Facebook. Watch videos on YouTube!

4) Labor is cheap, cheap, cheap.. cabs are better than the first world and inexpensive. Utilize! But, you'd better know where you are going or have the address in Chinese on a piece of paper if you have a phone. In first tier cities, can get an English speaking driver for $140-150 for 8 hours. Good idea for the Great Wall. We roughed it for some extraordinary reason, using a train. Dumb. Get massages or your hair did. Get those custom shirts you've always wanted. 

5) The Chinese century is not this one. I don't care what people say about these massive first tier cities. This is a very, very poor country, as any trip 20-50 miles outside a first tier city. Their income inequality is like India's, despite official government numbers. The rural people live in extreme poverty, and get none of the "promises" of mandatory 9 years of schooling, minimum moderate income, health care. See pass the glitz and propaganda ... oh, and any educated Chinese person (we met several friends of friends know that there is the "official" new (sort of like our fake news) and then the real news (probably sort of like our mainstream media, but presented through oral discussions, the internet, and other more clandestine means). 

6) The government is always around, always armed. Assault rifles and surveillance cameras everywhere. Me no likey.

7) They assume you don't like unusual foods, organs, or spice. Just use google translate and tell them you are okay with it. Unless you aren't. Then saying nothing will get you some pretty ordinary stuff.

8) Like other Asian countries (Thailand, India, Nam) - food courts at malls and markets are your friend for food.

9) Very few people speak English. But most of them know the words to some American pop songs, and that made me very happy.

10) Extremely nice people that really like American tourists. They love taking pictures with us. I felt like a celebrity. Or, maybe it was my 6ft blond/blue eyed friend. I was probably thought of as his manservant.

On to the food in the next post.

 

Haven't been there.  Have no plans for going.  Thanks for the summary.

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Going to try to post some things, but will add to this later in terms of details of what we saw and food.  Our friends might know some restaurant names, I will try to get some.  We were in Chengdu, Kunming, Jianshui and Menghai (tiny village by the border with Myanmar along the Mekong River).

Overall impression: 

1) All the people we encountered were really warm and friendly.  They genuinely wanted to help us with anything they could. 

2)The food was just amazing, especially the diversity in food. I will post more on this.

3) Simul is right- the government is everywhere, our friends national IDs were constantly scanned, as were our passports, there was facial recognition everywhere- while it wasn't worrisome, it didn't feel good.  We had just watched a program on how pervasive facial recognition was and how it was used, that probably didn't help.  It wouldn't stop me from going, but as an American it just felt like a very obvious big brother watching and tracking everything you did.  I realize between google, apple, etc, I am probably tracked just as much, but it didn't feel good for it to be so obvious and there to me so much social behavior propaganda around at all times.

4) Air China is a mess when flying through Beijing from somewhere else in China to get to the US, 3 hours was just enough time for us to run to make our connection because you have to pick up your bags, re-check in and go back through all the very thorough security checks.  Our friends warned us about this and flying from DCA to Chengdu we didn't have to re-pick up our bags that way, but the way back was a hot mess, especially since it is really difficult to book your seat assignments online, so the check in desk was also assigning seats.  Flying over we had an older plane, my screen didn't work.  Flying back we had the new 747 and that was much nicer.  You can bid to upgrade to business class, we didn't but our friends did.

5) Take cash, or pull a lot of ATMS at big hotels when you can.  It is REALLY annoying that you can't use WeChat Pay or AliPay without a national ID card, as most all vendors, even really small ones take it.  Without that you have to rely very heavily on cash, as in pretty much for almost everything, the big hotels will have ATMs that work though and things are fairly inexpensive when you get out of a big city, even in big cities we didn't find things to be crazy expensive.  It did cut down on some shopping for me just because of limited access to an ATM in smaller places.  Our credit cards only worked in some places, not because of transactions not going through, but they didn't have systems that were compatible with things other than the union pay system.  They just aren't accustomed or well oriented for Western travelers yet, or it's just not a priority.

6) The VPN thing isn't as easy as it once was, they have cracked down on the apps, we bought a VPN router for our house, but that was fairly slow.  Downloaded Google Translate worked well for us talking to someone, but since without internet we couldn't get the voice functioning to work, and on the chinese to english it doesn't bring up the characters, they often had to bring up their own app.  We were not in the most Western traveler friendly type places though, and we made it work.  You can't download a map for Chengdu from Google.  It was hard to test their apps for transportation, mapping, translation, before we went, so just know that is going to be a struggle.

7) Dede in China is not Uber, the driver will call you wanting to know where to pick you up (despite the dot of where you are) and will want to know a landmark of where you are going (despite having an address) and will want to know which way to go (despite GPS, although to give them credit GPS in China didn't seem great.)  So it isn't really easy to use if you don't speak Chinese.  

8 Speaking of WeChat- everyone will want to friend you on Wechat if you have it.  If you scan QR codes at different tourists exhibits some have English audio guides, although they need to be pretty high up on the tripadvisor scale for that.  Wechat will translate posts, so this is a fun way to post pictures and keep up with people.  Everyone has Wechat, it is the facebook/whatsapp of China.

9) Take toilet paper or take the little pack of napkins you get at nicer restaurants.  Also, if your hotel has a small soap, consider stealing one, and putting it in an empty napkin plastic pack so you have soap.  (Alternatively, I bought a pack of wet wipes (they were likely for your face oh well) that came in handy as soap isn't as prevalent as one would like. There are a lot more western toilets than once was (often look for the handicap one), but smaller restaurants are still likely squat toilets. 

10) Hotels. The JW Marriott in Chengdu is really nice and very central, it wasn't that expensive when we went.  They have nice big rooms, amazing toiletries, nice beds, etc.  When eating a LOT of spicy food, a nice bathroom facility is very nice to have.  We stayed at Wanda Vista (Wanda is kind of the Trump equivalent in China, although he actually has a lot of money, so maybe more the Steve Wynn without casinos?) in Kunming, not as nice as the JW Marriott, but very nice still and again not that expensive- there are Wanda hotels in a lot of cities, they are a good bet for a nice place if you are unsure.  

11)  Take prescription stomach medicine if you can. We weren't crazy sick like in India, but eating a lot of spicy food, and being in more rural areas where food preparation just isn't quite as clean, I was happy to have stomach medicine beyond pepto.  We only got seriously sick one day, and the medicine meant that we weren't sick for even a whole day.  I didn't take it the whole time, but it was nice to have it.  Matt took his a little more than I did, and was happy to have had it too, and his stomach normally isn't as sensitive as mine.

12) Simul is also correct that very few people speak English.  Many kids learn English, but as they normally use only their local dialect and mandarin, it is the equivalent of us learning foreign language here in the US, a lot of it just doesn't stick because it isn't used.  But they do know some words from pop songs, tech things like iphone charger, and they are pretty good at figuring out some gestures sometimes, pointing at pictures works very well.  And just like in the US when you are wandering in a restaurant they know you are looking for the bathroom.  But a lot of people will say Hello to you!  You can find English in subways and at chain places.

13) Chinese clothing is very small.  I did get a few things at a dept store which had multiple sizes, and at a couple shops, but it wasn't a big clothes destination like Japan or Singapore for me.  Which I found odd, because many of the women there were my size, but I think so many people get custom clothing made.  They seem to be super big into sports clothing right now, tons of knock off sports stores selling knock of NB, Nike or their own brand knock offs of big companies.  But there were lots of other fun things to buy.

14) All my presents were a hit (nice little perfume sets, soaps and lotions, local foodie stuff, wine, hand dipped candles and other stuff from Mount Vernon), but if you are traveling with friends that are local to where you are going, bring more small presents than you expect because everyone wanted to take us out to banquet dinners and I wished I had brought more presents- I didn't need to, but I wish I had, they took us to some really nice dinners with lots of alcohol and brought bottles of wine and nice liquor, they really pulled out all the stops for us.

Anyway, all in all a very good trip and we saw sooo much, I was happy to get out of the big cities, and that was all possible thanks to our friends.  Meeting their families was just incredibly special and we had a lot of fun.  I think the lack of line culture got to Matt a little, but as a girl with a big purse, I just found if I stuck my American size hips one way and put my big purse on my other side I was just fine.

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A small freeverse to Chinese KFC and Chinese Walmart respectively:

Chinese KFC- while you inexplicably are allowed to be out of basic menu items, I applaud your 24/7 delivery of a light, crispy less greasy battered fried chicken which is better than your product in the USA.  The fact that you racially profile me and don't give me the spicy sauce aside, I do believe a meal side of two drummettes, egg tart and drink are better than fries in every way.  And while I am on the subject of egg tarts- your egg tarts are a modern marvel, they are crisp and soft and custard filing is like a dense pillow of goodness.  Yes, I could likely after searching and searching bakeries find a comparable egg tart, but this is an amazing marvel of Chinese goodness that should be bestowed on the American people as "pie".  We would eat it up.  I am impressed with your charging outlets so frequent and your sink with soap.  I am baffled by your lack of toilets in some locations. I am hypnotically fascinated by your bright blue sea salt ice cream in black cone.  I have not eaten it, but I have watched someone eat fascinated by the mutated food color.  Why is non-dairy creamer non-existent for coffee when soya milk is a menu, option.  Yes, I know I ate an egg tart yesterday, but today I want the only coffee I can find this side of Jianshui with creamer without ingesting a lactose pill.  You hipster Colonel with California Cool wardrobe and goatee makes you seem so modern.

Chinese Walmart- I didn't know that Walmart could be something exciting or interesting until I found you.  I now will order a bug zapper mosquito racket for my nephews so they can run around zapping zealous mosquitoes by the pool. The amount of chicken feet found in one grocery store was compelling.  The smell of dumplings and buns wafting by the register from the prepared food section, so tempting.  The whole aisle of jerky- whether individually packaged, bite size or whole package spiced in all flavors and heat levels is a marvel of the consumer world.  I applaud gift hams and gift ducks so nicely packaged.  The pay by the pound candy section provides such a vast array of jelly candy that I am overwhelmed by sheer choice and flavor options in all colors and sizes.  The fact that your obviously Asian styled clothing still rocks the "Faded Glory" logo is interesting.  Your chopstick selection needs work. I am sure the Lipton tea feels quite silly among all the other local, vastly superior options, I hope your facial recognition cameras publicly shame those who buy it. 

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Ok, I am going to try my best to dive into the food we had in China and what we saw, etc.

Chengdu

We landed in Chengdu late in the evening and checked into the JW Marriott in Chairman Mao Square.  It was very nice.  The next morning we woke up and wandered the nearby area- off Zongfu Road on the right and then into the neighborhood and had breakfast of spicy noodle with intestine, and non-spicy noodle bowl with intestine, beef meat pie.  Outside was a vendor selling buns and dumplings- Hubby and I tried this later and they were delicious too.  We then headed out to see Pandas- and this is a little corny, but, ok, ok they are cute!  We especially had fun in the Red Panda area, as the red pandas can go between the different enclosures so you can be in fairly close proximity to them.  We then came back and had a traditional pig foot stew (and way too much other food, pork belly with leeks, thick noodles in a spicy sauce, gelatin with molasses, etc etc).  We then went to the People's Park and spent the afternoon drinking tea, getting our ears cleaned and chilling.  It was fun to wander People's Park and see the ballroom dancing, semi zumba like dancing, etc, etc.  We laughed at people trying to row the row boats on the pond while drinking tea.  That night we went to the Wide and Narrow alley streets.  We did a little shopping and had fun- we blew candy animals, ground peppers- there was just all sorts of interactive but fun things going on in the street.  We were going to get a nice dinner there, but my stomach was not happy about all the spicy food and neither was Chang's so Hubby and Maya got some street snacks.  They also got some KFC 4th meal.  

The next day they had a visa appointment, so Matt and I wandered Zongfu Road to New Guanghua St, as there are a couple blocks that in the morning have lots of breakfast items- dumplings, buns, glutinous rice with fillings cooked in banana leaf, pastries and noodle bowls.  We got a couple pastries- wife biscuits- and dumplings.  We then found the shopping street and just wandered a bit and got some juice with bubbles. (Lizhi/Liangsheng Alleys)  We then met back up with them and went to the Sichuan history museum in Chairman Mao square and the Puppet museum there too- that was really cool, and the museums were well done, it was a nice little history for us.  They don't have tons of artifacts (most they say are in Taiwan now), but it was still well done and they had some very neat things, and they had layouts of town and etc which were cool.  The puppet museum was on the top floor and was so much cooler than we expected, we really liked that part.  We also giggled at an American animal exhibit, in which they had put an orange hunters vest and gun on the squirrel.  We then went out a ways to a dinner with Maya's family in more suburban Chengdu.  We went to this restaurant off of the 2nd Ring Road by Yulin S. Road and Fancoa E St that you walked along a square of uncooked items and took numbers for what you wanted and then gave those to the waiter, inside the square was an open kitchen cooking the items, very cool.  We had plates and plates of spicy sichuan food that seemed to never end- cold chengdu noodles, purple noodles that I think were made with yam perhaps in spicy sauce, mapo tofu, twice cooked pork, sichuan style green beans (Maya knows this is one of my favorites) I need to find pictures from Matt to discuss more dishes. Oh yes, we had mashed potatoes and American style vegetables to cool our tongues down a bit (a crowd favorite with our Chinese companions, we pretended it wasn't what we wanted, but with all the other types of pepper floating around a little coolant was good).  There was a great fish dish with lots of fresh ginger and green thai peppers and udon noodles.  So much good stuff.  So much spicy food.  That night we went drinking along the Jinjiang River where the Anshun Bridge is located and we got late night BBQ at one of the restaurants (we went fancy to avoid stomach issues early on in the trip, so we avoided the outside stand bbqs).  This was a decently fun area, despite being touristy- although all the live music there that night was just appallingly bad, it was choosing which I could stand for a few minutes while we got drinks.  The bridge is really neat, this would be another good area to stay, lots of nice hotels. 

The next day we took the bullet train to LeShan to see the Giant Buddha and Temple.  Note if stairs aren't your thing, you might take the river boat, it is a lot of stairs up the mountain, then down the side of the buddha and then back up.  But if you don't go to the temple, it's a lot less stairs.  We then had Maya's friends take us to a hot pot restaurant called I think- Niuweixuan Hot Pot- it was a little ways a way from LeShan in a more rural area known for this type of hot pot with beef and cilantro called QiaoJiao Beef- the traditional isn't spicy, but you can get it spicy if you want.

The next day we were going to go out of the city on another train to see some sights, but after significant hiking and drinking the day before, we decided to play it cool.  We saw the University Maya went to, had bubble tea at Coco! (it's a chain, but they have a menu with English) and we had Boboji (skewers dipped in spicy cold sauce) at a place that looked popular with students.  We then went to another old village looking shopping area with old tombs (I think Wuhou Temple and Jinlin Street) so we could pick up souvenirs.  We then went to a Sichuan opera at Shenfengya Yun- they are totally hawking touristy things to upgrade you (we got costumes because I mean- why not, only in China once and Maya wanted to), but it was fun to see.  We had some Dicos a Chinese chain similar to KFC (also out of one of their main menu items- how is this possible), below the dicos was someone selling buns with beef and sichuan peppers that were so good, not traditional, but so good.  That day we also went to the Chinese Eastern Memory Park- a big factory they are turning into an area with art studios, bars, restaurants.  It was neat to see what "factory" life might have been a little like, Maya had grown up in a "factory" town so it was cool to hear her talk about it.

And that my friends, was our whirlwind tour of Chengdu.

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