Monthly Archives: January 2000

Chinese Food for Travelers: A Guide for the Western Palate

Beijing boasts more than 30,000 restaurants in the metropolitan area. What can a traveler expect when it comes to Chinese food? China’s cuisine offerings provide temptations for those with a light stomach to those who will try anything…once. FoodTrekker.com has identified some menu choices for those traveling to China, along with a cheat sheat for those not looking for suprises.

BEIJING BASICS

According to FoodTrekker.com, some of the culinary offerings in Beijing may seem unexpected or unusual to the Western palate. For the adventurous traveler, they might enjoy sampling some of these true Chinese delicacies.

* Giant steamed dumpling filled with soup (type of soup varies, usually a kind of mutton or beef stock and often loaded with MSG)
* Hot pot (usually served in a ying yang shape bowl with half spicy, and half seafood based soup)
* Freshly-made tofu
* Fresh water chestnuts on a stick
* Steamed buns
* Cup of tea (green or black)
* Ludagun (a rolled pastry made of soy bean flour)

FOR THE MORE ADVENTUROUS
* Roast duck (sometimes served complete with head, wings and feet)
* Raw sea urchin
* Donkey meat stew
* Duck bone soup
* Braised sea cucumber
* Stinky Tofu [Chou Dofu] (only the authentic versions are truly stinky)
* Braised Chicken Feet
* Fat Head Fish Soup [Peng Tou Yu Tang]

TOP 10 SURVIVOR DISHES

FoodTrekker.com has created the following cheat sheet for the timid diner.

1. Gung Bao ji Ding: Kung Pao chicken done the right way. Spicy, lots of peanuts, chicken squares, carrots, and usually another vegetable
2. Di San Xian: Mild eggplant with potato, onions and brown sauce (can be a little heavy for summer)
3. Yu Xiang Xiezi: Eggplant in fish sauce with carrots, mushrooms and other vegetables. Popular with Westerners. Ask for Yu Xian Ro Si if you want it made with spicy pork strips instead of eggplant.
4. Baozi: Steamed dumplings. Usually available for breakfast everywhere. Look for large steaming bamboo vats in the early morning.
5. Xi Hong Shi Chao Dan: Tomato with Scrambled eggs. While this sounds like a breakfast dish to a Westerner, it is served at any time. The tomato sauce makes it slightly sweet. Popular with Westerners.
6. Chao Mian Pian: Xinjiang joint fried noodle dish. Close as you can get to home-style Italian pasta.
7. Suan La Tu Do si: Sweet and Sour Potato strips.
8. Qing Chao Xi Lan Hua: Broccoli with garlic sauce.
9. La Mian: Fried noodles (when you are tired of experimenting)
10. Ba si xiang jiao: Warm battered banana with sweet syrup. Take a piece and dip into the water provided, watch it solidify, and then eat. Unusual and flavorful.

Top Dining Spots in Beijing

Experimenting with Chinese cuisine can be overwhelming, but it’s still worth it.

Top 5 Dining Street Locations in Beijing:

  1. Gui Street, near Dongzhimennei Dajie, in the Dongcheng District, is the largest and most famous food street in Beijing. Here you will find seafood specialties such as spicy lobster, spicy crab, pepper and chili prawns, and poached fish in pungent sauce.
  2. Wangfujing Snack Street, is south of Haoyou Department Store, near Wangfujing Business Street, in the Dongcheng District. Snack on crossing bridge rice noodles, smelled bean curd, sticky fruit on bamboo skewers and Xinjiang lamb skewers. If you’re really adventurous, sample the scorpion kebabs.
  3. Donghuamen Market, north of Donganmen Street in Dongcheng District, appeals to the senses. Try stretched noodles, fish ball soup, smelly bean curds, muttons, prawns, silkworms skewered and grilled, boiled dumplings and caramelized fruits on sticks.
  4. Longfusi Snack street, north of Dongsi Longfu Mansion, in the Dongcheng District is the place to try soymilk, fried dough rings, sausage or fried squid. Sweetened baked wheaten cake is a traditional treat here.

Top 5 Restaurant Recommendations in Beijing:

  1. Laitai Food Street, located across from Lady’s Street, is the newest food street in the city. Here you can sample foods from different regions and cultures: Cantonese, Sichuan, Japanese, Korean, Turkey, and Thai.
  2. Fangshan Imperial Restaurant at 1 Wenjin Jie, serves Court Cuisine, based upon 600-year-old-plus recipes favored by China’s former emperors in the Ming and King dynasties. This is a true dining experience, rich with ceremony, and with the option for an eight, 10, 12 or 36 course dinner.
  3. Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, at 32 Qianmen Dajie, was founded in 1864, and is famous for its namesake dish. The chefs prepare roast duck on an open-door wood oven fueled by wood from fruit trees.
  4. Donglaishun Restaurant, near Tian’anmen Square, has been in business 100 years. Its signature dish, the lamb hot pot, is a staple among the Muslim communities of northern China. The restaurant also offers a variety of fried dishes including quick-fried mutton, minced chicken meat, roasted gigot and roasted duck, as well as flavored snacks such as butter fried cake and sweet walnut soup.
  5. Du Yi Chu Shao Mai on Qianmen Street, has been serving Beijing for 300 years and it is still a top spot among locals. The most popular dish is Shao Mai, steamed dumplings with the dough gathered at the top, and stuffed with vegetables or meat.
  6. LAN, on the 4th Floor at LG Twin Towers, Jianguomenwai Avenue, Chaoyang District, is one of the hottest, trendiest spots in Beijing, complete with Philippe Stark decor and 35 private dining rooms. There is a selection of meals from around the world that will appeal to all tastes.


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The Forest of Stone Steles Museum

With over 3,000 years of recorded history maybe it should not be surprising that China has a museum containing nearly 3,000 pieces of inscribed stone. Those stones are called steles, which is a small monolith with carved writings or low-relief sculpture on one face. Like many things in China, these particular examples are extraordinary.

The museum is located in downtown Xi’an on Sanxue Street. The examples of Chinese calligraphy housed there have been lovingly gathered and cared for over many centuries. There are over 2,000 engraved tablets from the Han dynasty alone.

Originally constructed in 1078AD, the museum is now a labyrinth of six corridors, seven rooms and eight pavilions holding the huge collection. It is unique among storehouses of artifacts in its concentration on this one art.

The collection grew as samples were added over the centuries from the Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Extensively renovated in 1937, the museum and contents took on the present shape.

Chinese calligraphy has been practiced for over 5,000 years and many of its finest examples are housed in the museum. Among many top notch works, there is the Cao Quan stele, written in Han script in 185AD. Others of immense historical importance are also part of the collection, such as the Nestorian stele and the Monk Bu Kong.

The steles from Langya originate from Lin Xi during the Eastern Jin dynasty in the early 4th century. They provide evidence of the changes in Chinese calligraphy that were beginning during that time. Elegant, yet forceful, these samples influenced many generations of carvers.

Many of the steles are as important for their calligraphy as their content. The Chinese language is pictographic – its symbols are not just letters as English or Roman languages are. Like Egyptian hieroglyphics, they have an artistic element as well. Through the ages, many of these stones show variations in style that make them works of art in written language, as well as historical documents. The Ouyang Xun steles are examples of this.

Some steles are commemorative plaques praising some great man. Some are religious texts. The 12 Confucian Classics, carved around 837AD, guided much of those practicing the religion in feudal times. The Book of Changes, the Book of Rites and others were not merely displays of art for the idle rich, but sacred texts that defined a philosophy for millions. In the 2nd Exhibition Hall similar steles are stored constituting the Holy Buddhist Scriptures.

Epitaphs, stories, scriptures and other forms of writing show that the Forest of Stone Steles Museum is more than just a collection of ancient lithographic oddities. It is a treasure trove of the history of a complex people and their culture down through the ages.

The Forbidden City

Like China itself, the Imperial Palace in Beijing has come a long way in 600 years. Once the home of Emperors of one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, it now houses a Starbucks. Fortunately, alongside the encroaching commercial enterprises, the terrible grandeur of those bygone empires has been preserved within its massive walls.

The more than 800 buildings comprising the complex were first constructed in the early 15th century as a home, center of government and fortress for the Ming, and later Qing, emperors. For 500 years, until the establishment of the short-lived Chinese Republic in 1912, the grounds were the center of Chinese power.

The popular description for the Imperial Palace, Forbidden City, derives from the royal rule forbidding entrance to any but the royal retinue. Violation of the rule brought a sentence of death. That era is long gone, happily, and the palace is now one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.

And there is enough to see here at Zijin Cheng in Beijing to occupy all of a short vacation.

Covering 720,000 square meters (178 acres), and surrounded by ten meter (33ft) high walls, there are seventeen palaces. Surrounding the grounds are several Royal gardens. The colorful gardens are a perfect complement to the palaces themselves, as the Royal yellow dominates their rooftops.

Entrance is either through the north wall or the south wall. At the southern end is the Meridian Gate at the infamous Tiananmen Square. The northern entrance is via the Gate of the Divine Might, which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between the two is nearly a kilometer.

Within that space is the Outer Court encompassing three halls, once used for coronations and Imperial weddings. Given China’s turbulent history the names are deeply ironic. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, which leads to the Imperial library, is just one example.

The Inner Court, on the northern and eastern end, holds another three halls that were used for daily administration of the country. Within the court is the Palace of Heavenly Purity, near the residence of the Emperor and his family and servants. Also at the northern end is one of the main Imperial gardens, home to many trees that are centuries old.

Within the walls are housed rare treasures collected over the centuries. Among these are a collection of unusual timepieces held in the Hall of Clocks. The Chinese were among the world’s leading artisans and clockmakers, owing to their (for the time) advanced level of science and mathematics.

The Palace Museum, one of the more popular attractions, holds over a million artifacts, both rare and unusual. Everything from Royal robes to unique porcelain are displayed. Earthenware from the Stone Age, bronzes and jade artifacts from the Shang and Zhou dynasties, and pottery tomb figurines from the Han are part of the collection. Ancient and more modern paintings adorn the walls, along with scrolls and samples of calligraphy from down the centuries.

The Forbidden City in Beijing is only one of the many attractions of this ancient and dynamic city. But no visit to the capital of China would be complete without a day spent here.

The Ba Hanging Coffins

The Ba Hanging Coffins

Most ancient civilizations buried their dead under the ground, a few burned them on pyres. But there are some that placed bodies of the dead in coffins and hung the coffins on a precipice.

Examples of the latter can be found in many locations throughout China. Some of those are placed on wooden beams projecting out from rock, others are on the rocks themselves. Still others are merely placed in caves high up a cliff face. Some were even suspended on wooden stakes above the ground or stuck into the cliff face.

Coffins have been found from 18 counties in various provinces, some containing hundreds of samples. The age of some preserved artifacts ranges over 13 centuries from the Jin Dynasty (265AD-420AD) to the Ming Dynasty (1368AD-1644AD). But the practice dates much further back. Archaeologists have found hanging coffins in Wuyi Mountain from as far back as the Zhou Dynasty (1027BC-777BC).

One of the most well-known examples are the Ba Hanging Coffins of the Three Gorges. Some of these are – or soon will be – lost forever as the waters of the river rise. That change was brought about by the Three Gorges River dam project which is flooding sections that were previously high above the river’s surface.

Most of these contain the remains of Ba peoples, an ancient ethnic Chinese group centered around what is now Yibin City. When buried, the wooden coffin – many containing weapons, food containers and decorated with Tiger carvings – would be placed high up the cliff face. These people are believed to be among the original engineers and workers of China’s famed Silk Road.

Preserved examples of the coffins can be found in various museums around the country. Dozens are housed in the Yibin Museum in Gong Xian. Others can be seen in Wuyi in the Fujian Province. Still more are stored in Yingtan City in Jiang Xi. And, for a while, viewing the Ba Hanging Coffins of the Three Gorges is possible as part of one of the many tours down the river.

The Ba culture survived for over 3,000 years but the last known descendant is believed to have died out as recently as 400 years ago though the funeral practice ended centuries earlier. The earliest known example of their funeral practices is believed to be one dating 2,500 years ago found at Three Gorges.

Why this ancient people began this practice, or what significance it may have had for them, is not known. Some believe that suspending the body high above the ground confered honor. It isn’t even known with certainty how they achieved some of the engineering feats involved in placing coffins so far up a cliff, distant from the top of the mountain.

But whatever the answers to these questions are, the Ba Hanging Coffins continue to fascinate visitors to China generation after generation. Come find out why.

Shanghai, Manhattan of China

Shanghai is a dynamic city, doing business at top speed and enjoying everything the new China has built.

There is more construction in Shanghai right now than in Manhattan, despite the fact that this Chinese business capital is much older. Hordes of cranes swing girders over the head of the population below all day. Given that the population is approaching 20 million, that’s a lot of girders. But there’s much more for tourists to do than watching buildings being built.

At one time Shanghai was the center of China’s opium trade. But the days of thieves and prostitutes are long gone. Shanghai, called the ‘City on the Sea’ has evolved. It now boasts the country’s stock market and is one of the world’s major financial centers.

If offers one of the world’s largest hotels, excellent dining and incomparable shopping. High-priced boutiques offer goods even a Parisian would not turn a nose up at. Givenchy, Lagerfeld and many more have stores here.

The Bund (Wai Tan) is a very popular sight in Shanghai. The name may sound German, but the area has a very international flavor. There are neo-classical buildings and a waterfront promenade full of busy locals and happy visitors.

Tourists rub shoulders with the street vendors in front of the Nisshin Kisen Kaisha Shipping building, built in 1925. The 7th floor restaurant is a local favorite. Others favor the roof terrace restaurant at the 1916 Union Assurance building. You can enjoy a breathtaking view of Pudong, where much of the major activity takes place.

Xintiandi is another of Shanghai’s many refurbished areas. It now offers upscale clubs and restaurants, but it still retains the aura of its 19th century architecture. You’ll be treated like visiting royalty.

The Yu Yuan Gardens have been receiving visitors for four centuries. And they remain one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. There are five acres of botanical treasures on display.

After a few hours spent viewing some of China’s ancient history, tourists may want to see a modern example of Shanghai’s creativity: The Oriental Pearl Tower (Dong Fang Ming Zhu). Visitors get a spectacular view of the city from the top of one of the world’s tallest broadcasting towers. It’s open day and night and the view is worth seeing both times.

The Shanghai Museum is one of the city’s more recent additions. Built in 1996, it offers 11 modern galleries full of both contemporary and ancient objects. There are bronzes, ceramics, jade and furniture from the Ming dynasty. The sculpture collection is particularly impressive.

Shanghai sits alongside the Yangtze River and there are tours down that mammoth waterway that offer one of the best views of the city. You’ll be competing for river space with lots of other boats, though. Shanghai is one of the busiest cargo ports in the world.

There are many other sights available not far from the dock. Ten Thousand-Flower Pavilion, the Grand Rockery and the Hall of Jade Magnificence are all well attended. Each is a great spot to take a break from all the activity.

Macau, City of Portugal and China

One doesn’t usually picture China and think of Europe. Yet there is one region of this Asian powerhouse that definitely fits that image: Macau. Sometimes called Macao, this peninsula less than 62km from Hong Kong is second only to that great city in its western aspect. For over 300 years, until just a few years ago, it was dominated by the Portuguese. Churches, museums and much more show that influence.

One of Macau’s great, old church’s is just ruins now: The Ruins of St. Paul’s. Built in 1602, it was run by Jesuits for generations. Made of taipa and wood, the main portion was burned in an 1835 fire. Though only the front stone facade remains standing, there is still ample evidence of what was once a magnificent structure. Well worth a look when you visit this fascinating city.

But one church first built around the same time is still very much in existence. St. Augustine’s Church, named after one of the founders of the Catholic church, was first erected in 1586. The present building dates from 1814 and houses a number of worthy sights. The high altar clad in marble is only one. The magnificent colonnades are still another. But one of the chief attractions is a statue of Jesus at the center of the altar.

The Guia Fort and Lighthouse is another popular tourist destination, and for good reason. Completed in 1638, it is located at the highest point in Macau. Though much of what was once an island has been flattened over the centuries, with the land becoming connected to the mainland, it nestles up against one of the few high hills of the region. It once housed a barracks and ammunition dump, but every part is worth a look, the lighthouse in particular.

The Macau Maritime Museum is a must see, given the strong influence of the sea on this coastal city. Opened just over 20 years ago, it is believed to be sited on the original landing point of the Portuguese who grew to dominate the island. There are numerous displays of Chinese and Portuguese history, a combination you won’t find anywhere else.

But probably the most common attraction, and one of the finest, is the many casinos housed on Macau. There are dozens of gambling houses and, unlike some in parts of Asia, are meticulously maintained. They’re colorful, cheerful and provide Vegas-style excitement.

Located at the mouth of the Pearl River delta, the casinos dot the area with delights to be found nowhere else in this well-known tourist destination. Filled with visitors both from Asia and Europe, as well as locals, here’s where the nighttime action is in Macau.

Come find out for yourself how this jewel off the coast of China has transformed itself from the shady, crime-ridden image found in old films into a modern playground where East meets West.

Hangzhou, City Along the Qiantang River

At a ‘mere’ 2,200 years old, Hangzhou is among the younger cities in the vast, ancient land of China. Founded by the Qin dynasty, it has long been a favored location of those exploring China’s treasures. Here, Marco Polo found silk to take back to Europe. He also found delightful temples and breathtaking natural scenery.

Hangzhou is located along the Qiantang River only just over 180km from Shanghai. It is connected to Beijing over 1,667km away by the magnificent man-made Grand Canal. There is also the West Lake which curves gently around many of the city’s best sights.

One of the most popular of those is the Ling Yin temple, once the largest Buddhist temple in China. Built during the Jin dynasty that ended in 400 AD, it once housed over 3,000 monks. There are outstanding rock carvings of the Laughing Buddha and caves nearby, along with a stellar view of the mountains.

China’s capital for 100 years in the early 12th to early 13th centuries, it holds a silk museum with treasures that would have been familiar to Marco Polo. But there are modern facilities, too, including audio tours and a bus that takes you right to it.

Here you can see exactly how the fine silks of China are made, what dyes are used and how the weaves are created. There are often live demonstrations to go along with the many artifacts on display.

The Six Harmonies Pagoda is a must for anyone visiting Hangzhou. Located on Yuelun Hill overlooking the river, this 5th century marvel is the epitome of architecture in the city. Its wood and brick are both ancient and unusual, arranged in an octagon almost 200 feet/60m high.

Surrounding the pagoda are numerous gardens with painted animal figures placed carefully about. In the interior is a challenging spiral staircase, a curious zigzag corridor and several small chambers to explore apart from the spacious main area. The seven-story interior is festooned with paintings of birds, flowers and other local elements. In the upper sections visitors can get a spectacular view of the nearby Qiantang River Bridge.

Hangzhou also has some outstanding restaurants to delight and refresh the busy tourist.

The Haveli at 77 Nanshan Rd offers Indian food in an elegant setting. Diners can enjoy a great tandoori chicken while watching the live belly dancers perform. One of the few restaurants with a non-smoking policy, you’ll be able to really taste the dal fry spicy lentil soup.

Another excellent choice is the Hupanju Teahouse at 23 Hubing Rd. Its casual ambiance and waterside location makes for the perfect lunchtime setting. Sited alongside the northeast edge of West Lake, it offers everything from a buffet to some of the best tea in China.

Whether it is natural beauty, ancient architecture or fine dining you seek, you could do no better than to spend a day in Hangzhou before heading on to Shanghai or Beijing.

Hainan, Hawaii of China

Picture white, sandy beaches, a bright blue sky and a gentle breeze. Coconuts drop at your feet from trees as the sand warms your feet while strolling along. No, you’re not in Hawaii. You’re in Hainan, the smallest province in China.

But, by Chinese standards, small has a slightly different meaning. Hainan covers over 35,000 square km and is home to over 7 million Chinese. At the southern end of the country, its natural beauty has long attracted visitors and fellow countrymen alike.

There are dozens of places to go and things to do in Hainan. Or, you can do nothing at all.

You can lounge on one of the many beautiful beaches in Sanya such as Tianya Haijia or Dadonghai. Take a walk around and enjoy some of the great seafood. You might visit one of the many shops. Shell carvings in many coastal towns around the world are just tourist trinkets. In Sanya, they’re fine art.

Yalong Bay, east of Sanya, is one of the most popular beaches in the area. Covered with students during the height of the season, you can people watch or enjoy one of the longest stretches of beach sand in the world.

North of Sanya, you can visit the highlands. Cooler than some of the other areas during the summer, it provides ample opportunity for hiking. The local scenery is especially lush here.

Take a ferry trip to the capital of Haikou and see the Hairui Tomb, built for a famed officer of the Ming Dynasty. Or visit the popular Wugong Temple not far away.

Be sure to allow time to see Monkey Island. Here there are thousands of Macaque monkeys chattering away as you thread along the area. Only a ten minute ferry ride from Xincun, it’s best seen in March or April, during mating season. You can enjoy yourself by purchasing a bag of peanuts and see whether they’re easy to distract or not.

Xincun itself is a delightful little fishing village where you can enjoy a quiet stroll or interact with the friendly locals. Take some time to wander around and soak in the natural beauty of the land and its inhabitants.

You can visit the Li or Miao Villages, only two among the many that are home to the one million individuals who comprise the ethnic minority in Hainan. You’ll be served some of the finest food available anywhere outside Hong Kong or Shanghai.

Come find out what so many already know: that anyone visiting China should have Hainan on the itinerary.

China — Gulangyu Island

China – Gulangyu Island

Hong Kong is not the only notable island city in China. One – Gulangyu Island – is just a few minutes off the coast of Xiamen, north of its world famous cousin. But it might as well be in another country. Where Hong Kong is all hustle and bustle, Gulangyu Island is as laid back as a tiny village in the Caribbean.

Gulangyu Island provides an array of things for tourists to do, including the option of doing nothing at all. Though the port at Xiamen is busy shipping goods to and from Hong Kong, the island is a beach lover’s paradise. Sunny, friendly and easy going.

No automobiles or motorcycles are allowed, so the transportation is by bicycle or electric scooter. But most people walk, if they go anywhere at all. Enjoying the breeze and the blue sky are a popular option. But for those who have rested and had their fill (temporarily at least) of soaking up the sun, there are a dozen interesting sights to see.

Sunlight Rock is a popular spot. It’s the island’s highest peak at just over 300 feet (92m). Either looking at it or from it, visitors will get a great view. Its granite face provides an impressive facade and the view from the top is breathtaking. At the base is a small museum called Memorial Hall, dedicated to a local hero, Zheng Chenggong, who chased off Dutch colonists and re-captured Taiwan.

Hiking up the path, one can read some of the many inscriptions left by poets over the generations, some of which date back 400 years. Nearby are the long abandoned training grounds for Chenggong’s soldiers. Not far away is a fascinating cave called Gu Bishu Dong (Old Summer Cave).

The island houses a number of fine gardens, as well. The Shuzhuang Garden is one of the best. Built in 1931 by a private owner, it was opened to the public in 1955. Since then, thousands have come to enjoy its Garden of the Hiding Sea and Garden of Making-Up Hills.

Walking along the tall bamboo, the ocean is invisible, making its presence known by the hint of cool breeze. Climbing up the Tower of Tide-Viewing allows for a spectacular view of the ocean generating that wafting sea air. There are numerous paths to saunter along and you can take a rest at one point to get a great view of Sunlight Rock.

But one of the most notable features of Gulangyu Island is something that gives the place its nickname of Piano Island: the Piano Museum. Not long after the turn of the 20th century piano fever struck the Westerners occupying the island. Everyone who was anyone just had to learn. The objects of their passion are now enshrined in the Piano Museum. Miniatures, roll pianos, accordion pianos and many more are on display.

Whether it’s for the delightful museum, the Gothic cathedral or just to sit atop Sunlight Rock and enjoy a great view of Xiamen City across the water, you’ll find many delightful activities on Gulangyu Island.