Category Archives: Cafes

Western Breakfast at CF Cafe

There are two reasons why I would ever eat Pizza Hut’s food. They can receive orders in English if you call them for delivery. Also, they do scrambled eggs and French toast breakfasts up until 10:30. Given Pizza Hut’s wide reach, that’s highly convenient if you are traveling through unfamiliar places in China. In Changzhou, however, there are some places that offer a western styled breakfast with higher quality food. CF Cafe is one of those establishments.

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The food here has always been of high quality. Their cakes, breads, sandwiches, and pizza are all worth the trip. However so are their breakfasts, and the prices are roughly the same as Pizza Hut. As implied earlier, the quality of their offerings are much, much better.

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This is scrambled eggs with salmon. It came with a fried tomato and a salad with Japanese style dressing. This cost about 45 RMB. For me, salmon is a very rich-tasting fish. There is only so much of it I can eat in one sitting. The portion here was just about the right amount. While I enjoyed this, I liked the next dish even more.

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The baked beans and the tomato makes me think this is a more British styled breakfast than American, but that that’s really splitting hairs. So this is basicaly scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms. Other sides include a breakfast sausage and potatoes. This runs about 55 RMB. That’s roughly similar to what I normally pay at Pizza Hut. Maybe it’s 5 RMB more, but I will gladly play the difference.

These two options are not the only breakfast choices CF Cafe has to offer. However, this category of food is just another indication of the quality you can find here, whether you are seeking breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

CF Cafe is located in Taihu Road in Xinbei and is across the street from the media tower and complex. It’s walking distance from Wanda Plaza and it’s BRT station.

Changzhou Starbucks vs. Jersey Starbucks

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Starbucks in Changzhou

This is a given: Starbucks in America is not the same as Starbucks for China. This is common with any international food chain — just compare the menus of Chinese KFC, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut and their American counterparts. In some ways, it’s interesting to compare how they are different.

In the case of Starbucks, the bake case provides the most stark contrast. In Changzhou, Starbucks display cases look spare, almost bleak. There is a lot of empty space, and some of that space is filled with single rows of the same product. You know? so many peices of the same type of cheese cake sitting next to each other. The baked goods also share space with bottled drinks, sandwiches, and packaged salads. If you go later in the evening, the bake case looks even more empty.

Starbucks in the USA is a different story. Sure, there may be some gaps. However, the most noticable difference is the variety. You don’t have a case sparsely filled by single plates of the similar types of cakes. In America, there are multiple types of cookies, cakes, and pies.

So, it goes without saying. Starbucks in the USA is better. But, that being said, even with the reduced options, Starbucks in Changzhou seems a lot better than the other chains like Costa or Cafe 85. But that’s just my opinion.

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Starbucks in New Jersey

Sandwiches at CF Cafe

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Caesar salad wrap
Sometimes, finding good salads in Changzhou is easier said the done. It’s a no-brainer: if you live in the Middle Kingdom, you will
always be surrounded by Chinese food. So, some people are always looking for salad recommendations, and I tend to be one of those people. Thankfully, a friend pointed me towards C.F. Cafe in Xinbei, and I am very glad she did.

For me, it’s near my university and where I live. I can walk there. Also, for people maybe taking the B1 BRT bus into Xinbei for the day, it’s also conveniently located. It’s just down the street from Wanda Plaza and Istanbul Restaurant on Taihu Road 太湖路. The large media center and TV tower is also across the street.

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Ham, egg, and veggies
C.F. Cafe offers coffee and cake, too. But, honestly, I haven’t tried those, yet. I had not only a salad here, but also most of their sandwiches.  The chicken Caesar salad seemed a bit small, but the it had the right proportion of dressing. As for the sandwiches, they turned out to be the compelling selling point and what I most often return for.

The key to a good sandwich is always the bread. You can have the most expensive cuts of meat and the most exotic condiments ever, but if the bread is bad, the sandwich will be bad. It tastes like C.F. Cafe bakes its bread daily. As for the rest, it’s fairly simple. I had a chicken sandwich, a Caesar wrap, a ham and egg, and more. All of these are reasonably priced, and if you go in the middle of the day, there are available as easy takeout. They are already made and are ready and waiting. If you opt to eat in, they have something like a panini press that will warm things up and crisp the bread.

I noticed some items that might be very vegetarian friendly, but I haven’t given them a shot. Just took some pictures of the menu and sent them to a very interested friend. However, the selling point of a good restaurant is when many, many things on the menu look very good. So, while I currently like the sandwiches, I will definitely return often to try the other fare.

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CF Cafe’s storefront

Mr. Churros at Injoy

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In theory, it sounds really hard to screw up a churro. Basically, it’s just fried dough with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar.  In reality, there are multiple ways it can happen. Bad dough leads to a bad churro. Old and dirty deep fry oil can also mess up what should be utterly simple. Then of course, there is a the quality and the type of oil when it’s fresh.

I was thinking of this because a Mr. Churros recently opened at Changzhou’s downtown Injoy Plaza. It’s yet another coffee and snack place that’s already near a Bread Talk, Costa Coffee, and a Starbucks. I went to try it, and when it comes to western food, the pessimist in me usually expects the worst. Thankfully, my sense of churro-related doom remained unfulfilled. Mr. Churros — while surrounded by coffee competitors — gets one thing uniquely right.

Their signature item is made fresh and on the spot. A string of fresh batter goes directly into the fryer, and the resulting churro is served warm. The menu is kept extremely simple: plain, with chocolate, with ice cream, and so on. It’s a very quick, very simple snack. Their coffee, however, left me unimpressed and with a little bit of heart burn. I had an iced Americano; I wanted it hot and with milk, but that’s not a service issue. My Chinese is just terrible. Still, I would go back. They have a take out window if you just want to stop quickly while on the go.

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OK Koala: Down Under in the Middle Kingdom

American knowledge of Australian food might be restricted to Vegemite. I don’t even know what exactly that is — other than a darkly colored paste that many Aussies like to slather onto toast. And there is only one reason why I know this.  It was a lyric in the now forgotten (by Americans) Men at Work song “Down Under.” So, I am imagining its a cultural cliche — just the same way that “Fosters is Australian” is also a a cliche.

“Oh, Rich, that’s a shit beer we feed to foreigners,”  an Aussie friend once told me. “Why? We don’t want drink it!”

So, yes, okay, I don’t really don’t know anything about Australian food and drinks. This is why my curiosity was piqued by OK Koala, in Xinbei. It’s a cafe and a bar operated by an Aussie, and it recently underwent a soft opening. In short, all that means it is brand new and that some menu items might not be available, as the Chinese staff undergoes training on how to actually prepare some of the food items.

One thing, however, is readily available. Meat pies! I had three of them last I visited: steak and mushroom, ground beef and cheese, and chicken and leek. All of them were very good and reasonably priced. OK Koala even has sausage rolls. These seemed to have more ground sausage at the middle. So, if one is looking for the Scottish variety (a British sausage link wrapped in pastry dough), look elsewhere. But seriously, this is about as close as you are going to get in city like Changzhou.

While this place wears it’s Australian nationality on it’s sleeve (and why shouldn’t it!), the amount of alcohol available is well stocked and  extremely international. Yes, you can find Australian beer here, but you can even find American micro brew. Hell, the bar even has a bottle of Polish egg-based advocaat, should a weary and homesick Pollack wander in.

And wandering in is extremely easy.  OK Koala is conveniently located. It’s next to the BRT station just one stop north of Wanda Plaza.

Zouqu’s Starbucks

As is often pointed out, Starbucks in China is often taken as an economic indicator. As coffee goes, it’s not cheap when compared to Chinese cafes, and Chinese friends sometimes tell me that some people go there more as a fashion statement than for the cakes or the drinks. Going to Starbucks 星巴克 is a way to show off that you have money.

When it comes to Changzhou, I used to think Starbucks were mostly just centralized in denser parts of the city. Hutang in Wujin, the city center, and the greater Wanda area in Xinbei, for example.  Well, that’s starting to change. Xinbei just got two more, and they are not near Wanda.

More interestingly, I found one in Zouqu 邹区 . This is a small township in far western part of Zhonglou District. Technically, it’s not in Zhonglou at all, according to Baidu Maps — rather, in one of the oddly contorted norther arms of Wujin. Still, I choose to lump it in to Zhonglou, partly because Qingfeng Park is like five or more kilometers away.

Zouqu doesn’t strike me as “cosmopolitan Changzhou.” It seems far more industrial and developing economically. Its in Taifu Plaza 泰富时代广场, and that seems pretty new. When I stopped in for a cafe Americano and a bacon and egg sandwich, the place seemed empty. But, it was also late morning on a Thursday when most people would be working. To find a Starbucks here is a real indication of the company’s rapid expansion in China in general and Changzhou in particular.

And yes, they have a western sit-down toilet.

Mr. Bean Coffee

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Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean, seems popular in China, and especially with Chinese children. It’s not hard to guess why, either. Out of the types of cultural imports, physical comedy and bodily humor is the most easy to relate to. Think about it: there is no language to translate, no idioms to misunderstand. It’s one of the reasons why, for example, Jackie Chan has been able to find success outside of China. His English accent is terrible, but no American really watches Chan for a witty punchlines or verbal nimbleness. Profound silliness is inherent in his actions. It’s the same with Atkinson as Mr. Bean.

This popularity can be seen first hand in Changzhou. A Xinbei cafe bares a distinctive  theme. Even down to the name: Mr. Bean Coffee. Inside the cafe, one can see pictures of Atkinson in his grey suit, but also weird, and rather surreal, portraits of the character on the wall. Other depictions range from cartoonish to semi-life-sized. There’s even a photo of him by the entrance, ushering a patron in.IMG_20160228_145057
Sitting and drinking espresso in Mr. Bean Coffee is just an odd, surreal experience. It’s not unpleasant. It’s just strange. But it raises other questions. Is this a case of copyright infringement? Does Atkinson profit from all these kids sitting around in his cafe while eating cake? It’s easy to lob “violating intellectual property” charge at businesses in China. After all, you don’t have to look for in Changzhou to find unlicensed uses of Micky Mouse. This isn’t one of those cases. Mr. Bean Coffee. The cafe is a chain. And it does have a license with Tiger Aspect. In theory, Atkinson should be seeing  profit from this.

In Xinbei, Mr. Bean coffee can be found on a sunken, but open-air basement level of the Changzhou TV Tower complex. It’s the same urban block that’s home to a Lafu supermarket and a Secret Recipe Malaysian fusion restaurant. Mr. Bean is the neighbor to an Internet / computer gaming cafe. Wanda Plaza is in walking distance.

Yet, despite all of these location details, one fundamental question has not been addressed. How is the coffee? Not very good. Usually, I only buy Americanos at cafes. That’s because no business ever makes a simple pot of coffee in China.  And I have no interest in drinking lattes or other types of liquid desserts. So, my judgement comes on the watered-down espresso shots alone. Starbucks is a lot better. The only reason to visit Mr. Bean Coffee is gawk awkwardly at its novelty.

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Nandajie Starbucks, 1 of 3

 

One of newer Starbucks near Nandajie / 南大街 in Downtown Changzhou

This Starbucks is within the Nandajie (南大街) shopping area in downtown Changzhou. There really isn’t much to review about a Starbucks. It serves coffee, the menu is the same in each one.  It’s really expensive, especially for Chinese people. I once wrote a wonky essay on how the growth Starbucks in China is a key indicator of “The Chinese Dream.”

This one is one of three within the Nandajie area proper. Each of them are extremely close to each other in proximity. This one, however, is located at the North Entrance of the Landmark Shopping Center along Yanling Road.  The burning question most people have is… does it have a western sit-down toilet?  Answer: Yes it does.