Living on Hanjiang Road is such a privilege, and over the years I have rented an apartment there, it has easily become my favorite part of Xinbei and Changzhou in general. Want good sushi? Walk across the street! Want Indian food? Walk across the street! If you like Japanese food, living in this part of Xinbei is pretty much being spoiled. I realized this recently after I had to leave my apartment for a few nights due to my landlord needing to fix my ceiling. I took a room in the Haiyang Hotel across the street from Wanda. Now without access to a kitchen, I decided to walk across the street and grab some dinner.
I decided to try out one of the Japanese restaurants there. There are two to five eateries dedicated to this cuisine on Wanda’s pedestrain street. Randomly, I walked into one seeking a simple beef curry. To be fair, over time, I had tried some of the other shops, but they tended to be more ramen focused. The place I strolled into was an expansive menu place that you would easily find on Hanjiang Road.
But before that, I had some chicken meatballs.
And a diced up lamb chop.
And then, the aforementioned curry I had been craving. So, what did I think? Honestly, I was underwhelmed to the point where I realized that I was taking living on Japanese Street for granted. The portions were stingy. For a place that does both noodles and raw fish, there was not a buffet / all you can eat option. Ordering small portions ala carte can lead to hefty tabs to be paid off. Everything I ate had tastier options on Japanese Street. That’s not to say the food was bad — it did scratch a Japanese itch. I just realized that the places on Hanjiang Road were merely better.
Wujin in 2020 is so not the Wujin of 2014 and 15. That’s when I lived down there, and your western food options basically consisted of Monkey King, Jagerwirt, or Chocolates. Kaffa opened, and that gave a bit of scope to a part of the city were “foreign” mostly just meant Japanese or Korean cuisine. Back then, a reason to go to Xinbei was actually quite salivating, because that’s where Changzhou’s one and only Turkish eatery existed. Going up north meant you could actually have hummus and a doner kebab at Istanbul Restaurant. Years ago, I used to dream up excuses to come to Xinbei just eat Turkish food. Well, times do change.
Eventually, I moved to Xinbei, and I actively have taken Istanbul Restaurant for granted. Recently, Wujin got a brand new Turkish eatery called Pistachio. And in an ironic turn, I actually dreamed up an excuse to go to Wujin just so I could go there and try it out. So, how did it go?
Well, here is a feta cheese plate with a wrinkled olive floating in a dipping sauce. That is meant to sound more descriptive than sassy. Also, if you consider that feta is one of the rarer cheeses in Changzhou, this is actually appealing. One of the only places I’ve actually found real feta has been in Metro, and that was in a jar of oil with olives and spices.
Pistachio has most of the traditional dipping sauces. The hummus was particularly good. But, the biggest test of a Turkish place usually comes down to the doner kebab meat.
I went for a beef and cheese fold over, and it was pretty good. However, this brings up an obvious question. How does it compare to Istanbul Restaurant in Xinbei? I would rate the two as pretty much the same. They’re both good and one is not better than other. However, it should be noted this opinion comes after only an initial visit and trying a main dish that is on both menus. All I know is that next time I am in Wujin, I am going to be highly tempted to return to Pistachio.
“I used to think curry was disgusting until I did business in Singapore. My eyes were opened, then.”
— One of my Chinese friends with the English name of Andy
This is actually something I have heard often from many of my Chinese friends, but it comes in certain variations. Yes, Singapore knows how to do a good curry. So does Thailand, India, and Japan. Which country is better at it is a matter of taste, and it becomes an unsolvable question. It’s like asking an American who makes better pizza; New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Jersey Folk will argue to the bitter end that Chicago deep dish sucks and is not real pizza. (And to my friends that love deep dish, I am sorry, it is disgusting, and we will never agree on the matter. I apologize in advance! Can we talk about something else?) Chicago folks will respond in kind. Californians need not enter the discussion, because the Chicago people plus the Mid-Atlantic east coasters will team up and scream, “Why put raw tuna on a pizza? That shit’s supposed to be on rice and then dipped into soy sauce with wasabi!” And then a pointless shouting match ensues.
Andy’s attitude is emblematic of a Chinese attitude I have seen towards curry. It’s Asian-foreign food, and we’re not very good at it.Why should I care? In most cases, I would agree. A lot of the Chinese attempts at curry I have tried have turned out bland. This is especially true when you compare it to aforementioned curries from other Asian countries. Recently, though, I have found a place in downtown Changzhou that is well worth a visit. A friend of mine with a YouTube channel had been personally recommending it for a long time. “My god,” he said, “That place is an institution. It’s been around forever.” I came here in 2014, and my YouTuber pal has been around longer than me. So, I trust him without question. However, it was only recently that I took him at his word and gave the place a try.
Nanyang Curry is located on the third floor of Nandajie. That particular pedestrian shopping street has been suffering for years, now. A lot of the stores there are shuttered. Roughly about half of this commercial plaza appears closed. Yet, even in that environment, this place draws a lunchtime and dinner rush that has people sitting on stools and waiting to get a table. There are other eateries on the third floor that simply does not get the same traffic. So, how’s the food?
As of this writing, I have only tried the Japanese curry options. This was mostly to have a point of comparison — I live on Japanese Street in Xinbei, and I go to the restaurants there quite often. While Japanese curry is not the same as Indian when it comes to spice levels, there is a kick to every spoonful. Nanyang doesn’t have that. It also doesn’t come with a fried egg draped over a ball of white rice. So, maybe it’s not exactly authentic? But, honestly, I don’t care. The curry here is awesome, even if it is mild by Japanese standards. Maybe this relates to fusion elements? The “authentic” curries I have had on Japanese street have been skimpy when it comes to vegetables, and Nanyang’s dishes are crammed with potatoes and carrots. Call me an American as much as you want, but if there is a vegetable I can’t get enough of, it’s potatoes!
The real signature here is the fried pork. Breading and frying a cutlet of meat and pairing it with rice and curry is nothing new. Nanyang has done this the best that I have ever tried in Changzhou. The more “authentic” places on Hanjiang Road (Japanese Street) feature tougher, chewier cuts. Plus, they have been breaded with panko crumbs before being cooked. That’s understandable. Panko is a go-to norm in Japanese cooking. Nanyang’s pork cutlet tastes more German schnitzel — the breading is different, and the consistency of the meat feels like it has been tenderized. This particular menu item is something I actually now crave while downtown for business or pleasure.
As before mentioned, Nanyang Curry is on the third floor of Nandajie. The menu is 100% Chinese text without pictures. So, you have to be able to read a menu to dine here. You could get around that by using Baidu Translate on your phone or inviting a Chinese freind to come with you. Once you get beyond the language barrier, this place is a “must visit.”
The word around town is that there is a new Greek restaurant called Golden Olives, and after a few friends sent me pictures and firm declarations of “This is awesome,” I felt like I had no choice but to check it out. After all, I have loved Greek food ever since my elder brother forced me to eat a gyro pita in Brussels (near the Grand Platz) such a long time ago. So, did the food live up to the hype and whispers? Here’s what I tried.
This is halloumi with cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Halloumi is a thickly textured cheese resulting from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. It’s so dense it doesn’t melt, and it’s one of the few cheeses that can be grilled or fried. Like feta, it’s often used in Mediterranean styled salads — which are also available on Golden Olive’s menu. This restaurant quite possibly could be one of the first to ever serve halloumi in Changzhou. Next up, there’s this.
Tzatziki, pure and simple. This is rather common as both a dip for flat bread and a condiment in wraps. Personally speaking, whenever I try a new-to-me restaurant in China, it’s usually best to start with the most basic menu items. Simply put, if a “Greek” eatery can’t get tzatziki right, then something is seriously wrong and the rest of the menu may not be worth trying. In the case of Golden Olives, this starter more than passed the test.
Of course, if one is just judging by the basics, starting with a gyro platter seemed apropos. When I first looked at the menu, I was a little disappointed. In my mind, a gyro usually consists beef-lamb hybrid where the meats are ground, mixed, and rotisserie roasted on a spit. But then again, back in the USA, a gyro usually implies a pitawrap. It’s not a startling revelation that America changes things and assumptions when it imports international cuisine by way of immigrants and their resulting children. Regardless of that, the chicken and pork mixed platter was seasoned exceptionally well, and I look forward to having it again someday. In short, Golden Olives lives up to the hype and buzz it has been getting recently. So, yes, it’s actually worth the visit. While it is pricey, one can easily say there is nothing else in Changzhou like it. Istanbul Restaurant comes close, but that’s Turkish food, not Greek.
Currently, there is a downside, though. Golden Olives is currently located in the brand new Wu Yue mall in Tianning. It’s an inconvenient trek from the city center. The B2 — among other buses — comes out this way, but it’s a lengthy ride. Depending on where one is in Changzhou, a taxi could be a little on the costly side of things. This is only a temporary problem, however. Tianning Wu Yue is near a future Line 2 subway station. However, that is slated for next year. So, chalk the inconvenient location up as a growing pain. Personally speaking though, it is wort visiting.
From time to time, after staying up late and drinking one too many beers with friends at a bar, I often hit Japanese Street on my way home. It’s more of a convenience, though. The north gate of my housing estate is actually on Hanjiang Road. The other night, I did one of my routine pit stops, and I had what I felt was an amazing bowl of pork and garlic ramen. It was also 2am, and I figured thinking it was so awesome could be chalked up to the fact that I was a little tipsy. So, I decided to go back, completely sober, and try it again for lunch. Alas, the place was closed. I was still hungry, and so I just ventured into a different — and newer to me — Japanese eatery. They didn’t have the type of soup I had wanted from the other place. However, I noticed something I hadn’t really tried before.
To put plainly and simply: udon noodles in Japanese beef curry. Now, if one is ranking the international curries of the world, Japan’s version is not near the top. In my opinion, that’s an ongoing threeway war between Singapore, Thailand, and India. That’s not to say Japanese curry is bad, and I do quite often enjoy it. There is a sort of simple “comfort food” aspect sometimes appeals to me.
Frequently, curry is on a Japanese menu while being paired with white rice. Adding a pork or chicken breaded cutlet is also common, and that is often sometimes topped with a fried egg. So, on this occasion, it was the first time I saw beef curry paired with soft, thick udon noodles. So, what’s the end result?
Liked it, and at 35 RMB a bowl, it will be something I will have again for a quick lunch. While putting noodles into curry is not a new and novel thing, this particular pairing isn’t something I have seen at other Japanese places I have dined at. That’s also the important thing about figuring out the entirety of Hanjiang Road as a dining destination. There are so many Japanese restaurants competing with each other, it’s hard to declare which is the best. Actually, that’s a bit of a silly task. It’s better to figure out what menu items are unique to certain places. So, simple udon beef curry; it’s one of the reasons why I might go back to Jing He 井禾 on Japanese Street. Since it was only my second time there, I’m wondering what else may be on the menu that sets itself apart from the dozens of other places nearby.
Some regional cuisines are more closely related than others. For example, nobody in their right mind would ever say Chengdu and Changzhou’s cuisines are remotely similar. One is super spicy, and the other is sweet. However, you can find some commonalities between Jiangsu and Zhejiang. There is an emphasis on lighter, fresher flavors. Both tend to be on sweeter side, but out of the Zhejiang dishes I have tried, the sweetness tends to be more subtle.
A year or more ago, a Chinese friend introduced Zhejiang cuisine to me by taking me to 弥空的小确幸Mí kōng de xiǎo què xìng. Based on Google Tanslate, a possible English name might be Mikong’s Small Fortune. Then again, it’s always risky to trust non-human machine translators. Also, the restaurant didn’t seem to advertise an English name, so I’ll just call it Mikong going forward. A different good friend and I recently wanted to grab lunch and do some catching up, and I realized that I hadn’t been back to this particular place. I had good memories of the food the first time around, and so we settled on here as a place to dine. So, how was it?
The inside has a very cozy atmosphere, and interestingly enough, there was soft, jazzy English-language music on in the background. The location is also highly convenient for downtown; it’s across the street from the rear end of Wuyue / Injoy Plaza. Basically, it’s part of the non-historic side of Comb Lane. On the downside, you have to walk through another restaurant and climb a set of stairs to get to Mikong, but that almost gives it a secluded, tucked away vibe while essentially being in a highly trafficked part of downtown Changzhou. Enough about that, how about the food?
The shrimp smothered in garlic was particularly good. This was a repeat ordering from my original visit more than a year ago. There is reason why I like this dish. I have always had a problematic relationship with shrimp in China — I don’t like the fact they are often cooked and served with their heads and eye stalks attached. In fact, I still haven’t figured out how to eat shrimp in China. There seems to be an art and skill level involved that is completely lost on me. At Mikong, the prawns are beheaded, and that really simplifies matters.
Next up was a goose dish. It tasted good, but to be honest, the goose itself seemed to have too many bones. This led me to putting my chopsticks down and using my hands to inelegantly gnaw. The brown sauce it came in reminded me a little of slightly sweet “sort-of” curry. I often used it a dipping sauce for the remaining side dish.
Lightly fried potato balls. This is just sheer simplicity. It is really hard to go wrong with potatoes that haven’t been overly fussed with. These three dishes led to a final bill around 160ish RMB. The friend and I left satisfied and thinking Mikong would be worth a return visit.
“One day, I am going to try eel, but today is just not that day.”
This is something I used to say while looking at a sushi menu. Essentially, I would be tempted to be adventuresome and try new things, but I would always chicken out in the end. This was seemingly a lifetime ago, back when I lived in North Carolina and New Jersey. Sushi places seemed few and far between, and I quite often had zero disposable cash. So, the fear was partly economic — why pay a lot of money for something I may not exactly like?
Times change, and now I am in Changzhou. Sushi isn’t really a hard to find, exotic item here. That’s especially true now that I live near Hanjiang Road / Japanese Street in Xinbei. While there are plenty of sushi options to pick from, one place has a great deal to consider.
Pomel has an all you can eat deal for 198 RMB. This is not a buffet, either. You basically have full run at the menu, and you can order multiple times. Both beer and sake are included. Upon a recent visit with a friend, we basically got to have our fill of sashimi…
If you think about how much sashimi grade salmon and tuna can cost, the 198 RMB price tag quickly pays for itself, and that’s not even factoring in beer and sake refills.
And, of course, it’s hard to go to a Japanese place and not order sushi. Then, there is another good aspect of an all you can eat deal.
You can try things out without the fear of wasting money. I have long gotten over trepidation surrounding eel. The friend I was dining with had already introduced me its yumminess on a separate occasion. However, this time, I had the opportunity to try my first couple of cups of warm sake. I also got a chance to sample sea urchin as part of a second sashimi platter. I appreciated the sake, yet raw sea urchin just really isn’t my thing. It’s got the appearance and consistency of — not to be gross — snot. However, I now can say been there, done that and move on. Again, that’s the value of this deal at Pomel — or any other Japanese all you can eat places — you can try things you normally wouldn’t if you were doing ala carte.
“Can I have a Whopper with Cheese, only hold the meat patty.” I crossed my arms. “I would also like …”
“Excuse me.” The Morgantown, West Virginia, Burger King cashier shot me a look that actively mingled confusion with disgust. “What did you just order?”
“Whopper with cheese, minus the meat.”
“So, um, you don’t want a burger without the actual burger?”
“You just want condiments and cheese in a bun?”
“Yep.” I nodded slightly. “And fries. I want French fries, too – with a Diet Coke.”
“Um, okay.” She tapped the order into her register.
I saw her mouth the word weirdo under her breath while slightly shaking her head. I really didn’t care. This whole scenario played out multiple times during the 1990’s and my years as a university student in Appalachia. This wasn’t the first time I ordered a tomato, pickle, onion, and cheese sandwich from a fast food joint. It wasn’t the last, either.
You see, I used to be a vegetarian. The reasons are best saved for another time, but in retrospect, they were more out of punk rock vanity than concerns over my health. I was a very bad vegetarian who consistently made poor dietary choices. Instead of evaluating the nutritional content of my food, I just ate a lot of eggs, steamed vegetables, cheese, and faux meat. Not Dogs? Yup, always in a bun and usually smothered in coleslaw. Fake ham? Absolutely! Especially if I wrapped it around a breaded cheese stick and dipped it into a barbecue sauce. Most of my diet consisted of easily microwaved GMO soy-based foods like Morning Star Farms. In short, I ate a lot of junk food.
One day, I woke up and realized that the counter cultural idealism of my twenties didn’t make for healthy living. Actually, I realized I was a clueless idiot. So, I stopped being a vegetarian who used to call strawberry ice cream dinner, and I eased myself back into sensible, balanced meat consumption. Fish without bones first, followed by poultry, pork, and beef. Now, many people can argue that I have many dreadful habits – rampant neurosis, heavy drinking, saying I am going to go to the gym while never going, and incessant chain smoking, for example. Correcting all of that is an ongoing work in progress. It is work. It is in progress. I promise. And, while I am no longer a vegetarian and never will be one again, I still have the upmost respect for people who have made that choice and know how to do it the right way. I also still enjoy eating proper vegetarian and vegan foods from time to time.
I know the challenges that come with it, especially when you are travelling and cannot cook for yourself. I also know that maintaining that lifestyle choice in China is not particularly easy. Being a vegan here is even worse. Sometimes, even a vegetable-only dish has been cooked in or is swimming in pork fat. Noodle soups are even more deceptive. Do you know what was used to make the base broth? Can you be absolutely sure when you are starving, in a Chinese city you don’t recognize due to travel, and walk into a restaurant? Can you ask a restaurant owner if something has an animal by-product in it without coming off like a complete jerk who is using his phone as a translator? Sometimes, that is easier said than done.
I thought about this while between classes at Hohai University, recently. There are plenty of small restaurants between that school’s west gate and Xinbei Wanda Plaza. Like all eateries, some of them survive and some do not last six months. Needless to say, I eat dinner in this area a lot because it’s right next to where I work. It was in one of these places where I stared at a plate of noodles and realized I was eating something totally vegan without realizing it. It was a dish called 凉皮liángpí.
The Chinese for that literally translates as “cold skin.” Yeah, I know. It sounds rather disgusting – as if you are eating something that has been flayed off of a person or animal. Only, it isn’t that. In my experience, the character 皮pí usually refers to a sheet of something very thin in texture. For example, 豆腐皮 dòufu pí literally translates as “tofu skin” and is a common add-on ingredient in hotpot places and other restaurants that allow you to customize.
So, what exactly is liangpi? It’s a cold and wide rice noodle served in vinegar. Sometimes, chili oil can be added to spice things up. Typically, shredded cucumber, spongy tofu, and crunchy peanuts are involved. Since it is served cold, it’s usually best ate during hot weather. This dish originally comes from Shaanxi, but it is now so popular and widespread, it can be found nearly anywhere in small restaurants or as street food. It’s also relatively cheap. So, for vegans and vegetarians alike, this is a potentially a quick and easy lunch choice.
However, since liangpi has spread all over Changzhou, there are multiple variations and a lot of them have meat added. Some of the these options can include…
Really, cold rice noodles are an extremely versatile dish — from it’s vegan friendly base to just about anything the shop in question likes to add to fill out their menu board. This is why I am not really providing a map location. This dish really is that widespread throughout the city. However, there was one place where, between my Hohai classes, I had a blast from the past.
This is 农少爷nóng shàoyé. It focuses more on the Xian variety of liangpi. It recently opened, and I see a lot of university students crammed in here during dinner and lunch rushes. Their “Chinese hamburger” sandwich 肉夹馍ròu jiā mó is excellent. However, while exploring their menu over multiple days, I ran into this.
It is 蔬菜夹馍shūcài jiā mó — a bun stuffed with vegetables.Biting into this made me think of 20 years ago, during a different time and a different life. A time where I walked into Burger Kings and asked for a hamburger-without-actual-hamburgers. I was young with a huge vinyl record collection of punk rock and death metal albums with titles like Save for Your Doomed Future. If I could talk to that kid, I would tell him that his future — while having some devastating rock bottom moments — isn’t all that bad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A common mistake some foreigners make is thinking their Chinese friends are all experts when it comes to their native cuisine. I will admit that I have been guilty of that in the past. There are many errors to this way of thinking. For example, which Chinese food? It’s a huge country with many different regional cuisines. Once you factor in local delicacies, you can live a lifetime of trying a new dish everyday and still not have gotten to everything China has to offer an adventuresome eater.
In the end, some dishes are harder to research than others — even in Chinese. The restaurant 筋牛坐筋头巴脑香锅米饭Jīn niú zuòJīn tóu bā nǎo xiāng guō mǐfàn has been very difficult to figure out. Let’s start with the name, as half of it is easy to miss-translate into Chinglish. Following the rule of translate the easy stuff and leave the specifics in Chinese, I would call it Jin Tou Ba Fragrant Pot and Rice — or just Jin Tou Ba as a short form. The official sign outside the place says “Ribs, Head, and Brain.” I don’t feel comfortable saying that, so for me, it will be just Jin Tou Ba going forward. The other option would be the place’s actual Chinese name, Jin Niu Zuo.
The frustrating thing is I really like the food here, but none of the Chinese people I ask know anything about this restaurant or the style of food. That’s weird, because every time I go here, the place is busy. I even asked my students at Hohai, and even they didn’t know. Hohai University is national institution and draws students from all over China. I often joke that while I am their English teacher, they are my Chinese cultural instructors. To use an extremely Chinese expression, it’s a win-win situation. Not one of my students said, “Oh, I know Jin Tou Ba!”
Okay, so enough of the personal mystery. What is the food actually like? The closest comparisons would be malatang 麻辣烫 and malaxiangguo麻辣香锅. Even that comparison is not entirely accurate. Malatang is a soup, and Malaxiangguo I think is a spicy stir fry. The point of comparison with all three involves self service.
Jin Tou Ba has a similar set up, but it results in a beef stew. A diner walks in, grabs a bowl, tongs, and selects from meat, vegetables, and dumplings. Then, they must choose from a series of pots of braised meat. A lot of those choices are organ meat like tripe, but the first pot is essentially braised beef. The woman behind the counter weighs your selection, gives you the price, and then asks your preferred spiciness level. I tend choose weakest option above “not spicy,” but you can get Sichuan levels of heat if that is desired.
The quality of the food is very good. Jin Tou Ba has become a reliable and convenient lunch or supper option for me, as of late. The braised beef has always been tender and not over cooked and chewy. All of that is served with a simple side of white rice. However, I like that they have a hot pot condiment station. I always prefer mixing minced garlic and scallions into sesame seed paste (think, tahini).
Changzhou currently has two of these places. One is on the pedestrian street at Xinbei Wanda Plaza. The other is in the basement of Injoy Plaza downtown. My average meal here has averaged somewhere between 40 to 50 RMB, but I have always left full and satisfied.
I still haven’t figured out what this food actually is. I have now sort of given up on figuring this puzzle out. It comes more from a memory of my mother. She had been experimenting in the kitchen, and I had been poking her creation tentatively with a fork. “Stop analyzing your food, Rich, and eat.” Sometimes, I just need to do exactly that.