Category Archives: Plates

Some of the Best Draft Beer Downtown

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Here is something you will likely never hear an expat say: “Oh my god, do you know where I can find Tsingtao on draft? What about Tiger?” That’s because both are cheap and extremely common. Finding those beers is not a challenge. Let’s put it this way: No foreigner squeals for joy when they find cans of Harbin at a supermarket. Quality craft beer is another story, and downtown Changzhou recently gained a new bar that sells unique and quality draft beer.

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Bubble Lab is a well known, famous microbrewery in Wuhan. About two months ago, they opened a new bar near the Zhonglou Injoy Mall. This is in the Future City shopping complex next door. The chief difference between this bar and it’s parent location is that the beers are not brewed in Changzhou. They are made in Wuhan and shipped here. They have multiple taps and serve a wide variety. They have, for example, two stouts at the moment; one has a slight vanilla flavor, and the other has hints of coffee. There are many different types of IPAs to be had, as well as typically less bitter fare like pilsner and lager. The food is also enjoyable.

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Their cheeseburger is fairly simple, and that is not a bad thing. Yet, there are a few things that can even wreck a simple burger: bad quality beef, dry textures, and over or under cooking it. Bubble Lab’s burger avoids all of this. The meat patty is very juicy — definitely not overcooked and chewy. Truth be told, it was so juicy that it was a bit of a mess to eat. That is also not a criticism; messy burgers are delicious if done right, and this is one I would order again.

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Bubble Lab also offers fish and chips. You don’t see the fries in the above picture because they are under the fillets. Now, this should be said: this is not the type of fish and chips an Aussie or a Brit may be used to. That’s usually batter dipped and deep fried. Bubble Lab’s fish actually tastes a bit German. By that, I mean it tastes like somebody took fish and prepared it the same way you would with a schnitzel cutlet, and that involves bread crumbs and parsley. Again, this is not criticism. Not all fried fish and potato meals needs to be proper British fish and chips. I found this enjoyable, but then again, I am not somebody who is homesick and from the United Kingdom or Australia. It should also be noted that right now, their menu is fairly simple and small. Yet, new things will likely be added in the months to come.

All in all, I am very happy to see Bubble Lab in Changzhou. The city center needed another western style bar and restaurant.  Ever since Bellahaus went out of business, eating and drinking options seemed confined to Summer and a few other places. Plus, with so many Wuhan craft beers on tap, you can easily say Bubble Lab offers something you can’t find elsewhere in Changzhou.

More Vegetarian Things at Istanbul Restaurant

When I was a vegetarian, Turkish and Greek places were usually a staple of eating out. It was for one simple reason: falafel. This involves ground chickpeas formed into balls and fried. My experience eating this usually involved having a few of them shoved into split pita bread with lettuce, tomato, and tzatziki sauce.  Sometimes, hummus would be used as a condiment instead if tzatziki. Both options suited me just fine. Honestly, it really was the veggie alternative to a gyro or a doner for me. So, you can imagine the excitement I felt recently when I walked into Istanbul Restaurant for lunch recently and saw that they added falafel to their menu.

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I really enjoyed the falafel — it was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, and it wasn’t too spicy. Falafel usually fails for me when it tastes gritty, and this had a very smooth texture.  However, I have to say I didn’t enjoy having thousand island salad dressing as a dipping sauce. But, that’s easily fixed. I ordered a delicious “usual.” Whenever I go to Istanbul Restaurant, I have to have …

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Hummus. I found myself dipping my falafel into my hummus and ignoring the thousand island altogether. And let me be honest. I like thousand island sometimes on a salad, but not with Turkish food. Not at all. The two just don’t go together in my head at all. Istanbul does so many other good and saucy appetizers that it would be a good idea to pair their falafel with any of those while ordering. A few other new menu also things surprised me.

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The place now has a Turkish version of cheese sticks. This particular item has a very soft cheese mixed with parsley. Then, it’s wrapped into thin pastry dough and fried. This is a stark reminder, though, that just because something is “vegetarian friendly” doesn’t make it quite “health food.” I noticed one or two more veggie friendly things on the new menu, but I didn’t have the time or money to try them all.

One things I love about Istanbul Restaurant is that they always seem to be willing to try new things while keeping the items their patrons love, like the pide, or Turkish pizza as it might be more commonly called. That bit of yumminess is always a reason for a return visit.

Comfortable Dining at Marco Polo

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As hotels go, The Marco Polo is not an imposing or a large structure. This is by design, as the management hopes for a more intimate, personable atmosphere. A smaller scale of operation means more time staff can focus and giving quality customer service and care. Like other western hotels in Changzhou, there is a self service dinner buffet.

The management knows this, and they have tried to figure out what can make their restaurant stand out. The answer was a recently added iron skillet barbecue. This is personalized to each table with a heating element. Diners are served raw cuts of beef, chicken, and more to cook themselves. The concept is very similar to local paper BBQ places, but the ingredients are of higher quality.

 

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In truth, it’s best to treat the new personal BBQ as an appetizer to the buffet itself.  There are tried and true elements that you can find in other hotels around Changzhou. For example, there is a hot grill with a choice of meat and gourmet sauces. The quality here is what you would expect from a luxury hotel.

 

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There is another similarity: sushi and sashimi. The cook here is a professional trained in Japan, and the sashimi is freshly cut to order. This is not a “buffet” aspect of the dining experience. You tell the guy what you want from what’s chilled and on display, and he delivers. There are also freshly made rolls to pick and choose from — along with the standard condiments of pickled ginger, soy sauce, and wasabi.

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There are hot food service stations for both western and Chinese cuisines. However, there was one I found myself wanting to return to, and quite often. Without proper discipline, I would have made myself an outright pig with heaping plates. I really, really liked Marco Polo’s chicken curry. There is a reason for this; Changzhou only has two Indian restaurants: Kaffa in Wujin, and Indian Kitchen in Xinbei. There is also a Pakistani meal delivery service based off of Wechat called “CHILL MaRo.” Marco Polo’s buffet is not a South Asian restaurant, but they do offer a delicious curry dish in a town that doesn’t not have a lot of options when it comes to this sort of food.

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The Marco Polo Hotel is located very close to Dinosaur Park. This is the time of year where the Spring Festival lanterns are full on display there. A family could easily pair visiting these colorful sights with having a delicious dinner nearby. This is especially true for those in Wujin who need an excuse to go north for an evening.

 

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Two Lanzhou Potato Dishes

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Lanzhou beef noodle restaurants are an extremely cheap and easy type of Chinese food. Like malatang and malaxiangguo restuarants, they are also extremely common and easy to find all over Changzhou. While the mala places are very convenient for those who do not know Chinese, Lanzhou noodle shops quite often have Chinese-only menus without pictures. Learning to eat at these shops is also a lesson in Chinese. I that regard, I recently learned of two potato related dishes on their menu board, and a new category of Chinese food.

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This is 土豆烧牛肉盖浇面 Tǔdòu shāo niúròu gài jiāo mian. It cost 15 RMB.

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This is 土豆丝牛肉盖浇饭 Tǔdòu sī niúròu gài jiāo fàn. It cost 13 RMB. Both are a type of 盖浇 gài jiāo. This is a simple type of food where cooked food is served on top of rice — as opposed to being given a separate bowl. Noodles can be substituted for rice. Both of the beef and potato dishes are not that spicy, either. This particular Lanzhou shop is on Hehai Road in Xinbei.

One Day Left on Dragon Fair

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“The goal of Dragon Fair,” one of the organizers told me, “is to give Changzhou an internationally themed market event. Over the years, the city has become much more cosmopolitan, and I think that is something that really should be celebrated.”

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This outlook can be directly seen in not only in the goods being sold here, but the food as well. Vietnamese, German, Thai, Russian baked goods, and so much more food can be had here. Xinbei’s Istanbul Restaurant was in attendance with some of their Turkish desserts and their belly dancer, for example. This also includes long-time Changzhou veterans like Summer, to newer bars like OK Koala serving imported drinks. A shopper looking for high-end and organic dried fruit and honeycomb can even peruse a booth here.

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While international in design, the fair seemed to be pulling in interested people from the foreign community as well as a lot of curious Chinese locals.

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The draw, one has to say, though, is definitely the food. Changzhou’s culinary landscape has been steadily growing, and the fair certainly did well to showcase diversity. Wujin’s Chocolate’s Bar was on hand with warm mulled wine, German sausage, and very, very good sauerkraut. Changzhou has also had newer and lesser known attractions like the Vietnamese restaurant downtown, and a new Thai hot pot restaurant in Xinbei. These are places that really deserve a visit and your money. In retrospect, I am kind of frustrated with myself for not taking more food pictures at the stalls.

Chocolate's German sausage and sauerkraut for 20 RMB.
Chocolate’s German sausage and sauerkraut for 20 RMB.

 

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Saigon Maison’s beef noodles and Chicken dish. Both were 10 RMB each. Yum.

 

Sunday, December 4 is the last day of Dragon Fair. If you go, you might see a nameless, and rather hapless, city blogger dressed up like Santa Claus. How he let himself be persuaded for the job is a tale for another time. Even on the threat of torture, he would not divulge the times he would be masquerading as Father Christmas. So, you might see him, you might not. Think of it as a gamble. And, that’s irrelevant and beside the point, anyway. There is great food to be had, here. Plus, in the run-up to Christmas, unique gifts for loved ones and friends can also be found.  Dragon Fair is currently located on the basement level of the absurdly large Global Harbour Mall in Xinbei. It is easily accessible by taking a B1 bus north. The mall has it’s own BRT station. The event ends at 8pm.

The Hilton’s Buffet

Eating out in Wujin seems to be a completely different culinary landscape than a place like Xinbei. The options are totally different, and a lot of newcomers are especially keen on knowing where they can find western food. It is the ultimate comfort food when you are surrounded by Chinese cuisine. International hotels are usually a reliable choice when seeking that sort of dining, and the Hilton’s buffet is no different. However, anytime you eat in a western hotel, be prepared to pay high prices. And, by the way, their all-you-can-eat Japanese place Red is totally worth a visit. Here are some pictures from the last time I visited.

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Tartine: Rembrance of Pastries Past

Sometimes, smells and tastes can elicit extremely old memories. Just ask Marcel Proust. In Swann’s Way, a madeleine cake sparks an involuntary memory that fills out the rest of a novel. That novel leads to six more after it that is now most commonly remembered as Remembrance of Things Past. I had a similar experience once, but it wasn’t nearly as epic as Proust’s masterpiece. In fact, it would be quite silly to compare me and anything I have done to Proust. I just know involuntary memory is real, and it really does happen. The older you get, the more it happens.

For a long time, I used to ride my ebike past Tartine on Jinling Road in Downtown Changzhou. It’s a French bakery. Normally, I had places to go and people to meet, so I never stopped. One day, however, I let curiosity get the better of me, and I walked in. The smell of the place was like a punch to the face that sent me reeling for a bit. The smell of fresh baguettes mixed with the sweet scent of pastry dough. For a long moment, I just stood in the door, motionless. In my mind, I was back in Belgium, and I was 1990. I had recently discovered Slayer, and I had South of Heaven in my portable cassette player and blaring through headphones. I was on my skateboard, and the smell of a patisserie made me stop, kick up my board, and walk in — even when I didn’t know what I wanted to buy or even the French words to buy it with. I just knew there was something in that patisserie I had to have.

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Years later, somebody saying “Huānyíng guānglín! (欢迎光临!)” brought be back to reality. I blinked a few times and looked at the Chinese woman behind Tartine’s counter. Nearby, there were chocolate croissants, apple danishes, and so much more.  Since it was lunch time, I opted for the quiche, which they promptly warmed up for me and served with a glass of water.

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And? Simply put, that was like more than a year ago, and it is still the best quiche I have ever had in Changzhou. Back then, I took a picture of it and posted it on Wechat. Some of my Chinese friends gave me interested, but really puzzled responses like “Is that pizza?” I had to tell them it wasn’t — that is was eggs, mushroom, other veggies, and ham in a pie crust. Even more, the baguettes and pastries here are also quite good and arguable some of the best in Changzhou, but I always return for the Tartine’s quiche more than anything else.

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A Salad Bar Downtown

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Some people have told me that salad bars are all over Changzhou, and recently, armed with Baidu Maps and the characters 沙拉 shālāI started to hunt down these other salad places. Turns out, many of them are not salad bars in the real sense — they are small little holes in the wall that pretty much cater to Meituan and other Chinese food delivery apps. These are not places where the ingredients are on full display and a patron can pick what they want.

So far, I’ve found and enjoyed Salad Stuff in Xinbei, but recently, I found a new actual salad bar. While I don’t think the place is as good as Salad Stuff, there are a few things going for it. First, Green Salad is in a really good location — Yangliu Alley just off of Yanling Road in Changzhou’s city center. The Zhonglou Injoy Mall and Bar Street are not that far away. The selection of both meat and vegetables is very good. You can choose between chicken, duck, pepper beef, steak, seafood, and more. They have the standard set of veggies and dressings to choose from. While this is a salad bar, they also make money through delivery apps. A friend used to order lunch from here without many complaints.

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While that is well and nice, there are a few things that are drawbacks here. My biggest problem with the place is their printed ordering menu. When you come in, you are supposed to grab it and tick off your ingredient choices. This menu is riddled with English language errors that are utterly confusing. For example, “Mixed Greens” is beneath the Chinese characters for “cucumber.” That’s just one example of many. Plus, something oddly named “screw powder” is also on the menu. Another issue is pricing. If you pick “tomato” you are only rewarded with a few meager slices, which seems unfair seeing that you could buy a whole tomato for what you are being charged.

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This place is fairly new, and it has been open for about two months now. So, while there is some room for improvement, it’s good to have another option — especially if you are downtown and don’t have the time to go to the salad bar in Xinbei.

Western Beer Beef Steak

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Western Beer Beef Steak is a chain of restaurants with several locations throughout Changzhou and other cities. Some are more schmaltzy than others. Male staff wear cowboy hats, and the walls are adorned with pictures of rugged American cowboys — with thick mustaches. It’s weird to just go into these places to laugh at the strange ambiance.

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As for the food, it’s passable. It’s your standard set of cliched western food: steaks, pork chops, and more. Still, it’s still just “not quite.” For example, last time I ate there, I was served lamb chops on sizzling metal plate. Those lamb chops came with a sunny-side-up egg on the side with a few potatoes. The sides I got were also not so impressive. I had mashed potatoes with meat in them, and not to mention potato wedges with chili, sausage, and cheese on them.

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Loaded mashed potatoes is something I haven’t seen in Changzhou all that often with the exception of the now-dead Belahaus, but messy french fries are. Daniel’s, for one, serves what is called “Chilli Cheese Chips” in Xinbei; it’s very good. I dare say it’s currently the best in Changzhou when it comes to that particular dish. Chocolate’s German Bar, down in Wujin, also has something similar. At one point, Burger King had them. Belahaus, when they were in business, had them, too.

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There are two selling points to this restaurant. First, it’s relatively cheap. While the steaks are not the type you will not find in a high end restaurant, you have to realize that you are not paying high end prices. Also, Western Beer Beef Steak falls into a category like Pizza Hut. While it’s not a great restaurant, it’s an easy to find chain, and it’s a decent place to eat if you are in a place you do not know, and therefore do not have a lot of dining options.

Mala Tang vs. Mala Xiang Guo

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“See, this is mala tang.” I pointed to the characters. At the time, my friend and I were hungry and we were on the third floor of the shopping center next to the clock tower where Nandajie intersects with Yanling Road in downtown Changzhou. We both were hungry, and we thought we were about to enter an pick-your-own-ingredients spicy soup shop. We went in, and it wasn’t that. We got bowls where our vegetables had been fried.

As it turns out, my mistake is a common one for Chinese language newbies. 麻辣烫 are the characters for málà tàng. 麻辣香锅 are the characters for málà xiāng guō. 麻辣 málà means “hot and numbing.” 烫 tàng is soup. 香锅 xiāng guō is “fragrant pot,” I think. As for the cuisine, they are very similar. You pick your ingredients, and you hand them to the cashier. They weigh your selections, charge you a price, and then they hand it to a cook. It’s the cooking process that is different.

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So, enough about the Chinese language, right? Was the food any good? I sort of liked it, but my friend didn’t and started picking out bits of red pepper, hunks of garlic, and other spices. She even wondered if the frying base liquid had meat broth in it. My friend also had an excellent point about the restaurant itself. Some of the spoons were not clean. As for the staff, they were using the same tongs for meat and vegetables. If you a are a vegetarian, this is a huge concern. The staff were also in the habit of setting the dirty bottoms of steel bowls on top of the ingredients. One staff member didn’t exactly have a good attention to cleanliness. For example, when a quail’s egg was accidentally dropped, she would either throw it into your bowl or back into the ingredient’s bowl. Those dropped bits of food hardly ever went into the trash. Since it was my first time with this type of Chinese food, I found myself intrigued, but I wouldn’t try it at that third floor eatery at Nandajie again. Actually, I would want to find a higher quality establishment, first.

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