Category Archives: Restaurants

Not Japanese Street

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.

For the Love of LeBron and Tacos

So, what does tacos, Changzhou, and LeBron James have in common?

If you asked me this question yesterday, I would have been totally clueless and perplexed. I might have even shot you a rather pissed off look. I may have ripped some hair out while seething. However, now I know the answer. What do they have in common? There’s a dude in Wujin who apparently loves eating tacos, and LeBron James is his hero.

He has a shop, Taco James, on Wujin Wanda’s pedestrian street that is not that far from Shane English. All the decor is related to either Kobe or the Lakers. In Changzhou, the rumors of potential tacos tends to spread rapidly, and I was surprised I had never heard of this place. Turns out, the owner told me that he opened only a month ago.

As I said, Wujin Wanda Plaza walking street, but hidden behind an escalator. And do I see guacamole on that stand-up billboard?

So, enough of my jibber-jabber. Are the tacos any good? Before I answer that, I am going to say what I said the last time I posted about tacos: the debate over what is or isn’t an authentic taco bores me to death, as I am only concerned whether or not what I am eating tastes good.

I tried two types. One beef and one chicken. The toppings are not set on the menu. There’s a separate menu of “sauces” to pick from, and this allows you to customize. So, I chose salsa and sour cream — yes, actual sour cream.

The ground beef and chicken both seemed seasoned satisfactorily. Now, somebody might look at the above photo and wonder if a flour tortilla around a corn one might be overkill. Actually, it isn’t. Actually, it’s quite brilliant. Hard-shell tacos sometimes tend to crumble and fall apart while you are eating them. The outer soft tortilla keeps everything together should the corn shell shatter while you’re munching.

Here we have chips and salsa. The salsa is legit. If there is one complaint that I had on this surprise, first, accidental visit, it is this.

Yes, a cartoonish LeBron James eating a taco is the mascot / logo. That’s not my complaint. That is actually quite cute and charming.

The menu has absolutely no English, so you have to use the camera option on your translation app. The above is fairly simple: beef, chicken, steak, and shrimp — in that descending order. The separate sauce menu got a little mangled on my phone. Plus, the owner has poor English skills. Talking to him requires a little bit of patience and using a voice translator on your phone. And don’t get me wrong. Despite the language barrier, he seems like a very cool guy, so in a very friendly way, I did suggest that if he was interested selling foreign food to foreigners, a bilingual menu would be a very good idea. Regardless of that, I am looking forward to going back. Are these the best tacos in the world? No. Of course not. But Changzhou is a veritable taco desert, and Taco James satisfactorily scratches this food itch in my book. That’s alright by me.

Wujin’s Turkish Place

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.

Yummy Nanyang Curry

“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 State of Japanese Street

When COVID-19 was spreading with documented cases here in Changzhou, I figured out that this blog needed to go on hiatus. After all, we were told to stay indoors and minimize the risk of catching and spreading the virus. This blog has always been about learning more about the city and encouraging people to see “The Real Changzhou.” So, it’s purpose was not relevant to the times. In the interim, I created a new blog about Chinese alcohol: Liquor Laowai. It gave me something productive to do. Now, however, the city seems to be slowly seeking normalcy as infection rates nationwide have been trending downwards. A good friend and long time reader of Real Changzhou suggested an idea to me a few days ago about reviving this blog. I 110% agreed with him

Things are reopening around town. And that is great news! Yay! However, with the promise of returning amenities comes a lot of confusion. Here’s an example. OK Koala was told it could open and then after a few days, it was told to go back to being open only for delivery and take out. Meanwhile, Candles, Monkey King, and Daniel’s are all open in Xinbei. I can speak to that because I was at Candles last night.

This is not intended as commentary on city decisions at all. This is only meant as reporting of where one can and cannot go based on my experience. I thought a place to start with would be Japanese Street aka Hanjiang Road. Why? It’s where I live.

As you can see above, a majority of the Japanese eateries are back open. However, there are a few things to consider.

For whatever reason, Indian Kitchen is still closed.

Forgive me for some of the poor cellphone picture quality. The majority of the bars on the street are still closed. I know Japanese Street has a reputation for having a few girly / hostess places (which are all shuttered). However, not everything here is actually that. Fossils, for example, has western food I personally like. It’s not open.

Hanjiang Road is one of the major nightlife destinations for the Japanese expat / business person community, and that’s why you have two or three whiskey bars here. They have locked doors as well. If you are looking for an open bar, however, there is only one.

29-Minute Beer Delivery is open. Honestly, I can’t tell you if they have their kitchen running, but you can buy beer here. I know. I have. It’s also important to stress this: I don’t know if it’s open as a butt-on-stool bar. I just walked in and bought some Wuhan craft beer as take out. Yet, keep in mind I am operating by one simple question for all of this: open or closed? While reading this post, here as another important thing to consider. Information such as this becomes outdated the moment I publish it. So, this is the state of Japanese Street as of 8:30pm, 3/22/2020.

New and Greek in Town

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 pita wrap. 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.

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Simple Curry Udon

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Tacos and Messy Fries at Fossils

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I stole this photo from https://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2015/01/06/new-tony-hawks-skateboarding-game-due-on-ps4-in-2015/

 

Skateboarding legend, all around cool guy, and notorious taco lover Tony Hawk once said, “The farther you get from the Mexican border, the worse Mexican food becomes.” I wouldn’t know, and I would have to trust him on that. I have never been to California, and I have been nowhere near the line separating the USA and its neighbor to the south. In that regard, I am not a good arbiter of what makes for an authentic or inauthentic taco. All I can speak to is what tastes good to me.

However, I can say Hawk’s maxim did hold true for Changzhou for a long time. A number of years ago, there used to be a chain called “Tacos.” It used to be at Wujin’s Injoy Plaza — what has now been renamed “Wu Yue.” Instead of using actual Mexican spices, they just put lots of black pepper on everything. Sour cream? They actually mistook mayonnaise for that. The menu was pricey, and I never saw anybody in there. So, I was not surprised when it went out of business. That place also had one of the most outrageous acts of Chinglish on its menu. Take a look …

 

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This actually had nothing to do with the rectums, butts, or fannies of scallops.

 

For the longest time, if you wanted a taco, you either had to make one yourself or go to other cities, Wuxi being the closest. Eventually, Yabby Lake in Wujin had something if one needed to scratch a taco itch. For the sake of full disclosure, I haven’t actually been to that place since I moved to Xinbei. However, I have a friend that would vouch for them. However, something relatively new and neat has popped up.

 

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Xinbei has tacos now, and they are fairly good. I have heard rumors that Daniel’s might be doing Mexican on their new menu in the future, but I haven’t had a chance to investigate. I’m talking about something else. I am talking about a place called Fossils on Hanjiang Road / Japanese Street. Fossils is a gut-and-remodel of the old City Corner Bar. Essentially, the owners wanted to reorient their business to towards food as well as pouring drinks.  For example, you can get a decent burger here on a pretzel bun. However, I found myself instantly drawn to the Mexican-inspired options. Changzhou really doesn’t have a lot of that sort of stuff.

 

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Not only do they have hard and soft tacos, but they have quesadillas, burritos, and tostadas. Die hard taco purists might bemoan the lack of guacamole or sour cream, but I have to say I have enjoyed everything I have tried on Fossils’ menu thus far. I also say “Mexican-style” because one of their tacos uses German sausage. I was highly skeptical about that at first, and I actually ordered it with dread. Turns out, it actually works well with the other things in the hard tortilla shell. Moving on, let’s talk about something else with a very high Yum Factor.

 

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They have smothered french fries that incorporates pulled pork, beef gravy, and mozzarella cheese. Can anybody say poutine? It’s very close without actually being that beloved Canadian staple. Still, I loved it and would highly recommend it.

But would a hardcore Canadian from Alberta like it? Well, yes. I actually drank beer and ate at Fossils with one of those types, recently.

So, on to my point. I actually find the food debate of “Is it authentic?” tiresome when it comes to living as a foreigner in China. It’s a pointless argument that will never be won. “Is it authentic?” is not the question somebody should be asking. The question should be: “Does it taste good when you put the food into your mouth, chew, and swallow?” The answer to that — when it comes to Fossils, their poutine, their Mexican fare, and other things — is yes. It’s quite tasty. I look forward to slowly trying all of the other stuff on their menu.

For what it’s worth, it should also be noted that Fossils basically recently opened. The owners and the chef are still tweaking the menu, and so there may be other things in works — I heard a rumor that there might be daily specials at some point. There is nothing really vegetarian, by the way. However, the tacos and messy fries are essentially there to stay. That makes me a happy guy that will be returning often. Also, there is no lunch service, and the doors open at 5:30.

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江苏省常州市新北区河海街道汉江路236号

 

Xinbei Wanda Hot Pockets

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Most Wanda Plazas in this region have a pedestrian street where boutiques stand side by side with restaurants. Xinbei Wanda Plaza is no different, and one has a pretty standard selection of malatang and more. I know this because I often go to Wanda for dinner while I am on my hour dinner break between my afternoon and night classes at Hohai University. An hour is not a long time to really get an honest dining experience in — and that is not a complaint. So, I mostly opt for quicker, more snack-based fare. One such option includes what, back in Jersey, we would call hot pockets.

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These are baked the same way some Chinese flat breads are.They are slapped against the metal wall inside a barrel oven. Xinbei’s Wanda actually has two options when it comes to this type of snack.

The two above pictures are from Kaobingju 烤饼居. This is a little nook across the way from the Agricultural Bank of China’s door to the their ATM machines. This is on the southern end of the pedestrian street. This is a relatively simple xiaokaobing 小烤饼 consisting of bread around a meat filling. As for vegetarians, there is a bean paste 豆沙 option. On separate occasions, I have tried beef, pork and lamb versions of this. This is also relatively cheap. Roughly 10 RMB will get you a bag of five.

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As for lamb, there is also the Xinjiang restaurant to consider. As full disclosure, I have never actually been inside to try their menu items. However, I have routinely visited their street food window.

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This is where you can get Xinjiang style flat bread. Typically, though, I stop here to get a few lamb skewers / kebabs. However, from time to time, I decide to snack on their hot pockets.

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In Chinese, these are referred to as kaobaozi 烤包子. In some places online, I have read comparisons to what is a “Central Asian Samosa,” and having at more than a few of these over the last few months, that seems pretty accurate.

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Like the earlier mentioned place, these are baked on the inside of a barrel oven. The main differences would be this: they are bigger, and the filling consists of ground lamb mixed with onion. Presently, these go for about 5 RMB each.

Like any bit of street food, both options are essentially fast food while on the go — something to tide you over when I don’t have the time to sit down at a table.

Shawarma at Dinosaur Park

UPDATE: April 18, 2019. This place is no longer exists. The owner is looking for a new location.

It’s happened to me across many cities and countries: New York, Brussels, Utrecht, Oxford, and elsewhere. I would be stumble out of a bar, feel a bit peckish, and find a food cart. Street food can be an awesome thing, especially when it’s a gyro, kebab, or a shawarma. When it comes to that last one, I can now add Changzhou to that list of cities.

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A shawarma stand has become a very recent addition to the culinary scene at Dinosaur Park in Xinbei.  Last time I went, it was next to a guy who was frying up shrimp cakes — and that was next to KFC. The name is not in English, but the Chinese goes something like this: 德立士俄式的沙威玛  Dé lì shì É shì de shā wēi mǎ. That literally translates as something like “Russian Shawarma.”

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For those who don’t know, shawarma is slabs of meat skewered on a stick and then rotisserie cooked. It typically tends to be chicken — and other variations like gyro would have it as beef / lamb mixture. The Chinese do something similar with pork and baobing 薄饼卷肉. All three are basically meat and other stuff wrapped in flatbread.

So, what’s the verdict? I can only speak for the chicken and cheese option that I tried recently. It was awesome and I would recommend it to anybody. The chicken was juicey and tender, and the yogurt sauce mixed well with the cheese and veggies. The stand also offers tuna and vegetarian options, but I think I’m basically going to stick with the chicken and cheese for the foreseeable future. It costs about 27 RMB, and it’s filling enough to be a meal unto itself. The owner recently told me that he’s working on getting listed on Meituan and other delivery apps. So, that’s something to look forward to.

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