Category Archives: Restaurants

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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Diversions at Dinoman Club

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Dinosaur Park is filled with gaudy kitsch, but that’s part of the charm, one would argue. As one of Changzhou’s only tourist destinations, there are also plenty things to do and plenty of places to eat at. Dinoman Club is one of those places, and it’s three floors with plenty of distractions to keep one’s self occupied.

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There are pool tables, a bowling alley, a haunted house, and more.

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It also functions as a KTV with private rooms. These can include mahjong tables, computers, and karaoke set ups.

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The restaurant is decent. The two times I ate here were for Spring Festival dinners. One was private, and the other was organized by the municipal government.

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The first time I ate here, it was ala carte with a tablet-based ordering system. The second time — the government dinner — was a buffet, which leads me to think buffets are more for large, catered affairs. All in all, the food was decent, as I said earlier. But then again, this is Dinosaur Park. So, there’s got be some weirdness somewhere, and there was.

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A friend of mine said this would look awesome air brushed on the side of a van in the greater Alberta regions of Canada.

Mikong: A Taste of Zhejiang

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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?

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Yeah, it’s a picture of a refrigerator. It’s also the only interior shot of Mikong that I have.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

All You Can Eat at Pomel

“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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.