Category Archives: Zhonglou

Three Italian-Friendly Chinese Noodle Dishes

Marco Polo, famous for being the first real European cultural ambassador to travel to China centuries ago, did not bring noodles back to Italy for the first time after traveling through the Middle Kingdom. This is not to dispute the Chinese claim that they created noodles first. They did. It’s just that the creation of pasta in Italy predates Polo completely. Still, the legend persists. However, I got to wondering, recently, if there are some Chinese dishes that Italians, Chinese, and Italian Americans could equally enjoy. By this, I mean some unintentional fusion.To figure that out, I figured that two ingredients needed to be central: noodles and tomatoes. While there plenty of possibilities throughout Changzhou, here are the three dishes I found recently that I enjoyed.

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Over in Laimeng, in the downtown area, I found something called 牛肉烩饺 Niúròu huì jiǎo. This was at a Lanzhou place not that far from the clock tower and Starbucks. It’s basically a dumpling soup with a tomato base and clear vermicelli noodles. Since this is considered halal Chinese food, the dumplings are filled with spiced beef and not pork. The tomato flavor of the soup is something people who like Italian cuisine might enjoy, but the other thing are the dumplings themselves. The common misconception about Italian food is that raviolis have to be filled with cheese. Quite often they are not. Beef stuffed raviolis are quite common, for example. In America, a similar misconception is that Polish perogies are always stuffed with mashed potatoes; they are not. The great thing is that whether it’s a perogie, a ravioli, or a chinese dumpling, the concept is the same. It’s just the fillings differ.

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This is 慢烤番茄牛肉面 Màn kǎo fānqié niúròu miàn at Hefu Noodle. The base broth is made from roasted tomatoes, and to quote Emril Lagasse, you could pair it with a tire, and it would even make rubber taste delicious. What the famous American TV cook meant, basically, was that anything could possibly go with a specific ingredient. The base broth here is basically the star, and everything else is a supporting player. But then again, that’s a fundamental truth when it comes to soups. Bad broth equals a bad soup overall, and there is no exception to that.

While I have loved absolutely loved Hefu Noodle in the past, they recently changed their menu. Most of what I have tried is gone, and now I have to relearn their menu all over. The roasted tomato soup above seems to have survived the shake up, but the meat seemed a little less lean and more like fatty-but-boneless ribs, recently.

Hefu is a chain of restaurants, and Changzhou has three of these places that I know of: One on the fourth floor of Xinbei Wanda, one in the basement of the downtown Injoy Plaza, and one in the basement of the New World Mall, also downtown.

 

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And then, there is the good old reliable, Lanzhou shaved beef noodles, aka 刀削面 Dāoxiāomiàn. Like the above mentioned dumpling soup, this is considered a type of Chinese Halal food. Lanzhou beef noodle joints are honestly all over Changzhou and China in general. However, not all shaved noodles are the same. Again, it comes down to the broth and how rich the flavor actually is. There is one thing I have noticed about daoxiaomian: the deeper red it looks, the better it probably tastes. If it has a lighter color, it will probably taste watered down. The tomato flavor is less pronounced.

Lanzhou shaved beef noodles were actually the first dish to remind me once of the minestrone my mother used to make. It’s also important to openly state that these are not Italian foods. They are totally Chinese. But, if you have a taste for Italian food, then you might be sympathetic to these dishes, too.

 

The Truth About Lishes

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“It’s like there is a comma implied in there, somewhere,” a friend of mine wrote on Facebook, once. “Not only coffee, beef cheese drink.”

You know, stick in a comma to imply a connection where one really, really shouldn’t exist. Of course, the idea of a drink made out of beef and cheese is beyond revolting. The above photo was one of the sillier instances of Chinglish I have seen in Changzhou. And, since I have a long work history as a college English teacher, I can’t help myself. I have to take pictures, which sometimes makes some of my Chinese friends a little nervous. After all, they are proud and patriotic. They can rest assured of a few things.

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Beef Cheese Drink is now gone for good. This sign was at the front of Future City shopping center and near the Zhonglou Injoy Plaza. For a time, the sign lingered, but it became even more of non-sequitor. The shop below briefly became a small ice cream parlor — which just heightened the absurdity of the marquee saying Beef Cheese Drink. Why sell ice cream and keep the meat reference from the previous lease holder? I was reminded recently, however, that the Chinese are not the only people to garble the English language. Americans have plenty of experience doing it in their own country.

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The sign says NOT SOAR DID

The above photo was taken in a Walmart stock room in Freehold, New Jersey. What the guy meant was “not sorted.” It was the yearly inventory, and the pallet of boxes was a hodge podge of things yet to be sifted, organized, and counted. The thing about that retail chain is that they will hire anybody with a pulse and a lack of a criminal record. That includes angry, bitter, and extremely disgruntled college writing teachers desperately trying to make money to pay a mortgage they were seriously behind on (me!). In a very multicultural state like New Jersey, that also means they employ a number of recently and not-so-recently arrived immigrants. Some of them can barely speak or write English. That includes people from the Middle East and Latin America, but also people from Eastern Europe, Russia, and many other places.

It’s easy to make the mistake of plugging English vocab into your native grammar and get nonsense. English speaking expats likely do that in their early studies of Chinese. I know of this language problem from when I worked as a writing tutor; I had to help ESL students find and correct patterns of error in their essays.

The truth is that Chinglish is just one of many lishes in the world. Some of them, like Singaporean Singlish, actually evolve into something that sound like languages / dialects of their own. But, over in the USA, and New Jersey in particular, I have seen and heard Spanglish (Spanish), Pinglish (Polish), Russlish (Russian), and more.  I did not create these words. The speakers of those languages have used them to describe their own facility with English. Many of them are self aware enough to laugh at their own mistakes. Because, you know, “Not only coffee, beef cheese drink” does sound a bit funny.

This is Canal 5

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Changzhou is a big city by western standards. The thought of that usually hilarious to local Chinese. For example, how many Changzhous can you fit into a Shanghai or Beijing? However, since this blog was originally envisioned as a detailed, definitive “Changzhou Encyclopedia,” and sometimes, that means taking a step back and giving a general description of parts of the city that locals and long term expats take for granted. So, with that in mind, this is Canal 5 …

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Contemporary urban China gets a lot of flack / criticism for rampant demolition of historical sites. Sometimes, this is not true. Sometimes, older places get renovated and repurposed. This especially true with factory locations. And that is what has happened with Canal 5. I used to be a textile factory, and now, with a bit of municipal funding and a bit of effort, it has been spun into a multi-purpose cultural space.

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It’s one that has also retained its original industrial character. Old machines and machine parts sit around here on display as if were modern art.

 

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But this is also a place that you can find art galleries.

 

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And a theater — which a friend pointed out why Canal 5 has a statue of Shakespeare. The placement is not as random as one might think.

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And, the area is also the home to bars and other places to drink and eat.

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But the truth of Canal 5 is this: it’s still a work in progress, right now. Not everything is open. You still hear the clank and buzzing of construction during daylight hours. However, there are a lot of things open here. Plus, there are a number of smaller bars open outside this “creative campus.” And, that’s municipal labeling on the signage around there, not my language. In short, if you live near the city center, this a place to potentially spend some time in either the daytime or night.

Canal Five is next to — wait for it! — a canal. The closest landmark the Zhonglou Injoy Plaza shopping mall. If you walk west and pass under the overpass you will find said canal. If you follow the road adjacent to the canal, you will pass a number of small bars and eventually find it. Show this Chinese to a cab driver, and they should know where to go: 运河5号.

 

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.

Biji Lane’s Questionable Comb Museum

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As I have mentioned in the past, part of how I explore places relies heavily on Baidu Maps, my phone, and learning Chinese keywords. For example, 故居 Gùjū means “former residence.” 名胜 Míngshèng translates roughly as “famous place” or “attraction” (in a tourist sense). Another common one I use is 博物馆 Bówùguǎn. There is sometimes a problem with the last one. Sometimes, a business lists themselves on Baidu Maps as this. You show up, and it’s a retail store, not a museum.

When this happens, I just shake my head and walk away. There is one that I will make an exception for. There is something that translates as Comb Museum over on Biji Lane. This is in the small little historical alley behind the Injoy Mall, downtown.

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This is historical home for one of Changzhou’s oldest traditional industries: handcrafted combs. This city has been well renowned in China for this for at least two thousand years.  Only, the museum is not a museum. It’s actually a gift shop, and some of the combs can cost upwards of 1000 RMB. I, however, never treat it like a gift shop. A lot of the more exquisite items are behind protective glass cases.

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There are also non-comb realted items like bejeweled hairpins.

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The place also has other traditional Changzhou crafts, like carved bamboo.

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While I have given Changzhou combs to people back in America, they were the cheap 10 RMB knock offs. This place is too expensive for me. And, even though its not a museum, I like to treat it like an art gallery. I go in browse, but never buy.

Something Shitty

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Nandajie used to have a toilet themed restaurant. The seats were actually commodes, and there was fecal related imagery all over the walls, by the cashier, and on the cheap hoodies the employees wore — in cartoonish ways, of course. There wasn’t anything too graphic about it all. I know this sounds utterly bizarre and surreal. However, these types of restaurants are common in China. There is even a multi-city chain of them. Downtown Changzhou had more than one at one point. Then, the one at the Zhonglou Injoy went away. Now, Nandajie has lost its own toilet themed restaurant. It was on the third floor.

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I don’t know exactly when this happened. I only ate there once and only once. Recently, I was wandering around Nandajie as a way to kill some time. I passed the place, and it looked absolutely gutted. Yeah, there are still urinals on the wall, but there was a lot of trash laying around.

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And, a lot of the toilets are still there — as well as the sinks shaped like buttocks.  But it seems most of the BBQ tables were stripped out — along with the a lot of the other kitchen hardware. Pretty much, anything that would be remotely salvagable and used in another restaurant is basically gone. The only clue I found as to what happened to this place was on the door.

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Only, this was not a clue at all. I showed this picture to a Chinese friend, and she told me it was a gas notice. Somebody wanted to do an inspection, and since nobody was there, they slapped this on the door. The date says December of 2016, Also, I walked around Nandajie’s third floor, and counted two other such notices on doors. Those places were also derelict and abandoned. This is not a case like Bellahaus, where it closed and a bill collector had slapped a letter on the door.

The best theory I have, however is this. Forgive the crappy pun, but this place was a little shitty. Trust me, as I said earlier, I ate there once. The food quality was terrible, and they oil they used on the BBQ tables gave off a burning smell that got into your clothes and hair. The low quality ingredients made my stomach feel weird afterwards. So, in many ways, I am not sad to see it go.

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A Surreal and Ambient Place in Zhonglou

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Imagine you are eating a chicken dinner drinking red wine. Above you, clouds move, but they are not exactly white. They seem more of a soft yellow, and they are swirling in a way that normal sky clouds wouldn’t. Eventually, these whisps fade and change into abstract and gradually shifting gradients of red. You’re not really paying close attention to this at first. After all, you are eating chicken and sipping on a glass of wine. In front of you, there is also a stage. A woman is singing with a band. You are also idly chatting with a friend sitting next to you. The next time you look upwards, the red gradients are gone. They have been replaced by images of rippling water — which eventually morphs into a cityscape.

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All of this is supposed to sound like an otherworldly dream. However, such a surreal place exists in Changzhou. It’s a special events venue in Zhonglou on the grounds of the Dusit Thani Hotel near Qingfeng park. This space is as avant garde as it sounds. The structure consists of interlocking inflatable domes. A network of lighting equipment and video projectors creates a 360 degree multimedia environment. Images and patterns of smoke, fire, clouds, and a lot more are projected onto the curved walls and ceiling. The technology involved is advanced to the point where video with sound can also be played — a commercial for a automotive company, for example.

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All of this is the product Oracle Projects, an international entertainment and special events production company. Before coming to Changzhou, Oracle has helped host events at the Beijing Olympics and other places around the world. Essentially, it is a high-end venue space for hire. While Oracle is working and consulting on this project, it is actually locally owned by the Shanghai Aviation Future Cultural Development Company 上海中航未来文化发展有限公司.

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The event I attended was sponsored by Borgward. This is a German automotive company with a long history dating back nearly a hundred years. For a long time, this car brand was dormant, but Chinese investors helped relaunch the company recently. The evening consisted of a catered dinner, live music, dancers, a fashion show and more. To celebrate their relaunch, Borgward screened a new commercial on the venue’s curved walls. This was not a one-off event, either. Oracle Projects and its local partner have long term plans in Changzhou with other events to come.

Who was Qu Qiubai and Where Did He Live?

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There were other leaders of the Chinese Communist Party before Mao Zedong. Saying that does not diminish his monumental role in Chinese history, either. One of those leaders came from Changzhou, and his name was Qu Qiubai. His remembrance hall and preserved home is open to the public.

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Qu had a rough early life. His father was addicted to opium, and his mother committed suicide. He lived off the support of his relatives. Eventually, he left Changzhou to study and showed a skill with language that allowed him to learn Russian and French. His ability to speak Russian helped him get a job at a Beijing newspaper, and he moved to Russia as a foreign correspondent. There, he had an eye witness to life after the Russian Revolution. Once he returned to China, he started to climb the party ranks. After Chen Duxiu was expelled from the party, Qu became acting chairman of the Politburo, making him a de facto leader for a time. He never survived the fight with the Nationalist Kuomintang government. In 1934 he was arrested, and he was executed in 1935.

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Walking through a preserved former residence is essentially like walking through an old, empty home. Qu’s old house is similar in that way. Yet, it’s the things inside them that make a difference. Besides his role in Chinese revolutionary politics, Qu was also a man who enjoyed art and was skilled at calligraphy. In addition to his journalism, he also wrote poetry and a memoir. Legendary Chinese author Lu Xun considered him a close friend.

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Most foreigners likely walk by this historical spot without even knowing what the place is. It’s in a heavily trafficked part of town. It’s on Lanling Road in Changzhou’s city center and is between Zhonglou’s Injoy Plaza and Nandajie. World English has their downtown training center nearby, and the Future City shopping complex is across the street.

Three Comfort Foods at G-Super

Being a vegetarian or a vegan is challenging in Changzhou, but so is being a diabetic. Starch is huge part of Chinese cuisine and as easy to find as the bowl of rice that comes with a meal. Sugar free soft drinks are practically non-existent other than the two types of Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. I never really thought about this until my father came to visit two years ago. Now that he’s pondering a return to Changzhou next year, I have gone back to wondering what is or is not diabetic friendly in this city. Sometimes, this means wandering into a imported goods grocery like G-Super and just wandering around.  Usually, whenever I do that, I tend to find unexpected things. Here are three of them…

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As somebody related to a diabetic, I know sugar-free junk food is still junk food and not the most healthy thing to be eating all that often. However, in moderation, a snack is still a nice comfort to have, and things like the above mocha wafers were something easily taken for granted in the USA. Oddly enough, the Reese’s peanut butter wafers above them are just as rare. I have seen Reese’s cups in places like Tesco before, but this is the first I have seen their chocolate covered wafers in Changzhou. Unlike the Voortmans candy, Reese’s is definitely NOT sugar free.The other two things I saw recently at G-Super have nothing to do with diabetes. Actually, both can be classed as unhealthy junk food.

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Chorizo is easier to find than what one might think. Metro has sold the Hormel version of it in the frozen food section. Auchan has something similar as a prepackaged lunch meat. G-Super has the above pictured one, but it’s the first and only time I have seen this particular brand of Mexican sausage.

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String cheese is also not that rare a find. In Changzhou, you used to be able to find the Bega brand variety at Carrefour, but all three of those French grocery stores packed up and left. This is the first time I have seen anybody carry Wisconsin Premium mozzarella sticks. These actually taste better than the Bega ones. Wisconsin Premium is pretty common in Changzhou. Metro carries their blocks of cheddar and other types, and Walmart sells their bricks of mozzarella. G-Super also has the largest variety of individually wrapped, snack portions of cheeses that I have not seen elsewhere.

G-Super can be found in the basement of Zhonglou’s Injoy Plaza.

Green Salad Apparently Dead

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Vegetarians may have one less dining option in Changzhou. Green Salad was one of three actual salad bars in the city where a patron could pick and choose their own ingredients. The other two were Salad Stuff in Xinbei and Max and Salad in the basement of Zhonglou’s Injoy shopping mall. Most of the other salad eateries in Changzhou are menu orientated or strictly for delivery.

It usually is sad to see a western-friendly eatery disappear. But some of the people who ate at Green Salad could possibly understand how it could have gone under. Every time I went there, the tables were empty. No customers equals no profit. Quite often, I ordered a salad and the prep cook added stuff I didn’t ask for. The menu had lots of really bad Chinglish that made it hard to comprehend, and some of the prices per portion size were too high for something skimpy. For example, a few RMB for two slices of tomato. However, perhaps the biggest thing could have been competition. For a time, Green Salad was the only salad bar downtown. It’s closest competitor was near the media tower in Xinbei. However, Max and Salad opened less than a city block away, and Green Salad was clearly of lesser quality. Also, Eco — a menu orientated salad place — relocated from Wujin to across the street from Injoy. If you have three salad places clustered together, the nature of business suggests one of them will likely not last.

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