Tag Archives: 新北

Istanbul Restaurant is Slightly Vegan Friendly

Changzhou isn’t the most accommodating place for vegans or vegetarians. Some dishes may look like it contains only vegetables, but quite often pork stock may be used while the dish is being stewed or stir fried. Quite often, people with special dietary needs are often stuck with either Kaffa in Wujin or Indian Kitchen in Xinbei. So, when a restaurant changes its menu to include something friendly to vegans, it should be commended.

Such is the case with Istanbul Restaurant in Xinbei. Yes, the place is more well known for donor kebab dishes and other Turkish specialties. Upon my last visit, I noticed that some of the menu pages have been pulled out and replaced. Three of the new items are indeed vegan friendly — as in not only is meat not involved, but diary has been excluded as well.

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This includes a warm white bean appetizer. The legumes are served in a thin and light tomato sauce with bits of garlic. Another side dish includes cold green beans with onions in a lemon based sauce. Plus, there is now an entree of saute mushrooms with green peppers and rice. This, like the white beans, comes in a tomato based sauce.

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There are still salads available from the older menu. Also, the red lentil soup hasn’t gone anywhere. Of course, there is vegetarian pide (Turkish pizza) for those who can eat dairy and gluten. If there were one thing to be constructively critical about,  its that some of these menu items tend to be a little pricey compared to portions of what is actually being served. And while it might not be the most awesome vegan food around, it is still a new option in a city where the pickings are slim at best. After all, Changzhou is not Shanghai, and western options are more limited, comparatively speaking.

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Istanbul Restaurant is conveniently located on Taihu Road 太湖路 and in walking distance from the Wanda Plaza BRT stop. If you pass Zoo Coffee, you have walked too far.

Texan Only in Name

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Houston Theme Bar has got to be one of the weirdest restaurants in Changzhou. It’s located on the third floor of the gigantic Global Harbour Mall in Xinbei. The last and only time I went there, it was also one of the most useless places, too. The whole place strikes one as a Chinese attempt at a western style bar and restaurant. However, the only thing actually Texan about it is its name. Oh, and the host that seats you is wearing a cowboy hat.

However, the weirdness really does start at the door. Under the name, “Houston Theme Bar,” you see the host’s reception desk. This desk prominently features the Union Jack flag of the United Kingdom. Once the host leads you into the restaurant, you see even more of the British flag. The Union Jack has been upholstered onto many of the chairs. Oddly enough, you also see the Italian flag on some of the other chairs. Now, how do two European countries exactly fit a “Houston Theme?”

All of this weirdness could be forgiven if the food was actually good. I wouldn’t know, however, because I didn’t eat anything. Once I sat, I was handed a menu that had both pictures and English text. That seemed promising, but it went promptly downhill from there. First, I ordered a hamburger, and I was told they were out. Then, I ordered Vietnamese spring rolls, and I told they were out of that, too. Lastly, I tried to order a fish sandwich, and they waiter confessed they were also out of that. To employ a baseball metaphor: three strikes and you’re out. I grabbed my backpack, stood, and left. Not having what your menu claims to have — it’s usually the sign of a very badly managed business.

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This Can’t Be Korean Pizza

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I once puzzled over a friend’s Wechat food pictures. He had posted some snapshots of oven baked chicken at Don Chicken in Xinbei, but that wasn’t what attracted my attention. Actually, it was something on the periphery — bisected by the edge of the photo. It looked like pizza, and and it looked like it was crammed with toppings. So, I asked, and my friend simply replied, “Korean Pizza.”

So, any time the word “Pizza” is mentioned to me, my brain goes into spastic overdrive with all the question words of “Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How.” I blame New Jersey for this mental imbalance where the word “Pizza” is concerned. I have eaten at Don Chicken before and found their food quite good. So, I opted to try. And?

And, I didn’t like it. At all. First of all, its just a doughy pancake fried in oil. The menu listed two options: kimchee and green onion with seafood. I opted for the seafood. All that entailed was a few tiny shrimp mixed into fried green onion shoots. Omelette style egg took the place of cheese as a topping — if you are to follow through with the pizza comparison. And the result? A profound meh!

I didn’t hate it, but I found no reason to order it again. Don Chicken does so much better with its signature chicken dishes. This “Green Onion and Seafood Pancake” is just downright not worth the time as a singular lunch item. I say this as somebody who enjoys Don Chicken. However, this particular menu item is rather mediocre and easy to live without.

Saucy Onion Sirloin at Monkey King

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So, I haven’t written anything for this blog in two days. The reason is simple: my university is at the end of its term, and I had to get grades calculated over the weekend. And one should always prioritize their visa-holding day job over what is an unpaid writing job done for fun. Once that task was complete, I decided to treat myself to a nice lunch at Monkey King Italian Restaurant in Xinbei. It was officially the end of the semester now, and I could celebrate.

Once I sat down and started looking at their new menu, I realized that coming to this place may not have been a good idea. Why order pizza when I will be in New Jersey in two days? Same for pasta and most other things on the menu like lasagna. So, I thought maybe I would opt for something NOT similar to average Italian American fare back in The States.

The end result was a sirloin topped with a rich, brown onion sauce. It complemented the steak rather well. Honestly, I do not eat steaks all that often; they are expensive, and I can be a cheapskate. So, this is one of the rare times I gave into the temptation. I had the sirloin medium, and the sauce blended nicely with the juices. Grilled vegetables and a few potato wedges circled the meat. At first, I thought the portioning of the sides were rather small, but I was rather full afterwards. It made me realize the the veggies were there likely to mop up the delicious sauce afterwards, and that is exactly what I did.

Note: While this post is categorized “Xinbei,” Monkey King has another location in Wujin. They have the same owner and the same menu. 

Xinhua Village Church and Park

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Like usual, my attempts to get a glimpse of the Yangtze River in Changzhou get a little side tracked. The northern most part of Xinbei is filled with industrial ports. This time, it was to a small place called Xinhua Village. Open entering the area, you see a stone with an Olympics symbol. Looking around, I had to wonder what those games meant to this tiny place. Later, on a wechat forum, a friend told me there was a rifle and bow and arrow shooting range out here. I think I passed it without realizing it.

After consulting the map, I was suprised to find a Christian church in the area. It looked a lot more well maintained then some I have seen around the city. The gate was locked and nobody seemed around, so I couldn’t walk in and investigate further. The area also had a small public park with the usual sort of abstract sculpture that is also highly common in Changzhou. There wasn’t much else in the park, with the exception of walkway to strange bunch of round, white pillars clustered together.

I didn’t stay long — as I still had afternoon classes to prepare for. Once I returned home, though, I was surprised when I looked at my digital display. A one way trip from Hohai University on Hehai Road to Xinhua Village looked to be roughly 38 kilometers. That’s just another reminder of how massive Changzhou is by western standards.

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To Buy a Scratching Post

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Meow, meow meow! 喵 喵 喵!

I made these and all sorts of other cat noises while clawing empty air with my hands. The very old Chinese lady shop keeper looked at me as if I were insane — or, to borrow a term from the British, “a bit mental.” I didn’t blame her. I did look a bit silly. Only, this is what you resort to when you Chinese is terrible, and Baidu Translate can’t render “scratching post” in Chinese. When all else fails when you’re a foreigner, you resort to hand signals and bad pantomime.

At the time, I was in a tiny pet shop on Chaohu Road 巢湖路 — which runs between Hohai University and Wanda Plaza in Xinbei. My cat had been missing for a week, and he had just been rescued and I wanted to buy him a “welcome home” gift. There was a practical desire too, before Spock went missing, he was waging war on all the furniture in my apartment. I wanted give him something acceptable to destroy. Eventually, I spotted a scratching post in the corner and simply pointed. She grabbed it, I paid, and I left. As soon as I got home, I presented my gift to my kitty, and he promptly ignored it and started scratching an armchair.

This is just one example of the challenge of having a cat in Changzhou. My assumption is that the locals love birds and dogs more. I base this assumption solely on my shopping experience. Toys and products for dogs are easy to find in supermarkets and pet stores, and merchandise for cats are harder to locate. So, my search is ongoing.

The shunned scratching post.
The shunned scratching post.

Random Weirdness at Global Harbour

The Global Harbour shopping mall is a new, few-months-old addition to Xinbei and Changzhou as a whole. This place is freakishly massive, and it’s a relative gold mine for a city blogger. There is one part where I just can’t figure out what the story, rhyme or reason is. It’s closer to where the Yuexing International Furniture mall is — and that has been incorporated into the Global Harbour complex. It’s a little park area at the intersection of Tongjiang 通江路 and Huanghe 黄河路 roads.

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Fear the Red Sox

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If you ever want a black eye and a broken nose, go to Boston, walk into any pub, and begin lecturing people on how and why you think the New York Yankees are the greatest baseball team of all time. Some Americans care that much about baseball, and some Bostonians loathe New York City that badly. They would argue how they think that team is run by a bunch of wealthy spoiled brats that suck up all the talent by simply throwing their money around. Yankee fans would likely respond with “Don’t hate us because we are winners!” And that’s how saloon style bar brawls start.

A store in the Xinbei Wanda shopping mall reminded me of this lately. It’s titled MLB, which is short for “Major League Baseball.” At first, I laughed at the sight of it, because Chinese people — at least the ones I know — either do not know baseball or think its a colossally boring American sport. But, then again, I realized it might be doing business more as a fashion boutique than as a sports apparel shop. So, out of curiosity, I peeked inside and realized that 90 to 95% of the products were all Yankee related. There were a few Los Angeles hats, but that was it. And then I remembered how hated the Yankees are outside New York and New Jersey, smiled even further, and walked away.

Cheesy Baked Chicken

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Sometimes, simplicity is best, and all you need for a good meal is just two ingredients. Cheese and chicken sometimes go perfectly together. In New Jersey, for example, something magical happens when you put tomato sauce and mozzarella on a breaded and pan-fried cutlet. Then, there is always cordon blue, which is essentially just Swiss cheese and ham inside a breaded cutlet that’s been folded over. There is a place in Xinbei that has simplified this even more.

Don Chicken on Chaohu Road 巢湖路 serves baked chicken with cheese on top. It’s that simple. The chicken was cooked perfectly so that it was both tender and juicy. The cheese, on the other hand, tasted like a bland mozzarella, but it was good none the less. My only complaint was that the waiting time between ordering and eating seemed a bit long. However, as my first dish at this place, it was good enough to lead to a return visit. Don Chicken is a Korean chain with spicier items and some Korean specialties on the menu, and if you go there at night, they have Tiger beer on tap. My university students might find the place a bit pricey; the plate cost 55 RMB. The menu is in Chinese, Korean, and English with illustrative photos.

For me, personally, the location is extremely convenient. I can walk there, because Chaohu Road runs from Hohai University’s west gate to Wanda Plaza. As such, the place is getting added to my rotation of convenient places to eat in Changzhou. Hopefully, next time, the wait time for food will be a little bit better.

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Spock’s Unsolved Mystery

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Spock sighting!
Note: This is is more of a personal post with little informational value about Changzhou.

Yes, I have a cat that has been named for an iconic Star Trek character, but how and why he got that name is a story for another time. Recently, he disappeared. I came home from the bar on night and he was gone. This was really perplexing. There are only two ways he got out, and that was either through the door or out the window. The door was just not possible. So, that leaves the window.

Now, consider this. I live on the seventh floor. Besides a perch for my heating and air conditioning unit, there are no ledges, crawlspaces, nooks or crannies that Spock could navigate. If he went out the window, it would have been more than likely that he fell. As grim as it sounds, I went looking for his body the next morning in the shrubbery under my window. Only, I never found a dead cat.

I started wondering if he got out of the door somehow when I wasn’t looking. I went down to the Hohai Guest Center lobby and talked to a receptionist. After showing her a picture of my pal, I asked if any of the workers had seen a rogue kitty roaming and marauding the hallways. Nobody reported anything unusual. In the meantime, I kept his litter and his food. When I lived in Wujin, he got out all the time, but he always came back. Since there was no dead body, I assumed he might be alive. I tried looking for him, but I found nothing.

A week went by. I adjusted to a life without a cat. I had accepted that I had lost one of my best friends, and I was about to start throwing his stuff out. One night, I was walking home after classes, I heard him yowling. I looked up, and he was on a ledge looking down at me, desperately pleading for help. Basically, there is a covering that sticks out from doorway at Hohai’s north gate. It’s over the entrance to Hohai’s health clinic. In a way, it’s “sorta” like a balcony.  There were windows right above my cat, and I rushed inside to see if I could get to him. I couldn’t. There were just no access points. Plus, it was raining, and I couldn’t find a ladder. Even if I could, it would have been slippery and unsafe to try and climb up to get him. As much as I didn’t want to, I had to leave Spock there. I reasoned that at least I knew where he was. And that he was alive.

Eventually, I had to get my foreign affairs officer involved. She called somebody from the university’s logistics department. They came out with a ladder, and the guy climbed up, grabbed the cat, and stuffed him into my back pack. So, now my cat his home, safe, and amazingly enough, uninjured. Since he hadn’t eaten in about a week, he had lost a lot of weight and was now quite scrawny. That being said, it least he wasn’t sick or injured with a broken bones. And that brings up the mystery.

How did he get there? As I said, I live on the seventh floor. He ended up six floors down, and if he jumped, it’s diagonal and a long distance. As I also said, there are no easy access points or crawl spaces. I just can’t figure out how he ended up where he did. The mystery, though, just isn’t important. My kitty is where he should be: home. He is still acting a bit traumatized and is demanding affection every three minutes. As annoying as that is, I’m happy he missed me.

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The cat is in the bag.