As noted elsewhere, eating out in China and Changzhou can be challenge your Chinese skills are limited. As also noted earlier, there is the dilemma of being faced with a non-picture menu and trying to intelligently order without resorting to grunting and randomly pointing. One “no menu” option would be 麻辣烫 mala tang — a hot and numbing soup. You just throw ingredients into a bowl and it’s turned into soup. Another option in xiao chi barbecue / 小吃BBQ.
The concept is a lot like mala tang. You walk in and grab a tray. From there, you go to a fridge and select what you want grilled for you. All of it is on skewers — whole fish, vegetables, vegetables wrapped in bacon, and much more. Then, you pay and hand your tray to the cook. Five to ten minutes later, your meal is brought to you. No waiters or waitresses or ordering at all!
While this sounds great, both me and a number of friends have had food poisoning issues with some of these places. There are a few things to be careful off. Unless you say otherwise, the grill cook will dump a lot of hot spices on your food. This will not only make it hard to eat, but it may lead to dedicated toilet time later if you have a weak stomach. Also, look at how clean the grill is before you enter one of these places. If it looks like it has never been scrubbed, skip it — dedicated toilet time will soon follow, trust me. I’ve been there.
The other warning is this: be very careful ordering meat. Many of these places do serve dog meat. Many times, a lot of the different meat options are not labelled (even in Chinese), and you have to trust your eyesight. It’s not just dog you have to worry about. Chinese people eat a variety of other things like donkey, snake, and just about everything uncommon to Western diets. One rule should be iron clad in China: if you do not know what it is, don’t eat it. Period.
For the longest time in Changzhou, KFC was the only place to really offer something like a pulled-pork sandwich. It gave me heartburn, but I happily suffered through it from time to time. After all, it was the only southern-style American BBQ sandwich in the city. Gourmet, not-fast-food cheeseburgers are easier to find, but they can be hit or miss. It comes down to the quality of the ground beef. You can easily find dry, sandy-textured patty. But who wants to find that?
After listening to me whine and pine for cheeseburgers a great deal, a good friend lent a helping hand. He took me to a place that, currently, makes one of the best cheeseburgers in Changzhou. It’s Daniel’s on Hehai Road 河海路 in Xinbei. Inside, the decor reminds one of a pub might find in the UK or Ireland. It’s dimly lit at night, but it has the sort of homey atmosphere one might find in an Irish or British pub.
After all, you can get Guinness stout here. And by that, I don’t mean a tallboy can poured into a pint glass. Those cans have this plastic carbonation ball in them, and it screams export. Once the can is empty, it rattles if you shake it. I mean Guinness on draft, and the difference between that an export can is enormous. It involves carbonation and how thick of a foamy head develops.
As for the food, the burgers and the pulled pork are both great. However, Daniels recently did a soft opening. Their menu right now are handwritten pages in a notebook. This is because they are still sorting out what dishes to offer based supply and ordering issues. The actual menu should be set and printed in a few weeks. Meanwhile, the burger and the pork are well worth the visit.
Living in China is to be sometimes confronted with a number of hilarious WTF! moments. Imagine this: you are shopping at Nandajie in downtown Changzhou. You pass a restaurant, and you seemingly do not notice at first. Yet, something alarms you. It starts in the corner of vision; something registers as “not quite right,” but you are not sure what it is. So, you stop walking and you turn. What you see, not only makes your jaw drop, but the bottle of water you are sipping falls from your hand. You blink a few times, and you try to comprehend the epic weirdness – but it’s hard. Very hard.
Why? You are staring through the window of a poop-themed restaurant. Most of the seats around the tables are toilets. Plush and cuddly stuffed turds hang from the wall. The seat back cushions are shaped like swirled-up piles of crap. Shit really factors in big to the decor, but that’s not the most surreal part of it all. The weirder parts are the patrons, the happy diners you might see here. It’s a Saturday night. A group of guys huddle around a table and the empty beer bottles crowd their table to the very edges. A love struck man ignores the pork, mushrooms, potatoes, and other vegetables in front of him to gaze adoringly at his date. He is oblivious to how shit surrounds him. The most off-putting thing is the family you see. With chopsticks, a Chinese mom and dad warmly take turns feeding sea vegetables to their young, rambunctious, and squirming son. All three smile and enjoy a heartfelt bonding moment – despite the constant reminders of human excrement around them. I didn’t know how they could be so oblivious about eating around so many reminders of defecation.
Maybe Americans are just culturally prude? This is something I have often asked myself for many reasons – especially when it comes to this particular restaurant. It wasn’t because it offended me; it didn’t. It’s because, secretly, curiosity had the best of me. I wanted to go in and see what the hell the place was about. Only, I didn’t have the courage to do it by myself. Well, that changed, recently – thanks to a most daring and most adventurous friend. Together we boldly went where some Changzhou expats might fear to tread.
So what was the poop restaurant like? Surreal, for sure. I sat on a toilet, and my friend had a regular chair. One of the most immediate drawbacks became apparent. If you sit on a toilet in one of these places, you can’t move it around to find your comfort spot while eating. You are stuck in one place and must stay there. Other problems included the table itself. This was a “Paper Barbecue” place. Like hot pot in China, you select raw ingredients, bring them to your table, and your meal cooks in front of you. “Paper BBQ” has a heating element / grill within the table itself. The paper keeps grease all in one place and not falling into the heating element.. At our table, the grill seemed a bit faulty. Half the food cooked quicker than the other
half. The paper itself and oil burned quickly, giving off an unpleasant odor. Long afterwards, my friend complained that the smell had gotten into her clothes and hair. Days later, she reported that the stench is still in her jacket, and she was considering getting it washed or dry cleaned. The taste of the food lingered long afterwards. It was mostly cheap vegetables and inexpensive, low quality meat. The fatty pork and beef left my stomach slightly upset. I chose to ignore that because I was in the presence of my lovely friend. My attention needed to be focused on her, exclusively.
If I tried to describe every weird thing I saw, this review would never end. So, I will just stick to the most utterly bizarre, and the best way to handle artless transitions is to use bullet points.
The biggest incongruity is the name, 29 主题烤吧。The Chinese word for shit is nowhere in its name. It just plainly says “themed restaurant” and hints at the cooking method.
This sort of eatery really doesn’t have real waiters or waitresses. It’s self service, after all. However, one busboy sported a shirt that says, in translation, Are you looking for shit? The Chinese text is above a picture of poo.
Some of the ceramic plates meant for cooked food are shaped like urinals.
There are both boxed drinks and fountain drinks available. But the glasses are shaped like breasts that force you to suck at a nipple.
Hand-washing sinks are shaped like bent-over buttocks.
Cartoonish porcelain turds with exaggerated facial expressions await you upon checkout; they are by the cash register.
This wasn’t the only feces-themed restaurant in Changzhou. There used to be another in the downtown Injoy Mall.
I could go on and on and on. And then go on some more.
And, that’s sort of the point. The surreal nature of the place is its only selling point. It certainly isn’t the food, and women will more than likely hate that a stench will cling to them long after they leave. The only reason to go here is to experience the weirdness first hand.