Tag Archives: Italian Food

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.

 

Five Good Pizza Places in Changzhou

One of the things I feared most, when leaving New Jersey for China, was going through pizza withdrawal. Yes, I was actually dumb enough to ponder, “I wonder if I can actually find pizza in China.” Stupid, I know, and my fears were completely unfounded. There is very good pizza to be had in Changzhou. Some places are not new to the old timers who have spent a few years here. But, those new to Changzhou may not yet be in the know. Especially with English teachers coming and going on one year contracts, there will always be somebody relatively new to this city. So, here is a rundown of five places to get good pizza in Changzhou. This is not a “best of” list nor should the order be construed as a ranking. Consider this as just five recommendations of places from a pizza snob.

Monkey King

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This is a place that is partly owned by an Italian. And trust me, he is a very, very damned good chef. He creates the menu, concocts the dishes, and runs the kitchen. The pizza here would satisfy a guy from New Jersey. The crust is thin and crispy. If I had to complain about something, it would be that sometimes the crust can be a little over cooked. However, everything else is near perfection. Monkey King has two locations. One in Wujin near Yancheng, and the other in Xinbei, near Candle’s Steakhouse.

Istanbul Restaurant

Istanbul's delicious, but slightly oblong pizza.
Istanbul’s delicious, but slightly oblong pizza.

I know. It’s a Turkish place. However, Turkish cuisine has pide, which is basically Turkey’s version of pizza. It features a thin crust that is formed into a different shape, and it’s sliced into strips, but it’s the same concept as a pizza. Istanbul’s pie with doner kebab meat is highly recommended. But they have the other more standard toppings that a person might find in other shops. Istanbul Restaurant can be found in Xinbei on Taihu Road, near the media tower.

OK Koala

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I know. It’s an Australian themed bar. But the love of pizza is truly international. Koala recently hired a new chef, and the menu is currently being expanded and rewritten. Their pizza tends to go heavy on the tomato sauce, which is something many Chinese-owned pizza parlors just do not do at all. The other thing is that they sell pizza by slice. They are one of the only places I know that does that. So, you are not obligated to eat a whole pie. Sure, foreign owned hotels do by the slice, but it’s part of a buffet you are paying a lot of RMB for. You can’t just pop in for a slice and a craft beer. At Koala, you can. So, it’s highly convenient — especially if you are there one night, drinking, and want to munch on something yummy and cheaply priced. Ok Koala is in Xinbei is located near the BRT stop one shopping center north of Wanda Plaza.

The Tree Pizza

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This is a cozy little place downtown, right off of Beidajie. Tree serves a very thin crust. It is such a small nook of a place that it is easy to miss if you are not looking for it. Besides the excellent pizza, the place has a very pleasant and unique ambiance. For me, it’s almost like eating at a tiny neighborhood parlor back in Asbury Park, Neptune, or Long Branch. When compared to other places, the prices here are very, very affordable. It’s high quality at a low price.

CF Cafe

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CF Cafe is actually a high end bakery serving lots of delicious deserts. They do, however, offer varied range of lunch and dinner items including salads and sandwiches. Thin crust pizza is also on their menu. When compared to Tree or OK Koala, their pizza tends to be a bit pricey. Also, they do not serve regular toppings like pepperoni, but they do have a good five veggie pie that is perhaps one of the more vegetarian friendly options in town that’s more than just a plain cheese pizza. Like Istanbul Restaurant, CF Cafe is on Taihu Road in Xinbei. It’s across the street from Zoo Coffee and the media tower complex.

Monkey King Bargains

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Half of my ethnic heritage comes from Italy, so it’s very easy for me to  say, “Monkey King is one of my favorite restaurants in Changzhou.” Of course, it’s not as good as my late mother’s home cooking, but it’s still pretty darned awesome. It consistently has the best pizza in town — which I would very readily compare to the sort that you can find in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York City. By that, I mean thin crust.  They’re not exactly alike, but it’s the closest you will find in Changzhou.

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If there is one thing I would complain about, it would be the prices. But then again, a person should be willing to pay for a high end dining experience. And Monkey King is high end dining in Changzhou. That leads to another point. From time to time, the restaurant does an all-you-can- eat buffet. Recently, the location in Xinbei hosted one of these on the 25th of February from 6pm to 10pm. Incidentally, the 25th was also the one year anniversary of this blog (a very happy, but totally unrelated coincidence!). For 198 RMB, diners were treated to veal, eggplant, salads, seafood dishes, and more. There was also all-you-can-drink bottled beer and Italian red wine. If you take all of that together, it’s quite a good deal. I ate like a pig; I will not lie about that. Next time Monkey King offers one of these — in either Wujin or Xinbei locations — seriously consider going. It’s more than worth the money.

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Where to find in Changzhou, even on regular menu days.

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Wujin Location near Yancheng.

 

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Xinbei location near Candle’s Steakhouse.

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. 

Two Monkey Kings

mkpizzaMonkey King simply makes pizza closest to what I was used to in New Jersey. It comes with a crispy, thin crust. It also comes with a decent amount cheese  and tomato sauce. Don’t get me wrong, as there are other places in Changzhou that also make very good or decent pizza; however, Monkey King is still the best, personally. This is just my opinion, and as I have noted elsewhere and to many people, I have very, very exacting requirements when it comes to pizza. I do when it comes to all Italian food; I am half Italian American, after all.  Let me go even farther: I’m half Jersey-Italian.

After I moved to Xinbei, however, I quickly learned something. Some seem to not know that there are actually two different Monkey King Pizza restaurants in Changzhou. Some would hear the name and automatically assume that I am talking about the location near Candles. No, I’m not. Actually, I have never eaten at that one, yet. My experience comes solely from their Wujin presence — the one next to Chocolate’s German restaurant.

It’s an important distinction. Wujin Monkey King is a godsend and a must-go-to place when you live in southern Changzhou. This is especially true if you live in the College Town area of either Mingxin or Gehu Roads. When it comes to western cuisine, there really isn’t much of anything else to go to.  Sure, there is also Kaffe Indian Cafe, and Jagerwirt, but that is all there is. And saying “Just take a cab to Xinbei” is just not an acceptable answer for routine, everyday eating. The cab fare is about 60 RMB, and when you are on a college English teacher’s salary, you only save such extravagant luxuries for special occasions, or when you can get a number of people to go with you and split fare.

So, no matter what, I will always stand by this distinction: Wujin Monkey King makes the best pizza in Changzhou. Others come very close. Some used to say that title belonged to Aria, and I used to welcome that debate. Sadly, Aria is gone.