A year or two back, it seemed like salad related places were sprouting up across Changzhou. It was likely a fad, and like all trends, the sudden spread of salad shops came to an end. For a while, it seemed like Max and Salad was one of the casualties. It used to be located in the basement of downtown’s Injoy Plaza. Then, one day, there was a lock on the door. It’s a typical restaurant closure — one day it was serving patrons, and the next it wasn’t.
A few weeks ago, I discovered that it hadn’t really gone away. It was simply relocating to a smaller, cheaper space on the exterior of Laimeng. The difference between this place and, let’s say, Eco or Evergreen, is that this is a true salad bar where you can pick your ingredients.
The set up is the same as before. You choose what you want by grabbing tokens that correspond with ingredients on display. These tokens have internal RFID chips inside. Once you have made your selections, you hand your pile of tokens to the cashier. She runs them over a scanner, and an order for your own, special, unique salad is generated. Obviously, you pay after that. The other places have set menus. They are good, but they do not allow you to indulge in whatever whims you may have in created something personalized. The other thing is this: Evergreen is a locally owned, and Max and Salad is a chain with locations in other Chinese cities. Either way, some vegetarians and vegans might be glad to know one of their dining options didn’t exactly just go away for good.
As stated earlier, this is on the exterior of Laimeng and on a side street that is very close to Nandajie. It’s not that far from where the old Base Bar used to be, and the Band of Brothers DVD shop is across the street.
For awhile, it seemed like Thuringia was the only thing remotely western at Wujin Wanda Plaza. This is, of course, if you discount the fast food of Dairy Queen, KFC, Burger King, and Starbucks. Oh, and Pizza Hut, too. Even then, that really isn’t saying much, because Thuringia is a chain that likes to call itself German but fails miserably in the execution.
The times I have eaten there in the past, salads seemed skimpy and glazed with sugar water. Their sausages were of poorer quality that the ones that can easily be bought at Metro — and the slogan, You can make much better food at home will never inspire you to fling money at an eatery trying to be foriegn in China. Somebody from Eastern Europe once complained Thuringia’s borscht tasted like Campbell’s tomato soup from a can. Wujin Wanda had better, at one point. Right after the mall opened years ago, there was a place called Erdinger, and the food was decent. However, it closed because it never attracted consistent customers — leaving Thuringia to foist it’s substandard cuisine onto hungry mall shoppers.
Recently, I found what might be a credible alternative at Wujin Wanda: Milo Bar 8. I don’t know how long it has been open, because I don’t live in the southern part of Changzhou anymore. Today, I went to Wujin to get some eBike maintenance done, and I thought to reacquaint myself with the area and see how some it has changed since 2014 and 15.
Milo Bar 8 seems to be a mixture of a restaurant and a bar with live music entertainment. I haven’t actually seen any musicians performing, because I went in the middle of the day for a late lunch. But they had all the equipment to serenade diners in a cozy, somewhat posh looking setting. As for it’s location, it’s located on the ground floor and at the north end of the mall. The entrance is on the outside of the building, not the inside. So, how was the food? I felt only peckish and cheap. I very much wanted to be a tightwad (I had just doled out 1000 RMB for 10 new bike batteries), so I opted only for two chicken related appetizers.
This was a slightly spicy chicken and cheese combo on top of garlic bread. It rain for about 38 RMB — for one piece of toast. Two other options include garlic shrimp as well as salmon and avocado. I found myself enjoying the cheesy chicken thingie. In a way, it was sort of a nostalgia moment for New Jersey. I haven’t really seen actual garlic bread around Changzhou all that much. While I thought this was pricey, I would order it again. I would probably confuse the non-English speaking waitress by want two or three on one plate. Then, there was this…
The menu listed this as “chicken burritos.” The “burrito” concept here is close, so I’m not going to argue with the restaurant. Chinese food has something similar in concept called 薄饼卷肉 Báobǐng juǎn ròu. It’s basically meat rolled up in thin flatbread,
So, this is definitely not Mexican food, but as a sort-of international fusion dish, it works. This was definitely much better than anything I ever ate at Taco’s at Wujin Injoy, and that place DID call itself Mexican (and quite wrongly, too. Who puts mayonnaise into a beef soft taco and calls it sour cream?). The spiciness seems to come, here, from Chinese green peppers. It wasn’t too hot, and I would order this again, too.
Both appetizers intrigued me enough to want to try other things on the menu some other time. They do have steaks, a Caesar salad, and other things that look more western than Chinese. Some items are absurdly expensive. For instance, Milo Bar 8 has a slab of meat that will run you 1288 RMB. I neither kidding nor being sarcastic.
To be honest, the service was extremely slow, but I will be forgiving of that because I walked into the place in the downtime between lunch and dinner. Many places in China lock their doors at that time. The hostess actually invited me in as I curiously flipped through the menu. The other thing is this: I live in Xinbei, now. I would cross town for Kaffa and Jagerwirt on occasion. For Milo Bar 8, I definitely wouldn’t. Maybe I would if I was in Wujin on other business, like I was today? However, it’s on my radar now. Yet, I also know this; I know how excited I would have been if I found this when I actually lived in the area a few years ago.
When my father came to visit a few weeks ago, he was pretty burnt out on Chinese food. Before stepping off the train in Changzhou, he had spent about three weeks traveling the Middle Kingdom and saw sights like Lhasa, Tibet, the Mekong River, and more. He ate a lot of noodles. He ate a lot of rice. He had his fair share of dumplings, and he told me he had more than enough.
That posed a bit of a problem. The day he arrived here, he settled into Hohai University’s guest center and asked, “Where are we going for lunch? I am starving.” Given that he was dead set against Chinese food, I was at a quandary. Where would we eat? I figured the two of us would walk over to Wanda Plaza, and the rest would eventually play out. McDonald’s or KFC would have been an a last resort. We ended up on the fourth floor, at a place called Tom’s Steak Cafeteria.
The food was not good at all. In fact, I really hated it; I hide to pick chucks of non-chewable gristle out of my mouth. However, as my dad and I ate and caught up on family news, there was another thought in the back of my head. Places like Tom’s are pretty standard, and dismal, attempts at western cuisine. There are lots of places in China that try to do steak this way: sizzle a thin, very cheap slab of beef on a metal hot plate, crack open an egg, and serve spaghetti with a type of tomato sauce that likely came out of a can.
If an expat has lived in Changzhou for quite awhile, they will know steak places like this were the majority options a few years ago, if you wanted to eat something remotely western. Yes, there are fancy hotel restaurants and places like Jagerwirt that do steak well, but that is more of a fine dining experience and can be rather pricey — especially if you are eating on a university teacher’s salary and not an engineer’s or business person’s. However, times change. There seems to be a new trend going on Changzhou.
Tiny, affordable steak places are popping up in malls like Wanda and Injoy. These places take a profoundly different approach than the standard Chinese steak restaurants. Think of these places as high-end snack bars. They don’t use hot metal plates. The sides of corn kernels and cold, faux-Italian noodles are gone, too. And seriously, good riddance. These places tend to strip away everything in the name of sheer simplicity. It’s actually kind of beautiful, from a culinary minimalist perspective.
You pick your steak from a display case. You have a choice several different types of cuts. They weigh your meat and charge you by the gram. You also specify how red or not-red you want your meat. They cook it on a grill, season it, and serve it to you with a simple salad.
I can’t speak for the other places in this regard. The pictures are from Niuhaha at Xinbei’s Wanda Plaza. So, if a place is going to serve steak with very few embellishments, how was the quality of meat? I mean, the simplicity puts an extra emphasis on the steak itself, because there are no distractions like a pile of corn or a bunch of flavorless noodles? If the meat is bad, then the meal itself will fail miserably.
What I had at Niuhaha was very, very good. They use imported Australian beef. It was cooked well with the right amount of juiciness and the amount of pepper and other seasonings was just about right. Now, is this the same as getting a steak at a place like Monkey King or Chocolate’s? No. Of course not. Don’t be freaking silly. That is steak as fine dining, and I will still go back those places when I want a sit down meal with friends and colleagues or am on a date. This is, as I said earlier, more of a cheaper fast-food approach.
I tried Niuhaha after I took my dad to Pudong International in Shanghai and said goodbye. My father has since returned to America. However, as I was enjoying my steak salad afterwards, something else dawned on me. Across the way, on Wanda’s fourth floor, was Tom’s Steak Cafeteria. It made me think. On my father’s first day of visiting, I had so wished I said, “Hey, Dad! Let’s try that tiny steak place over there!” We would have had a more satisfying meal if I had.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While visiting Jiangyin either on business or as a tourist, there are a few western restaurants to consider eating at. While the city is smaller than Changzhou and belongs to Wuxi, Jiangyin is highly developed and quite modernized. There is one spot in the downtown area that seems to be central to dining and nightlife. Yijian Road has a lot of bars and restaurants.
The biggest draw in the area seems to be a German establishment, Hofbrauhaus and a few others.
While Yijian Road seems to be a culinary hub, these are not the only places to eat when visiting Jiangyin. Take, for example, St. Marco. This European eatery is just down Chaoyang Road from Huangshanhu Park. That park, and the others near in close proximity, are the more well known Jiangyin attractions. People on a day trip from Changzhou could pair visiting those parks with eating at St. Marco. As stated earlier, these are likely not the only decent places to eat in this city, but this was only my third visit, and I’m still figuring out where things are there.
“The goal of Dragon Fair,” one of the organizers told me, “is to give Changzhou an internationally themed market event. Over the years, the city has become much more cosmopolitan, and I think that is something that really should be celebrated.”
This outlook can be directly seen in not only in the goods being sold here, but the food as well. Vietnamese, German, Thai, Russian baked goods, and so much more food can be had here. Xinbei’s Istanbul Restaurant was in attendance with some of their Turkish desserts and their belly dancer, for example. This also includes long-time Changzhou veterans like Summer, to newer bars like OK Koala serving imported drinks. A shopper looking for high-end and organic dried fruit and honeycomb can even peruse a booth here.
While international in design, the fair seemed to be pulling in interested people from the foreign community as well as a lot of curious Chinese locals.
The draw, one has to say, though, is definitely the food. Changzhou’s culinary landscape has been steadily growing, and the fair certainly did well to showcase diversity. Wujin’s Chocolate’s Bar was on hand with warm mulled wine, German sausage, and very, very good sauerkraut. Changzhou has also had newer and lesser known attractions like the Vietnamese restaurant downtown, and a new Thai hot pot restaurant in Xinbei. These are places that really deserve a visit and your money. In retrospect, I am kind of frustrated with myself for not taking more food pictures at the stalls.
Sunday, December 4 is the last day of Dragon Fair. If you go, you might see a nameless, and rather hapless, city blogger dressed up like Santa Claus. How he let himself be persuaded for the job is a tale for another time. Even on the threat of torture, he would not divulge the times he would be masquerading as Father Christmas. So, you might see him, you might not. Think of it as a gamble. And, that’s irrelevant and beside the point, anyway. There is great food to be had, here. Plus, in the run-up to Christmas, unique gifts for loved ones and friends can also be found. Dragon Fair is currently located on the basement level of the absurdly large Global Harbour Mall in Xinbei. It is easily accessible by taking a B1 bus north. The mall has it’s own BRT station. The event ends at 8pm.
Eating out in Wujin seems to be a completely different culinary landscape than a place like Xinbei. The options are totally different, and a lot of newcomers are especially keen on knowing where they can find western food. It is the ultimate comfort food when you are surrounded by Chinese cuisine. International hotels are usually a reliable choice when seeking that sort of dining, and the Hilton’s buffet is no different. However, anytime you eat in a western hotel, be prepared to pay high prices. And, by the way, their all-you-can-eat Japanese place Red is totally worth a visit. Here are some pictures from the last time I visited.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oh, and you can do all your shopping at Metro! They have a lot of western items!
— An enthusiastic, but misinformed Xinbei expat to a Wujin newbie.
As I have pointed out before, nothing can be more infuriating than living in Wujin and being told that Xinbei is the center of Changzhou. Most of the time, this advice is well meaning, but it doesn’t keep it from being factually wrong. This is so much the case with Metro. When you live in Wujin — especially College Town — Metro is just a far off wonderland that just isn’t practical. Why? Given rain and traffic, it can take up to an hour to get there on the B1 — one way.
Then, there are the rumors that Wujin will eventually get its own Metro. These whispers have been going on for years now, and when I lived down in the College Town, I depressingly chalked up to wishful thinking more than anything else. However, there has been real progress, as of late, towards Wujin expats finally getting something they really want. Now, there is a real location for the new Metro.
The B1 BRT bus route passes it. Its in a new and unfinished shopping development called CoCo City. This is about one stop after / before Wujin’s Injoy mall, depending on whether you are going north or south. The last time I rode by on my eBike, the location was empty and undeveloped. All you could see was the blue and yellow METRO store marquee. I snapped a picture of it and sent it to a friend with lots of Changzhou experience. Even she didn’t know about it.
Later, a separate friend of mine passed it more recently. She currently lives in College Town and was headed north on other business. She, too, was tired of having to take the bus for an hour just to get something simple like bagged salad mix. She told me that she asked around and couldn’t find an answer to when it a grand opening was planned. She even tasked a Chinese friend to call Xinbei’s Metro for further information. Even they didn’t know anything.
So, as of this writing, Wujin is still getting a Metro. You can actually visit and see where it will be, but there seems to be no hard evidence as to when a grand opening will actually come to pass. For a Wujin expat, this is both tantalizing and extremely frustrating. It’s like dangling something nice in front of somebody, but still keeping agonizingly out of easy reach.
NOTE: This is a very old post cross-published from my personal blog. It’s also much longer than your average Real Changzhou post.
Here is a very surreal question requiring a nonsensical answer: how can you use saliva as building blocks? Specifically, when trying to build a wharf? As a liquid, it would never happen – unless you froze it and made ice bricks. For a time, I used to ponder this question and daydreamed of cargo ships and cruise liners moored to a dock while floating on a tranquil saliva sea. A mouth’s pink, ridged upper palate would double as the sky, reddened and swollen gums would make up the shoreline, and decayed molars would provide housing and infrastructure to the wharf and the pueblo-like town around it. Dockhands and day laborers would probably look like the offspring between a mutated Walt Disney dwarves and the oompa loompas you would find in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Hopefully, they won’t whistle while they work. What about a lighthouse? Easily covered: it would be a chipped fang or incisor retrofitted with a bright and rotating searchlight.
What would prompt such disgusting and grotesque daydreams on my part? Actually, “Saliva Wharf” is the English name of a northern Changzhou candy shop. Several times, I have walked passed it while wandering the pedestrian street outside of the Xinbei Wanda shopping mall. Most times, I saw a few kids gleefully inspecting bulk bins of sweets while their mothers looked on in a rather disinterestedly. The absurd English name used to captivate me, but it doesn’t anymore. It’s just bad Chinglish, and the more you live in China, the more you become immune to the weird Chinese-to-English collisions. Basically, Chinglish is boring once the novelty wears off. Even with that jaded point of view, one is bound to run into epic English bastardizations. They end up so ridiculous you have to laugh in spite of yourself, take a picture, and show it to everybody you come across. I recently came across such an extreme abomination.
The words “Fresh Scallop Asshole” in blocky black fonts stared right back at me. I scratched my head. I squinted. I even turned the page and turned back just to make sure I was hallucinating. I tried to make sensing of the wording and just couldn’t. Unlike “saliva wharf,” I didn’t even want to have playfully gross interpretations. Sure, I have a fundamentally demented sense of humor most of the time, but the thought of a scallop’s rectum stretches that a bit far. Eventually, I just shrugged, took a cell phone picture, and moved on. Sure, I showed said photo to anybody and everybody remotely interested.
Weeks passed, and for some reason, curiosity still gnawed at me. It went beyond the bad Chinglish. Of course, Tacos wasn’t actually serving “Fresh Scallop Assholes.” First, such things really don’t exist, and even if they did, they would be impossibly tiny. Eventually, I returned to Tacos to eat because 1) I wanted to know what the Chinese version of “Fresh Scallop Asshole” said on the menu, and 2) I like scallops, so it seemed worth the risk. The picture showed something that looked breaded and fried. Certainly, it couldn’t be that bad?
Even before I walked into the restaurant I felt kind of leery. The Wujin Tacos has a caricature of a Mexican painted onto its window. It complete with brown skin, a bushy mustache, and a big sombrero. That’s about the only thing remotely “Mexican” about the place. Once inside, the décor looks really strange. The chairs alternated between black and yellow. Black and white framed photography adorned the walls. Nothing in this place honestly spoke of “Mexico” the country. Contrast that with eateries in the USA, where the Mexican flag seems draped everywhere as a matter of pride. The lack of a theme continued into the menu. Sure, I found the “fresh scallop asshole” item again rather easily, but the other food items also confused me. You had your standard steaks and chicken wing dishes, but none of that is actually Mexican. The more I flipped through the menu, the more I thought Tacos just dresses itself up as “exotic” and “western” for Chinese people who might not know better.
Eventually, I found two things listed as “tacos” – one chicken and one beef. I called waitress over and ordered both. Then, I flipped back to the “Fresh Scallop Asshole” picture and pointed. At this point, the waitress wrinkled her brows at me. She tapped her pen against order pad and grew more confused. She glanced over her shoulder and shouted loudly towards the kitchen. Somebody in the kitchen loudly shouted back. She slightly shook her head no and said “没有” (not have). I smiled. Why was I not surprised? It meant either of two things. Either diners hold “fresh scallop assholes” in high demand, and they have a hard time keeping the ingredients in stock, or nobody orders it all. Since there was only one other diner in this nearly empty restaurant, I figured nobody orders it – especially English speaking foreigners who might find the name a bit scary. I smiled pointed back at “Fresh Scallop Asshole” and dismissively waved “not want.”
It seemed awhile to get my tacos, though. All four of them were profoundly underwhelming. They used flour tortillas – not the hard and crispy shells usually made from corn meal. Both the chicken and the beef were under seasoned. Sure, the meat had some juice to it, but I seemed to taste the vegetables more. They seemed only minimally dusted with a bit of black pepper. But that was all. All in all, the tacos were bland. The beef ones were even more confusing. Each taco had two medium rare strips of steak, but they were meager. It’s even more appalling once you consider the
price tag. I have had filling and satisfying meals at Chinese noodle joints for 15RMB. Each underwhelming taco order was easily twice that amount. The more I thought about, I realized that Taco Bell fast food back in America had more “Mexican Authenticity” than this place.
Before I left, I tried to puzzle out the characters in the Chinese menu description. I had looked at the photo I had taken. I could make out most of it with the help of Baidu Translate on my smart phone, but one character kept giving me trouble. The character was set against a wood-grained background, and that proved too hard for my cell phone’s camera and optical character recognition software. I squinted and scowled over “fresh scallop asshole” for awhile until just summarily gave up. In the end, I sent the menu picture to one my most trusted Chinese friends. Turns out, “Fresh scallop assholes” are actually just type of fried fish meatball. Buttocks and sphincters are not involved at all. Really. A graphic designer must have fed the Chinese menu description into a machine translator like Baidu Translate. That person must have cut-and-pasted the resulting English into the menu template without bothering to check. Obviously, the designer in question must have had no English skills at all. You don’t have to be fluent to know “asshole” is a naughty and impolite word.
My good friend and I traded WeChat messages over the subject, and I complained, a lot. I said things like “Some Mexican dishes are not that hard to make.”
“Aha,” she replied. “You know how to cook. Feed yourself!”
A day later, I did just that. I browned some ground pork in my wok, added a sliced red onion, and a can of red kidney beans. Paprika and a few heavy dashes of Tabasco sauce soon followed. I would have made guacamole too, but I didn’t have any avocados to mash, and I didn’t feel like going to the supermarket. Even if I had avocados, you would need diced tomatoes and a lime to do it right, and limes are hard to find in my end of China. Once simmered for awhile, it went into a tortilla wrap with a lot of cheddar cheese. It was both a simple and delicious burrito. Sure, my cooking is not “real Mexican” food, but it’s certainly more authentic than what you’ll find listed on Tacos’ menus.