In recent months — even before COVID-19 had disrupted everybody’s lives — it seemed like Xinbei was getting a steady trickle of new places that serve beer. Not all of them were technically bars. This is definitely the case with Xue Bao 雪宝. Two very good friends of mine found the place, and they preceded to berate me on Wechat for not answering my phone — all while sampling the beer the place had to offer. Turns out, teaching a class was not a good excuse on my part. Eventually, I did check the place out.
Xue Bao brews three types of craft beer. This includes 沃斯乐黄啤酒 which basically tastes like a basic lager or pilsner. There is also 艾丁格白啤酒，which is a white beer. Both names sound like words from a western language that have been transliterated. 艾丁格 sounds an awful lot like Erdinger, a more than hundred year old brand of German wiessbeir. The third option sounds more decidedly Chinese: 桂花小麦，aka osmanthus wheat. Osmanthus flowers are part of a regional tradition in this end of China. Suzhou, for example, famously makes wine out of it.
While my two rowdy friends — an Aussie and an Albertan Canadian — were enjoying their drinks while seated on plastic chairs, Xue Bao is basically a takeout business. Each of the three options are sold by the liter and in bags with handles. As for the beer itself, it is okay. It’s neither awesome nor disgusting — it’s okay. The brew itself is relatively low in carbonation, and out of the three flavors, the osmanthus wheat has the most unique identity. Of course, it would be slightly unfair to compare Xue Bao to western micro brewing — say, Zaphler’s over in Zhonglou and Canal 5. After all, craft beer is still a relatively new phenomenon in a country that has an extremely long tradition of making baijiu and yellow wine. Xue Bao, as my Albertan friend opined, “get’s the job done for what it actually is.”
Xue Bao is located on Daduhe Road 大度河路 in Xinbei. This is the road that is directly south of Hehai University’s campus. It is also in an easy walking distance from Wanda Plaza.
When COVID-19 was spreading with documented cases here in Changzhou, I figured out that this blog needed to go on hiatus. After all, we were told to stay indoors and minimize the risk of catching and spreading the virus. This blog has always been about learning more about the city and encouraging people to see “The Real Changzhou.” So, it’s purpose was not relevant to the times. In the interim, I created a new blog about Chinese alcohol: Liquor Laowai. It gave me something productive to do. Now, however, the city seems to be slowly seeking normalcy as infection rates nationwide have been trending downwards. A good friend and long time reader of Real Changzhou suggested an idea to me a few days ago about reviving this blog. I 110% agreed with him
Things are reopening around town. And that is great news! Yay! However, with the promise of returning amenities comes a lot of confusion. Here’s an example. OK Koala was told it could open and then after a few days, it was told to go back to being open only for delivery and take out. Meanwhile, Candles, Monkey King, and Daniel’s are all open in Xinbei. I can speak to that because I was at Candles last night.
This is not intended as commentary on city decisions at all. This is only meant as reporting of where one can and cannot go based on my experience. I thought a place to start with would be Japanese Street aka Hanjiang Road. Why? It’s where I live.
As you can see above, a majority of the Japanese eateries are back open. However, there are a few things to consider.
For whatever reason, Indian Kitchen is still closed.
Forgive me for some of the poor cellphone picture quality. The majority of the bars on the street are still closed. I know Japanese Street has a reputation for having a few girly / hostess places (which are all shuttered). However, not everything here is actually that. Fossils, for example, has western food I personally like. It’s not open.
Hanjiang Road is one of the major nightlife destinations for the Japanese expat / business person community, and that’s why you have two or three whiskey bars here. They have locked doors as well. If you are looking for an open bar, however, there is only one.
29-Minute Beer Delivery is open. Honestly, I can’t tell you if they have their kitchen running, but you can buy beer here. I know. I have. It’s also important to stress this: I don’t know if it’s open as a butt-on-stool bar. I just walked in and bought some Wuhan craft beer as take out. Yet, keep in mind I am operating by one simple question for all of this: open or closed? While reading this post, here as another important thing to consider. Information such as this becomes outdated the moment I publish it. So, this is the state of Japanese Street as of 8:30pm, 3/22/2020.
According to my students over the years, China isn’t a superpower when it comes to anime, cartoons, or comics. According to them, that’s the domain of Japan and America — with profoundly different styles coming out of both countries. With recent high budget movies like White Snake and others, it’s something that may change in the decades to come. After all, science fiction is now a big thing in China when it wasn’t twenty years ago.
Unlike science fiction, cartoons and comics do have a history in China. Sure, it may not be the level of Hayao Miyazaki, but then again he’s in a class of his own. There is only one — and can only be one — Miyazaki. Still, China has been publishing comics for decades. They just don’t look like anything you would find elsewhere.
Typically, these can be found in antique markets these days. They are tiny, and they are largely black and white with one panel and caption per page.
There is a deeper, richer history than this, though. In this regard, I’m speaking of San Mao 三毛.
Zhang Leping 张乐平 created this character in 1935 as a way to show the economic plight of orphans and the poor in Shanghai. Of course, there was some anti-Japanese propaganda thrown into Zhang’s work. However, it is really hard to argue that San Mao is dogmatic. Zhang’s work does have a political point, but there is often a whimsical edge. Plus, he often depicted the humanity of what it’s like to be a poor and malnourished in truly chaotic times.
If I am going to be honest, I had never heard of San Mao before I moved to China. If I am permitted to say something weird (to me), I had never heard of San Mao or Zhang Leping until I walked into a shopping plaza. American shopping malls are not keen on putting on cultural displays. Often in the USA, commercial and cultural things are decidedly kept separate.
Global Harbour in Xinbei, however, has an exhibit dedicated to San Mao and Zhang Leping’s drawings. It’s on the fourth floor.
It’s hard to tell if the framed work are prints, reproductions, or originals. To an extent, does it really matter?
For me, it didn’t. I learned something new, and this whole exhibit is free and open the public. I wandered in with a super-jumbo cup of watered down espresso from Starbucks. I did this on a very lazy day off, and I could very easily see myself doing it again, soon.
From time to time, after staying up late and drinking one too many beers with friends at a bar, I often hit Japanese Street on my way home. It’s more of a convenience, though. The north gate of my housing estate is actually on Hanjiang Road. The other night, I did one of my routine pit stops, and I had what I felt was an amazing bowl of pork and garlic ramen. It was also 2am, and I figured thinking it was so awesome could be chalked up to the fact that I was a little tipsy. So, I decided to go back, completely sober, and try it again for lunch. Alas, the place was closed. I was still hungry, and so I just ventured into a different — and newer to me — Japanese eatery. They didn’t have the type of soup I had wanted from the other place. However, I noticed something I hadn’t really tried before.
To put plainly and simply: udon noodles in Japanese beef curry. Now, if one is ranking the international curries of the world, Japan’s version is not near the top. In my opinion, that’s an ongoing threeway war between Singapore, Thailand, and India. That’s not to say Japanese curry is bad, and I do quite often enjoy it. There is a sort of simple “comfort food” aspect sometimes appeals to me.
Frequently, curry is on a Japanese menu while being paired with white rice. Adding a pork or chicken breaded cutlet is also common, and that is often sometimes topped with a fried egg. So, on this occasion, it was the first time I saw beef curry paired with soft, thick udon noodles. So, what’s the end result?
Liked it, and at 35 RMB a bowl, it will be something I will have again for a quick lunch. While putting noodles into curry is not a new and novel thing, this particular pairing isn’t something I have seen at other Japanese places I have dined at. That’s also the important thing about figuring out the entirety of Hanjiang Road as a dining destination. There are so many Japanese restaurants competing with each other, it’s hard to declare which is the best. Actually, that’s a bit of a silly task. It’s better to figure out what menu items are unique to certain places. So, simple udon beef curry; it’s one of the reasons why I might go back to Jing He 井禾 on Japanese Street. Since it was only my second time there, I’m wondering what else may be on the menu that sets itself apart from the dozens of other places nearby.
As it has been often said, a forthcoming subway system usually changes many things within a city. One of the more fundamental things is urban planning. That became evident in Xinbei, recently. The construction barricades came down from around Sanjiangkou Park 三江口公园. I decided to go out and take a stroll to see what was there.
At first glance, it’s a typical ecological park. It’s across the street from the Changzhou Foreign Languages School/ TrinaInternational complex. There’s a BRT stop between the two, but there is also a subway station being put in here. That subway station is referenced in the directional signage.
Besides the more typical things you might find in a public park, a few things stood out to me. Yes, I am a 45 year-old man with a beer gut, but part of me will always have a teenage skateboarder hardwired into my brain. Once a spot hunter, always a spot hunter. For example, the above photo. It looks like a totally skate-able series of flat banks. There are also plenty of stone benches around, too. In short, this park has a few potential skating spots. However, if I’m being practical, I also saw a security guy zipping around on an eBike. So, skating the above may not be quite feasible. And then, I got a real shock.
I actually ran into an concrete mini-ramp. Behind that, there’s a flat bank with a rail. This is next to basketball and tennis courts. An astroturf soccer pitch is also close by. Obviously, a security guy won’t be yelling at you if you’re here. So, yeah, while I really don’t ride a skateboard anymore, I got totally enthused about this. And then, Changzhou decided to repeat a bit of skateboarding history, again.
The mini-half has some unsafe spots. This is exactly the same problem that popped up with the park that was put in the basement of Laimeng downtown like a year ago. The metal ramps over in Qingfeng all got rusty before that was shut down. There is one hopeful thing, however.
While the construction barricades came down, there is still a significant portion of Sanjiangkou that is still under construction. So, it’s a possibility that the damaged concrete will be found and fixed. The above photo is also a reminder that what ever is to be here has not fully come into existence, yet.
So, for me at least, it’s going to be interesting to return in a few months and see what Sanjiangkou actually becomes. Who knows? Maybe the damaged ramp will be fixed? Maybe I’ll dust off my board and ride it? Probably not. I’m not the guy I was in my twenties, and I think I’m too afraid of falling down and getting a boo-boo.
Skateboarding legend, all around cool guy, and notorious taco lover Tony Hawk once said, “The farther you get from the Mexican border, the worse Mexican food becomes.” I wouldn’t know, and I would have to trust him on that. I have never been to California, and I have been nowhere near the line separating the USA and its neighbor to the south. In that regard, I am not a good arbiter of what makes for an authentic or inauthentic taco. All I can speak to is what tastes good to me.
However, I can say Hawk’s maxim did hold true for Changzhou for a long time. A number of years ago, there used to be a chain called “Tacos.” It used to be at Wujin’s Injoy Plaza — what has now been renamed “Wu Yue.” Instead of using actual Mexican spices, they just put lots of black pepper on everything. Sour cream? They actually mistook mayonnaise for that. The menu was pricey, and I never saw anybody in there. So, I was not surprised when it went out of business. That place also had one of the most outrageous acts of Chinglish on its menu. Take a look …
For the longest time, if you wanted a taco, you either had to make one yourself or go to other cities, Wuxi being the closest. Eventually, Yabby Lake in Wujin had something if one needed to scratch a taco itch. For the sake of full disclosure, I haven’t actually been to that place since I moved to Xinbei. However, I have a friend that would vouch for them. However, something relatively new and neat has popped up.
Xinbei has tacos now, and they are fairly good. I have heard rumors that Daniel’s might be doing Mexican on their new menu in the future, but I haven’t had a chance to investigate. I’m talking about something else. I am talking about a place called Fossils on Hanjiang Road / Japanese Street. Fossils is a gut-and-remodel of the old City Corner Bar. Essentially, the owners wanted to reorient their business to towards food as well as pouring drinks. For example, you can get a decent burger here on a pretzel bun. However, I found myself instantly drawn to the Mexican-inspired options. Changzhou really doesn’t have a lot of that sort of stuff.
Not only do they have hard and soft tacos, but they have quesadillas, burritos, and tostadas. Die hard taco purists might bemoan the lack of guacamole or sour cream, but I have to say I have enjoyed everything I have tried on Fossils’ menu thus far. I also say “Mexican-style” because one of their tacos uses German sausage. I was highly skeptical about that at first, and I actually ordered it with dread. Turns out, it actually works well with the other things in the hard tortilla shell. Moving on, let’s talk about something else with a very high Yum Factor.
They have smothered french fries that incorporates pulled pork, beef gravy, and mozzarella cheese. Can anybody say poutine? It’s very close without actually being that beloved Canadian staple. Still, I loved it and would highly recommend it.
But would a hardcore Canadian from Alberta like it? Well, yes. I actually drank beer and ate at Fossils with one of those types, recently.
So, on to my point. I actually find the food debate of “Is it authentic?” tiresome when it comes to living as a foreigner in China. It’s a pointless argument that will never be won. “Is it authentic?” is not the question somebody should be asking. The question should be: “Does it taste good when you put the food into your mouth, chew, and swallow?” The answer to that — when it comes to Fossils, their poutine, their Mexican fare, and other things — is yes. It’s quite tasty. I look forward to slowly trying all of the other stuff on their menu.
For what it’s worth, it should also be noted that Fossils basically recently opened. The owners and the chef are still tweaking the menu, and so there may be other things in works — I heard a rumor that there might be daily specials at some point. There is nothing really vegetarian, by the way. However, the tacos and messy fries are essentially there to stay. That makes me a happy guy that will be returning often. Also, there is no lunch service, and the doors open at 5:30.
Most Wanda Plazas in this region have a pedestrian street where boutiques stand side by side with restaurants. Xinbei Wanda Plaza is no different, and one has a pretty standard selection of malatang and more. I know this because I often go to Wanda for dinner while I am on my hour dinner break between my afternoon and night classes at Hohai University. An hour is not a long time to really get an honest dining experience in — and that is not a complaint. So, I mostly opt for quicker, more snack-based fare. One such option includes what, back in Jersey, we would call hot pockets.
These are baked the same way some Chinese flat breads are.They are slapped against the metal wall inside a barrel oven. Xinbei’s Wanda actually has two options when it comes to this type of snack.
The two above pictures are from Kaobingju 烤饼居. This is a little nook across the way from the Agricultural Bank of China’s door to the their ATM machines. This is on the southern end of the pedestrian street. This is a relatively simple xiaokaobing 小烤饼 consisting of bread around a meat filling. As for vegetarians, there is a bean paste 豆沙 option. On separate occasions, I have tried beef, pork and lamb versions of this. This is also relatively cheap. Roughly 10 RMB will get you a bag of five.
As for lamb, there is also the Xinjiang restaurant to consider. As full disclosure, I have never actually been inside to try their menu items. However, I have routinely visited their street food window.
This is where you can get Xinjiang style flat bread. Typically, though, I stop here to get a few lamb skewers / kebabs. However, from time to time, I decide to snack on their hot pockets.
In Chinese, these are referred to as kaobaozi 烤包子. In some places online, I have read comparisons to what is a “Central Asian Samosa,” and having at more than a few of these over the last few months, that seems pretty accurate.
Like the earlier mentioned place, these are baked on the inside of a barrel oven. The main differences would be this: they are bigger, and the filling consists of ground lamb mixed with onion. Presently, these go for about 5 RMB each.
Like any bit of street food, both options are essentially fast food while on the go — something to tide you over when I don’t have the time to sit down at a table.
UPDATE: April 18, 2019. This place is no longer exists. The owner is looking for a new location.
It’s happened to me across many cities and countries: New York, Brussels, Utrecht, Oxford, and elsewhere. I would be stumble out of a bar, feel a bit peckish, and find a food cart. Street food can be an awesome thing, especially when it’s a gyro, kebab, or a shawarma. When it comes to that last one, I can now add Changzhou to that list of cities.
A shawarma stand has become a very recent addition to the culinary scene at Dinosaur Park in Xinbei. Last time I went, it was next to a guy who was frying up shrimp cakes — and that was next to KFC. The name is not in English, but the Chinese goes something like this: 德立士俄式的沙威玛 Dé lì shìÉ shì de shā wēi mǎ. That literally translates as something like “Russian Shawarma.”
For those who don’t know, shawarma is slabs of meat skewered on a stick and then rotisserie cooked. It typically tends to be chicken — and other variations like gyro would have it as beef / lamb mixture. The Chinese do something similar with pork and baobing 薄饼卷肉. All three are basically meat and other stuff wrapped in flatbread.
So, what’s the verdict? I can only speak for the chicken and cheese option that I tried recently. It was awesome and I would recommend it to anybody. The chicken was juicey and tender, and the yogurt sauce mixed well with the cheese and veggies. The stand also offers tuna and vegetarian options, but I think I’m basically going to stick with the chicken and cheese for the foreseeable future. It costs about 27 RMB, and it’s filling enough to be a meal unto itself. The owner recently told me that he’s working on getting listed on Meituan and other delivery apps. So, that’s something to look forward to.
In China, Buddhist temples can be venerated spaces for worship, cultural attractions for tourists, and anything between those two concepts. In Changzhou, the most noteworthy temple would be Tianning with Baolin in Wujin coming in second. Sansheng and Dalin would be tied for third. However, not all of them are intended for tourists. Some really are just meant as religious centers where one can pray — or, if you are a secular agnostic like myself, go for some quiet introspection. If I were to make a Christian comparison, it would be this: “Local churches are not all cathedrals like Częstochowa or Lourdes.”
And, so, that would be an apt way to describe Longquan Temple in Xinbei. It’s a tiny little place of worship behind Xinbei Wanda on Daduhe Road 大渡河路. It’s not as epic as Tianning Temple downtown. However, according to it’s website, it’s actually a branch of Tianning. By that, I mean by Changzhou Buddhism as an organized religion.
The times I have been here — as I said, seeking quiet introspection — there has always been something else in the back of my brain. The hustle and bustle of Xinbei’s busiest shopping mall is mere footsteps away. But here? It’s relatively quiet. I wouldn’t be lying if I said there was an interesting juxtaposition to be had there.
Dinosaur Park is filled with gaudy kitsch, but that’s part of the charm, one would argue. As one of Changzhou’s only tourist destinations, there are also plenty things to do and plenty of places to eat at. Dinoman Club is one of those places, and it’s three floors with plenty of distractions to keep one’s self occupied.
There are pool tables, a bowling alley, a haunted house, and more.
It also functions as a KTV with private rooms. These can include mahjong tables, computers, and karaoke set ups.
The restaurant is decent. The two times I ate here were for Spring Festival dinners. One was private, and the other was organized by the municipal government.
The first time I ate here, it was ala carte with a tablet-based ordering system. The second time — the government dinner — was a buffet, which leads me to think buffets are more for large, catered affairs. All in all, the food was decent, as I said earlier. But then again, this is Dinosaur Park. So, there’s got be some weirdness somewhere, and there was.
A friend of mine said this would look awesome air brushed on the side of a van in the greater Alberta regions of Canada.