Mengcheng is a small town out near the city line with Yangzhong. Here is a video I made about a recent visit.
Some staple vegetables and fruits easily have cross-cultural appeal. To that end, consider the tomato. It can effortlessly show up in multiple cuisines. For example, I grew up eating noodles in a tomato-based soup as part of my mother’s Italian-American home cooking. That was minestrone. It is not by coincidence, then, that one of my favorite dishes in China would be 刀削面 daoxiaomian — a reliable staple at Lanzhou noodle joints across the Middle Kingdom. It’s simple: if there are tomatoes and noodles involved, I am more than likely going to like the result. This was confirmed for me recently while dining in the basement of Global Harbour in Xinbei. I was having lunch at the above pictured 啊利茄汁面 aliqiezhimian. It’s a place that specializes in noodles and vegetables served in a tomato broth.
On their menu, the above is 茄汁牛肉面 qiezhiniuroumian. No, a soup lover might like at this and ponder, well, how is that different than Lanzhou shaved noodles (daoxiaomian)? And that would be a legitimate question. For some tomato soup is tomato soup is tomato soup! Who cares? Well, let me show you the math here.
Let’s start with the most important part: the noodle. Lanzhou shaved noodles are thicker, denser, and more chewy. These are a little bit lighter without going to the thinness of spaghetti, stretched noodles, or vermicelli / angel hair. On to the next component. . .
The beef is different. Lanzhou shaved noodles usually employs it as paper thin slices, lean slices. If you go to a Lanzhou joint that has the hongshourou variety, that’s just a type of beef that’s usually been braised in a soy sauce or something like it. The meat is still in some sliced variety most time. This place in Global Harbour has it cubed. The cut of beef has the same consistency of something that might have been braised, but the cubed orientation makes you think you’re actually getting more chewable meat. I have always felt that Lanzhou places are usually skimpy.
Lanzhou shaved noodles have a larger variety of vegetables. Besides some errant meng bean spouts and bok choy, the main vegetable here are mushrooms. (And to nerds that want to argue that mushrooms are type of fungus and not a vegetable, I will counter with this question: Who cares? Technically you are right, but who really cares about your hair splitting?)
For some reason I have yet to figure out, mushrooms and meat are perfect companions. They beautifully compliment each other. I think it has something to do with the texture of both and how they can soak in a good marinade. If you want more vegetables with tomato broth and noodles, Lanzhou shaved noodles may be better for you. I do love a plethora of vegetables floating in my soup, but I just enjoyed the boiled-down simplicity of this of this a lot. I am not saying one is better than the other; I’m just explaining why I liked this and would have it for lunch again sometime during a future revisit to Global Harbour. Yeah, and about that shopping mall.
There is no map location I can drop for it. If you enter the characters 啊利茄汁面 into Baidu Maps, you will get the above, deserted store front in Wujin’s college town as the sole representative. The Global Harbour location does not even come up, so it seems that this is the only iteration of this franchise in Changzhou — if you go by Baidu Maps results. Rest assured, it’s in the “B District” of that absurdly large mall, and it’s on the basement level nearest to Global Harbour’s subway station. While I highly enjoyed eating this, I also have to stress that I would only go here for lunch if I am at this plaza for other reasons. It’s solid, but it will not take your breath away, culinarily speaking.
Ignorant American: British food is absolutely and totally gut wrenching disgusting!
Average Brit: Well then, it sounds like you’ve never had a proper beef wellington!
I would imagine that this snippet of conversation could have happened in High Wycombe, West Ruislip, Upper Heyford, or the greater Oxford area, but then again, that’s the part of the United Kingdom I know the most and have a personal connection to. That’s were I lived. In this instance, the Ignorant American is likely a armed service member or one of their dependents. It’s likely the 1980’s and they just ate at a Wimpy burger and are quite sad and on tearful crying bit that it’s not McDonalds or Burger King. (Trust me, I had to deal with these spoiled countrymen while spending part of my youth there and, later, my university vacation life in Buckinghamshire.) American corporate fast food really didn’t start invading Europe until the 1990s.
To the average non-Brit, some UK food can look disgusting. Beans on toast? I once showed a picture of that to a Chinese friend, and they retorted, “Is that vomit on toast?” Yes, the optics are not optimal, but I would never turn away a plate of beans on toast — especially if there’s a bit of cheese sprinkled on top. If we are talking about the optics of so something not being optimal, there is always eel pie.
I have never tried this. I don’t think I could, either. In all my years in China, I sampled a number of things — usually in hotpot — that I would say I normally wouldn’t eat in America. Organ meat would be chief among that. For me, the above is roughly about the same has Zhou Hei Ya duck — it has eyes, and I don’t like eating things that stare at me.
Getting back to the idea of a proper beef wellington, I realized recently that in all the years I lived in or visited the United Kingdom, I have never tried it. Not once. And here is something else crazy: I sampled it for the first time in Changzhou. For a while, I thought this was something that you could maybe dine on in Shanghai or Nanjing, but not here. Well, apparently you can.
Houde Steak is located in the new Cultural Plaza in Xinbei. This whole area is in a greater cluster that also includes the stadium, the city government, the theater, and the museum. Houde is not your typical Chinese steak place that sells a slab of inedible rubber on a sizzling iron plate. No, Houde serves good cuts of meat that’s been minimally plated with like one carrot, one tine bit of broccoli, and one cube of potato.
So, it was here that I lost my beef wellington virginity. The below cost about 198 RMB on the menu. Obviously, this is one that I cut in half.
The theory of a wellington goes as follows. A chef sears all the sides of cut of beef. Then, that gets rolled in pate. Afterwards, it’s re-rolled in Parma ham and subsequently wrapped in pastry dough. It goes into the oven and gets baked. Of course, I’m likely oversimplifying everything. I can testify, though, that it’s juicy and delicious when done right, and Houde has seem to have done this correctly. But then again, Houde’s wellingtons (I’ve tried it more than once) are the only ones I’ve actually had. So, I don’t know if it’s proper or not. I do have the rest of my life to thoroughly and scientifically try other ones and see for myself. I’m assuming spending the rest of your life questing after the most proper wellington would not be a bad endeavor.
As four Houde, despite the minimal plating, there are other issues to consider here. I could not find a location for this place on Baidu Maps, so I’m unable to post that. Just go to the basement level of the Changzhou Cultural Plaza and you’ll eventually find it. Also, the ordering system involves scanning a table QR Code, and annoyingly enough, the menu itself is totally in Chinese with no English. You have to go off the pictures, or you can feed screenshots into a translation app like I did. All that being said, I’d go back again, and I have several times.
“This has all happened before, and it will happen again.”
The above quote comes from Battlestar Galactica, which is one of the greatest sci-fi TV shows of all time. Humans build robots. Robots rebel and almost kill off all of humanity. Humanity recovers and builds more robots. Like shampoo, rinse and repeat. History can be cyclical, and patterns do repeat themselves in different contexts from eon to epoch. Just give it time, and a certain type of event will repeat itself. I was thinking about this recently in a much more silly and mundane context.
I took the above photo recently. It’s of a YMD supermarket’s grand openning near Hohai University’s north gate. Specifically, the grocery store is on the second floor, and you have to take an escalator to get in. The ground floor is a fresh market where vendors sell meat and vegetables.
As of this writing, I am less than one month away from my seven-year anniversary of moving from America to Changzhou. The last five have been in Xinbei when I took my current job at Hohai. In all of those years, there has been something weird about this exact retail location. Supermarkets have opened here to much fanfare, and then they go out of business inevitably. They get gutted and remodeled and they reopen. I don’t know why, exactly. Part of me would like to wager that having a grocery store selling meat and vege above a fresh market that sells the same is a bit of a redundancy. By my calculation, I think this is the third or fourth time a supermarket has had a grand opening here while I have been around.
There is also another reason why this YMD caught my attention. It’s an end of an era to an extent. This part of Xinbei used to be home to one of the most infamous bits of Chinglish in Changzhou history.
The English name of the previous supermarket is common misspelling of a frequently used swear word — one euphemistically referred to as “The F-Word.” Chinglish happens in many ways, and this instance is by using the Pinyin for 福客多 fu ke duo and turning that into Fuked Mart. It’s purely accidental — just like when I learned to never use the word shabby while teaching because it sounds like a nasty Chinese vulgarity. Well, now Fuked is gone forever. YMD — which has no scandalous misinterpretations that I can think of — has taken its place. But, seriously, when it comes to this real estate location and supermarkets, Battlestar Gallactica’s logic still applies. This has happened before, and it will happen again. I get the feeling that YMD’s future at this location is Fuked.
The Changzhou Cultural Plaza has been an architectural project that has been under construction ever since I moved to Xinbei, and it was likely being built before that . Since 2016, this large piece of real estate has been under development, and it has been touted as a signature bit of architecture. Now that it is complete, it’s Changzhou’s way of saying, “Hey, architectural nerds? Look at this!”
Architecture is an art unto itself. It is, after all, the graphic design of buildings and skyscrapers. Lines and angles are of paramount importance. So, that being said, allow me to revel in how the building lights up at night. Walking through it is such a visual experience.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The area is still relatively new, and some of the storefronts are still empty. The ground level so far has cultural attractions by way of a library and an art gallery. The lower level has a few restaurants and higher end bars. Obviously, a lot of money was invested into the Changzhou Cultural Plaza, so it will be interesting to see how this area evolves in the coming years.
Buffalo wings in China can be a culinarily frustrating topic. More often than not, chicken wings are classified as “Buffalo” on a menu, but they taste nothing like the cayenne pepper spiciness one would actually find back in America. A few months ago, on the basis of a tip from a friend, I managed to locate actual Buffalo wings in Nanjing, but that’s the capital of Jiangsu and not Changzhou. Essentially, I had given up on finding this particular dish in the dragon city. However, two possibilities have cropped up recently. I thought it might be interesting to give both a side-by-side consideration. Let’s start in the city center.
Burgeri is a restaurant I have known about for many months now. There were two things that kept me out of this place: 1) I hadn’t really seen anybody eating in there every time I walked by, and 2) I distrust Chinese owned places that do hamburgers — I’ve been burned way too many times. A Canadian friend told me that it was decent enough, and that he had noticed Buffalo wings on the menu. So, I gave it a try.
First, it should be noted that the white dipping sauce in this picture is ranch dressing and not blue cheese. These were largely okay. The sauce used is absolutely Buffalo, yet it will neither set your tongue nor your mouth on fire.
Honestly, Burgeri’s wings tastes like somebody imported only one jug of Texas Pete, and because it might have been kind of expensive, they started using the sauce a conservatively as possible. Back home, these would be very mediocre. However, I’m in Changzhou and not the USA, and the flavor is there — just at a lower intensity. There is little other competition, and so what would suck stateside is an exotic delicacy in Changzhou. So, if you want to eat something that merely scratches a culinary itch, Burgeri will will do that.
One thing has to be noted, though. Burgeri uses a QR code based menu where you scan your table and make your order. There practically is no waitstaff, and the menu is in 100% Chinese. The people running the place do not speak English, or at least nobody did when I visted. So, you have to make your dining selections through either shoving screenshots into a translation app or by trusting the pictures. Now, onto the next one: OK Koala.
In the name of full disclosure, I am like the furniture in this place: always there. The owner is a very, very close, personal friend of mine. If I didn’t say this, somebody could plausibly accuse me of bias. And if you are one of those people, knock it off. We’re talking chicken wings and not intrepid investigative reporting on weighty issues of international implications. Plus, I think I can be honest in letting the details do the talking.
While Burgeri’s wing sauce is likely out of a bottle, Koala makes their own on site. Also, the sauce is served separately. This is a very wise thing to do, as it allows the wing eater to control the heat level to their liking. If you want to just do daubs, you can. If you want to slather it on, you can also do that. Also, if one just wants the wings on not the sauce at all, it allows the diner just that. The other difference entails how Koala only sells wings and not drumettes.
Which place has better Buffalo wings? I am inclined to say Koala, but people can try both for themselves and make their own decision.
Living on Hanjiang Road is such a privilege, and over the years I have rented an apartment there, it has easily become my favorite part of Xinbei and Changzhou in general. Want good sushi? Walk across the street! Want Indian food? Walk across the street! If you like Japanese food, living in this part of Xinbei is pretty much being spoiled. I realized this recently after I had to leave my apartment for a few nights due to my landlord needing to fix my ceiling. I took a room in the Haiyang Hotel across the street from Wanda. Now without access to a kitchen, I decided to walk across the street and grab some dinner.
I decided to try out one of the Japanese restaurants there. There are two to five eateries dedicated to this cuisine on Wanda’s pedestrain street. Randomly, I walked into one seeking a simple beef curry. To be fair, over time, I had tried some of the other shops, but they tended to be more ramen focused. The place I strolled into was an expansive menu place that you would easily find on Hanjiang Road.
But before that, I had some chicken meatballs.
And a diced up lamb chop.
And then, the aforementioned curry I had been craving. So, what did I think? Honestly, I was underwhelmed to the point where I realized that I was taking living on Japanese Street for granted. The portions were stingy. For a place that does both noodles and raw fish, there was not a buffet / all you can eat option. Ordering small portions ala carte can lead to hefty tabs to be paid off. Everything I ate had tastier options on Japanese Street. That’s not to say the food was bad — it did scratch a Japanese itch. I just realized that the places on Hanjiang Road were merely better.
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.