Thursday, May 7, 2015

Finer Foods & Dining Out

We had so many great meals in China. Sometimes just great food or a bite to eat. And then we had some all-out feasts! There are many world-class restaurants in Shanghai and we were very fortunate to visit a few while we were there. Fantastic Chinese food, but also authentic cuisines from all over the world. Believe it or not, you can actually get a little tired of Chinese food ALL the time! Here's some places we went and some of what we ate -- from humble morsels to most honorable banquets.

This was our first meal in China our first day there. Some of the best dim sum in all of Shanghai! A lot of people say that Beijing is known for their dumplings, but I think we all favored the Shanghai style dumplings, which are more delicate with a thinner wrapper. This place has some of the best dumplings in Shanghai. What a delicious way to be welcomed to China!

DinTaiFung Dumpling House

In complete contrast to the previous fine dining meal, we had these lo mein noodles at a place a couple blocks away from where our friends live -- I don't even know the name of it. I think they have about 6 or 7 tables inside and you can watch them pulling fresh noodles in the narrow galley kitchen. This big bowl of noodles and beef topped with green onions and fresh cilantro was crazy cheap -- I think around $3. It left a lasting impression and remains our favorite lo mein in all of China.


The day after we arrived in Shanghai was our anniversary! Eric made reservations for us at this authentic Italian restaurant right off The Bund called Goodfellas. It is ranked at #4 on Trip Advisor. We had an awesome meal and a great time, and I regret not getting better pictures. Eric got in to a lively conversation with Giulia, who is from Roma, once they both discovered that the other could speak the native language. It was fun to listen to an American and an Italian chattering away in Chinese! We liked how she spoke in Chinese, but still talked with her hands like an Italian!

Meeting Giulia

Can 6 people share an itty-bitty molten lava volcano cake for dessert? They can if they use itty-bitty spoons!

We had an incredible feast for our Easter Sunday dinner after going to church in Shanghai . . . though it seemed a little funny being at a Muslim restaurant. The Wolff's had been there before and it was a fantastic meal, complete with a short belly dancing show while we ate.

These lamb ribs were sliced at our table and served with a plastic glove for each person!

What a feast! It took Eric nearly 5 minutes just to order everything -- and he speaks Chinese!

Feeling very full -- and very glad we had a reservation at this popular spot! You can see all the people waiting outside.

Our last dinner in Shanghai was at this Canadian deli called Tock's. They make their own smoked pastrami and poutine. This was my sandwich and nearby you can see the remains of Cameron's root beer float!

After our first full day in Beijing we visited this place for dinner. It was the first time Kathy and Daniel had been back here since they lived in Beijing.

You get your own dining room! And it's a good thing you have your own room because this is Steve looking at the menu. Daniel is on the phone calling his dad to ask what we should order!?!


This is what we got:

Another feast -- featuring Peking Duck.

Another memorable meal in Beijing was at this popular hot pot restaurant that our driver Mark suggested after visiting the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Olympic Park. We were so thankful for his service all day long and into the evening. And we were so pleased to have his company at dinner after a long day.


Chinese hot pots are very popular. It's a little bit like fondue, except you cook your food in boiling broth with seasonings. Everyone shares the same hot pot and you keep adding in foods, then pick them out with your chopsticks.

Then this guy comes around to your table and makes noodles by whipping the dough around in the air and pulling long strands that go in to your hot pot.

All of our meals in Xian came from the street (which will be in another post), so our next dining room meal was on our Li river cruise boat from Guilin to Yangshuo. 
First, these "yummy" appetizers:

Whole fried fish, whole fried shrimp, and whole fried baby crabs

Lunch was from a buffet and it was pretty tasty traditional Chinese foods. Interestingly, tomatoes are considered a fruit here -- which they rightly are -- as you can tell from the dessert plate below, and they eat them as such.


Okay, this wasn't really a meal but a very refreshing and enjoyable afternoon snack -- this is the welcome tea they served us on the patio by the river when we arrived at Yangshuo Mountain Resort.

From there it was on to Hong Kong and our first dinner was at this great Chinese place near our hotel called The American Restaurant. It's like a throwback to the early days of Hong Kong, with thin ancient men in white jackets to wait on you, and you have the feeling that Humphrey Bogart could come strolling in at any moment asking what kind of gin joint this place is.

It turned in to another feast as we accidentally ordered too much food -- but it was so good! They had the best pancakes of any I had anywhere -- it's hard to describe them exactly, but they are flaky and chewy and oily and rich grilled egg/bread perfection (top right) -- almost like a fried croissant. You spoon some of the dark syrupy stuff on them. The pinkish bowl on the left is dry fried beef in chili sauce -- they may as well call it meat candy. Thin, crispy, chewy strips of beef in a sugary-sweet-hot syrupy sauce . . . 
never had anything like it!

The only other sit-down meal we had in Hong Kong was at this Nepalese place where we had lunch by the mid-level escalators. Cameron got some kind of bbq chicken that was the most tender chicken I have ever tasted. Steve and I got some lamb and chicken curries. We really liked how so many of the restaurants are open to the street -- and in this case the actual street was about three feet away. This was very common most everywhere we went.

We really ate very well the whole trip and enjoyed trying so many new foods. Even Cameron, our picky eater, did great and never complained, unless he was really hungry and the food was not coming fast enough! I really don't recall any altogether bad meals, though we skipped a few and had to make some quick grabs at McDonald's and Carl's Jr. a couple times, but that was more out of necessity than desire. And it was a bit of a novelty too!

Next you can see some of the great street food we ate -- it's like a buffet that goes on for blocks.

Friday, May 1, 2015

If You Don't Stop and Look Around Once in a While . . .

. . . you could miss it.

That's one of my favorite quotes from the pragmatic dreamer Ferris Bueller. He was talking about life, and it seems fitting for our trip as well. We were taking in so much on a daily basis that you could start to lose your sense of awe at the really big things and not even notice the little things. We were tourists in a foreign land but there was a flow of daily life happening all around us, all the time, whether we were there or not. For me, these are some of the most interesting and memorable moments of any trip. It reminds me a little of walking along a great sandy beach by an endless ocean, picking up one tiny shell from thousands scattered before you. Or in this case, maybe it's a tiny red wrapper from an exploded firecracker on a stone bridge over a river. Looking at something so small in a place that's so big can teach you a lot about where you are, or at least it can provide a connection between what you know and what you don't know at all.

A lot of these moments came unexpectedly, and a camera was either too slow or too much of an intrusion. I had to remind myself that a camera lens should not be a replacement for my own two eyes. It's a tool to capture what I see, not a monitor to capture for later, what I am overlooking now. There was a woman in the Hall of Clocks at the Forbidden City that went around taking a picture of every single clock on display with her ipad. It was annoying because it made a loud simulated clicking sound every time she took a picture, and for a while she was right behind or beside us. But as soon as she took a picture of one clock she immediately moved on to the next one, looking through the viewfinder the entire time so that she never really saw the clock, just the image of the clock on her screen. It occurred to me that if she wasn't even looking at the clocks when they were right in front of her, it seemed unlikely that she was ever going to go back and look at their pictures.

 So these are some glimpses into some of the sights you don't see in the travel guides or videos. These are the people who only know China as their home, and go about their business, often not noticing the curious visitors pausing to look. Sometimes everyday ordinary people are the most fascinating sight of all when you are in a place so new and different and strange and harsh yet beautiful too. These are the things that we didn't expect, but instantly recognized, and can never forget. I am thankful that we didn't miss it, because Ferris is right: Life moves pretty fast.














Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Lost in Translation

They say a picture is worth a thousand words . . . and sometimes all those words are wrong. Translating is so much more than just matching up a word from one language to a word in another language. But I appreciated that a lot of the signs in China were in both Chinese and English so we weren't completely lost. Although, at times, it seems our English wasn't as good as we thought it was.

Why isn't alcoholicity a word? And I don't usually pull out my camera in a bathroom stall but I'm not sure how 8 Chinese characters translate into one smiley face, which means . . . what?


 I'm not sure if this is two separate places or the same place

 Of course we went upstairs!!

 Kathy suggested the sauce rock screw

 Darn! Out of the chicken lyon that again!

Steve kinda wanted the chicken mcnuggest, but we all got the pork chop buns which were really good and bigger than the fired pork buns.

It was hard to pass up the thrilling stimulation in 7D. So now we are who does not see who regret.

 Please sort . . . 

 It's hard to edit a sign that's already printed.

Wow, remember these old gas stations?

And some things are better left untranslated . . .