Madrid is a fabulous city for eating out. For the adventurous, boundless opportunities for exciting dining exist all over the city. However, those who crave spicy food, and I mean really spicy food, are often disappointed by the dearth of options.
Some Peruvian restaurants make brave attempts to keep up their spicy tradition, but most succumb to the whims of their autochthonous diners by watering down the kick. Kitchen 154, a mecca for spicy food in the market of Vallehermoso, does a pretty good job. Cruel, there own chili brand, is pretty fiery .
Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 the Chongqing dish that is hot in Madrid’s Chinatown
A local specialty from Chongqing, China called Wanzhou Grilled Fish (Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 ) is now all the rage in many restaurants in Madrid’s Chinatown neighbourhood of Usera.
What is Wanzhou Grilled Fish / Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼
It is a grilled /roasted whole fish covered in a dry dressing of Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies and and served in a big pan filled with a soup like sauce that is not to dissimilar to the stock used in Sichuan hot pots 火锅 (huoguo).
The dish originates from Wanzhou (formerly WanXiang) in Chongqing municipality: It’s now popular all over Mainland China.
The original way of making this dish is to first grill a freshwater fish (Carp 鲤鱼 is popular) over charcoal and then cover it with various condiments that you order from the menu.
Some of these condiments might include lotus roots, potatoes, bamboo shoots, glass noodles, edible fungus, and beansprouts.
In Madrid the fish is usually Sea Bass (Lubina in Spanish)鲈鱼.
Guangzhou Youth Hostel, March 1991, Shamian Island
The rumor going round the hostel was about an American tourist who had fled China in tears after only 2 days into her 1 month trip.
The unfortunate young girl had passed through Guangzhou’s notorious Qingping Market (清平市场) and seen two kittens kept in a tiny cage. The kittens were destined for the tables of Guangzhou’s restaurants. Thinking she would do the kittens a good turn, she negotiated a price for them. Expecting to save the kittens, she hadn’t counted on what would happen next. The store holder took the kittens out of the cage snapped their necks and handed their lifeless bodies over to her. She freaked out and was on the next express train back to Hong Kong.
Whether this is just an urban legend or a true story any visitor to Qingping Market in 1991 could believe it. The variety of animals waiting to be butchered made it feel like a zoo rather than a normal meat market. I remember Monkeys, Pangolins, giant salamanders, snakes, deer, dogs and even owls. The orangey color of dog meat roasting on spits was a common sight as were the restaurants with cages outside full of exotic fauna that made eating out a bit like dinning in a slaughter house.
However, we could never be certain that the cat story was true. Maybe it was just an urban legend.
Location: Sichuan Province, China, in the vicinity of Leshan (2-3 hours)
The ancient town of Luocheng is a gem for those looking for traditional teahouse culture. Luocheng is renowned for its boat architecture: the two sides of its main street narrow down at both ends and widen gradually towards the middle, thus creating the oval shape of a boat.
Straddling the street and forming, as it were, the prow to complete the boat- like appearance of the town, stands a beautifully restored theatre. It is covered in traditional grey tiles and flamboyantly decorated with historic scenes and smiling Buddhas.
However, the absolute highlight of Luocheng is the swell of teahouses lining the main street, sheltered by the overhanging wooden porticos of the buildings. Overlooking this sea of bamboo tables and chairs, occupied by querulous old men in faded Mao jackets, arguing over heated games of cards or Mah-jong, while smoking small stubby pipes carved out of roots, visitors can truly imagine themselves in a time warp.
Joining the regulars over a cup of tea, you can really get an impression of what village life must have been like in the old days. The whole place still oozes authenticity and atmosphere; two elements that are often lacking in many of China’s more popular historical places. In fact, Continue reading “Luocheng: Is This The World’s Best Teahouse Town?”
Located in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, the风骚浙人 fēngsāo zhērén, or sometimes known as Zhejiang Ren Zai Beijing (The Zhejiang People in Beijing Restaurant, 浙江人在北京) is a rather special eatery. From the outside, you’d never guess that the modest façade conceals an ancient courtyard and some of the best Chinese food in Beijing.
Enter through a rather non-descript doorway and find yourself in a traditional Qing dynasty courtyard house with simple, but tasteful, dining rooms and a tree-shaded patio. As the weather was perfect, we chose to eat in the atmospheric patio. The clientele seemed to be well-heeled locals who were expecting nothing but the best.
The waiter was attentive and friendly without being overbearing. He took pride in suggesting the best dishes, but without being pushy.
China, Yunnan, just over 100 kilometers Northwest of Kunming.
Imagine being the only guests in a Ming dynasty courtyard mansion in which little has changed since the days of its previous owners, several generations of a wealthy salt merchant’s family, the last unfortunate member of which – Wu Weiyang – was executed by the communists in 1949…
Wu Family in happier days in the Wujia Courtyard
Imaging strolling back to this mansion after dining on some of the world’s most delicious and expensive mushrooms in an atmospheric open-air restaurant where Chinese day-trippers squat down under the shady trees for the serious task of selecting and cleaning their own choice of ‘edible fungus’… Imagine being woken from your siesta by local residents singing traditional opera and performing folk dances to celebrate the 70th birthday of one of their neighbours…
We first visited Wuhan on a grey, wet December day in 1990. Yet, despite the weather, the city’s colonial architecture, lively streets and abundant markets left quite a favourable impression. Unfortunately, at the time we were far too obsessed with our search (unsuccessful) for Chinese-price boat tickets to Chongqing, to have a proper look around.
However, from our chance meeting with two American teachers who were absolutely desperate for any Westerners to communicate with in English, we gathered that it was hardly a cultural hot spot.
This time, on our second visit, we noticed many changes: the city had become huge and, in parts, totally modern. Just like Chongqing. Yet, while we hadn’t really liked revisiting Chongqing, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Wuhan. This was mostly thanks to the attractive, Continue reading “Funky Wuhan 武汉好玩儿”
By 6.00 o’clock the restaurant is packed and queues are beginning to line up in the waiting area. A palpable sense of expectation hovers in the air as customers mull over the huge menu, occasionally lifting their heads to glance at their fellow diners and nodding in approval as a dish is selected. The waiters stand around patiently, sometimes suggesting dishes to speed the indecisive along. As orders are taken to the kitchen, the carriers -whose job it is only to carry food to the tables on large trays – begin scurrying backwards and forwards between kitchen and dining area, delivering large plates of unfamiliar, yet delicious looking food. A veritable army of waiting staff in traditional uniforms then take the dishes from the trays and serve them to the suitably impressed diners. The noise level begins to rise as beer bottles are opened, or Chinese rice wine is tossed down gulping throats to the shouts of Ganbei/ Cheers!
This is Lao Fangzi in central Kunming where food doesn’t come much better and the ambience puts the icing on the cake. One of the few – maybe the last- remaining genuine old houses in central Kunming, Lao Fangzi (the Old House) is one of the city’s best dining spots. How it has escaped the guide books is a mystery.
It was only a Wednesday night, but the place was heaving. The smartly-uniformed waitress told us we were 4th on the waiting list. My friend David, who has been working in Beijing for several years, said that it was worth the wait and that, anyway, tables moved fast here. He was right on both counts; 10 minutes later we were assigned a table and told to go and choose our meal from the magnificent displays and amazing fish tanks.
The Dalian Seafood Restaurant in the Chaoyang district, almost directly opposite the huge Landao Shopping Centre, must be one of the great restaurants of Beijing. It has certainly made it onto our list of favourites. If you are a lover of fresh seafood and fish, as we are, then this has to be one of the best bargains in Beijing. Everything looks and smells as if it has just been plucked straight from the sea. Strangely enough it is actually a Muslim run enterprise but alcohol flows freely.
The restaurant’s centre-piece is a rectangular area of fish tanks, filled with all kinds of fish and sea creatures. In front of the fish tanks, there are countless trays of ( Continue reading “Alive and Flipping:The Dalian Seafood Restaurant, Beijing.”