Quanzhou 泉州: Revised and Updated

Quanzhou: A fascinating Chinese City with a long history.

Quanzhou 泉州/Zaitun: the City of Light! Or not!

The City of Quanzhou is a must for any History buff, such as myself. It was made famous by Marco Polo, who described ‘Zaitun’, the name by which Quanzhou was known then, as ‘… one of the two ports in the world with the biggest flow of merchandise…’.

Pagoda at Kaiyuan Temple Quanzhou

Quanzhou’s historical grandeur and importance have received further recognition in the book ‘The City of Light’, written by the historian David Selbourne; a work which has raised considerable controversy. Based on the diaries kept by a Jewish merchant, Jacob D’ Ancona, the book describes a city of enormous wealth and riches, built on commerce and trade with the outside world, as well as a vibrant political culture, with merchants, bureaucrats and intellectuals involved in heated arguments and violent discussions over the best way to confront and contain the impending Mongol invasion that would soon engulf all of China and bring down the Southern Song dynasty.

Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou and excellent restaurant

Whether fiction or reality, Jacob’s diary makes for an interesting companion on a visit to Quanzhou. One of the most fascinating parts of the book is Jacob’s account of the many different foreigners living and trading in the city, in the years preceding Marco Polo.

Bustling Streets Quanzhou

He refers to Franks (Western Christians), Saracens (Muslims) and Jews, among others, all living in the city in their own communities, according to their religion.   Who were they? How did they get there? What were their impressions of China, and finally, what traces did they leave?

Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou

A visit to the maritime museum and new Islamic centre provides ample evidence of the early presence of foreigners in Quanzhou, such as tombstones and carvings from the different religious groups.

Chinese Junk: Martime Museum Photo taken from: https://www.trip.com/travel-guide/quanzhou/quanzhou-maritime-museum-77527/

Besides the many Arab gravestones, there are Christian, and even Hindu, memorials as well. The Museum also houses a fascinating collection of miniature models of all types of Chinese sailing vessels, eloquent witnesses to the advanced stage of Chinese shipbuilding, in comparison with Europe.

Martime Museum Photo taken from: https://www.trip.com/travel-guide/quanzhou/quanzhou-maritime-museum-77527/

Finally, the Qingjing  Mosque, established as early as 1009, is further standing proof of the long historical ties that linked Arab traders to the legendary port of Quanzhou.

The Qingjing  Mosque, established as early as 1009 Quanzhou

For the modern- day visitor, Quanzhou is at first sight just another bustling modern Chinese City. However, unlike most of its Southern counterparts, Quanzhou still retains many of its traditional streets and examples of Fukianese architecture.

Old Streets in Quanzhuo

The square in front of the Confucian temple Fuwen Miao, in particular, has some beautiful low, red-brick houses, with the characteristically sweeping roofs that end in a kind of projecting forks.

Confucian temple Fuwen Miao

The vicinity of the beautiful Temple of Kaiyuan Si is another, recommended area for walking and exploring. Here, the traditional Fukianese courtyard houses rub shoulders with colonial-style buildings, housing all kinds of traditional shops, selling anything from candles and incense, to embroidered shoes and dried food.

Squid Seller Quanzhou

Moreover, the temple itself is well worth a visit. It was built in the Tang dynasty and reached its peak of importance during the Song dynasty.

The temple grounds are huge and shaded by venerable, ancient trees under which the locals gather to play cards, or practise tai chi.

Kaiyuan Temple Pagoda

They are home to numerous halls, some of which double as museums, and two outstanding, five-storey pagodas. Many of the halls, as well as the pagodas, have wonderful carvings.  Besides its architectural and religious charms, the Kaiyuan Si also harbours the hull of a Song dynasty sea-sailing junk, which was excavated near Quanzhou in 1974.

Monks in Kaiyuan Temple

On a practical note, Quanzhou is not an expensive city to visit. Good hotels can be found in the centre, along or just off Wenling Lu, for around 150 yuan, for a standard double with breakfast. 

Quiet old Street in Quanzhou

We stayed at the City Holiday Hotel, a typical three-star business hotel for 164 yuan for a standard double (Tel. 0595 – 22989999). It was pretty good value with spotless rooms, friendly service and a reasonable breakfast.

Street scene Quanzhou

As for eating, you can find some of the best and most reasonably priced seafood in the whole of China on Meishijie, (Delicious Food Street).

Traditional shop In Quanzhou

Apart from the prices, what makes Meishijie such a great place to eat is that there are restaurants specialising in all the regional styles of Chinese food, but with the added benefit of using some of the freshest fish and seafood you will find in China.

Old House Quanzhou

We discovered an amazing restaurant in the middle of the city in a traditional building serving wonderful seafood but we can remember the name or address. Sorry!

Old Restaurant

For old world comfort there is the Gucuo Chayuan/ 古厝茶坊 Gucuo teahouse in the old city. China, Fujian Sheng, Quanzhou Shi, Licheng Qu, Houcheng St, 后城122

Old Houses in Quanzhou

Finally, Quanzhou makes a good base for further exploration of the area, such as excursions to Chongwu  崇武镇 , or Anping Bridge 安平桥 . You can also visit nearby Xunpu Village (Oyster Village). Oyster shells are used in the construction of some of the houses.

Anping Bridge 安平桥
Chongwu  崇武镇
Quanzhou at night

Three Little Pigs Dumpling Restaurant / Los Tres Cerditos: Great Dumplings in Madrid

Three little Pigs Dumpling Restaurant / Los tres Cerditos: Paseo de las delicias 73, Madrid

三只小猪饺子店

Mixed Prawn and Veggie Dumplings THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Jiaozi or Chinese Dumplings (empanadillas in Spanish) have been popular in Madrid for a number of years, but finding the real McCoy, as you would in the old days in Beijing’s Hutongs, has been more of a struggle.

Jian Bing  煎饼 / Chinese Pancake THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID
Jian Bing  煎饼 / Chinese pancake THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID (Photo Marcel)

The opening of the Three Little Pigs Dumpling Restaurant 三只小猪饺子店 (Tres Cerditos in Spanish) has remedied the situation sensationally and especially for vegetarians.

Prawn Dumpling THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The tiny restaurant does three types of dumplings:  meat, prawn and vegetable. The dumpling dough, using wheat flour, is color coded; bluish for seafood, green for vegetarian and orangey for meat. You can have them grilled ( a la plancha) or steamed / boiled (hervido).

Prawn and vege dumplings THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The prawn dumplings are simply delicious, while meat eaters rave about the veal or pork dumplings. My only gripe is that the homemade chili sauce is not spicy enough for my spoilt taste buds. However, there is Thai Seracha sauce on hand.

Meat and veggie dumplings THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The vegetarian dumplings have an original filling of carrots, onions, leeks and herbs (fresh coriander). Not only is the combination wonderfully eye pleasing, but it is also unbelievably tasty.

Beautiful veggie dumpling THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Next on the menu are Jian Bing  煎饼 or Chinese Pancakes. These Tianjin style filled pancakes with vegetables only, or with chicken / beef and vegetables are enormous, delicious, cheap and filling. They are also one of my favourite beakfasts when I am in Beijing.

Jian Bing  煎饼 Stuffed Egg Pancake THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID
Yum THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The pancakes are made on a hot metal grill and you can watch the staff preparing them right in front of you. First the dough is spread onto the hot plate and then an egg is added.

THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The process of making the pancakes looks simple but the number of different ingredients and various stages is quite mind-boggling. I imagine it is a case of practice makes perfect if you want to learn how to do it. However, I’d recommend leaving the task to the experts at the restaurant.

Hand-Made Noodles THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Other dishes: Also on the menu are hand-made noodles. The noodles are cold and come with a scrumptious hoisin style Cantonese sauce and are accompanied with an assortment of vegetables.

All the dishes THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Rice flour is used to make the delicate and mouth-watering wantons (meat only). All the wanton wrappers are hand-made in the restaurant.

Working in the Kitchen THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The kitchen is open for all to see and kept incredible clean. The owner is from Zhejiang 浙江省, but the dumpling makers are from the home of dumplings, Shandong 山东省 province and further north in Dandong 丹东 Liaoning province 辽宁省.

The Kitchen THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The menu below is in Spanish only. If you are visiting the Museo de Ferrocarril ( the Railway Museum in Madrid), then a visit to the Three Little Pigs Dumpling Restaurant is a must! Just walk long the attractive street Tomás Bretón to get there. There is another Tres Cerditos restaurant in the neighbourhood of Manuel Becerra.

The Menu THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The Barrio (Neighbourhood)

Delicias

Just off the Atocha station and the magnificent Reina Sofia musem, home to Dali’s Guernica, is the attractive, but little visited neighborhood of Delicias.

The Restaurant

Delicias was the first neighborhood where we lived when we came to Madrid. Back then, 1993, it was a traditional working class neighborhood (or barrio castizo) and slightly seedy due to its closeness to Atocha station. Over the years, it has become a melting pot for immigrants from all over the world, but particularly from Latin America.

Menu THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

This change you can see everywhere on the streets, on the faces of the passers-by as well as in the restaurants. Delicas now caters to all tastes. If you want to eat Ethiopian, there is an Ethiopian restaurant: Habesha . Want to try Korean? There is a great Korean place: Go Hyang MatFancy Cuban food? Head for the fantastic Havana Blues.

Making Jian Bing  煎饼 ( Photo by Marcel) THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Chinese food had gone somewhat under the radar in this neighbourhood, but this has now changed with the opening of the Three Little Pigs restaurant.

Making Jian Bing  煎饼 ( Photo by Marcel) THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Beijing Hutong: Enjoying a drink and a game of cards.

Photo of the week

Enjoying a drink in Beijing’s Hutongs

This photo was taken in 2004 just before the mass demolition of Beijing’s Hutongs to prettify the city before the 2008 Olympic Games. The whole area where the photo was taken (Di’ anmen Inner Street and Di’ anmen East Street) has mostly been demolished and rebuilt and much of the vibrant street life has been lost forever.

Playing Cards in Beijing’s Hutongs
Busy Scene in Beijing’s hutongs
Playing Majong In Beijing’s Hutongs
Having a hair cut in Beijing’s Hutongs

Zhangbi Cun 张壁村 / Zhangbi village: Photo of the Week

 

Zhangbi Cun 张壁村 / Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 is a tiny, beautiful, bucolic village in rural Shanxi Province.  The village is famous for its underground castle, Zhangbi Gubao张壁古堡, a labyrinth of tunnels dating back to the Tang Dynasty (more than 1400 years).

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Here are a few of the photos we took. There will be more on Zhangbi Village and its underground castle in the coming weeks.

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi Village can be easily visited on a day trip from the ancient walled city of Pingyao 平遥.

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

The best way to get to Zhangbi Village is to hire a car and driver. You can also take in the Wang family courtyard 王家大院 on the same excursion. It all makes for a great day out from Pingyao. We paid 400 yuan and which also included stopping at Shuanglin Temple 双林寺 8 kilometers outside Pingyao。

Kongtong Shan From our Diary

Kongtong Shan and Bus Insurance Hassle: 崆峒山甘肃省

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

Update

Pingliang has become a large prosperous town in the last decade and has expanded enormously. Along with that expansion there are more hotel and eating options than what we have listed here. Kongtong Shan has become a huge domestic tourist spot and has undergone a lot of renovations. Many of the old temples have been rebuilt and some of the authenic atmosphere of a taoist hideaway has disppeared forever. That said it is still a beautiful place. Transport to and from Pingliang has also improved. Especially the bus connections to other major cities such as Lanzhou, Tianshui and Xian. You also don’t need to purchase the Gansu Travel Insurance anymore (Click here.)

Part one: Lanzhou – Pingliang 

The first part of the adventure involves no more than going to the Western bus station and convincing the ticket sellers to sell you a ticket to Pingliang. In the summer of 2002 we had a tremendous battle with them, because they simply refused to sell us a ticket, even though we had previously purchased the (in)famous travel insurance that was obligatory in Gansu at the time. Finally we had to resort to the PSB to sort the problem out (click here for a full account of our bus hassle).

Pingliang and Kongtong Shan: 崆峒山

Once you get there, Pingliang is a small town which makes an excellent base for a visit to the Taoist Mountain of  Kongtong Shan, one of the most sacred in China, which is a mere 15 kms away.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

The best approach is to take a taxi to the reservoir (around 20 Yuan); a steep flight of steps will take you up to a road, skirting the reservoir, and on to the first temple. This is a beautiful ancient Taoist structure, guarded by venerable old priests, some of them with the pointy goatee and bun, characteristic of many followers of Tao.

After this, you come to the ticket window, from where different paths will take you up the mountain in around 3 hours, passing many small temples, nunneries, colourful gardens and Continue reading “Kongtong Shan From our Diary”

Lake Kanas / 哈纳斯湖

 

哈纳斯湖自然保护区

Lake Kanas National Park Updated

Xinjiang 新疆 China
Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖

Click here for our original article and some updates on the magical Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖.

Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖
Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖

Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan) 川百味

Sabor Sichuan 川百味 (Taste of Szechuan)

Calle Gabino Jimeno 6: Usera, Madrid

 

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州考鱼 Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Do you like Spicy Food?

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.

川北凉粉 spicy mung bean noodles Sabor Sichuan 川百味

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 .

四川凉面,cold Sichuan noodles Sabor Sichuan 川百味

This after all is the country were the giant Tabasco Sauce company has almost given up the ghost. Sales in Spain are about its worst in Europe. Spanish tolerance of hot spice or chili is pretty low.

Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Thank heavens for Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan). This small little restaurant in the barrio of Usera , south of the River Manzanares, and  in the heart of Madrid’s China town is a godsend.

青椒皮蛋 green peppers and 1000 year old eggs Sabor Sichuan 川百味

If you have ever been to Sichuan or Chongqing and continue to crave that lip burning and tongue numbing Mala 麻辣 spice then Sabor Sichuan is Continue reading “Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan) 川百味”

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼: Grilled Fish from Chongqing 重庆

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 the Chongqing dish that is hot in Madrid’s Chinatown

Lotos Roots; one of the usual condiments for Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

 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.

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

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.

A great place to try Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 is in the Sichuan restaurant Sabor Sichuan in Usera, Madrid. See our review:

jī máo suàn pí 鸡毛蒜皮 Trivial things: A Chinese Idiom

Ever wanted to say to someone in Chinese that that something is unimportant or trivial and why do want to make a fuss about it

Well here is the expression. Tell the person you are arguing with that the matter  is just ‘chicken feathers and garlic skin’  Or 鸡毛蒜皮 jī máo suàn pí.

Watch this video above to get an idea of where the expression came from.

Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001

 

From our Diary 

Monday 24 September, 2001.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

We are picked up at 7.30 sharp by Sue Lin in his shiny black car and leave Beijing via a four-lane road, lined with old trees. The road looks innocent and pleasant enough, but apparently people get killed here everyday. Although Sue Lin is a good driver, we ourselves experience a couple of near misses, due to the crazy manoeuvres of other vehicles.


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

It’s supposed to be only 60 kilometres to the village, but it takes us more than two hours. We have to stop and ask for directions a couple of times and once we even have to backtrack a bit. We don’t mind at all, because the scenery is absolutely gorgeous; we are surrounded by those dark, rolling mountains that I remember from my first visit to the Wall, so many years ago.


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

In fact, our route takes us quite close to Mutianyu. From time to time we can actually see crumbly bits of the Wall, running along the tops of the hills. At the foot of the mountains there are fields of corn, wheat and beans, and small villages. There is a busy traffic of donkeys and carts because this is September and the harvest is in full swing. We are in the middle of the real, rural China, we have seen so little of on this trip, and so close to Beijing as well!

Our journey ends at the refreshment stall of an incredible old lady who whips out a copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ and explains all the pros and cons of the two possible routes. She proudly shows us her collection of photos, taken by and with foreign visitors.


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

Apart from selling drinks, snacks and film, she also keeps the most amazing toilet: it’s a concrete box, open to the air and entirely without doors, so that you have to climb over the wall to get in, or out. Most importantly, it’s clean, airy and quite pleasant.


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

The views from here are stunning: there is a very steep piece of Wall right in front of us, and a reservoir on the other side. Something that looks like a Continue reading “Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001”