Heijing:Ancient Salt Capital / 黑井:千年盐都

Heijing: Ancient Salt Capital /黑井: 千年盐都

Old photo of Heijing and the salt trade

Location: Heijing

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…

Wu Family Courtyard Hotel

This is exactly what it was like when we visited Heijing / Black Well Town, one of China’s ancient salt capitals. A mere Continue reading “Heijing:Ancient Salt Capital / 黑井:千年盐都”

Funky Wuhan 武汉好玩儿

Wuhan 武汉– September 2009



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.

Foreigner Price Ticket Wuhan to Chongqing 1990

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”

Jamie Oliver in China: Photo Of the Week:

Jamie Oliver has a tendency to crop up on T.V when you least expect it. Even putting in an appearance while I was walking down a street in Kunming, Yunnan Province. Having caused a scandal in Spain by adding chorizo to paella. What plans does he have to adulterate Chinese cuisine and infuriate the purists? Only time will tell!

Lao Fangzi Restaurant 一颗印 (Kunming昆明)

Lao Fangzi Restaurant 一颗印

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.

The Place:

The 150-year-old building is an old grey stone, two- storey court- yard residence of the type known locally as ‘stamp houses’, due to their Continue reading “Lao Fangzi Restaurant 一颗印 (Kunming昆明)”

Alive and Flipping:The Dalian Seafood Restaurant, Beijing.

The Dalian Seafood Restaurant, Beijing.

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.”

Seafood in Xining: Daxin Jie

Imagine pigging out on prawns, clams, razor fish and other weird and wonderful critters lying around in buckets in Xining, the capital of remote and landlocked Qinghai province. Well, that is exactly what thousands of Xining’s residents do every night. Xining may seem an unlikely place to enjoy a delicious fresh seafood meal, but Daxin Jie in the city centre is home to a host of restaurants, specialising in Wenzhou style seafood.

Wenzhou, in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, is renowned for its fabulous fresh seafood and fish. In Madrid where we live, about 90% of the Chinese come from Wenzhou and nearby Qingtian. Over the years, many of these homesick immigrants have abandoned the typical spring roll and fried rice restaurants, adapted to the local Spanish taste, and inaugurated some amazingly authentic Wenzhou style restaurants instead, catering for the burgeoning Chinese community. So it was with a sense of recognition, but a large degree of  incredulity as  well, that we saw that nearly half the restaurants in Daxin Jie announced themselves as Wenzhou Haixian Fandian 温州海鲜饭店 (Wenzhou Seafood Restaurant).

The Wenzhou style of cooking places emphasis on the taste of the product, rather than on Continue reading “Seafood in Xining: Daxin Jie”

Shaoxing绍兴 the City of Wine黄酒 and Chou Doufu 臭豆腐 (Smelly Doufu)

A few years ago we posted an article about Shaoxing on HolaChina: Your Gateway to China.

I have just found this rather nice video about Shaoxing, its wine and smelly tofu, on Youtube. They film it in the same restaurant we describe in our 2001 visit. However, it seems that the place has been somewhat sanitised since we were there.  But it is great to see that the wooden benches and tables are still there.

The Video is in Chinese with English Subtitles. Click below and enjoy it..

Qiezi Bing茄子饼

Yum, what a smell! Just a few doors down from our regular hotel in Beijing’s Shatan Houjie in the heart of the hutongs near the Forbidden City, there is a Chinese style bakery. Business is always brisk. Sesame cakes, flat onion pancakes, and freshly made noodles are snatched from the serving tray as soon as they are done, whisked away by the impatient customers queuing outside.
Beijing has some great street food, but for me nothing can beat a Qiezi bing 茄子饼, or aubergine pancake. The pancakes are simple, round flour cakes stuffed with beautifully cooked aubergine. The flavour of the aubergine and its gravy seeps into the dough of the pancake, culminating in a texture that is slightly crisp on the outside and soft and mushy inside. Apart from aubergine, there are many other, tasty fillings, such as white cabbage (baicai白菜), leeks with egg (jiecai jidan芥菜鸡蛋), or pork (zhurou猪肉).

I usually have Qiezi bing for breakfast, nipping out of our little hotel to pick up about 6 of them, while Margie prepares the instant coffee in the room. The pancakes usually cost 5 mao each, though they may try and charge you a whole Yuan (an outrageous 12 cents…), if they think they can get away with it.

The best places to look out for these bakeries, and other street food-stalls, are the hutongs. Though sadly, due to so much recent demolition, there are fewer and fewer of these traditional eateries around. Fortunately, ‘our’ Shatan Houjie still has an excellent selection and is therefore a great place to get you started.

Manfulou, uno de los templos culinarios de Pekín

Manfulou, uno de los templos culinarios de Pekín

Escrito Por Fu Dawei

El restaurante Manfulou está situado en el corazón de Pekín, a pocos minutos caminando de la ciudad prohibida y en una zona donde aún se puede pasear por los hutong, los callejones tradicionales de muros grises tan característicos de la capital china.

La suntuosa decoración interior de Manfulou se inspira en los palacios de la China imperial. Tanto en la planta baja como en el primer piso, (al que se accede en ascensor) hay amplios salones y acogedores reservados con decoración tradicional china. Una de las sorpresas que reserva Manfulou es su espectacular terraza con vistas directas al parque de Beihai, y en especial a la pagoda blanca que corona este antiguo parque imperial.

Manfulou se especializa en huoguo, o “caldero mongol”, uno de los platos más típicos de Pekín. Pero más que un plato en sí, el huoguo es una manera de comer. Consiste en una olla llena de agua con determinados condimentos que se pone sobre la mesa al fuego hasta que hierve. Entonces se van introduciendo los ingredientes crudos en la olla para cocinarlos al momento. Una vez hervidos, se sacan de la olla, se mojan en una salsa especial (la tradicional es una salsa de sésamo a la que se añade perejil y cebollino chino picado) y ya están listos para comer.

Las ollas de Manfulou son las tradicionales de cobre, aunque en lugar de una gran olla por mesa para compartir son pequeñas ollas individuales.

Los ingredientes que se pueden comer de esta manera son muy variados: todo tipo de verduras, setas, tofu, y, sobre todo, carne de cordero y ternera. Al comer huoguo, lo mejor es hacer una selección equilibrada de ingredientes, pidiendo carne, verduras, setas, tofu, bolas de pescado o marisco e incluso fideos chinos.

La calidad y frescura de la materia prima y la selección del producto son la insignia de Manfulou, que ofrece carnes de cordero y ternera procedentes de lugares famosos por sus pastos, como Mongolia Interior e incluso Nueva Zelanda. La carne es fresca, o congelada, pero siempre cruda para hervirla en el huoguo.

La cocina china es famosa por aprovechar todas las partes del animal. De hecho, para los no escrupulosos, el corazón de cordero cortado en tiras es una de las elecciones más recomendables para el huoguo. Otra de las estrellas de la carta son las bolas frescas de calamar, elaboradas artesanalmente y sin fécula.

La excelente calidad de sus productos, su espectacular decoración y su ubicación hacen de Manfulou una parada obligada para los que quieran captar la esencia de la cultura culinaria pekinesa.

Precio aproximado por persona: 120-150 Rmb

Platos recomendados: Huoguo (caldero mongol). Ingredientes recomendados (para el huoguo): Cordero lechal fresco, corazón de cordero cortado en tiras, ternera grasa, bolas frescas de calamar y setas negras chinas (xianggu).

Jellyfish Salad (Haizhe)

Jelly Fish Salad

One of our favourite Chinese cold dishes is Jellyfish Salad. Haizhe or Haizhetou as its called on most Chinese menus. The salad usually comes accompanied with golden needle mushrooms (Jinzhengu), Soya Sauce, rice vinegar and topped with fresh coriander and a pinch of MSG. Some variations add sesame oil and cucumber. Sichuan Restaurants tend to liberally lace the salad with fiery chillies. Yum!

Jellyfish salad is a fantastic way to start a meal. The crisp and crunchy texture of the jellyfish contrasts with the much softer texture of the mushrooms. At the same time it absorbs and is enhanced by the strong flavours of the soya sauce, sesame oil and vinegar. To wash it down I’d recommend an ice cold (bingzhen) Snow, Yanjing or Qingdao beer as the perfect accompaniment for this dish.

Depending on where, and sometimes when, the jelly fish can either be dark brown and served in chunky pieces or it can be transparent and cut up into thin strips. The Rhipolema esculenta is the most common edible type. The good news for those with withdrawal symptoms, like myself, edible jellyfish can now be found in many Chinese grocery stores in most major cities around the world. Unless it is already precooked and packed, (often the transparent variety), you usually have to soak it before use.

Living Madrid we are lucky enough to have a number of Chinese restaurants that serve a pretty decent jellyfish salad. My Chinese friends told me that the Chinese have been exploiting jellyfish for more than 1700 years and swear that it has medicinal properties. Especially for the bones they claim. I only know that it is delicious.

See Photo below