Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ningbo 2016 - Ningbo City

After Shaoxing we were on our way to Ningbo - one of the major ports and industrial hubs in the Zhejiang Province of China. Ningbo is also one of the oldest city in China, and has been an important port and commercial centre since ancient times. It was known to the Europeans as Liampo.

Not much physical evidence of Ningbo's interesting and colourful histories remain. Today it is a modern city - striving to be one of China's commercial powerhouse. Criss-crossed by rivers, the city has many riverfronts which are its biggest assets. Many of of these areas are slowly being converted into commercial, residential and leisure zones. Ningbo shows great potential of being developed into a very livable city if they can control the pollution and unchecked over-development that is rampant in other parts of China.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shaoxing 2015 - Lu Xun's Old Residence and Old Street

It seems that in China now there is an old street or two in every city. Shaoxing is no exception, and one of the most visited attractions is Lu Xun's old residence and old street. Lu Xun (real name Zhou Shuren) was born in Shaoxing to a family of government officials and landlords. He became one of the leading figures of modern Chinese literature in the 1930s. His most famous work was "The True Story of Ah Q", a critique and reflection of Chinese society under imperialist rule.

At the Lu Xun old street there are several historical sights that are worth a visit - including of course Lu Xun's former residence and the Sanwei Study - a private school where Lu Xun used to study as a child. The street itself is also quaint and charming, lined with some interesting shops and tea houses. Most of the buildings have been rebuilt but look quite authentic.

Step behind the old shops and you find a totally different world. The small canal behind the shops is like a tunnel which take you back in time. It was also one of the most beautiful canal I saw during the trip.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Shaoxing 2015 - East Lake

Hangzhou has its West Lake, and not to be defeated - Shaoxing has its East Lake. However East Lake can't compare to West Lake in terms of size or beauty. In fact it is quite small - and can be visited in a couple of hours. The main feature besides the lake is a rocky cliff face which looms over the lake.

The best way to enjoy the sight is to take the Wupeng boats (black-topped boats) as you can get right next to the cliff face, and there are also grottoes and caves which can only be visited by boat. But I was not in the mood for a boat ride so only took a walk around the lake.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Shaoxing 2016 - Yellow Rice Wine Museum

Since Shaoxing is the birthplace for Shaoxing Wine - no visit to the city would be complete without a taste of the famous wine. Conveniently there is a Yellow Rice Wine Museum in the city which opened in 2007. The museum is housed in a large purpose-built building, and there are exhibits showing the wine brewing process.

Shaoxing Wine is a type of yellow rice wine - produced in many regions of China. Most people think of it as a wine used for cooking - but here in Shaoxing there are many different grades of Shaoxing wine. Some of the top grade wines can cost hundreds or even thousands - definitely not your common cooking wine.

Wine tasting sessions are conducted regularly at the museum. During our visit we got to taste four different types of wine. Good Shaoxing wine has a complexity and earthiness that is missing from the common rice wine - and is said to promote good health and longevity.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Shaoxing 2015 - The Canal in Shaoxing

After a few days in Hangzhou, we were on our way to Ningbo. Since Shaoxing is in the middle between Hangzhou and Ningbo - we decided to make a stop there. As the name of the city suggests - Shaoxing is where the famous Shaoxing wine is made. The Grand Canal also passes through this old city, and like Hangzhou it is lined with many canals and waterways. Our first stop in Shaoxing was to take a cruise down the Grand Canal. While it is a relaxing cruise down the waterway - there really isn't much to see besides a few nice old mansions. 

There are some interesting buildings and structures along the canal. 

And you get to see a bit of the local life. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Hangzhou 2015 - Dinner at Tianlun Inn

We were looking for a nice restaurant in Hangzhou and came across a relatively obscure but very well reviewed restaurant housed in a boutique hotel - Tianlun Inn. The restaurant is small by China standards - but pretty large by normal Asian standards. It can easily seat more then a couple of hundred dinners - and the dining area is divided into several sections. The interior decor is very stylish and beautifully done.

The menu is quire overwhelming. There are literally pages after pages of mouth-watering selections. Asking the waiters for assistance wasn't much help - as they tend to steer you towards the more expensive items on the menu. After studying the menu for about 20 min - I managed to complete the order of around 15 dishes.

The food at Tianlun Inn is expertly prepared and beautifully presented. In fact it was one of the best dining experiences I have had in China. Course after course came out - all of which were delicious and some were even surprising and exciting.

Even the appetizers are very unusual. The pickled radish looked like something else completely.

These were some kind of very small dried plums or prunes. Packed with flavours.

Braised pork ribs - very tasty small morsels of pork.

Dried baby jellyfish served on an ice bed. Dipped into a vinegar sauce - these were very crunchy and addictive.

The pleasant surprise was a simple salad of "Shieh Chai" - literally translated as snow vegetables. They have lots of little hairs which made them look frozen. Served in a delicious vinaigrette - these were so fresh and crunchy. We had to order a second serving.

Deepfried quails - expertly executed.

Tung Po Pork - one of the best versions I have tasted.

Chinese spinach with prawns, garlic and century egg - a common dish elevated by the very good stock.

The only dish that had a mixed reception - deepfried yam balls with prawns and onion. Perhaps the yam balls were a little too starchy in comparison to the other dishes.

Aubergine with baby squids. Another common dish with the unexpected ingredient of baby squids which were very crunchy and sweet.

Slow cooked beef rib - the beef was so tender and flavourful, and the sauce had a subtle hint of ginseng. This was one of the most popular dishes of the night.

Spicy fish soup - very fresh slices of fish with cubes of tofu in a subtly spicy broth - one of the best fish dish we had in Hangzhou.

Smoked tofu - first time I had this dish. It looked simple and unappetizing - but the tofu had a very unusual texture owing to the preparation method - and the smoky taste matched really well with the savoury sauce.

The dinner at Tianlun Inn was one of the best meals I have had in my visits to China. If you are in Hangzhou - you must go and give it a try.