Tag Archives: china

The Z20 from Xian to Beijing West

Incessant tinny Tannoy announcements and the nagging nip of toy dogs at the nearby airport shop suggested we’d made a terrible mistake. Guilin airport, and China’s domestic flying scene, were and are a total nightmare. When Paul Theroux eulogised the joys of Chinese train travel in Riding The Iron Rooster, I thought he was perhaps overindulging his never ending distaste for flying. In fact, he was spot on. Taking short hops across this vast country is an awkward nightmare of expensive transfers, tedious waits and inflight food that would make a pet dog heave.

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Xian’s Muslim Quarter – reviving China’s culinary reputation

The red lanterns that hang from the eves in Xian’s Muslim Quarter are caked in a thick layer of grey dirt. Much like the rest of this ancient city, the streets of this minority area can’t escape the pollution and filth that hang in the air of most Chinese towns. But while the regular highways and byways of Xian offer a very modern take on Chinese progress, with the aforementioned pollution inescapable, the Muslim quarter rises above everything thanks to truly stunning street food.

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Chinese food – getting greasy on the culinary trail

As regular readers will know, I’m more than a touch obsessed with eating good quality grub. Hell, it’s half the reason I decided to travel through Asia for six months in the first place.

Yet after four weeks of endlessly impressive and invigorating meals in Japan, a place where even something as unhealthy as tempura can be balanced out with super fresh pickles and steamed veg, we hit China.

 

In fairness, the first few days, spent partying and pootling around Hong Kong, were punctuated by dim sum to die for at the excellent Maxim’s Palace, as well as delicious and healthy squat and gobble noodles, destroyed in record time in our dash to the races at Happy Valley.

 

But since then it’s been a grease fest of truly epic proportions. Lunch and dinner everyday in Shanghai and Guilin, our two stops in the Chinese mainland so far, has involved staring down at empty dishes with a shimmering pool of oil looking back up at us. Whether it’s fried rice, greens, pickled cucumbers or ribs, every single dish is ruined by a willingness to kill flavour with fat. Only steamed veggies seem to escape the curse. Endless thirst and culinary disappointment are fast becoming a way of life for us in China.

 

Just one place so far has managed to rise above the crushing mediocrity. Southern Barbarian, sitting down a small backstreet in Shanghai’s French Concession and recommended by Marta, our Airbnb host, was an oasis of sumptuous fresh mint salads, beef kebabs without an ounce of fat and mashed potatoes with local veg tossed in. This Yunnanese restaurant was made all the better by chirpy staff and a beer list that even allowed me to indulge in a Coopers Green. This was not your typical Chinese oil merchant.

 

I know I’m not alone in complaining about Chinese cuisine. For a country that is renowned for its vibrant food, it’s been a surprising disappointment. China is incredible, but finding healthy, grease-free food is a task that’s starting to look beyond me.

 

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