Monday, February 27, 2012

Breakfast in Suzhou, Visiting Hangzhou

Breakfast in our hotel in Suzhou was less stressful than the last morning in Nanjing. There was plenty of food and the trays of food were actually refilled when they were emptied.

I took a stroll around the dining area to scout out all the choices. My plan of attack involved trying a small bowl of chocolate Rice Krispies, some stir-fried round noodles, getting an over-easy egg, and finishing up with a bowl of wonton soup.


The chocolate cereal looked like the stuff from Kellogg’s, but I was in China so I naturally doubted that it was legit. The cereal wasn’t super sweet from the chocolate, but the cereal itself was a bit stale.



Looking back at this plate is scary. The whole plate is filled with carbs. I love my carbs, but geez, I really need to take it easy! The stir-fried noodles were quite greasy. There was a bit of char and a bit of smokiness.


The steamed bun tasted just like the yummy ones that the hotel in Nanjing. The meat-filled buns had a slightly sweet sauce surrounding the filling, which provided the bun with a bit of moisture.


Mom really liked the cooked water chestnut. Tasting some minced water chestnuts in some versions of beef cheung fan have ruined water chestnuts for me.




Mom said that the croissants tasted really good when toasted lightly and she was right. The over-easy egg was lacking some salt and pepper.

I asked one of the gentlemen working the dining area for some. He disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a plate full of salt and white pepper. With the help of some lightly toasted croissant, the seasoned over-easy egg was finished without any difficulty.

As for the tiny tangerines in the background, those were packed away for a future snack.


The bowl of wonton soup was a comforting filler.


I went to grab another plate of greasy noodles. Yum.

After breakfast, our whole tour group gathered on the bus and we spent a few hours driving to Hangzhou. We got stuck in some bad traffic on the way there. There was a bad accident involving a tour bus on the oncoming lanes. Everyone naturally slowed down enough to get a glimpse of the broken bus.


Our bus driver pulled over near an intersection and to let us all off the bus. We were guided into the Sichuan Folk for lunch. Most of us weren’t hungry. We just sat on the bus for about five hours. It was a good thing that I stashed some of tangerines from breakfast. They smelled and tasted great on the bus ride over.


There were a bunch of locals enjoying their lunch. It was a pleasant sight, since most of our meals during this tour and the Guilin tour were found inside restaurants that mostly catered to tour groups.



The beer had a very eye-catching label. It also had a cartoon on the back.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Breakfast in Nanjing, Visiting Suzhou

Our hotel in Nanjing was pretty sweet. It felt and looked like it was a 4 star hotel by international standards, though it was probably a 5 star hotel under China’s rating system.

The breakfast at the hotel reflected it. Though there weren’t enough tables and seats to accommodate all of the tour groups eating breakfast at the same time, the food was pretty good. But some of the better breakfast choices, like the croissants, danishes, sesame balls, and youtiao, were the first things to be emptied and ignored by the hotel staff.



For my first plate, I went with the tasty-looking round noodles, a muffin (for the road), a white breakfast sausage, hash browns with ketchup, and bacon-looking protein.

Of all the different stir-fried noodle options during the various hotel breakfasts (in Guilin and Shanghai areas), these tasted the best. The noodles weren’t over cooked and the seasoning was just right. I have to say that my standards of the stir-fried noodles at hotel breakfasts had dropped during my time Asia, but I was glad to see that this particular version rose above the others. There were shreds of sauce-drenched eggs and slices of sweet onions to keep the noodles from being so monotonous.


Aunt IS’s first plate represented the Chinese breakfast options. Fried rice, stir-fried peas, some pickled veggies, steamed potato, youtiao and custard buns. The over-easy egg and slices of bread in the background were mine.


Second round:
I had the aforementioned over-easy eggs with bread and steamed buns filled with meat. Someone had mentioned that they were good, so I gave it a try.


Third round:
As you can see, I enjoyed the meat-filled steamed buns. The filling reminded me of a meatball with a sweet Chinese glaze – but in a steamed bun. Although I liked the buns, I didn’t eat these. No, no. I packed these up and stashed them in my bag for a later time.

The youtiao plate was empty. Aunt IS was one of the last people to get them (on her first plate).  After waiting a round, I flagged a hotel staff over and asked if there would be any more youtiao coming. He glanced over at the bare greasy platter and went into the kitchen. He brought back with a mountain of youtiao that happened to be cooling off. As he walked towards the platter, I noticed that everyone was eyeing the youtiao.

Mom said these were properly made. I totally agreed when I took my first bite. Although they weren’t hot, they were light and bready – perfect for dunking in sweet coffee. I shared these warm youtiao with the table.


As I was enjoying my third round of food, I noticed that someone had a bowl of noodle soup. I didn’t see the noodle station when I scouted out all the options. That’s when I saw people in the back of the dining area, standing in front of the kitchen counter. I wandered over and saw that there was a whole condiment bar right beside the egg station. How did I not see this when I was waiting for my over-easy eggs? Tunnel vision.

By the time I was standing in front of the noodle station, my stomach was reaching the limit I had set since the whole Taiwan thing. I asked for some wonton soup instead of noodle soup. Gasp!

These tiny wontons barely had any filling. Now, I’ve realized how much meat we eat in North America but could you really call these wontons if there’s no filling? The cilantro leaf was larger than the filling of one wonton. There was something comforting about slurping the slippery wonton skins down with the MSG-seasoned broth though. The soup had a weird package taste, but it tasted good to me. Is that bad? I'd rather have a naturally flavoured soup like a bowl of shio ramen any day though.

After a very enjoyable breakfast in the hotel, we were brought to see the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. As we sat inside the bridge’s museum, we were given a brief history lesson before we went up the sketchy elevator to the observatory deck.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Breakfast in Wuxi, Visiting Nanjing

The breakfast at the Wuxi hotel was okay. Nothing was going to compare to our first breakfast at the Ramada in Shanghai.


On my first plate, I picked up some sort of stir-fry (I loaded up on more carrots afterwards), white breakfast sausages, a fried slice of mantou, an over-easy egg and some (sweet) bread.


Since I enjoyed my over-easy egg so much the previous morning, I thought I’d grab another for breakfast. It was so comforting to eat something so familiar to me. I peeled back the thin egg white above the liquid yolk and sprinkled salt and white pepper. The seasoned yolk was mixed up and spread on the slices of bread like jam. Oh, you are too good to me egg jam!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Breakfast in Shanghai, Visiting Wuxi

Breakfast at the Ramada was surprisingly good. My stomach was still getting used to solid food after the whole Taiwan ordeal, but my eyes were excited with the large selection.


It was cool that they had a bunch of steamers. Unfortunately, har gow and siu mai weren’t hiding in them. There were meat-filled steamed buns, other dumplings, mantou, and custard buns.


Yes, my plate was a North American breakfast: pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon-like mystery meat, and a sausage. A dumpling that had corn and pork filling made it onto the plate. I typically enjoy when something is sweet and savoury, but there was more corn in filling. The corn made it just too sweet for my liking.


They had an egg station, which cooked the eggs to your preference, so I got an over-easy egg. Let me just say, an over-easy egg never tasted so good with salt and white pepper. It would’ve been ten times better if there was black pepper, but we Chinese rarely use black pepper. Since I'm white-washed, I was missing the black pepper.


Dad’s dessert plate had some tasty looking fruit preserve-filled danishes and steamed egg custard buns.


My parents loved these custard buns. It looked like these were properly made, unlike the hard stuff we get served back in Ottawa. The custard was oozing out. My parents still talk about these custard buns.

After breakfast, our group met up for the first time on our tour bus. There were some young faces for once, unlike the tour in Guilin. People also spoke English, too! Our tour group consisted of some Aussies, Americans, and Canadians. Awesome! I won't be a mute anymore!


We went to an old part of Shanghai and did some shopping at the Yu Yuan Bazaar. The place was bustling with tourists. When we walked by the food stalls, my parents needed to remind me not to be tempted. There were skewers of stuff, stinky tofu, soup dumplings, meatballs, and fish balls.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Arriving in Shanghai: Muslim Restaurant

When we touched down Shanghai that afternoon, I was a bit nervous because I had no idea who was picking us up and what the plan was. Dad said that the hotel would send someone to pick us up. We eventually saw a man with our last name and our tour company’s name. It was good that Dad knew Mandarin. We would’ve been so lost if he wasn’t with us. That said, he isn’t the best translator.

Our driver eventually figured out where he parked the bus and he drove us to our hotel. It felt like VIP service, since we were the only ones who were picked up. On our way to our hotel, we witnessed some typical China driving. It was only a teaser though.

Just before we pulled into the hotel, we saw a Muslim restaurant that was packed with customers. The restaurant actually had a line out the door. I wasn’t sure if this was a tourist trap or not.

We pulled into the Ramada hotel, checked in and then took a stroll outside. It was sometime after 8 pm and when we left the hotel. We weren’t very hungry at that point, but how could you land in a new foreign city and not have food? Exactly.

We walked by the Muslim Restaurant (I'm sure the name was different in Chinese) and noticed that there was someone who was grilling skewers of lamb meat, chicken, and a variety of innards. The air was filled with a fragrant smell of fat being grilled. Dad really wanted to try the lamb. He said that he really liked the lamb skewers back in Singapore. There was a large garbage can full of empty skewers. That must be a good sign, right? I wonder how much they grill in a day.

After waiting for a table, we sat down and slowly read over our options. Like I mentioned before, we weren’t hungry but we were intrigued with the large photos of the dishes. The restaurant was definitely made for tourists. The menu is a dead giveaway – that and the fact that it was around the corner from a Ramada hotel.


First up, China beer. It was nice and cold; watery, but cold.


Mom chose the braised beef tendons with french beans (58 RMB). This was really spicy and had a good flavour, so I was told. Since I was just discharged from the hospital less than 24 hours ago, everyone told me that I should avoid eating too spicy, too greasy, too much, etc.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Leaving Taiwan: Taoyuan International Airport

This is a continuation of this post (Sick in Taiwan).

Tuesday morning began early. The nurses came in sometime around six to do some blood work. I couldn’t sleep after that. Everything was already packed, I was just waiting for the doctor to discharge me and fill out the insurance papers.

The doctor came in and gave me the news.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sick in Taiwan

The few photos that were used in this article have all been recycled from other articles. There's no food porn here. Move along if that's all you're looking for. This article is written more for myself than anything.

Anyway, this sad story is about a few days I spent in Taiwan. If you haven’t read about the previous day in Sun Moon Lake, please do so before you read on.

That night/morning started out innocently enough. I made a few trips to the bathroom and drank a few bottles of water to replace what I had lost. Ahem... I tried to sleep and conserve my energy, but I just woke up weak. Yup, I got traveler’s diarrhea.

The plan was to continue with our tour and hopefully I’d feel better. Breakfast at the restaurant was spent sitting at another table with my head down. I had no appetite and was just concentrated on breathing and trying to fight off the bug. Once everyone was finished, I remember my aunt firing off a bunch of symptoms to see what was making me sick.

“Do you have a headache?” My aunt began.

I nodded with the little energy I had. The headache was because I was dehydrated.

“Do you have a fever? Do you have the chills? Are you nauseous? Are you dizzy?” She listed off as she felt my forehead.

“No. No chills, no fever, no dizziness. I’m not nauseous,” I replied.

I swear I wasn’t nauseous before, but after my aunt asked those questions, I really did feel nauseous. What the…

I’m pretty sure I dry heaved a few times. I began to feel clammy and hot. I needed air.

With someone's help, I staggered outside and sat on a damp picnic table. We then moved to a table in front of a coffee/ice cream store. While my relatives talked things over a cup of coffee, I focused on keeping my composure. I stopped feeling clammy and nauseous, but I was still feeling weak. 


“Must’ve been the mushrooms.”

“No, no, it was all of the milk tea she drank yesterday during breakfast.”

They were trying to figure out what made me sick. To this day, I still don’t know the answer.

We hopped into the car and began to drive to our next destination. I don’t totally remember where we went. I think it was a place that had a bunch of food stalls along the parking lot. It was hot that day. I couldn’t stay in the car so I sat on a bench, clutching a bottle of water, while everyone else went to walk around. I laid myself down on the bench and tried to sleep. I’m sure I must’ve looked like a bum, but I didn’t care. I had to remind myself to keep taking sips of water every few minutes.

After what seemed like a few hours, I heard a familiar voice call out my name. Finally! I sat up, took a sip of water and a few deep breaths before standing up. Guided by Lucy, I made my way back to the car. And just as we reached the trunk, my knees gave out and I fell onto the car, leaning on the rear lights. The water that I had been sipping on that bench went all over the road.

“I saw that coming,” I heard Lucy commenting.

Not good. Not good at all. I didn’t want to ruin this trip. I didn’t want to hold anyone back from having a good time, but it looks like that failed.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur. I remember we pulled into a parking lot of large restaurant for dinner. I still didn’t have an appetite and felt like I’d definitely get worse if I went in. I was fine in the car.

I tried to sleep and regain my energy. I took sips of a weird-tasting energy drink to keep hydrated instead of water. The energy drink tasted like the clear solution that my family doctor used to prescribe when we used to have diarrhea. It had a muted sweet and salty water taste. Does that make sense? At least the stuff was staying down.

Someone came in to ask me if I was hungry and wanted anything to eat. I just asked for oranges or anything that was a citrus. I was hoping oranges would settle my stomach. They came back with a few slices of oranges and told me not to eat them too quickly.

It was so comforting to taste the oranges. Fooooood! I hesitantly ate half of a slice and then rested a bit. I wanted to see if I’d be fine. I passed out for a bit and then felt that I was fine, so I finished the slice of citrus and took another swig of the energy drink.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sun Moon Lake and Aboriginal Culture Village


Our morning at the cabins began with breakfast at the restaurant on the New Era Art Resort & Spa grounds. The breakfast buffet spread was vegetarian friendly. I took a look around to plan for my attack.


Margarine in a can? Sketchy…



I picked up a few sandwiches, pickled veggies, some sort of salami-like protein, and mantou.

My drink of choice was the warm milk tea. It tasted like it was made from powder, but I loved it nonetheless. Mom and Dad warned me to slow down and just have a little. But milk tea! Despite their warning, I definitely downed around five bowls of this stuff.

There was also hot soy milk too.


Some of us finished breakfast early, so to kill some time, I took a walk around the premises. There was an art building/museum close by. Sculptures lined the pathway. I noticed that someone had carved human and animal faces into the stones; owls, rabbits, pigs, turtles, etc. There were probably hundreds of these carved stones. There must be a story behind these.


The pathway was beautifully made with stones. I found it a bit difficult to walk down the path because the dew and rain had made the stones slippery. Someone could easily sprain an ankle there.


Once everyone was finished breakfast, we hopped into the cars and drove to see Sun Moon Lake. When we pulled into the parking lot, there were people trying to sell ferry tickets – in the parking lot! That’s called competition. We went to buy ferry tickets and quickly made our way onto the ferry.  This sign was by the dock after we crossed the lake in a ferry.

As we walked down the Taiwanese flag-lined dock*, I spotted a large group of people above the stairs. Tourists were gathered at the small building near the entrance. They all seemed to be pushing and shoving to buy some sort of snack.
*Nice hair!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Phnom Penh Noodle Soup with Dad's Youtiao


What’s a better meal than having noodle soup during the winter? Not only does it fill you up and keep you warm, but also it doesn’t weigh you down like stew and other hearty dishes.

A few days ago, Andrew and I got talking about food and he mentioned that he was craving Phnom Penh noodle soup. Sounds good to me – I’m always game for noodle soup!


Dad made the double broth last night. He used pork neck bones (which we had in the freezer), chicken bones (which we found for a dollar at the grocery store in Vanier beside the Emerald Buffet), carrots and onions.  There were also a few dried scallops and half of a dried squid for the seafood touch. Would that make it a triple broth?

Simmered on low heat for a few hours, the clear soup perfumed the house with the unmistakable smell of Phnom Penh soup. If you were to walk by our house, you would probably smell squid first, but the squid’s smell is dulled by the pork and chicken stock.



Dad tried his hands at making youtiao from scratch. He probably took a few notes from watching Mom try to make it here, here, and all the other times she's made it. The dough turned out really dense and chewy, which is almost the opposite of what youtiao are supposed to be. He adjusted the dough on the fly by adding potato starch. That gave the youtiao more of a crunchy crust. They tasted similar to the batter my parents make when they batter and fry shrimp. I think it has to do with the wet dough. I'd rather have Mom's sweet bread-like youtiao, but hey, it was Dad's first time making it.

While he flattened the dough, cut the dough into strips, and squished the sticks of dough together, I fried them in vegetable oil on medium heat.


Looks pretty good, huh? Although it looks like the typical youtiao, these weren’t quite there. Close, but not quite. They just weren’t as airy and the taste was off.


Since that was done, some boiled pork was sliced and plated up. The slab of pork was cooked in the soup to infuse more flavour into the fragrant soup.


I made myself a glass of iced coffee and then began to assemble my minimalistic bowl of Phnom Penh noodle soup. Having sips of some strong iced coffee between soup spoon-fulls of noodle soup is really refreshing. Wah!~~


The dried rice noodles, which had been soaking in cool water for about two hours, were ready to be cooked. It only needed a brief dip in boiling water, since the noodles continue to cook in the soup.


I ladled soup into my bowl and added my condiments: sliced pork, fried garlic (with the oil), green onions, and preserved cabbage. It sure doesn't look flavourful, but let me assure you that the soup was very complex. Whenever I took a sip of the soup, I'd taste the garlic oil first, then the fried garlic itself, followed by the seafood-perfumed soup. Sometimes the saltiness of the preserved cabbage popped up too.

The homemade soup and the soup at other restaurants are different. It's like comparing homemade pho to the pho you get at pho joints. In Phnom Penh noodle soup, the soup that you get in restaurants tend to be overly sweet. Also, the seafood flavour is almost non-existent and the depth of the pork broth just isn't there.

Lucy wouldn’t call this a true bowl of Phnom Penh noodle soup. Mainly because I left out a few grinds of pepper, boiled shrimp and – the all important – pork, shrimp and garlic mince. We also didn't have the good beef balls or the white Vietnamese pork sausage. Sad, I know.

But you know what? There’s no need for all of that.

Edit: Okay, so I take that back after enjoying a tastier bowl of Phnom Penh noodle soup earlier. Not only was the soup more flavourful, but the bites of the pork, shrimp and garlic mince added yet another tasty flavour component to the already complex (but balanced) flavour of the bowl of noodle soup. Dried shrimp was luckily left out of the mince.



Mom took over the youtiao dough and fixed it. When I tasted them, I knew right away that she had tweaked it. The bready sticks of fried dough had a slight sweetness. And since she wanted them more crispy, she threw some into the toaster oven after frying. That works.


That’s what I had for lunch. What did you have, eh?


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