China has a ways to go when it comes to coffee and wine. Even in Yangshuo’s “Westerner Street” the “cappuccinos” tasted more like instant coffee with skim milk. The matter would have been rectified had I found a place serving Vietnamese coffee, but despite our close proximity to Vietnam there was no such luck to be had. And alas, the fertile land terraced for rice paddies did not rival Napa, Tuscany or the Barossa. Two weeks without coffee or wine? GAH! There better be some quality chili peppers in these parts.
Seriously though, that’s obviously not what we came for. Plus, if China had great coffee and wine AND all the other amazing food, I might not want to leave! Here’s a sampling of the yumminess that we found. I think we gained a kilo or two!
At our first stop–a steamy noodle shop chock full of locals in downtown Hong Kong–we each ordered a “medium spicy” noodle soup. Let’s just test the waters with the chili factor, we thought. It’s only our first night; we can work up to “extra spicy”. We quickly contributed to the steam in the restaurant as it flooded out our ears! We also ordered an interesting beverage that proved quite popular in Hong Kong: hot Coca Cola with ginger. It loses the carbonation when heated. Although it sounds strange, it wasn’t bad and definitely nice on a cold day.
The next morning we began the day with a traditional noodle breakfast with a considerably more mild broth before heading off to Southwest China:
On our visit to the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces, we had a unique meal: a local specialty of fried rice and chicken stuffed into pieces of bamboo and cooked outside over hot coals. A lovely lunch for a cold afternoon!
Jeff got a bit adventurous one day and ordered a plate of Guilin Snails. I didn’t care for the crunchiness of other, teeny tiny shells stuck inside. Bleh! But Jeff seemed to enjoy them.
We did agree on the yumminess of the famous Guilin Noodles all over southwest China. Homemade noodles in a simple broth with green onion and roasted peanuts sprinkled on top. Very satisfying and even better at only about $1 each at this local cafe.
Throughout China the tea was delicious, but we discovered a particularly nice flavor in Xingping. It was served with an interesting paste of mashed fresh ginger and honey, with pink flowers floating in the brew. After some of this I almost forgot about those cappuccinos I was craving!
One of the best meals we had in China came unexpectedly. While riding our bikes through the countryside around Yangshuo, in a country town called Jiuxian, we saw an English sign hanging in a tree: Restaurant 200 metres. The path took us off the main road and through some farmer fields until we ended up in someone’s backyard. A friendly woman invited us inside to sit at the only table in the “restaurant” while her young children played chopstick sword fights around us. She recommended a local dish of bean curd (puffed tofu) stuffed with ground pork, with a side of fresh greens from her garden. How could we pass that up? It was country cooking at its best, and even more fun to meet a local family.
Of course we couldn’t go home without sampling the Yum Cha (aka Dim Sum, aka dumpling feast) on several occasions in China and Hong Kong:
I also became a fan of another common breakfast dish called congee. Congee is a rice porridge and can be ordered with a variety of meats or seafood. It is usually also ordered with a fried bread stick (one restaurant called them Cantonese doughnuts, although they are not sweet).
In Hong Kong, a friend with some local knowledge took us out for something new: Mongolian hot pot, a spicy cook-it-yourself soup to share:
We also couldn’t resist trying a Chiu Chow restaurant out of sheer curiosity because it was given its own cuisine section in our Lonely Planet guide. Chiu Chow food is from a specific region of southwest China. While I couldn’t taste a huge difference in flavor, some of the dishes on the menu were different, such as this braised pigeon:
We finished up our trip with a meal of Peking Duck. Delicious!
Follow the link to see more of our culinary adventures in China, Hong Kong, and Macau!