Saturday, April 30, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Whenever I visit China, I always make it a point to visit Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province's capital and largest city.
As I used to visit this beautiful city during either Spring or Summer, it was my intention to see how it would look during winter. As it is close to Shanghai, there is a great chance that it won't snow in Hangzhou but for this year, Lady Luck was on our side. We arrived late in the afternoon after an overnight stay at Tengtou Village in Ningbo for work. As advised by the secretary of Mr. Fu Qiping, we got off at a bus terminal in Ningbo and bought our tickets (the place was packed with people buying last-minute tickets to their hometown; it was a few days away till the Chinese New Year).
In the past I usually rode a fast train (动车) from Shanghai to Hangzhou as it is a lot more convenient and faster than taking a long-distance bus. This time though, we went for the latter as it is exponentially cheaper.
It took more than two hours to get to Hangzhou from Ningbo. It was freezing cold and every seat on the bus has a passenger--oh boy!
The bus is actually a lot bigger than it looks. We were sitting somewhere in the middle.
This baby made the two-hour trip bearable, thanks to his curious stares and occasional chuckles.
Upon arrival, we wasted no time and tried to hail a taxi to the hostel/inn we planned to stay in. The drivers kept refusing to take us to the West Lake area for a variety of reasons so we settled for the private vehicles parked along tight alleys near the terminal. It was very much like colorum vehicles in the Philippines except that the drivers are Chinese and you can't say "Diyan na lang po sa tabi." We shared the van with a fashion student from Shanghai who willingly started a conversation with us. Second time I've been mistaken for a guy from Guangdong.
It was already nearing dark by the time we exited the inn to walk around and take photos. We were told that it had been snowing the whole night and the roads were not passable for several hours, hence the snow by the roadsides.
This time, we ate at the famed Lou Wai Lou as per a close friend's recommendation. It took about an hour's walk to get to Solitary Island (West Lake) from where we were originally taking photos but with the cold winter air to keep us from perspiring excessively, it felt rather comfortable walking that far.
The long path to Lou Wai Lou. Be ready for a long walk as it may take more than 15 minutes to reach the other end of this island bridge at the heart of West Lake.
The REAL Lou Wai Lou restaurant. There was another restaurant near this building that had the same name (楼外楼) but is considerably smaller and looks like a small diner so don't get confused.
After dinner, we walked some more and even watched the musical/dancing fountain located along the East side of West Lake (at Park #3, near Hyatt Regency ). The display runs every 30 minutes so make sure you're there early for the next run as it can draw quite a big crowd.
This fountain shoots high up and with musical accompaniment! Why else would it be called a musical fountain if it lacked musical qualities?
A stroll along Hangzhou's West Lake is considered by many as a magical and humbling experience. It pales in comparison to strolls in Shanghai's busy streets and Beijing's history-rich travel spots but Hangzhou has 2,200 years under its name and has a popularity that is written even in the oldest of Chinese classic literature.
(above, there is heaven; below, there is Suzhou and Hangzhou)
To have seen Hangzhou's West Lake during Winter was a wholly different experience and one that I wouldn't mind doing again in the future.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
While contemporary restaurants require the aid of bright lights and booming sounds to attract customers, there's a small, incognito hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Guadalupe Viejo, Makati that gained popularity among food enthusiasts alongside a cloud of mystery and anonymity. It's an irony that has been puzzling me for some time but after having finally visited the place, I understood why it has survived without all the fancy promotion gimmicks typical to food establishments.
Xiang-Chuan Restaurant or You Jie Xiao Chao? (湘川饭店还是游姐小炒?)
There are different ways of approaching this restaurant's name as it has two to which its fame clings. I got the chance to talk to one of its owners, Auntie You herself. She doesn't speak much English though so I had to muster up my Chinese knowhow to squeeze answers from her.
Be sure to keep your eyes open for it's so easy to miss this place! That's 6404 Camia street, Guadalupe Viejo.
She said that for political correctness (not necessarily what she said), Xiang-Chuan is more proper to use as it defines the cuisine that they serve. Xiang-Chuan (湘川) was coined by combining the first and last characters of the name of Auntie You's and her husband's places of origin, namely Xiangtan (湘潭) and Sichuan (四川). You Jie Xiao Chao (游姐小炒), the name that appears on their business card, was taken after her surname You (游), hence the name.
Now that the issue behind the name has been given some light, it's easier to note that, contrary to popular belief, the restaurant is not plainly Hunanese.
Those familiar with the eight major Chinese cuisines would easily know the difference between Hunan and Sichuan tastes. While both cuisines often use chilies for their dishes, Hunan food more frequently uses fresh chilies and are known to be "dry hot" or "purely hot" and is considered to be spicier. Sichuan dishes are typically "ma-la" or numbingly hot.
Since the owners of Xiang-Chuan Restaurant are Hunanese and Sichuanese, expect their dishes to be a combination of both cuisines so try not to over exert when trying to figure out which is which.
One of the waitresses shared that the restaurant has expanded greatly since its opening. Already two years old, the restaurant has acquired the space next-door and has bigger dining apacity from its original eight tables.
This photo doesn't do the place justice. It has already expanded and now occupies the first floor of the property next-door.
The interiors were left to look simple and clean. I have no complaint regarding the cleanliness of the place as it did look thoroughly clean as if personally managed by a meticulous mother.
For my first visit, I was able to try these three dishes:
Boiled dumplings (煎饺 ). Don't forget to dip it in the sauce; tastes better with it.
Fried beans (干煸四季豆). A long-time favorite dish of mine that I always order whenever available. Too bad that the one served to us pales in comparison to the original and lacked the trademark spiciness.
Duck hot pot (鸭肉火锅). Can't say I haven't had better versions of this dish but I enjoyed munching on the lean duck meat. The spices were just right and made me want to have more.
I wasn't able to order enough dishes to give a complete review but with the ones I tasted, I'm confident enough to recommend the place to friends who are looking for better than the usual Chinese cuisine. With Xiang-Chuan Restaurant, one can enjoy the tastes of both Hunan and Sichuan. Oh! And make sure you wash the spiciness down by drinking Wang Lao Ji/Wong Lo Kat (王老吉), a sweet and refreshing drink.
I'll surely visit Xiang-Chuan Restaurant again to try their other dishes! Mind going with me next time?
Xiang-Chuan Restaurant/You Jie Xiao Chao (湘川饭店/游姐小炒)
Address: 6404 Camia Street, Guadalupe Viejo, Makati City (near Power Plant Mall, Rockwell)
Tel: 09228698887, 09277876999, 09154252972