Monday, March 9, 2009

Changsha day one -how many eggplants can you eat in one day?!

Shopping street

Back in Suzhou after 2 full and one half day in Changsha –although we weren’t gone for long we managed to keep really busy and in the end it felt as if we were away for a week. Changsha didn’t capture me the way Dalian did, but it was still a fun city to visit (and a good place to take photos, I snapped some 300 shots...ehhh!). It’s really a place to go if you want to eat and party, and the city is drowning in little snack stalls, snack shops, and restaurants of all sizes and standards.

Me and my 2 traveling buddies (Monica and Silje -2 lovely Norwegian girls) are all huge fans of spicy food, and in particular eggplant. So you can just guess what we were doing most of the time: yup, eating!

We stayed at a hotel called ‘Hunan Civil Aviation Hotel,’ (2 minutes walk to Changsha’s railway station, on Wu Yi Dong Lu) which also served the purpose of being an airbus terminal. As a result of this, a bunch of annoying and aggressive taxi drivers (not the listed kinds) were park outside the hotel 24-7, trying desperately to convince every single person who came to the hotel to take the airbus to take their taxi instead... Obviously we had no idea about this at first, so imagine our surprise when we came from the airport in a taxi, jumped out right in front of the hotel, and were attacked by a horde of screaming Chinese men who all wanted to drive us back to the airport?! It was kind of late and they were quite aggressive, which got only worse when they noticed how shocked we were by the sight of all of them, and they started grabbing us and pulling our bags. I screamed all the nasty words I know in Chinese but it didn’t help that much. Not until we entered the hotel did they give up.

This gave us the complete wrong idea about Changsha people and when we got our room we spent a good 30 minutes watching them from our windows, and decided not to go out again until the next morning, hoping that they would be gone by then. (Hahaha –we didn’t find out about the airbus until the next morning when we say the signs in the daylight). Well, the little café at our hotel had beer so we didn’t really have to suffer anyways.

The next morning we woke up noticing that the horde of annoying drivers were still parked outside the hotel. We asked about in the reception and they showed us another way out of the hotel, which we used every day during the rest of our stay.

So, what do you do your first day in Changsha? Well, EAT, of course! We grabbed a cab and I started chatting with the driver, pumping him for information about the best places to eat and shop. All in all I have to say that the taxi drivers in the city were a bit hard to get talking. They were all quite closed-up at first, not really happy to chat, but after a while, when they noticed that we could actually speak a bit Chinese, most of them became more friendly and willing to share some information about their city. The first driver even took as around and showed us the shopping street and the famous food street, Pozi Jie.

Coffee and fruit salad at 'Monkey Business' -looked better than it tasted!

While finding food was easy, finding a decent cup of coffee proved rather impossible. We walked around for 2 hours, looking for a café in order to get our morning caffeine kick. We even started asking around for a Starbucks, but none of the locals had even heard of ‘Xing ba ke’ (we later found out that there are no Starbucks in the city –ohhh, imagine that?!). In the end we were so hungry that we decided to settle for a place called ‘Monkey Kingdom’ which proved to be more like ‘Monkey Business’ and served coffee that none of us managed to drink (my guess is that they made it using tap water). After that we decided to stick to Chinese food during our stay, and in desperate times we would sneak into Mc Donalds (there were at least one in every block) for what would be ‘the best cup of coffee in town.’ (coffee drinkers –take note if you are going to Changsha!)

Stinky tofu stall at Pozi Jie -the thing with the photos I still don't get, a lot of restaurants and street stalls sported this look.

Monica at a Pozi Jie alley

Re Lu Liu restaurants -simple but good

mmmm... spicy potato and tofu/veggie pot!

We made our way back to Pozi Jie (got a bit lost on the way and snapped numerous shots of people and the surrounding) just around lunch time and went to a restaurant called “Re Lu Liu” where we ordered a mix of spicy vegetable dishes and our first Hunan eggplant (although they didn’t have ’la rou qie zi?!) and spent a good hour munching away. Over-excited about all the good food we ended up ordering way too much but the bill still came to something like 70 yuan so it was all good.

The gigantic lunch was followed by some strolling around, before we decided to take a cab back to the railway station and grab a tourist bus to get an overview of the city. We told the taxi driver about the tourist bus line and he recommended us to jump on bus 202… which of course wasn’t any ‘tourist bus,’ but just a local bus… although it did take us all around the city and we ended up in a complete different part of the city, namely a university area. There was a large wet market that kept us (and the people at the market –I don’t think it’s the normal hang-out place for laowais in Changsha) entertained for some hours. Insanely cheap too, we noticed when we decided to buy some local cookies and ended up trying every single cake at the stall (it was the woman selling them who insisted!) before we chose two kinds… the woman filled 2 bags with cakes and charged us 2 kuais?! Cheers!

Changsha's finest

Self-standing stall

Cute little boy (his mom was very proud when we took his picture)

The only laowais on bus 202. 

Later we went back to the city and walked around on a smaller shopping street, which cause serious chaos as some locals got rather hysterical when they saw not only one, or two… but THREE laowais!!! One young girl got so upset she started screaming and for a while we thought she was going to cry?! Quite a strange experience I have to say. Most people were more discrete however, and settled for the usual pointing, waving, ‘hello-ing’ and smiling. The Changsha seniors were absolutely adorable, all smiling and some even coming up to us and telling us in English how ‘beautiful we looked’ (ehhhhrm, really?!). At dinnertime we went back to the Pozi Jie and picked another, simple looking restaurant called Wenji Siheyi Laodian which was a real treat! In order to make sure we didn’t miss out on any good eggplant we decided to order all the eggplant they had on their menu (imagine the waiters smile when we said: ‘OK, we want all of them’ when she’d finished telling us about what kind of eggplant they had. Fortunately –I guess- they only had 2 different kinds). Except for the eggplant we also ordered tofu, veggies, some spicy meat and the local delicacy crayfish (wei kou xia) –which a taxi driver had recommended us to try.

Wet market

Cutest girl in Changsha

Tofu tofu tofu... every where, stinky as well as normal.

The food was outstanding –everything we could have wished for (really –if you are a food lover –visit Changsha!!!) and we completely stuffed ourselves and pretty much rolled out of the restaurant. We were supposed to go to a pub for a beer but decided that we were too full to enjoy it, and ended up visiting a game-hall instead. Quite crazy and over the top (and LOUD) so after a game of air hockey and basketball we left to go back to the hotel and get some foot massage before passing out (on our big bellies) in bed. (Oh, and in case someone wonders about the title -how many different eggplant dishes you can have in one day, the answer is three: one at lunch and 2 during dinner. If anyone has ever had more than that in one day I'll be seriously impressed).

Although it was a great day we decided to skip the obvious sightseeing destinations the next day (such as the Mao museum and the Martyr’s park) and settle for something completely different…. And oh my, am I happy we did that or what?! I won’t tell you about it now (this post is already beyond too long) but let me tell you this much: the next day ended up being one of my best days spent in China so far… involving a visit to the country side, dinner with locals, beers with a crazy (but cool) Beijing lawyer, and a night of KTV and snake… but more about that tomorrow! (I also have some quite nice photos to show u... way better than the ones in today's post)

Mmmm... eggplant!!


Game time!

What you do in Changsha if you are not eating or drinking at 11pm on a Friday night...


Vampire Rabbit said...

I love ChangSha, and of course you are right, it has some of the best food in China. It is nice that in such a big city, you will not find many laowai, quite the opposite of what you are used to is ShangHai and Suzhou.

Matthew said...

Sounds like my kind of trip...a lot of good food. Don't know if I could survive the lack of coffee though...or the annoying taxi drivers (seen enough of those).

Mark Carver said...

I dig Changsha, a big, well-planned, modern Chinese city that hasn't been too Westernized.

J said...

It's true, outside of Beijing and Shanghai, McDonalds is your best bet for coffee. And ice cream.

Dr Sofea J.Ann Tan said...

so authentic...
cute little kids thr !!
food ' s so interesing !!!

The Candid Yank said...

changsha looks awesome!! The market photos in particular were really cool. I can't believe tomorrow's pictures will be better. Those were two cute kids, but why did they both have such dirty faces? weeeiiiird

i am totally hungry for eggplant and tofu now. Off to the store I go.

Anonymous said...

Oh!!! I want to go!!!!! Definitely on my list!!

小超 said...

I've been living in Changsha for 17 years (I am 17 years old now~ )...

Anonymous said...

I am Chinese. I would never eat those dishes on your blog. China divided, not by politics or language, but by people's own tastes of their region of food. I would go for northern noodle, dumplins or my own Southern seafood, rice, etc. I can't stomach spicy, oily food from Hunan or Sichuan. The more I mingle around with Chinese from various regions of China, the more I feel Chins is too diversified in terms of food and customs.

LoveANewIdea said...

So much fun to read about! I still can't get over how locals react to seeing you...sounds so odd?

afritzse said...

This food from Hunan, from central China looks so much better than the westernized Chinese food one usually gets in the West. Too bad most Westerners don't want to savor the real thing.

I like how one can order so many different tastes that are low on calories and easily share them, as well.

One question, did you guys learn how to use chopsticks easily? Maybe that would make a nice story. I'm still struggling, you kind of have to be very gentle about it...

Anonymous said...

Hiya Jonna,

I think the girl on the bus must have gotten starry eyes when she recognised one of China's most prolific laowai Bloggers, hence her hysterics. It's like those teenagers who scream and then faint when they see their Rock star idols ;)


Frankie Perussault said...

I thought that going south you would have found some sun... well no, just egg plants!

Jonna Wibelius said...

尼克 -yup, during our stay we only saw 3 other laowais (except for at the airport) and that made us rather hysterical... we were screaming 'look, look, laowais, laowais!' to each other.

Matthew -U should go, it was really lovely. The coffee problem can be solved w Maccas... :)

马克 -yeah, it's quite a 're nao' place to put it that way. Especially after-hours... :)

J -agree.

sofea -yup, I love taking photos of Chinese kids... they are simply adorable.

konichiwa, bitches -the parents faces were quite dirty too... glad I could inspire you to have a tofu/eggplant meal.. I could totally eat those 2 every single day... mmmm

kanmuri -yup, you are due in China!

Anonymous -yeah, food preferences, just like dialects tends to change everywhere in China. Funny that u say the Hunan and Sichuan food is so oily... I feel all Chinese food is oily, regardless of where u go? I like the Chinese food at most places, with an exception for SH/SZ where the local dishes are too sweat to satisfy my taste buds. Dongbei food is great too, although I prefer rice over noodles.

Loveand... -well yeah. Very weird. I guess there are not that many laowais in Changsha?? Although the taxi drivers kept telling us there were. Strange.

afritzse -funny thing w the chopsticks.. when I first came here I kind of sucked at using them and as a result I ate quite slowly (and therefore also less), and thought it was GREAT. Unfortunately I have now managed to master them, and worked up a speed that is even faster than when I eat with a fork and a knife... so when I eat Chinese food nowadays I almost overeat every time...

Adrian -hehe, when will u let go of that idea?! How's the therapy coming along btw, any progress? ;)

Frankie -hahahha... yeah, I am such a food monster.. although I did manage to get a bit of a face tan... :)

Nancy said...

Okay, so now I'm hungry for eggplant. For some reason really good Chinese food is hard to find here. I know we can never expect the same quality as you get in China, of course, but you can get relatively good Thai food. But not good Chinese! And after all your pictures - I only want Chinese!

Vampire Rabbit said...

A diversity of food and customs only makes China richer.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonna! I've been following your blog but never left a comment before. Just wanted to say that I LOVE your blog and read it everyday during my lunch hour!

You are so adventurous with your travels in China! I love it! I've only had snake once and I remember it tasting like chicken.