Waking refreshed after a short nap, the Missus decided that we should head out, and walk around a bit and perhaps grab some dinner. Traffic was pretty heavy, and the air quality started to reflect the congestion.
Along the way, the Missus found a fruit stand selling fresh Mangosteen........ which instantly became an obsession.
This stuff wasn't cheap by Chinese standards, in this case 20 Yuan per 500 grams.... close to $3 a pound. We ended up buying Mangosteen whenever we could find fresh, good quality fruits, in spite of the price.
In Hangzhou, history is everywhere.... you could be walking on a side street and find a monument.... we found this one near Xihu (Westlake).
This were the remanents of the original Hangzhou City Wall.
Fairly soon the question of dinner came up......... we wanted to try a few more Hangzhou dishes, but really didn't want to head back to Zhiweiguan again. While walking, the Missus noticed this restaurant.....
This little restaurant was doing some pretty good business with several large parties......
The young lady who waited on us was very nice and efficient....... the best service we encountered in Hangzhou. We ended up ordering quite a bit of food; I guess we didn't know how hungry we were as we finished just about everything.
I recall "Sandy" inquiring about West Lake Duck in an earlier post; I'm pretty sure she was referring to Hangzhou Jiang Ya - Hangzhou Duck. This restaurant's version looked like this:
I understand that there are several versions of this dish. This duck had a cured texture to it, there wasn't much meat, but the flavor was nice, mildly gamey, with a mild "red-cooked" flavor to it.
I really didn't enjoy the Dongpo Rou at Zhiweiguan, and really wanted to try it again.
I really enjoyed this, the fat was silken, and the juicy meat very tender without being mushy. Though the Missus thought this was still too sweet, I enjoyed the sweetness and the rendered fat.... which tasted great over rice.... lots of rice.
I'm sure the photo speaks for itself.
Another dish we hadn't tried was the famous Xihu Cu Yu - Westlake Sour Fish. And since we were leaving the next morning, we had to order it.
Whoa...... the first thing that hit me was how sour this was. It was like someone placing a guillotine chokehold on me. A second later, the intense teeth wracking sweetness came through. It was a bit too much for us. The fish itself was excellent, moist and tender, cooked to perfection....... but man that sauce was like drinking vinegar laced with sweet syrup. We ended up removing the fish to a separate plate away from the sauce.
Arriving in Hangzhou just at the end of Bamboo Shoot season, we decided to see if they were available. The young lady told the Missus that they did have fresh bamboo shoots, but it wouldn't be as good as it was a few weeks earlier. Still we wanted to check it out.
When the dish arrived, I noticed the glaze looked much like the sauce used for the fish; but thankfully, it wasn't as sweet, nor as sour, and the earthy flavor of the shoots came through, as did the mild natural(thank goodness) sweetness of the shoots. This was delicious.
After dinner, the Missus needed something "sweet", I told Her She should've just had another order of that fish....... We ended up at, guess where? Yep, back at the multi-level monstrous Zhiweiguan. This time at one of the take-out windows at street level.
The Missus bought a couple of snacks.......
She really enjoyed this one......
The next morning we woke ready for our next city and caught a cab down to the bus station. Man, this place was busy. The ticket windows were somethings else...... doesn't it look like the betting window at the racetrack?
Hangzhou's bus station looked fairly new, and was relatively clean.
While sitting it struck me how difficult it would be to travel via bus if you didn't read Chinese, as there were no signs in any other language.
Right across from Fei Lai Feng, is the Lingyin Buddhist Temple. The temple was originally built in the early fourth century, and has been rebuilt at least 16 times over time. After paying admission, we entered the very busy grounds of the temple.
Due to the crowds of tourists, all paying admission, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that Lingyin Temple is a functioning Buddhist temple. And having been to Thailand and Laos, we were a bit shocked to see young ladies wearing pumps and mini-skirts and guys wearing tank tops (one had even taken his shirt off) and shorts on temple grounds. Folks disregarded signs within the halls prohibiting photos, and even let their children climb into urns within the cultural treasury hall...... it was all a bit surreal.
And yet every so often you'd see a monk walking the grounds.
Or folks making offerings......
In spite of all the wonderful Buddhist statues and carvings it was hard for us to enjoy Lingyin Temple. The amount of noise, and the crowds made it a bit of a tiring experience.
We headed back to our hotel, for a nap, and to attempt to escape the humidity. As we passed this doorway, the Missus suggested trying this place out. Strangely, some noodle soup sounded pretty good.......
I would later find out that this noodle restaurant Kui Yuan Guan is very well known around China. According to the story, the restaurant was founded during the Qing Dynasty, in the late 1860's.
There was reason the place was pretty busy in spite of the heat and humidity.
The menu is full of various noodle soups, and there is a single phrase English description of each type of noodle soup.
I went with the Pork, Bamboo Shoot, and Preserved vegetable noodle soup (10 yuan - about $1.45).
I was to find out later that Kui Yuan Chuan is credited with creating this dish, called Pian Er Chuan, go figure.....
Other than the very lean and tough pork (which I expected), I really enjoyed this soup. The combination of the salty-sour tones of the preserved vegetable, with the earthy and mildly sweet flavor of the fresh bamboo shoots, and what seemed to be a mildly rich pork based broth was a great combination.
The Missus selected the Shredded Eel Noodle soup (23 yuan - about $3.20).
The Missus seemed to enjoy Her soup well enough. We both found the noodl es adequate, though nothing special. This restaurant also marked a first distinct occurrence we were to find several more times at noodle soup restaurants in the region. Our noodle soup arrived, but no spoons were provided. I noticed that other customers simply brought the bowl up to their face and drank their soup, and I was perfectly fine with consuming my soup that way. But for some reason, this wouldn't fly with the Missus, who, in every case would flag down one of the employees and ask for spoons....... it turned out that soup spoons were only provided upon request.
The shop had the A/C going pretty good, which made the soup go down well. As we stepped back out into the humidity, we still felt satiated.... and ready for a nice nap!
After dinner at Zheweiguan, I slept quite well.... probably because I was exhausted. The Missus got up the next morning raring to go. We decided to just grab a quick breakfast at Zhiweiguan(again), and catch the bus to the Lingyin scenic area.
This time we went with the first floor area, which sells snacks and fast-food type dishes. At this time of the morning it was waaaaay more empty than usual.
The drill here, similar to many other places is...... first you go to the counter and buy script:
You then go to the various counters, place your order, pay with script, and get your food. If you have script remaining at the end of your meal, you return them to the counter and get a refund.
This is what we ended up with:
The Missus enjoyed the porridge (when doesn't She?), but the youtiao (fried dough) was on the greasy and soggy side.
The Xiao Long Bao were actually better here then in the more upscale restaurant on the third floor.
The bean curd skin stuffed with glutinous rice and broad beans was also pretty good.
Crisp on the exterior, perhaps it could have used a bit more flavor, but the glutinous rice sure was hearty and filling. This made for a fairly substantial breakfast for us.
After the meal, we caught the bus to the Lingyin Scenic Area.
Even as we walked up the trail to Lingyin Temple, a line of buses were already unloading tourists.
So instead of hitting the temple with the first wave of tourists, we took a detour, and decided to check out Fei Lai Feng (Peak Flown from Afar), also known as Nimble Vulture Peak (Ling Jiu Feng). This 700 foot peak was supposedly named by an Indian Monk named Hui Li. Hui Li noticed that this limestone peak was so different from everything around it, and also that it resembled the mountains in India. He theorized that the peak had flown to this spot from India... thus naming it "Peak Flown from Afar).
There are trails around the peak, with over 500 Buddha Statues carved from limestone, many dating back to the Song Dynasty (10th Century).
Even more fascinating for us, were the caves lining the base of the peak.
There are over 300 carvings in the wall of the caves..... which adds a sense of drama to the whole experience.
Within one of the main caves, named Shexu Cave, there is a spot where the sun shines through a crack at the top of the cave. I was told this is called "one thread of heaven" which makes quite an impact.
That's not to say that the trails up and down the peak aren't quite dramatic in their own way. Because it takes mild effort to walk up and down the peak, there are less tourists, and some very nice carvings.
Of course, it's not just the carvings that catches the Missus's eye......
So far on our visit to Hangzhou, we enjoyed Fei Lai Feng the most...... but right across the street was Lingyin Temple.
At then end of my last post on Hangzhou I mentioned that we were still a bit confused as to the exact location of the famous Xī Hú (West Lake) I was looking at a pagoda on Wushan Hill, when I heard a woman talking to the Missus. I was to find out later that the woman told the Missus that there's nothing really worth Her time on Wushan Hill. When the Missus asked the woman which direction to West Lake, the woman pointed up at this sign.....
Sigh..... can you say clueless tourists? Actually, this woman was really friendly, born and raised in Hangzhou, and told us to follow her; she'd show us to the bus stop that would take us around West Lake.
And even though there were times that the Missus could only understand every second or third word due to the woman's accent, She did learn quite a bit. The woman told the Missus that most of the young people working the restaurants in all the tourist areas are not from Hangzhou, and really don't care about anything except making money. This was a theme we heard everywhere, if someone was rude or provided terrible service, someone would say that "it is because they are not from here." The woman gave the Missus a few tips and pointed out the bus stop. The Missus was also told that there was a Silk Expo taking place, where everything was real silk, and prices were good. We caught the bus and arrived at the building right across from the famous Long Jing (Dragon Well) Tea Farm.
And did some shopping......
After doing some shopping, and buying a couple of gifts, we got back on the bus. The Missus pointed out a gentleman who had an entire Jinhua Ham lying on the console behind the driver......
The woman we had net told us to get off at the Qu Yuan Feng He ("lotus in the breeze at crooked courtyard") stop.
The woman was right, this turned out to be the part of West Lake we enjoyed the most.
Even though it was pretty hot and humid, this area felt fresh and cool. I'm sure some of it was due to the immense beauty.
Walking along the causeways things started getting a bit crowded, though there were still areas where folks had carved out an area to peacefully read and relax.
You started seeing tourist cruise boats taking people on tours of West Lake.
As we circled the North part of the lake, things started getting a bit more crowded.
The views were still quite beautiful, in spite of the crowds and noise.
There are tons of things to see, including one that got the attention of the Missus; the Tomb of Wu Song. Wu Song, is one of the great heroes of Classic Chinese Literature. According to the Missus, when She was young, all children knew the story of how Wu Song "killed the man eating tiger with his bare hands." Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classic Classic Novels of Chinese Literature tells the story of Wu Song.
By the time we got to the Eastern part of West Lake, I was bushed, sweaty, and had pretty much burned out on West Lake. Plus my left foot was starting to ache pretty good.
You could really tell that the Missus felt pretty tired as well since we started noticing the people more than the views. Like the guy at the right in this photo.....
We started counting the "crimes against Western fashion and mores" this guy was commiting. A short list:
1 - He was carrying his wife's/girlfriend's handbag.
2 - He was wearing capri pants!!!
3 - He was wearing a long sleeved dress shirt tucked into those capri pants.
4 - He had his shirt tucked in, but wasn't wearing a belt
5 - And last, he was wearing capri pants, but had dress socks on!!!
As you can tell, it was time to move on; we were hot, tired, and sticky..... and hungry.
The one restaurant we had heard about before setting foot in Hangzhou was Lou Wai Lou (楼外楼). When the Missus mentioned Lou Wai Lou to the woman earlier in the day, She recommended Zhiweiguan instead. She told us that this is where she brings guests who want to taste Hangzhou food. Zhiweiguan is a monstrous restaurant by Western standards at over 7,000 square feet, and four stories. The area outside the restaurant sells snacks and take-out food.
Like most of these multi-story restaurants, the first floor did snacks, fast-food, and cafeteria style service. It was just packed like crazy on this evening.
Wanting something less chaotic, we skipped the first floor, and went to the third floor. (The second floor did seafood, and the fourth floor holds the banquet rooms and bar). As we stepped up to the third floor, we realized that even though this place was less chaotic, it was just as packed! We won't complain about the service here, as the Servers and staff was literally running from table to table!
Though it was much cooler here, we could tell that the A/C was working full blast.
We were both bushed, and the heat and humidity had sapped our appetite. We just ordered a couple of items.
The Missus wanted ot taste the Nian Gao (rice cake) which She really loved.
The wrappers on the Xiao Long Bao were really thick and gummy.
I thought the filling was decent, but the Missus thought it to be too sweet. In fact, the Xiao Long Bao being served downstairs looked better.
The Missus enjoys a good Jiu Niang Tuan Yang (Fermented Rice with Sesame Balls 酒釀湯圓), and really enjoyed this version.
One of the most well known dishes of Hangzhou involves pork belly.... so you know that I was going to have Dongpo Rou! Named after famous Song Dynasty poet and artist Su Dongpo (Su Shi). According to the story, Su Dongpo had a visitor arrive, and decided to simmer some pork. Su Dongpo and his friend became engrossed in a game of chess. Suddenly realizing that he had left the pork simmering, Su Dongpo rushed to check on his pork. he was amazed when he saw that the pork had attained a beautiful color, and the juices created were wonderful. At least that's how the story goes......
This classic dish is pork belly (aka streaky pork) cooked in a combination of soy sauce, sugar, and Shaoxing (which is about 60 km from Hangzhou).
We decided to order two of these.
Man this was sweet.... like pork candy, much too sweet for me. It was also tougher and drier than I would have thought that braised pork belly would be. I wasn't really satisfied with this, I needed to have it again to see if this was really how Dongpo Rou should be........
We returned to our room exhausted, though I had Dongpo Rou on my mind as I drifted off to sleep......
We arrived at Xiaoshan International Airport with no real plan in mind. No hotel, no way from the airport, and against what we usually do, no maps. We were just going to wing it. The Missus found us a shuttle bus from the airport into Hangzhou, and while on the bus, the Missus spoke to the inevitable bus attendant, who also sold tours, and of course, had a large list of hotels. We were told of a decent low-mid range hotel, given her card, and told we would get a certain rate. Of course when we arrived at the front desk, the very, very, young woman, had no idea what we were talking about, and quoted us rates 30% more than what we were quoted. The Missus was now in Her element, this was a challenge, and of course She met the challenge head on...... and of course we got the rate we wanted.
The next mission; find West Lake. West Lake, Hangzhou's most famous, and popular tourist attraction shouldn't be hard to find, right? I mean the lake in the dead center of Hangzhou, so how hard would it be? Well, it ended up being more difficult than first thought. Starting at the hotel we were given a set of directions South. A couple of blocks down the street, we had an inkling that we weren;t headed in the right direction. So the Missus started asking around a bit. It appears that there's a bit of "tourist fatigue" in Hangzhou. After being ignored, and waved off, the Missus asked one of the women cleaning the streets....who had no clue! Finally, someone pointed us East. After a few more blocks, I had a feeling we were off track, and we started asking again. This time we were told to head West. When we came to a pedestrian street, head South, then West again on "Old Street". After a while, we finally found the pedestrian street in question.
The street looked new, and most of the shops were closed. There were several stops along the way that displayed excavation below the streets, and went into detail as to the different historic locations on the street.
Even though most of the shops were closed, the ones open were the shops selling the very popular Jinhua Ham.
This dry-cured ham has been produced in Jinhua, about a 2-3 hour drive from Hangzhou. The dry-cure process used for this ham was first documented around 713 A.D. In fact, in what amounts to a potentially volcanic, but humorous discussion, folks in China claim that along with pasta and tomatoes, Marco Polo brought the technique to salt, then dry-cure the legs of pigs back to Europe with him in the 13th Century! I'm staying away from that one......
Unfortunately, we ran out of time before tasting Jinhua Ham, but since you can get it everywhere in China, I'll not let another chance slip away.
A few blocks later, and we had arrived at Qinghefang Historical Cultural Street. Which seemed to me to be made up of tons of silk and souvenir shops. There was of course, the tourist entertainment thing going on. These folks were handing out fliers.....
Parallel to the pedestrian walkway is a street full of restaurants. Most of them seemed to have just about the same menu....Dong Po Rou and West Lake Fish.
I'm sure that the Muslim Chinese stand must be really good since the line went down the street.
But we just didn't feel like standing a long line.
So we opted for one of the many restaurants lining the street.
And here we had the first of many experiences with apathetic service. When you enter a restaurant that is manned by wholly by young people in China; chances are you'll receive little, if no service. Most times, the kids are not from the area, they are simply in that city to make money. With little incentive, and a pretty demanding audience, it's human nature to try to do the least amount possible for the most reward. I really don't blame them, but man what it took to get a simple pot of tea......
Even though the Missus and I were hungry, we didn't want anything too heavy. After spending the previous week and change in Beijing, QingDao, and Jinan, the combination of temperature (it really wasn't that hot) and humidity was getting to us. We decided on two seasonal vegetable dishes, we loved the wild mountain vegetable we ate in QingDao, so we looked forward to our dishes.
And so our dishes arrived. First the two vegetables.
Notice the difference between the two? Or perhaps no difference? Well, we couldn't taste the difference. And these were pretty dry as well. And when the Missus asked, we were assured that these were two different vegetables. I'm fairly sure however, that none of these two were "Crown Daisy", aka Shingiku, something that I'm familiar with....
The Missus also ordered the Stinky Tofu Hot Pot.
Oh my..... Oh my.... To me, this smelt like sewage. And placing a spoonful of this concoction in my mouth confirmed that it was. The Missus however, thought this was a wonderful savory ambrosia, and She wiped out the whole pot, along with our first bowl of rice on this trip. I've often mentioned that the Missus says: "If you can eat ChouDofu (smelly tofu) then it's no good." In this case She is 100% correct. Recently, during the course conversation with a good FOY (friend of yoso), the topic of Chou Dofu came up. This FOY, a frequent traveler to China, told me that she loves Chou Dofu, but her relatives in China won't let her eat it. The reason? Because, whether documented or not, or perhaps basing judgment on anecdotal data, she was told that restaurants and producers were using fecal matter to produce Chou Dofu. I could only nod in agreement...... I could understand where they "were coming from".....
For some strange, or perhaps not so strange reason, I left the restaurant not very hungry at all. And we made our way back down Hefang Street.
We had still not found West Lake.......
Still, undeterred, we kept headed West. As I looked up on what I was later to learn is Wushan Hill.
And told the Missus, "that's interesting, I wonder what that is?" I heard a voice talking to the Missus......