Kashgar. It’s a city that will never cease to be intriguing, beautiful, and complicated, sitting close to China’s far west border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. I visited the city again at the end of last year and despite recent upheavals the city remains safe for travellers. Even solo female travellers like myself. Importantly, the rich human landscape of Kashgar survives unchanged – welcoming, friendly, and above all hospitable.
And the food? The food is as glorious as ever. Smoky lamb kebabs, great flat rounds of crisp nan bread, mounds of buttery rice polo, and browned pockets of samsas – Kashgar remains one of the best cities in China, if not the world, for street food.
Although English and Chinese are of limited use in Kashgar, within a day or so, I had learned the only two phrases a food-loving traveller needs:
rahkmet – thank you
tamak bake orshepto – that meal was delicious
These two used in combination with a lot of charades and pointing brought delighted smiles to these street food vendors.
Should you make it to Kashgar in the next little while (and as an ancient Silk road city it’s on many travellers’ lifelong lists) here’s a guide for eating street foods in Kashgar. Some I’ve written of before, many are new after my most recent visit, all delicious.
For up-to-date travel information on the region from a local expert I suggest reading Josh Summers’ excellent blog Far West China.
At least, those of you kind enough to still be reading this blog.
I wanted to let you know where I’ve been these last months. I’ve been writing a book.
Remember way back when I drove around China for half a year? In a camper van?
That was 2012.
“You should write a book about it,” said my writer friend Rebecca at the time. A book sounded like something I might be able to do, after blogging for three years. “Yeah,” I told her. “Maybe I will.”Continue reading “Dearest Readers…”
There’s a woman I’ve long admired in Shanghai – she speaks fluent Chinese and is a street food obsessive who knows all the best snacks and where to find them. Like me, she genuinely loves China – particularly its edible, delicious side.
Meet Jamie Barys, who, along with friend and business partner Kyle Long established Untour Shanghai, a hugely popular off-beat tour company. Their tours remain the best way to get to know Shanghai’s street foods, even for locals. “We wanted to show off the city’s best street food and hole-in-the-wall dumpling and noodle shops to visitors and expats who didn’t have the language skills or local food knowledge to find it themselves,” says Jamie. “So we started offering culinary tours of the breakfast stalls, night markets and everything in between.”
Fellow students at Peking University in 2005, Jamie and Kyle discovered a common interest in everything food-related, and cemented their friendship exploring Shanghai’s restaurants. In Jamie’s words, “Three years and about thirty thousand xiaolongbao later, we launched UnTour Shanghai.”
The season of Lesser Heat is about to enter the Season of Great Heat. The Plum Rains of June have offered no relief, even though they seem to have arrived twice this year and stayed twice as long. You sweat. You simmer. You would give anything to cool yourself with something soothing.
Make your way to Nanjing Dong Lu. Follow the tourists in matching t-shirts halfway to the Bund. Stop, on the corner of Jiangxi Zhong Lu.
Sitting inside Shooting Star Day & Night Foods（xīnghuǒ rìyè shípǐn 星火日夜食品) is a little store whose specialty is milk ice cream. It was established back in 1906 in Ha’erbin, of all places and has one of the most intriguing histories of any of Shanghai’s street foods.
Ha’erbin, in Heilongjiang Province, was once home to a large population of Russian Jews who left the city with a profound cultural and architectural legacy. Joseph Kaspe, a Russian jeweller with French citizenship, built the Hotel Moderne on Ha’erbin’s main street. It became the largest and most luxurious hotel in the city with its grand ballroom, cinema, dining rooms and suites.
As a sideline, Kaspe had a bakery café on the ground floor selling bread and milk ices.
Take twenty or so random strangers, one mystery location, and a chef with the freedom to cook outside of their regular kitchen, and hey presto – Shanghai Supper Club. Conceived by Shanghai local Camden Hauge, the Shanghai Supper Club has been a resounding success since the minute it opened back in 2013.
Camden observed Shanghai’s obsession with food first hand and knew it was ripe for a supper club concept. There was a rapidly evolving food scene with new chefs arriving from all over the world, and a food-loving population hungry for novel experiences.
With a menu and venue that changes every month, the real success of her venture has been in bringing together Shanghai’s food-lovers in one place, a situation ripe for new collaborations and exciting ideas.
I was lucky enough to have a seat at a Supper Club event last weekend, ending a week of near perfect weather – warm days edging into summer with cool nights.
Getting a visa to visit China is nothing short of a monumental pain in the bureaucracy. Many friends and readers have asked me if there is a way around it, so I investigated further. Believe it or not, there are perfectly legal ways to get into China without a visa. 1. Visa-Free Airport Transit
A foreign citizen who is transiting through China by air is exempted from a visa if he/she stays only inside the airport (without entering border control) for no more than 24 hours, and has a valid connecting ticket with confirmed seating on an international flight.
Qingming Festival, on April 5 this year, is a day when families pay respects to their ancestors by tending their graves. It’s also an important date on the annual calendar of Chinese teas because it marks the harvest of the first flush of early spring tea leaves. I’ve been lucky enough to catch two Qingming harvests of Dragon Well tea in Hangzhou, while there was still a winter chill in the early morning air followed by the growing warmth of the spring sunshine.
After picking was over for the day I sat and sipped tea in the cool air of the tea terraces There really is nothing quite like the chestnut aroma and clean grassy taste of freshly-roasted green tea – it makes all the worries of the world fall away.
Green teas are a perfect introduction to the family of Chinese teas because they are more lightly flavoured and easy to prepare, with a taste everyone enjoys. Here’s an easy guide for learning more about Chinese green teas.
Dragon Well tea leaves. The picker’s fingers are stained with tea oils.
I spent last week in New York, and as my friend Jules says, “Yeah, it sucks to be you.” I know.
Yet travel has never been optional for me. I feel most alive when I’m on the move. If an opportunity arises (this time, a business trip taken by my husband Matt) I feel almost obliged to take advantage of it. My feet are permanently itchy, and as a result I’m pretty much permanently in debt.
But how wonderful is New York! It snowed heavily most of the week and so I waited until the sun came out to take most of my shots. Matt and I took a long rambling walk from midtown to downtown, across the Brooklyn Bridge, all over Brooklyn and Williamsburg, and finally back across the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan. The day was sharp and clear and well below zero but what a stunning day!
Happy Lunar New Year! Here’s to the Year of the Sheep, and plenty of eating in good pastures for all of us.
I’ve been searching Shanghai recently for that elusive place, a night market full of atmosphere and great cooking smells, bursting with people. Shanghai has to have one of those, right?
There is the tourist-y one on Sipailou Lu near Yu Gardens. It has great hustle and bustle, but the vendors are jaded and routinely rip-off tourists of any denomination. Locals don’t go there at all.
I was looking for a local street food market, where people might go to hang out after work with friends. I followed several blind leads, and took late night jaunts with my family in tow to the campuses of various universities in Shanghai where I heard night markets existed, only to discover they were sad jumbles of a few stalls and a strip of indoor restaurants.
The crackdown on street food vendors in Shanghai has meant that impromptu, unauthorised gatherings of street food vendors are becoming a thing of the past. And, I wondered if the rising wealth in Shanghai meant people no longer wanted to eat outdoors, especially in winter.
It was with a sense of impending failure that I dragged my long-suffering husband, children and brother-in-law to the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park station to see if this, the last on my list, might be the one.
Guizhou is, for me, the most beautiful place in China. I’m very excited to be able to introduce this lovely part of the world to you in a series of videos created by British production company True North.
Guizhou’s unique Miao culture deserves to be better known, and True North agreed – together we filmed four five-minute documentaries in all, with more coming up soon on Miao food and Miao silver jewellery.
True North were commissioned to develop a Youtube channel devoted to the discovery of China. Already massively successful since their launch late last year, China Icons gives viewers a China that is very different to popular perception – a young, vibrant, quirky, and interesting China, featuring the everyday voices of Chinese people and expats.