Annie Bananie en Europe

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Chongqing, the Mountain City

Xiao mian of Chongqing was in the previous post about noodles so let’s talk about Chongqing. The final trip of 2019 happened in Chongqing, after a friend’s wedding took place in Chengdu in Sichuan province. Chongqing is one of four municipalities under direct government rule in China (the other three being Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin), which means that it is not part of any province (though it used to be a part of Sichuan). J and I had wanted to visit Chongqing for a while (well, it was mostly me), and because it was less than an hour and a half away from Chengdu by train, we had the perfect opportunity to visit. Chongqing is known as the “Mountain City” because it is built around hills and its elevation is constantly changing. As a result, there were a lot of stairs and layered views involved in this trip, as you will see.

It was quite cloudy during our two-day visit but thankfully it didn’t rain. The sky was gray and visibility was low, but you could see what I mean by varied elevation. Some buildings were established at ground level (by the Yangtze River, which traverses Chongqing) while others were constructed on hills. Walking around the city became a real workout at some point!

Another wide river that traverses Chongqing is the Jialing River, and this bridge was still under construction when we were there. Still gray all around…

City trips in recent years have become more relaxing as I’ve stop chasing landmarks and prefer slow, spontaneous explorations. J and I wandered around random streets without really knowing where we were going, turning corners here and there. This is a sign that says “Beautiful Zhongshan 4th Road” 🙂

There is a walking trail that runs through the hills along the Yangtze River known as the “Mountain City Alley”. Along the trail you could see some old houses and remains of the past. I especially like how it is hidden within a forested area, and people below in the streets can’t really see the trail above, making it almost like a secret tunnel.

There were some fantastic murals to be seen along the trail and here are some of my favourites. I think in the one with the dog and the chessboard, the front part of the chessboard was actually real and sticking out from the wall…which means that only half the chess set was present. Ooo and the cat’s eyes…they stare deep into my soul as if it knows everything about me…meow.

By the way, you know what Chongqing is most famous for? Spicy hot pot, of course!! The Chongqing locals love their hot pot and have a million ways of eating it, but it must be as spicy as you could imagine. We met up with a friend of J who works in Chongqing and went for hot pot one evening. Yes those are chili peppers in the red hot boiling water. The round part in the middle is the clear non-spicy soup, which was severely needed. It’s not that I can’t handle the spiciness, but I feel that immersing the food in chili peppers kind of ruins the original taste of the food (what a Cantonese thing to say). Thankfully there was the choice to alternate between the two. And yes there were veggies, they were on a cart beside the table 😛

You see how much Chongqing loves its spicy food? They even have a chili pepper statue as a mascot in one of the public squares! The information below the statue reads: “CAPSICA RedLight – A giant bronze red chili pepper sculpture, crafted by the famous Italian artist Giuseppe Carta, with height of 6.5 m and weight of 2.3 tons. The miniature sculptures of the ‘CAPSICA RedLight’ and of the ‘World’s Biggest Hotspot’ were firstly exhibited at the 2015 World Expo in Milan, Italy.”

Now we continued our city exploration and I wanted to find a cafe to sit down and write. Upon searching on the Internet, I found a place that was supposedly hidden in local residential complexes but offered a magnificent view of Chongqing. The instructions said that we had to climb steps to go up approximately nine storeys…what!!! I was ready for a workout but the serendipitous thing was that we by chance took the bus that dropped us off at the TOP of the steps, which meant that we missed out on the anticipated intense uphill walk…to my delight! Here’s the view looking down and you can bet that I was super thankful for my streak of luck!


And what we found was a chic little cafe where we spent some time chilling and relaxing. I ordered a matcha latte and J ordered an original one. Then I took out my journal to write while J napped a little 😉

Looking out to the left, I could see what my colleague told me about: if you were at the bottom of the hill, you’d think that you could see the top of a building, but from another angle, the “top” might be the ground floor of another building. And this is the norm in Chongqing. No wonder you’re called the Mountain City!

Ah, yes, this is the view from the cafe that I was talking about. Again it was SUPER cloudy so it was less impressive than it should have been. I surprised myself by not taking the cable car across the river. It was something that I had planned to do, but in the end we didn’t want to be too rushed. We certainly will come back to Chongqing some day – after all I have to come back to this very cafe to catch a night view of Chongqing, which is bound to be amazing.

Here we were at Chaotianmen (Chaotian Gate), which is the point at which the Yangtze and Jiangling rivers converge. Bad-angle selfie time!

This is a scene that is unimagineable in COVID-19 times but was anticipated for many as it was new year’s eve. There was some event that was happening here, but we were just passing by and we weren’t joining the crazy crowd. Definitely a good idea that we got out of there as fast as we could…

The next destination was Hongyadong (Hongya Cave), which sort of went viral as the tourist hotspot in Chongqing. I guess it’s clear why – it looked splendid at night! The area was supposedly a reconstruction of historical architecture that is now overly commercialized, like any other tourist destination. We didn’t go into the actual lit up area and preferred this view from the Qiansimen (Qiansi Gate) Bridge.

The Qiansimen Bridge crosses the Jialing River and this is the view of the other side, facing Hongyadong. Love the night views – it’s got some Shanghai vibe to it, doesn’t it?

The official we-are-spending-new-year’s-even-in-Chongqing-and-Hongyadong-is-behind-us selfie. I don’t get to travel as much anymore but trips like this remind me that I love travel, I love traveling with this man, and I love this man!!! ❤

Final look at Chongqing after we’ve crossed the Qiansimen Bridge. Hongyadong is now on the other side with the gleaming metropolis as its backdrop. Regrettably J and I were only able to spend two days in Chongqing and we barely scratched the surface of what this sophisticated city has to offer. There aren’t many places that I say I’d go back to after traveling there, but Chongqing is one of the few that I’d like to return to and explore more in-depth. Shouldn’t be too out-of-reach as it is right next to Hubei Province, but the limiting factor here is vacation days. Oh well, hope to see you again sometime, neighbour!

Chinese noodles at their places of origin

Last week, the noodle restaurant beside my apartment building in Wuhan finally resumed business! When I saw the open door I knew I had to get myself some hot dry noodles (I had written about it briefly before). What are hot dry noodles? You ask. It is a literal translation of “re gan mian” in Chinese and it’s only the most popular street food in Wuhan. If there is one food item that represents Wuhan, this would be it.

But this post is not only about hot dry noodles. There are in fact hundreds of types of noodle dishes in China, each region with their own specialty. I thought about which types of noodle I’ve tried and compiled a list of ones that I’ve had the privilege of having in their places of origin (with one exception). This means that (1) I’ve certainly had other noodle dishes, just not in the region/city where they originated, and (2) only one dish was selected for each region (Xi’an, for example, has tons of noodle dishes but only one is showcased here).

Re gan mian (hot dry noodles), Wuhan, Hubei Province, April 13, 2020.

You know I have to start with hot dry noodles. What’s an introduction without photos?! The first is the unmixed version that you get from the shop. Usually the noodles are blanched quickly in boiling water and topped with a variety of sauces, among which sesame sauce is the main feature. You then get to add whatever toppings you want and I usually only go for green onions, pickled green beans, and sour radish. The second photo is what you get when you mix everything together – and c’mon, you HAVE to mix everything together to eat hot dry noodles properly. It may look like a mess, and sometimes it is, but oh man it is a bite of heaven in my mouth. After three months of absence, welcome back, hot dry noodles!!

Xiao mian (small noodles), Chongqing, December 31, 2019.

Next up we’ve got what we literally call “small noodles” (xiao mian) in Chinese, and it is a specialty of Chongqing. Small noodles have the same status in Chongqing as do hot dry noodles in Wuhan. They are really just ordinary noodles immersed in a hot soup – both in terms of temperature and spiciness! This one may not LOOK very spicy but pay attention to the red soup base and you’d understand how much hot oil went into it. Delicious but painful for those who can’t stand spicy food!

Dan dan mian (dan dan noodles), Chengdu, Sichuan Province, February 6, 2018.

Another spicy one here, dan dan noodles of Chengdu, Sichuan. The province of Sichuan, of which Chongqing used to be a part, is famous for its flavourful and spicy palate. “Dan dan” doesn’t really translate to anything and the noodles are consisted of minced meat and a lot of hot sauce/oil. This was a small portion as a snack and thankfully it was a small portion because heck it was spicy!

Zha jiang mian (fried sauce noodles), Beijing, December 8, 2016.

We now go north to the capital of China, where zha jiang mian (fried sauce noodles) are quite popular among locals and tourists alike. I never really figured out why they’re called “fried sauce” noodles because I definitely don’t think the sauce (bean paste) is fried. And it may not seem like a lot of sauce from the photo but it is very thick and heavy, so this was actually enough to coat all of the noodles evenly for a great flavour.

Biang biang mian (biang biang noodles) with lamb, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, February 1, 2019.

The word “biang” doesn’t really exist in China and is a made-up character that you can’t even type on a computer. But that doesn’t stop biang biang noodles from being loved in Xi’an, where noodles are the main staple. The unique thing about biang biang noodles is how long and wide they are. The first photo doesn’t quite do them justice and that’s why I’m posting the second one for comparison – the noodles are almost as wide as a person’s mouth!

Hui mian (braised noodles) with lamb, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, March 25, 2020.

J and I had a chance to stop by Zhengzhou for a connecting train on my way back to Wuhan, so we seized the opportunity to try to famous lamb hui mian (braised noodles). This was at a restaurant that ONLY served lamb hui mian and side dishes, so you can’t even get other types of meat if you wanted to. There’s normal-quality lamb, superior-quality lamb, top-quality lamb…you get the point. We only got the normal-quality lamb but oh man it was tasty! Perfect balance of lean and fatty meat that falls apart in your mouth without chewing. And the lamb soup based was top-notch!

Yun tun mian (wonton noodles), Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, December 21, 2016.

I had to save this for the end because Guangzhou (or Canton) is my hometown and I love Cantonese food. Out of all the noodles on this list, I would think that westerners would be most familiar with this one – wonton noodles. “Yun tun” is the Mandarin pronunciation of “wonton”, which is actually the Cantonese pronunciation (though more like “wun tun”). Whenever I go back to Guangzhou I always make sure I get myself a bowl of wonton noodles at least once. My dad told me that back in the day, the original wontons only contained pork and a little bit of shrimp and are not too huge. Nowadays, most wontons are gigantic and contain mostly shrimp, and my dad complained of the authenticity and texture of modern wontons. I’m often heavily influenced by my dad, this time in particular because he is the true Cantonese local who grew up in the city. So I went and looked for the “original” wonton noodles with the pork-based fillings and luckily they still exist (wonton noodles at Wu Cai Ji restaurant shown in photo). I understand what my dad meant but you know, I don’t mind the shrimp in any case 😛

Gan chao niu he (dry-stir-fried rice noodles with beef), Toronto, Canada, August 8, 2011.

BONUS!!! I said there’d be an exception and this is it – dry-stir-fried rice noodles with beef. “Dry” has to be specified because there is a wet version – with sauce. Anyway, this is the exception of the post for two reasons: (1) It is the second Cantonese specialty and (2) I had this in Toronto, not the place where it originated. Again my dad seemed to be an expert on this dish, telling me that Cantonese chefs are evaluated on their basic kitchen skills based on this dish because it tests so many essential techniques in Cantonese cooking. Indeed it may look simple but the amount of work that goes into making the perfect stir-fried noodles takes years and years of training. And we love it!

So, do I have a favourite or a ranking for these goodies? I admit that I am completely biased and I will say that wonton noodles are my favourite, followed by stir-fried noodles with beef. Unsurprisingly hot dry noodles come third so I guess the conclusion is…the taste of home is the best???

Which noodles would you like to try? 😉

December 2019

(Written on December 31, 2019)

Good-bye 2019.

Time is continuous, so it is curious that humans artificially divide it into years, months, days, hours, seconds… Though, perhaps that is the only way we could live – in never-ending cycles of years rather than in a straight line. So then, a new year is a much a new “year” as it is a new “month” or a new “day”, an ephemeral moment in eternity. Only by establishing these time “points”, these “rites”, can we say that anything is “new”, see our lives in a relative point of view, and realize over and over again that all endings are also beginnings (we just don’t realize it at the time).

(The last part of the last line is a quote from “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” by Mitch Albom.)

Perhaps the final sunset for a while as we stepped into winter – and winter came fast. Though, compared to last year, winter has been quite mild so far, with temperatures hovering around 5-10 degrees Celsius and no snow (yet?) in Wuhan. Looks like we may be headed for a completely snowless winter… 😦

Perhaps because of the relatively mild weather, the Chinese roses outside my workplace haven’t wilted by December. Some of them were as large as my palm and were looking as lovely as ever!

No maple leafs around here with gradually changing colours, but this area around the HUST campus put me in a good mood because the red-orange trees were looking gorgeous. Bright colours are certainly welcome especially in constantly gray, misty, and smoogy skies X_X

One more nature photo – this one taken at a random park in Chengdu, which was a lot warmer than Wuhan when we visited in late December.

So the reason why J and I went to Chengdu in the first place was to attend his groomsman’s wedding! Congratulations to James and Hannah for tying the knot and giving us the perfect opportunity to revisit Chengdu. We also got to reunite with some old friends (Tingting and LS) and meet new ones, a lovely occasion indeed!

The day after the wedding, the bridal party treated some of the guests to an authentic Sichuanese skewers hot pot meal. This was my second time having it and I will honestly say that I prefer the classic hot pot without the skewers. The food was way too heavily marinated and I was not a fan so…this would probably be my last time. Still I had a good time with good company 😉

In Chengdu, I met with a former Glaswegian buddy and we had a brief but pleasant night of night-market-hopping – though I didn’t eat much as I was super full from lunch. We did grab these grilled cold noodles though (with spam and sausage fillings). I realized about 10 minutes after we parted ways that we didn’t take a photo together…SMH. So my memory of her from this her will be represented by grilled cold noodles – delicious, by the way!

After Chengdu, J and I dropped by Chongqing for a few days. Chongqing was a city that I had wanted to visit for a long time and I finally found the chance to go with J. It is known for its mountainous terrain that resulted in a lot of hills and steps. There was some interesting street art as well, like this one along the “Mountain City Alley”. Meow, I see you there.

Finally, we found a nice little cafe in a very secluded area in Chongqing to have a break in the afternoon. I ordered a regular latte while J got the matcha-flavoured one, and we sat there for a good two hours writing and resting. Ten years ago, when I travelled to a new city, I would hit all the tourist spots and take a million photos. Now, I would rather take some time to relax and reflect in the midst of travelling and just enjoy the moment. And all I need is a pen and a notebook. And a good cup of latte 😉

We’re well into 2020 already and the world has seen some sad and scary things, especially in China. Especially in Wuhan, where I live. More on the coronavirus situation in the next post…soon.

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