Unparalleled pot-stewed foods in Huai’an

Although intake of too much nitrite is unhealthy, moderate quantity of pot-stewed foods are enjoyable, especially in Huai’an.

People in Huai’an do have a talent in making pot-stewed foods. Soybean paste made by my grandma is unbelievably better than those sold in supermarkets, various self-made pickled vegetables (lettuce, cucumber, radish, etc.) in my hometown are also very delicious, not inferior in any respect than products of those famous pickle factories.

Even pickled mustard tubers sold in food markets in Huai’an are far better than those in Nanjing.

If you prefer stewed meat than vegetables, then Huai’an can just suit your taste better. Whether people admit it or not, “Spicy Goose” (麻辣鹅) has become a local specialty which can be found everywhere in Huai’an.

This kind of deeply loved stewed meat is said to come from a city of Sichuan province called Luzhou, and people who sold it in Huai’an often speak with foreign accent, but Huai’an turns to be its best haven. And it’s weird that you cannot find it even in Nanjing, the nearest big city; thus, Huai’an people living in Nanjing have to come back to eat spicy goose.

Speaking of Nanjing, the city is famous for roast duck and boiled salted duck, but the former is comparatively sweet, making it not a typical pot-stewed food, and the latter is so hard to make that only several shops provide high-quality boiled salted ducks. Most salted ducks you can find in Nanjing either have a fishy smell or taste not good. Spicy goose faces a similar situation but you have a bigger chance to get a qualified one in Huai’an.

The different tastes of a same product category in Nanjing and Huai’an are more persuasive – stewed chicken feet. I bought some stewed chicken feet from an inconspicuous shop in Huai’an recently, and I was stunned by its taste. It’s just as good as the best packaged stewed chicken feet produced by big enterprises, and is much better than any self-made ones in Nanjing.

Excellence of pot-stewed foods in Huai’an can be attributed to the heavy taste and culinary legacy of Huai’an people – inherited via Huaiyang dishes. Such taste and gift make Huai’an a haven of pot-stewed foods – local people become good at making them and masters from other places also gather here.

Impression of places to eat in Huai’an

Compared to bigger cities like Nanjing and Suzhou, foods in Huai’an is much less diversified, but still some local and exotic restaurants are worth trying.

When I came back to Huai’an after about four years, I was very eager to go back to some eateries I favored. But unfortunately, some are nowhere to find now.

Slided Noodles in Huai'an City

One of my favorites is a sliced noodles restaurant opened by a family from Shaanxi province, which was named “Shaanxi Sliced Noodles Restaurant”. Providing sliced noodles at prices of only 6 to 8 yuan, the eatery enjoyed full house every night.

Its classical dishes are sliced noodle with minced meat and sliced noodle with beef.

The location of the noodles restaurant is now occupied by a hospital, and as the name of this restaurant cannot be found on the electronic map, it has surely disappeared.

Good news is my another favorite noodles restaurant in Huai’an is still there, and is now even bigger and better – Changchun Noodles Restaurant.

This noodles restaurant is a typical one offering Huai’an local noodles, which is fantastic but nowhere else to find – strange but true.

I’m a fan of various noodles, and I know a lot of great noodles restaurants in Nanjing, but not one providing such noodles cooked in Huai’an way, which is not a bit inferior to the other kinds of noodles.

Anyhow, when I went back to Changchun Noodles Restaurant recently, its original staff was basically still there, and the decoration is now much better, prices basically unchanged, and is still full of people.

This time when I came back to Huai’an, I tried more bigger restaurants – ones that provides dishes other than snacks like noodles, but the results are not very satisfactory so far.

One example is Bensu Suancaiyu Restaurant, “Suancaiyu” literally means “Fish with pickled cabbage”, a popular dish of Sichuan cuisine. Instead of offering cheaper black carp, this popular restaurant provides snakehead fish, but I don’t think they make it better than black carp ones in Nanjing; however, their dish is to my wife’s appetite, she said it’s the best Suancaiyu she ever ate.

Another example is a Xiebao restaurant – a chain “crab in casserole” restaurant in Huai’an. Their specialty crab in casserole sounds very tasteful, but proves to be just a gimmick. The crabs in a casserole are just spicier than steamed crabs – the traditional way of cooking crabs, but are much less delicious. However, my friend didn’t agree with me, he said that’s because I missed the first step – fried crabs, which are better than crabs in a casserole. So maybe I need to try the restaurant some other time again to make a more faithful judgment.

The third example is a seem-to-be-popular fish restaurant at Hongze county. Hongze county is famous for its fishes, as the county is beside Hongze Lake – one of the biggest fresh water lakes in China.

This “WS” restaurant is located in a popular food area besides Hongze aquatic product wholesale market, and the reason we went there was that it ranked the 2nd among all restaurants at Hongze in November, according to a popular map app – that makes it the 1st among all the fish restaurants, and we’d like to have some Live Fish with Fried Dumplings, which is its specialty.

But later I found this specialty was worse than what we ate years ago, they were obviously over fried and contained too much oil. And its fishes are not even better than those we cook at home.

In spite of the above more or less disappointing restaurants, an unknow restaurant downstairs of my home is ironically good, although it’s often empty due to solitary location. However, it has been open for nearly ten years. Given its dull business, it’s impossible to sustain such a restaurant in any big cities, but it absolutely happens in Huai’an, a city with lower housing price.

Huai’an has a lot of restaurants, I believe there are more fantastic ones to be found, but just as indicated above, some popular ones don’t have to be good, people may just go there for some gimmick. And I’ll update places to eat in Huai’an by writing more articles here.

Nanjing-Huai’an Intercity Railway to be constructed: less than 1 hour’s nobreak ride

There isn’t any nobreak railway between Nanjing and Huai’an right now, but an intercity railway is being planned and designed, and hopefully its construction will start in 2018.

This railway will be about 200 kilometers long and the designed speed is 350 kilometers per hour, which means only less than an hour will be needed from Nanjing to Huai’an.

Nanjing-Huai’an (Ninghuai) Intercity Railway will be between Nanjing North Station and Huai’an East Station and go by 11 stations including those in Nanjing City, Luhe District of Nanjing, Tianchang City of Anhui province, Jinhu county, Hongze District of Huai’an and Huai’an City.

Nanjing-Huai’an Intercity Railway will also be seamlessly connected with Lianhuaiyangzhen Railway, a high-speed rail which is under construction and is expected to be completed in 2019, connecting Lianyungang, Huai’an, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang.

After completion of Ninghuai Highspeed Railway, Huai’an will be a part of Nanjing’s “one hour metropolitan area”, and more railways will also be constructed to make sure that major cities in Jiangsu province are all about 2 hours away from each other.

Huai’an: a city with more human touch than big cities

After years of living in Nanjing, I get very surprised and even unadaptable to some actions of Huai’an people.

For example, when I went to a toilet in Wanda Plaza yesterday, I was very embarrassed to see an elder female cleaner in it. She smiled very friendly at me, asking me to go upstairs or downstairs for another washroom as she was doing the cleaning, and then she even patted on my back.

I was used to see indifferent cleaners in big cities, who just follow their procedures – putting a warning sign outside the washroom when they are cleaning, and asking if there is anyone in the washroom before they enter. They wouldn’t say an extra word to you, not to mention smiling at you or patting your back.

But if you know one or two grannies from the countryside of Huai’an, you wouldn’t be too surprised at the elder cleaner’s doings. That’s who they are and what they do every day. They are plain and simple.

However, sometimes such plainness and simpleness could cause discomforts. My wife and I went to a pork shop this afternoon to buy some sausages. When talking about what ingredients to add, the boss and his wife said they offer “chicken powder”, which is widely known as unhealthy, so I asked if aginomoto could be added instead and I said I could buy it as they didn’t have aginomoto, but the boss and his wife refused me toughly at first, as if the sausages would be their own foods. This certainly surprised me because I certainly have the right to customize my product.

Later the boss’s wife realized that we were a bit obstinate and she went to a variety shop to buy a bag of aginomoto. But when the boss was putting various ingredients to our pork, he also acted inflexible to our preferences – I really don’t have high hopes in this year’s sausages.

In contrast, when we bought sausages in Nanjing, the boss behaved so professional that we had nothing to oppose or complain, and I believe even we did, he would either persuade us in a polite way or be very flexible to any reasonable requirements.

In general, Huai’an people is undoubtedly more “human” compared to people in metropolis, but they lack professionalism and business sense.

Huai’an shopkeepers, doorkeepers and servers are basically much more willing to talk to you than those in Nanijng, maybe because they don’t have to worry if I’m a outlander and they can speak Huai’an dialect freely and communicate in a Huai’an way – but don’t worry if you are a foreigner, Chinese people are always very warm to foreigners.

Another reason is that they almost all grew up in the countryside and most of them didn’t go through the baptism of living in big cities, so they are not shrewd enough but are honest and easy-going.

Tips about Huai’an Airport

Huai’an Airport, or Huai’an Lianshui Airport, is nearly 40 kilometers away from the urban area of Huai’an city – 40 minute to 1 hour’s drive, and is located at Lianshui county of Huai’an (淮安市涟水县空港路1号).

Map of Huai'an Airport

Opened in 2010, Huai’an Airport now operates flights to about 20 cities – mostly in China (including Taipei) – except route to Osaka Japan recently opened. See flight details on the official website of the airport: http://www.ha-airport.com/flightinfo.asp (in Chinese), and its service hotline is 0517-81666666.

Some people has been complaining that the airport is a bit too far from Huai’an city, and it’s true that the airport has few supporting facilities. For example, there is no hotel or restaurant around the aloof airport – except a small hotel nearby and an expensive restaurant in it.

Besides, you need to pay attention to your mobile phone to know any updates on your flights, because you would probably only get a short message when your flight is canceled, and since no airline has set up a service desk in the airport, you would have to call your airline to cancel or change your tickets.

Airport bus timetable

(after October 30 2016)

Buy tickets from Huai’an Wanda Realm Hotel (嘉华酒店) Buy tickets from Wanda Plaza (万达) Date Flights
6:10 6:30 1、3、5、7 Xi’an 1、3、5、7
7:40 8:00 Daily Harbin、Changchun 2、4、6;Tianjin 1、3、5、7
8:20 8:30 Daily Beijing、Haikou 1、3、5;Osaka 1
10:50 11:00 Daily Pudong Shanghai、Xiamen、Haikou 7;Taipei、Guangzhou
12:20 12:30 Daily Shenzhen、Chongqing 2、4、6;Kunming 1、3、5、7
14:20 14:30 Daily Wenzhou 1、3、4、6;Shenyang, Dalian 1、3、5、7
19:40 20:00 1、3、4、6 Shijiazhuang 1、3、4、6
21:40 22:00 1、3、5、7 Hangzhou 1、3、5、7

Source: official website of Huai’an Lianshui Airport

Meeting with USA teachers in Huai’an

About six years ago, I came across two American girls on my way back to Huai’an from Mount Tai. They were lost and didn’t know how to get back, and I became their guide back home.

When we finally get off our taxi, it had been late at night. But we got touch again several days later, when I invited them to dinner, together with two of my colleagues.

They told us that they are sisters and had just graduated from universities, they came to China to see the world outside and make money to repay their education loans.

They said it was very easy for them to get a teaching job in Huai’an, as the test paper for them was questions like “Who is the president of USA?” And the answer was and still is Obama, who will not be very soon. How time flies!

We kept in touch and weeks later, I asked if they were interested in visiting the countryside of China, and they said yes. So we went to my hometown, as well as urban area of Hongze county.

The reason I invited them to my hometown is that even though countryside in Huai’an may not be as developed and vast as in USA, it’s beautiful in my eyes. But they didn’t seem to think so.

So after a short discussion on some political issues with my grandpa and a night’s stay there, we went to the downtown of Hongze county, where some local people were really curious about foreigners. People kept asking me questions about them on the bus to Hongze, and after we got off, two tricycle drivers said “hello” to them grinning cheekily. All these made me very embarrassing.

I invited them to my third grandfather’s home for lunch, because that’s the only close relative I got at Hongze city, and I thought it was decent to do so and it should be very impression experience for both sides. And my relatives were very hospitable by offering a big meal.

But the eating seemed to be a bit awkward even though everyone seems to be very happy. Maybe it was because I wasn’t a competent cultural bridge/interpreter, or it was a bit imprudent for me to bring them to a relative’s family without knowing whether it was what both sides exactly wanted.

Later when the elder sister’s boyfriend came to Huai’an, the sisters invited me to dinner, and I was so surprised that her boyfriend was a forest fireman, and he answered me some questions about putting out fires in a forest.

Months later, I happened to open my e-mail box and saw an invitation from one of the sister, it said that I could go to their Thanksgiving party if I wanted, and I would need to bring some food if I was to come.

It’s unbelievable to ask a guest to bring foods in China, but I went to the party with some frozen stuffed dumpling and snacks, which were not really used later because they had got enough foods.

The party was filled with foreign teachers from all over the world and Chinese students from the Huai’an college where they taught. I had my own foreign teachers at university and I also joined some gatherings with the teachers and my classmates. But for such a party, it might be my first time, and the atmosphere was very different.

People just tried to make conversation, and some of them seemed very open. For example, a female Chinese student sat on the lap of an old Australian teacher all the time, but the latter refused to admit that she was a girlfriend. While other Chinese were overly positive in communicating with the teachers, I was at a loss and left early.

We basically lost contact after that, and I assumed they went back to America soon.

I was deeply impressed that the sisters were very keen at reading novels, they brought English novels everywhere they went, and would read them once they got a free moment. I told them half-jokingly that some people would call others reading too much as a nerd/egghead in China – I was actually criticizing those who say so, but they didn’t smile or say a word, so I guess that was not a good joke and they might felt offended.

Anyhow, they were very nice people, and we just didn’t have many common topics as I assumed.

Huai’an: a city eager for a real hill

Located in a floodplain of the ancient Huai River, Huai’an has no real mountain or hill, except some hills at Xuyi county.

When I was little, I was so eager to see what a real mountain or hill looks like, later I saw it on a bus near Nanjing, and I was told that there were wolves in the hills, but that’s certainly not true.

China do have countless mountains and hills, the nearest metropolis – Nanjing has a lot. But for Huai’an people, it’s a rarity.

People in Huai’an city are so eager for hills that they’ve built several rockeries in the urban area. The most famous one is Bochi Hill, or translated as “Bochi Mountain”.

Mount Bochi in Huai'an

Located in the downtown of Huai’an city, Bochi Hill (钵池山) is a large park with an artificial hill. It’s often jokingly called “Idiot Hill”, because the pronunciation of its real name – “Bochi” is almost the same as “Idiot” in Huai’an dialect. But disappointedly, this biggest “hill” in Huai’an city is more like a red rock and is unclimbable.

You can also find some rockeries in another park – Taohuawu Park (Peach Blossom Dock), which are not tall but climbable and can meet your needs of rock climbing a bit.

My friend just sent a message that a hike is to be organized several days later, and the route is across almost all the parks in the urban areas of Huai’an city, which are connected by streets of course. If Huai’an had any big hill or mountain, such activity would surely don’t have to go across the streets.

Huai’an Municipal Library not open 1.5 years after completion

Huai’an Municipal Library, a large building as a part of the new government architectural complex in the “Ecological New City” (生态新城), was completed and finished internal decoration in April 2015, more than a year and half before now, according to online report of the local official news website.

Huai'an Library

However, eager readers in Huai’an haven’t even set their feet in it – it hasn’t been opened so far and there is no sign of it.

The earliest news about its opening was also in April 2015, saying that the library would hopefully be open by the end of 2015. But it wasn’t.

And then the authority said it would be open in July 2016 during an online session with netizens this April, but later the word was broken again.

It was rumored in October that the library will finally be open in December, but there is no official news about it.

When I went to the library in October, the building was brightly-lit with staff working in it, but a doorkeeper stopped me, saying that the library wasn’t open to the outside.

Huai’an has an old library located in the old town, a two-storey building donated by a Huai’anese Taiwan person named Li Chongnian. Books in this small library are old and few, the collection size is almost as small as that of Hongze county.

It’s weird that the new library of Huai’an is not open 1.5 years after its completion, the biggest possible reason is that it’s not given enough attention by relative leader/department. It seems that the building was built just as an image project, more or less.

Profile of Huai’an

Huai’an is a prefecture-level city in Jiangsu province of China, more accurately in Northern Jiangsu (苏北), of which the economy is known poorer than Southern Jiangsu (苏南).

Huai'an Introduction

As a result, many people from Huai’an have more connections with bigger Jiangsu cities like Nanjing and Suzhou than their hometown city.

As for me, I only came to Huai’an City for once before my graduation from university. And before that, I never regarded myself a Huaianese, I’d like to call myself a Hongze person – a county under Huai’an (now upgraded to a district, but is much farther from downtown than other districts).

Talking about Huai’an, people would say Huai’an is famous for its featured dishes – Huaiyang Dishes, which is said to be one of the five most influential styles of cooking in China.

Huaiyang dishes are of course also famous in Huai’an, but just like other places in China, other dishes also take a place here, especially Sichuan Dishes, and I like the latter much better. Compared to the light and slightly sweet taste of Huaiyang Dishes, heavy and acrid taste of Sichuan Dishes seem to fit local people better.

Huai’an doesn’t have many foreigners living here, and it’s only a tier-3 or even tier-4 city in China. Most foreigners in Huai’an either teach here or are employees of some foreign-invested plants or companies.

Despite of the current situation, Huai’an does have a much brighter future, as five high-speed rails are reported to join in Huai’an in several years, making the city a transportation hub. And the most talked-about one is the rail connecting Huai’an and Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu. The latter is only about 200 kilometers south of Huai’an, but there is even no railway between them.

One major reason why Huai’an is becoming a traffic hub is that the provincial government has positioned Huai’an as an “important center of Northern Jiangsu”.

Besides, since the nation has just approved Jiangbei (North of Yangtze River) of Nanjing as a state-level new zone, which is nearer to Huai’an and will be connected to Huai’an via high-speed railway by 2019, Huai’an seems more promising.

With such prospect, Huai’an has been speeding up its urban construction in recent years, and I have to say the changes are huge. Even in my hometown county Hongze, the city’s appearance is much better – it does look like a small city now.