Saturday, February 25, 2012

Breakfast in Nanjing, Visiting Suzhou

Our hotel in Nanjing was pretty sweet. It felt and looked like it was a 4 star hotel by international standards, though it was probably a 5 star hotel under China’s rating system.

The breakfast at the hotel reflected it. Though there weren’t enough tables and seats to accommodate all of the tour groups eating breakfast at the same time, the food was pretty good. But some of the better breakfast choices, like the croissants, danishes, sesame balls, and youtiao, were the first things to be emptied and ignored by the hotel staff.



For my first plate, I went with the tasty-looking round noodles, a muffin (for the road), a white breakfast sausage, hash browns with ketchup, and bacon-looking protein.

Of all the different stir-fried noodle options during the various hotel breakfasts (in Guilin and Shanghai areas), these tasted the best. The noodles weren’t over cooked and the seasoning was just right. I have to say that my standards of the stir-fried noodles at hotel breakfasts had dropped during my time Asia, but I was glad to see that this particular version rose above the others. There were shreds of sauce-drenched eggs and slices of sweet onions to keep the noodles from being so monotonous.


Aunt IS’s first plate represented the Chinese breakfast options. Fried rice, stir-fried peas, some pickled veggies, steamed potato, youtiao and custard buns. The over-easy egg and slices of bread in the background were mine.


Second round:
I had the aforementioned over-easy eggs with bread and steamed buns filled with meat. Someone had mentioned that they were good, so I gave it a try.


Third round:
As you can see, I enjoyed the meat-filled steamed buns. The filling reminded me of a meatball with a sweet Chinese glaze – but in a steamed bun. Although I liked the buns, I didn’t eat these. No, no. I packed these up and stashed them in my bag for a later time.

The youtiao plate was empty. Aunt IS was one of the last people to get them (on her first plate).  After waiting a round, I flagged a hotel staff over and asked if there would be any more youtiao coming. He glanced over at the bare greasy platter and went into the kitchen. He brought back with a mountain of youtiao that happened to be cooling off. As he walked towards the platter, I noticed that everyone was eyeing the youtiao.

Mom said these were properly made. I totally agreed when I took my first bite. Although they weren’t hot, they were light and bready – perfect for dunking in sweet coffee. I shared these warm youtiao with the table.


As I was enjoying my third round of food, I noticed that someone had a bowl of noodle soup. I didn’t see the noodle station when I scouted out all the options. That’s when I saw people in the back of the dining area, standing in front of the kitchen counter. I wandered over and saw that there was a whole condiment bar right beside the egg station. How did I not see this when I was waiting for my over-easy eggs? Tunnel vision.

By the time I was standing in front of the noodle station, my stomach was reaching the limit I had set since the whole Taiwan thing. I asked for some wonton soup instead of noodle soup. Gasp!

These tiny wontons barely had any filling. Now, I’ve realized how much meat we eat in North America but could you really call these wontons if there’s no filling? The cilantro leaf was larger than the filling of one wonton. There was something comforting about slurping the slippery wonton skins down with the MSG-seasoned broth though. The soup had a weird package taste, but it tasted good to me. Is that bad? I'd rather have a naturally flavoured soup like a bowl of shio ramen any day though.

After a very enjoyable breakfast in the hotel, we were brought to see the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. As we sat inside the bridge’s museum, we were given a brief history lesson before we went up the sketchy elevator to the observatory deck.



The weather outside wasn’t as photogenic as I had hoped. The hazy weather wasn’t all that bad. A cool breeze kept the air relatively fresh. I didn’t mind the air in Nanjing. At least it wasn’t heavy with exhaust fumes like being in Taipei.

After everyone had a chance to take souvenir photos, we boarded the bus and found our lunch two hours away.








Lunch was similar to every lunch we’ve had during our two tours in China (the other being in Guilin). It was nice to see asian pears for dessert instead of watermelon.



Our tour group shuffled back onto the bus and we drove to Suzhou. I opened my last bottle of honey jasmine tea, which I had bought back in Shanghai. The driver dropped us off and we walked through the Hanshan (aka Cold Mountain) Temple. Just like every tourist attraction, the temple grounds were infested with pushy China tourists, as well as foreign tourists like us.


These were the steps on a really old stone bridge. The patterns of each step not only looked cool, but the grooves provided some grip.



Walking through the temple, I really enjoyed how detailed everything was. The stone-studded roads were beautiful. During the trip around Asia, I've realized that I’ve been drawn to nature grounding out architecture. I stared at the view in the above photo for a while before I settled on the framing. It was almost like I went back in time. Do you enjoy the photo as much as I do?



The designs were different than the traditional sculptures and roof pieces. Quite amazing.


We went from the Hanshan Temple to the old water village. Suzhou is known as China’s Venice. Our tour guide was smart. She had us do a boat tour before dinner instead of afterwards.

We were the only tour group to take a boat tour at that time. As we walked back to the bus after a ride down the canal, we had to fight through all the tour groups who were on their way to the small dock.













Our dinner consisted of a lion’s head meatball that tasted oddly spongy, crisp sweet and sour fish, and salty fried pork with mayo (perfect bar food, btw).

The amazing tour guide lady asked us if we wanted to watch a light show in the city. Sure, why not. She said that the light show was the only one of it’s kind in China. Oh really? We drove into a modern part of Suzhou. There were brightly lit buildings (which could’ve been casinos) and even a water fountain that reminded me of the Bellagio’s Fountains.



We got off the bus at an intersection. Our bus made a U-turn and then pulled over to drop us off. Scary stuff if you’re not used to it. By this time, I trusted our driver without a shred of doubt. As we followed our guide to see the light show, we walked under some pretty bridges. Small lights hung from under belly of the bridge, lighting the road through – perfect for some bokeh action. You'll see more bokeh photography later in this travel series.

The light show that she mentioned wasn’t the light show like the one in Hong Kong. It was actually a short movie projected onto the underside of a roof. This lady was good. We didn’t even have to wait long when we arrived at the spot. Not only that, but we were the only tour group there. Now that’s a great local guide!



During the show, my attention gravitated to a small CoCo stand. I began craving a milk tea. The bubble milk tea that I had in Taipei was rich and satisfying, so I bought one from the stand. I just pointed to the menu on the counter and nodded when the lady asked me a question.

Grinning ear to ear, I took my cup of bubble milk tea and joined back up with the group. I was ready to walk through the streets of Suzhou, but we ended up going back to the bus. It would’ve been nice if we could’ve walked around a bit more, but the guide told us that our stop wasn’t planned.


We went back to our hotel. I was still in a bokeh kind of mood after seeing how well the other pictures turned out. This is a picture of a random hotel when we were on the road.

The lady tour guide, who joined us at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum the previous day, bid us goodbye and got dropped off at a bus stop. Though she was only with us for about a day, our tour group grew to like her. Her energy and unique laugh was missed.


While waiting for our main tour guide to check us into the hotel, I tucked into my CoCo bubble milk tea – my deliciously rich, creamy and well-balanced bubble milk tea.

Our hotel room was stifling hot, despite having our windows open. The hotel said that their air conditioning system was turned off because it was the winter season in China. Aunt IS and I had trouble sleeping that night. It didn’t help that our non-smoking room had cigarette fumes seeping from the hotel’s air system. Not a great night at all.

Breakfast in Wuxi, Visiting Nanjing

Breakfast in Suzhou, Visiting Hangzhou

More links from the Tea in Asia 2011 trip:

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