Tag Archives: spicy

Guest post – I’m ready to move to China* – Part 3

21 Jan

*except for that whole “speaking Mandarin” thing

I am pleased to announce that I’m starting the year off with something new on the blog.  My good friend and cousin, Matt came to visit me mid-October and before he left I gave him the idea of doing a guest post.  This is the final segment of the three.  To read segments one and two with his observations, click here.

Greetings all for a third time! We’re rounding the bend for the final lap here, people. Can it be that I’ve finally run out of things to say? That can’t be true: this is the Internet, where people never run of things to say, no matter how stacked the empirical evidence is to the contrary.  Here now is my final set of observations from my visit to China:

  • Friday afternoon is a bad time to visit a popular museum. This should be obvious, but I still got to find out first-hand at the Shanghai Museum. Lots of foreign tourists and well as Chinese tourists. (Just count the group guides with their flags!) And everyone was taking pictures of everything. I know that’s hardly a revelation, but seriously, how many photos of ancient Chinese bronzeware (or celadon vases) does someone need to really capture the essence of the exhibit? Camera use ranged from smart phones to “professional photographer”-quality cameras. My 5-year-old Sony digital was somewhere in between. Yeah, I took pictures too, but few and far between.  …I’ll get off that high horse now.
  • The Saturday before I left became “Inadvertent Movie-Watching Day.” In the morning I went to the Shanghai History Museum, where I spent about 45 minutes watching a film in the entrance hall. And that wasn’t even the whole running time! This film primarily covered the life of turn-of-the-century gangster Du Yuesheng from his early days through the civil war between the Nationalists and Communists through World War II. But the movie inexplicably broke away to also tell the stories of two famous Chinese actresses (Zhou Xuan and Li Xianglan). I felt that movie (which had English subtitles!!) gave me a fantastic look at the history of Shanghai through the first half of the 20th century. I recommend watching it (I don’t know the title), but maybe not while standing in the Shanghai History Museum foyer for an hour.
  • “Inadvertent Movie-Watching Day” was more than one movie! That afternoon at the Postal Museum (My hostess has covered that too well for me to add anything) I found myself watching another movie. This time it was “Romance in Philately” playing on a small TV (with English subtitles) in the 1980’s timeline area. At first I thought it was a simply a short promo for the Chinese Post Office: after flirting with the cute postal carrier, the hero visits multiple friends who by sheer coincidence all have elaborate stamp collections! It’s as if stamps are the coolest things ever in this movie world. But then the movie plot actually deepened: the cute carrier called the hero’s bluff (he tried to pass off his borrowed friends’ stamps as his own collection) and he had to regroup to win her heart. I admit, had I not been at the museum with my friend, I would have stood there and watched that entire movie too. (We ended up watching about 15-20 minutes worth.)
Movie details

Movie details

  • Everybody knows that the Bund-side of the Huangpu River is the best place for panoramic photos, but Suzhou Creek is a hidden jewel that can hold its own, skyline-wise.

Reflections on Shanghai 2 Reflections on Shanghai 7

  • Greta tried explaining to me about the two degrees of spiciness in Chinese food: I’ll paraphrase them as “heat” and “numb.” I couldn’t wrap my head around “numb” until we went out for Sichuan-style food the day before I left for home. (She covered this on her post of her favorite Sichuan restaurant in November.  To see it, click here.) One entrée was some spicy ribs that ended up perfectly encapsulating the “numb” concept: there’s not really any heat-based pain, just a weird buzz on your lips, like you’ve been trying to play the trombone or some other brass instrument. I can’t think of any dish States-side that replicates that feeling, so chalk one up for new experiences in China!
Not during the run to the airport, but to give you a sense of the number of people around

Not during the run to the airport, but to give you a sense of the number of people around

  • I’m notoriously famous for my last minute rushing regarding travel. (In fact, I barely made my initial flight to Shanghai from Chicago! I had to carry-on my large “camping” backpack…) So the Monday morning of my departure I resolved to break the trend. Alas, Fate had other plans. What should have been an easy transfer from Line 9 to Line 2 (and then to the Maglev) became unworkable thanks to crowds for the Line 2 transfer at Century Ave. so dense they came up the stairs from the lower platform! Is that normal at 9:30am? Was there an accident or a delay in the service? I didn’t know and didn’t care to find out. Summoning all the accumulated subway skills of the past week, I transferred to Line 6 instead. I took that to Line 7, and Line 7 to Longyang Rd. and the Maglev. And once again I was hustling for my flight, but at least this time I made it in time to check my bag!
  • At the airport I had 58.5 RMB left in my pocket. So I bought a decorative table mat for 58 RMB from a store next to the security check entrance. No monetary exchange for THIS traveler!

Matt and Greta - Pudong Skyline 1

And that’s it! Thanks for reading all about my Chinese experiences. Thank you both for letting me visit you and Li, and for letting me repeatedly take control of your blog. And best of all, I succeeded in not mentioning my favorite football team, the Chicago Bears, anywhere in these blog posts! No, wait… Aw fiddlesticks!


Thank you Matt for your posts and fresh view of visiting Shanghai!  If there are any questions for Matt, feel free to leave them in the comments – either he or I will do our best to give you an answer.  Looking at the photos of the Bund and blue skies remind me why I like living in Shanghai so much.  Anyone else want to come visit?


My Shanghai – Xin Xiang Hui (Spicy Joint)

5 Nov

One of the restaurants that is at the top of my list is Xin Xiang Hui (辛香汇-English name – Spicy Joint, but not really ever used).  It serves Sichuan food that is a tongue-tingling luxury, but at prices that are very affordable.

They have branches all over the city, but my favorite is the one near the South Shanxi Rd subway station on Huahihai Road.  You can’t book a table, so everyone waits in line after entering your cellphone number into the machine at the door and receiving a ticket with your number.  We have waited over 90 minutes at peak times and there is always a line when you leave.

Anyone who comes through town who says that they like spicy food gets treated at this restaurant and my visitor earlier this month was no exception.  We treated him to an early lunch there on his last full day in town and ordered all of our favorite dishes.

They give you an entire pack of Kleenex with your chopsticks.  Given the spiciness of the food - it gets used up quickly.

They give you an entire pack of Kleenex with your chopsticks. Given the spiciness of the food – it gets used up quickly.

The star of the show is the Shui Zhu Yu (水煮鱼) – which is catfish cooked in spicy oil along with cucumbers, sprouts and sheets of tofu.  The fish comes to the table in a huge bowl and is completely covered by red Sichuan chilis until they help you skim them off the surface.  The fish melts in your mouth and the two different types of Sichuan heat – la (辣-spice) and ma (麻-numbness) create a tingling along your lips.  It is addicting.

Matt showing off the fish (and snails) - he agreed that it was the best catfish he's ever had

Matt showing off the fish (and snails) – he agreed that it was the best catfish he’s ever had

For my friend’s visit we also ordered the snails – which are a dry stir fry, ribs – which are rubbed in chilis and then a couple not so spicy dishes – pork with millet, some vegetables, slightly spicy peanut noodles and then fried buns dipped in sugar syrup.  We ate well.

Our table - with all of the different dishes ready to be devoured.

Our table – with all of the different dishes ready to be devoured.

Another great thing is that Xin Xiang Hui also delivers.  There has been many a weekend where we just didn’t feel like cooking and in about 45 minutes a piping hot fish and any other dish off their menu appears magically at the door.  Sometimes we joke that anything can be delivered to your door in Shanghai and the fish is a great example.

If you like spicy food and are passing through Shanghai, make sure to give Xin Xiang Hui a try.  It’s a local treasure.

Thanks to Matt for a great visit and for the photos for this post.  It was great to have you in town!

Where do you take visitors to eat when they visit you?

Lamb scorpions (羊蝎子)

8 Jan

During Shanghai’s winter – spicy food becomes a necessity. There is an expression in Chinese “CHI RE 吃热” which literally means to “eat yourself hot.”  Think of how a spicy bowl of chili warms you up, or how that super hot sauce will cause sweat to drip off your forehead.

We both like to eat spicy food and so it is common that we will meet friends at Sichuan restaurants which specialize in all types of spicy food.  Per a recommendation from my Chinese teacher we recently went with two other friends to a new place called Ho Wei, a local chain – always packed – with overall great food.

The winter specialty of the house is a dish that literally translates to Lamb Scorpions. There was a lot of teasing going on at the table while I asked what we really were eating.  The dish is actually lamb backbones – kind of like eating ribs – with the large vertebrae in the middle and lamb on the outside.  The dish came to the table bubbling with chili peppers, turnips and potatoes and green onions on top.  We ordered the “large pot” and did not have leftovers.

In addition to the lamb backbone, we had several other dishes, the other one shown here are small steamed buns which are hollow if you turn them over.  In the hollow you then scoop a spicy mix of pork with chili peppers so the bun cuts the spice.  With the dinner we also drank plum juice which is a palate cleanser against the fatty, oily, warm dishes.

I would definitely go back to this restaurant and can’t wait to have some more spicy food in the coming months – if this is the type of “scorpion” they mean – bring it on!

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