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06/09/2013

Authentic Muslim Cuisine in Tianjin

There are few Muslim restaurants in north China's Tianjin Municipality, but there is one that is catching the attention of local gourmets.

Yu Quan restaurant is the brainchild of Chai Jinliang, one of a few Muslim cooking gurus in the in Tianjina, the famous travel city for China vacation deals. Located in an inconspicuous spot along a quiet avenue, the five-year old eatery is attracting a following simply by word of mouth.

The chef-owner himself is just as low key, and he is quick to credit all his skills to his mentors Wang Chuntong and Pu Denggui, two very famous Muslim chefs of the 1970s. While many of his fellow apprentices have fallen by the wayside, Chai has persevered.

Now with almost 40 years of experience under his belt, Chai is ready to make his mark.

His signature steamed flatfish or sole is an original masterpiece. The snow-white fillet is neatly cut into four chunks, with a gleaming light brown glaze and garnished with finely shredded curls of spring onions and gingers. A sizzling black bean sauce added at the last moment sharpens the sweet flesh.

The fish is chopstick tender and the silky texture makes it taste like cod.

Like all good dishes, there is an anecdote behind the stroke of genius. It should be tasted after tired popular China tours.

"A friend dropped by my restaurant, so to show my hospitality I decided to cook for him. I only had some live fish at hand, so I grabbed some and whipped up an impromptu dish. He liked it so much that I have added it to my menu."

But Chai is also aware that modern diners are more health conscious so he tinkered with the recipe to accommodate those who prefer a low fat, low sugar and low salt diet. He says his secret to making ordinary fish taste so good is simple. It's all about quality, and he lets the ingredients speak for themselves.

"A relative has a huge freezer, and that gives me an advantage when it comes to stocking up ingredients. If I find batches of premium supplies, I will import in volume."

There are other dishes that must be tried. One of them is the fried prawn balls, made with crystal prawns as large as a fist, accompanied by the emerald of cucumbers and orange of carrots.

"I take pains to prepare prawns and other seafood products properly," the chef notes. "On top of that, the frying pan must be cleaned carefully, because old oil residues will taint the taste."

By Chai's account, Muslim cuisine has its own expression and personality in different regions of China.

"My restaurant is dominated by 'white' dish."

If you look at the menu, the cleanliness of taste and look pops right up, like another "white" signature dish, the sauteed beef tripe and celery.

The normal pungency of the celery is carefully neutralized and instead of over powering the tripe, actually complements it. The secret, says Chai, is the use of white pepper.

He also drizzles garlic juice and sesame oil as finishing touches, but they are so subtle you can hardly tell.

He says to make the tripe tender, he pops it into a pressure cooker and times the cooking with precision so it is just tender but not overcooked.

To get an authentic Muslim culinary experience for best tours of China, you may also need to pluck up courage to try the beef heart, liver and kidney. With the chef at the helm, they may be an epicurean surprise.

To round off the meal, the chef recommends a hearty staple, shaomai, or steamed dumpling pinched into open blossoms.

These Muslim versions may be less dainty than those on Cantonese dimsum carts, but their robustness is exactly the attraction. They are generously filled with minced beef and shrimps to please the most carnivorous of diners.

At Yu Quan, chef Chai is particular about to the smallest details, like changing his cooking oils to suit the ingredients. Thus, seafood is cooked with chicken or duck fat, braised beef in soy sauce has wild pepper oil added and vegetables are prepared with a seasoned vegetable oil scented by deep-fried onions and ginger.


For more other food, you can check out travel China guide.

08:49 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

05/09/2013

Travel ideas in China

Ride along the Karakoram highway


When to go: October
Few people brave the Karakoram Highway even during China’s peak tourist season. The highway, which is the highest paved international road in the world, cuts through incredible scenery to link China with Pakistan. Surrounded by mountains and glaciers, the road is easily accessible from Kashgar and numerous companies now organise tours and trips to the area for Silk Road tours. Increasing numbers of visitors attempt to do it themselves too, hiring or buying motorbikes in Kashgar and heading out on the road. Whether with or without a guide, you should be prepared for regular and very thorough border checks along the route, with the confiscation of camera memory cards a regular complaint (the area is also a sensitive military zone).

If you are able to smuggle your memory card through however, the scenery is some of the most photogenic in the country, and – the road aside – the region is still largely untouched by manmade structures. The few signs of civilisation you do pass are small Tajik villages or collections of yurts. Despite the desolate nature of the landscape, many of the occupants are willing to give travelers a hot meal and space on the floor for a night, for a small fee. For more official accommodation, Tashkurgan, the last town on the road before the Pakistan border and home to the ruins of a 14th century stone fort, also hosts the comfortable Crown Inn with rooms from 450RMB/night.

Scale the heights of Xiling XueShan

When to go: November
A three-hour drive from the buzzing Sichuan city of Chengdu (most famous for China tour deals) is Huashuiwan, an oddly endearing mock Alpine village, complete with Shetland ponies and fake wooden churches. Although it’s increasingly busy at weekends, an off-peak visit can give you near-exclusive access to the string of picturesque hot spring resorts here. It’s also 40 minutes from Xiling Xueshan, famed as one of China’s best ski resorts.Xiling itself covers an area of 482.8 sqkm. Its peak, Daxuetang, is 5,364 metres above sea level and perennially capped with snow. It was also home to Tang dynasty poet Du Fu, who famously lived in seclusion on its slopes in a thatched house.

Echoes of Narnia are everywhere, with prehistoric forests, sheer precipices and, in the foothills, rare birds and other animals. Visibility on the peaks can be an issue – from the disembarkation point of the first cable car you wade through an ever shifting sea of cloud – but the range of sports make it worth waiting for a clear day; snowboarding, skiing, motor skiing, hot air ballooning, and gliding are all available here.

To trek the mountain only (no skiing), there’s a mind-boggling array of pricing plans depending on how much you want to walk. For a pedestrian car to the highest point and back, expect to pay an expensive 230 RMB (unit for Chinese currency) but the views justify the steep price. In November it’s also worth getting up early to catch the sunrise.

Experience winter Naadam in Hulunbuir

When to go: December
One of the largest and best-preserved grasslands in China, Hulunbuir in Inner Mongolia makes for a less-tourist-infested alternative to the region’s capital Hohhot. In the summer months, you can stay in yurts on the pristine green plateau and admire the sight of herdsmen at work in a landscape that’s almost empty apart from the osbos – shamanistic shrines where locals leave daily offerings including sheep skulls and tinned food. For exploring this remote part of China, try one of the tours from the China Culture Center, who also take you to a ‘Russian’ village on the border. All of which is great in the spring or autumn, but why visit Hulunbuir during December, when temperatures are regularly 15-20 degrees below freezing?

This is when Hulunbuir hosts a winter Naadam festival, with camel races, sledding and archery taking place in thick snow. Many of the festivities mirror those that take place during the better-known summer Naadam, but against a dramatic backdrop of snow-covered plains. The winter activities are being pushed by a local government keen on upping tourist numbers during the region’s notoriously inhospitable winter months and thus feel somewhat manufactured. But if you can brave the cold, there can be few more unique sights in China than seeing camels tearing across the snow for popular China tours.

 

09:17 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

04/09/2013

Seven days in Tibet

Due to tight travel restrictions, travellers don't have the luxury of time in Tibet which is the holy destination for China travel deals. For most people trips last days rather than weeks – so make the most of your stay by visiting these highlights.

 

Lhasa

 

Lhasa means 'Place of the Gods' and this city, the capital of Tibet, certainly feels as if it's in the heavens. Look up here and you're likely to see dramatic blue skies and the surrounding glacier-capped mountains.

 

Built into the side of a hill, the 110 metre-high, fortress-like Potala Palace is a towering presence at the centre of the city. From 1645 this was the main residence for generations of Dalai Lamas, until the current one fled to India in 1959. Inside you'll find detailed tapestries, intricate paintings, innumerable statues and golden tombs.

 

The real spiritual centre of Lhasa, however, is the 7th century Jokhang Temple, which houses Tibetan Buddhism's most sacred statue. Outside the entrance, pilgrims of all ages prostrate themselves. As they do, the coarse cloth used to protect their hands creates a sound like sandpaper roughing wood, and this rhythmic scratching combines beautifully with the soft chanting of the mantra 'Om mani padme hum'. Inside, prayer scarfs and wall paintings depicting Buddhist icons can be made out through the dim light provided by yak-butter candles. Tourists are not allowed to enter many of the chambers, including the one with the revered statue, but they can ascend to the gilded rooftop, where a panoramic view of old Lhasa awaits.

 

Almost as atmospheric as the temple itself is the Barkhor, the street looping around it, which is lined with stoves billowing out white clouds of juniper incense, and stalls selling bright prayer flags, coral jewellery and hand-held prayer wheels. Join the scrum of pilgrims who circumambulate the street in a strictly clockwise direction, in order to always keep Jokhang (one of famous attractions included in top 10 China tour packages) respectfully located to their right.

 

Around Tsetang

 

Located 100 miles southeast of Lhasa, Tsetang is said to be where a monkey and demoness gave birth to the Tibetan people. Despite its mythical importance, the city today leaves one without much of an impression. Use Tsetang as a sleep-stop before visiting more rousing attractions nearby, such as Samye, Tibet's first monastery. This three-tiered building features a Nepalese design on the top, Chinese styles on the middle level and Tibetan tastes at the bottom. Legend has it that, during its construction, the progress made by day would be destroyed at night by evil spirits. Eventually these spirits were trapped under a nearby hill, allowing the monastery to be completed by 779AD. A climb up said hill is worth the effort: at the top, prayer flags dance lithely around you, and you can gaze through this colourful array onto mighty mountains, Samye's sparkling rooftops and lush farmlands.Tibet's sights can begin to blend into one hazy blur of yak butter sculptures and wise-eyed statues. However, Yumbulakhang, the palace built for the first Tibetan king in the second century BC, stands out. This relatively humble castle seems to emerge from the top of a small mountain. Many of the statues and paintings here are secular, making for a somewhat refreshing change from the purely Buddhist iconography found elsewhere.

 

Around Gyantse

 

Dynamited in 1904 and in 1967 by the British and the Chinese, respectively, Gyantse has seen much hardship, but today the town is a picturesque collection of narrow alleyways. Ambling through them, nodding hello to old women milking cows, one can enjoy the ever-present backdrop of Gyantse Dzong, a striking, ash-coloured fortress in the mountains, which from a distanceesembles the hill city of Edoras from Lord of the Rings. Be sure to check out the Kumbum of Palcho Monastery here. Kumbum – meaning 100,000 images – is an apt name for this impressive building with a seemingly infinite number of chambers showcasing images of Buddha. It would take a whole day to go through all of the atmospheric rooms. Go straight to the top floor for a nice view and a chance to explore enough chambers to satisfy one's interest without becoming exhausted. To break up the six-hour drive between Lhasa (famous city in China included in popular China tour package) and Gyantse, it's worth making a diversion to see Yamdrok. As you scan your eyes over this expansive body of sapphire-blue water, set against rugged snow-capped mountains, it's easy to see why it's considered a holy lake.

 

Around Shigatse

 

After an overnight stop at Tibet's second largest city, Shigatse, whoseTashilhunpo Monastery feels all too ordinary compared with Jokhang, head on another 80 miles to the Sakya Monastery. During the Cultural Revolution, the majority of the religious structures here were reduced to picturesque ruins. Walking through this ghostly complex, the experience is made all the more haunting by the monotone drone emanating from a sacred conch shell that is blown by a monk in the main hall.

 

Essential info

 

All foreign visitors need a Tibet Travel Permit from a China-based travel agency registered with the Central Tourism Bureau of China. Flexible agencies will allow you to customise your journey. However, private groups must have at least five people of the same nationality and be accompanied by a licensed guide at all times. We went with Tibetan Connections (www.tibetanconnections.com). The seven-day trip cost 5,490 RMB per person, including bed, breakfast, transport inside Tibet, a local China tour guide and all entrance and permit fees

 

09:11 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)