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Food in Nanjing China

Eight Famous Snacks of the Qinhuai River

As early as during the six dynasties, there were many pavilions and restaurants along the Qinhuai River and the Qingxi River; and in the Ming and Qing dynasties, they became even more flourishing. Now in the Confucius Temple area, there are restaurants, tea houses, pubs, and snack shops everywhere. Just in the central area of the Confucius Temple, more than 200 snacks are served.

There are eight snack restaurants at the Confucius Temple famous for their unique flavors which are called "unique of Qinhuai".

1st uniqueness: eggs boiled with five spices and tea leaves, spiced beans and Yuhua tea at Kuiguangge;

2nd uniqueness: sliced bean curd cooked with dry shrimp, and crab-shell-yellow baked cakes at Yongheyuan;

3rd uniqueness: bean curd slices with sesame oil, and baked duck-oil cakes at Qifangge;

4th uniqueness: jellied bean curd, and onion-and-oil cake at Lufengju;

5th uniqueness: steamed bun stuffed with assorted vegetables, and noodles with sliced chicken meat at Qifangge;

6th uniqueness: beef soup and baked dumpling stuffed with beef' at the Jiang family restaurant;

7th uniqueness: thin-wrapper dumplings, and noodles with fried fish in red soup at Zhanyuan wheaten food restaurant;

8th uniqueness: small stuffed rice balls with acanthus flowers and five-color rice balls and cakes at Lianhu sweet food restaurant.

The eight famous snacks are sixteen different wet and dry dishes. Deciding from the many variations of which goes with which is not as important and not nearly as exciting as digging into the small steaming bowls of warming soups or munching away on a few fried morsels. A full set of dishes can be found in nearly every sit-down establishment in and around the Qinhuai River area and is similar in feeling to dim sum as small dishes of no more than a few bites encircle you.

Eight Famous Snacks of the Qinhuai River

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Salted Duck

In a city built at the meeting of two great waterways, the Qinhuai and Yangtze Rivers, there is no doubt that the duck dishes of Nanjing would be a staple food loved all over China. As a former imperial seat, prepared duck was seen as a tribute food of Nanjing. With a history reaching back some l,400 years several different duck dishes can be found in Nanjing including the milky-broth of old duck soup, Jinling roasted duck similar to Peking duck, braised duck, a boneless preparation called pearl duck, cluck gizzards, duck blood in noodle soup and savory duck oil pancakes. The most famous is saltwater duck..

Unlike the name suggests saltwater duck is not a salty tasting meat but a brined duck that often has a sweet aroma from the sweet osmanthus blossoms that are used in the preparation. The duck can be found all-year round but is really spectacular in the autumn months when the sweet osmanthus blossoms are in full bloom. Sweet osmathus has an aroma similar to a sweet orange but very light and not overpowering. Osmanthus blossoms are used in other famous delicacies and teas in China and forest of this evergreen can be found all around Nanjing.

The special preparation of brining a whole duck or boiling in salted water with a selection of spices including Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon and possibly cherry depending of course on what master chef you can convince to tell you their secrets renders the special texture of the meat. Duck can be very greasy and fatty, one of the main reasons it tastes so good, but it can be difficult to balance the fat to lean ratio to get the best combination of flavor. The Nanjing preparation creates flavorful meat with a glistening layer of fat and a skin, arguably the best part of the duck that is tender yet chewy to round out the entire eating experience.

This preparation is so special in the eyes of the Nanjing people that palette loads of prepared ducks in vacuum sealed bags can be found in all tourist areas and fill the overhead compartments of planes leaving Nanjing. When you first see someone with his or her arms straining from bags full of ducks you giggle a bit, until you try it and start making room in your own suitcase for a few ducks. Even highly respected food science journals have published papers on lipid oxidation and other unique properties exuded when Nanjing chefs make their famous duck. It seems that there might even be magical properties to the fair of Nanjing.

  • Try it at:
    Plum Garden (梅苑), 2/F, Jinling Hotel (金陵饭店), No. 2 Hanzhong Road; +86 25 8472 2888; close to Xinjiekou (P26).
  • By Metro:
    Metro Line1/2 Xinjiekou (新街口) Station Exit 6. Turn right at Hanzhong Road, walk straight on and turn right at the first crossing, then walk straight to Jinling Hotel.
  • Tips:
    The layout and décor are exactly what you might expect of a classy Chinese restaurant.

Nanjing Salted Duck

Photo from Internet

Stinky Tofu

The first greets you long before you even know that you are hungry and is perhaps more popular as a solo dish, the brutally but honestly named stinky tofu. Legend has it that this fermented, then deep-fried snack was perpetrated by a nervous young wife whose overbearing mother-in-Law was impossible to please. The young wife could not do anything right in the eyes of her new houseguest and upon leaving a tray of fresh tofu outside over night she returned to see that it had started to turn. Not wanting to incur any more wrath, she prepared the fermented bean curd and surprisingly it was a success. Now the pungent aroma of the bite-sized snack can be found wafting down every lane and is the most popular snack with locals. The "stinky" connotation is more like the bouquet of a fancy French cheese but far less shy and takes a minute to overcome before you try the tofu. In all honesty it is really good and when served piping hot with a squirt of hot sauce over top it is a good cheap snack.

Stinky Tofu

Photo from Internet

Tangbao

These steamed dumplings are sublime. Under an extremely thin layer of dough hides a bomb of delectable broth and a ball of tender pork.

To eat these jiggly meat pockets, bite a small "window" on the skin, drink up the broth, dip the rest in vinegar, then munch.

  • Try it at:
    Yinshi Jishi Tangbao (尹氏鸡汁汤包), No. 398 Mochou Road, Baixia District; open daily 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; RMB 11 for eight pieces.

Tangbao

Photo from Internet

Shredded Dried-Tofu in Chicken Broth

They are boiled in chicken broth with half a dozen goodies, such as ham, bamboo shoots and unshelled shrimps. The soybean-based slices, which can be as thin as 1 millimeter, absorb an appetite-inducing meaty flavor from the broth.

All cultures have a version of chicken noodle soup and a flaky side dish with Nanjing having its own specialty. Mayoutang Gansi is a chicken broth with the addition of finely sliced dried sheets of tofu replacing the more common flour-based noodles. Great on its own but with a few Yayou Shaobing, a dense pastry filled with shredded radish and rolled in sesame seeds, the two cannot be beaten. The hearty combo can make a great meal at any time of the day.

  • Try it at:
    Nanjing Impressions, No. 2 Shiziqiao Gourmet Pedestrian Street (狮子桥美食街); +86 25 8330 5777; open daily 11:00-midnight
  • By Metro:
    Line 1 Xuanwumen Station (玄武门) Exit 1. Walk backward for about 10 meters, turn right into Zhongyang Road, walk a few meters, turn right at Hunan Road (first crossing), then turn left at the fifth crossing (Shiziqiao Pedestrian street ).

Shredded Dried Tofu in Chicken Broth

Photo from Internet

Tea Egg (Chaye Dan)

The first important combination is the pairing of Rain Flower Tea with a spiced egg and a handful of addicting and chewy beans. The spiced egg, Chaye Dan, can be found all over China. One of the great snack foods that is easy to carry. Fresh eggs are slowly steeped in a broth that includes tea and various spices for as long as twelve hours or more. The then hard boiled eggs have a deep flavor of spice that are great anytime of the day. The spiced beans were made popular by the scholars during the times of examinations and were not only eaten along the street but also at banquets. The official celebration banquet thrown in honor of achieving the rank of scholar served platefuls of the spiced beans earning them the name Zhuangyuan Dou or "number one scholar beans".

Tea Egg Chaye Dan

Photo from Internet

Lotus Root Stuffed with Rice

Lotus root stuffed with rice is starchy and sweet. The lotus root is very porous and sucks up all of the sticky syrup and sweet osmanthus flavor making this more akin to a dessert than a side dish and can be served hot or cold. The latter if you really must hold it for dessert. Also walking the line of sweet and savory is Guihuatang Yumiao, a thick porridge of soft taro and dates.

Lotus Root Stuffed with Rice

Photo from Internet

Meihua Zhenggao

The small Meihua Zhenggao is a local cake delicacy. This dense and dry cake is slightly sweet with bits of dried fruit. More like a scone or shortbread to Western tea aficionados it is perfect with a steaming cup.

Meihua Zhenggao

Photo from Internet

Tofu Jelly (Doufunao)

Doufunao, a fresh and soft preparation often served for breakfast but with the addition of a topping slightly spicy and oily. A small bowl of this is still good for breakfast and even better toward the end of the meal.

  • Try it at:
    Liufengju, No. 144 Gongyuan Street; +86 25 8662 1414; open daily 10:00-22:00; close to Jiangnan Imperial Examination Museum and Confucius Temple (Fuzi Miao).
  • On foot:
    From the center of the Fuziao Miao plaza, walk along West Gongyuan Street, turn right at the first crossing. In total 5 minutes'walking.

Tofu Jelly Doufunao

Photo from Internet

Pan-fried beef dumpling (Niurou Guotie)

Visual association is an important part of Chinese food especially in regard to wealth. The deep yellow color of Niurou Guotie, fried dumplings filled with minced beef, mimics both the color and the shape of the gold ingots from imperial China. The jumbo cousin of the popular Jiaozi is rich in flavor with the right saltiness that makes it go great with a glass of cold beer. Continuing the use of beef is the clear broth soup Niurou Fensi Tang that is equally full-flavored with thin slices of tender beef.

  • Try it at:
    Liji Halal Restaurant, No. 1 Dading Xiang, Pingshi Rd; +86 25 5225 7736; open daily 5:30-19:30; close to Gan's Grand Courtyard and Confucius Temple (Fuzi Miao).
  • By metro:
    Metro Line1 Zhangfu Garden (张府园) Station Exit 3. Walk straight along South Zhongshan Road, turn right at the first crossing, walk along Jianye Road, turn left at the second crossing, walk straight along Pingshi Rd, and turn right at the first crossing.

Pan fried beef dumpling Niurou Guotie

Photo from Internet

Huilu Gan

Huilu Gan is another tofu dish. Tofu in various forms is a popular Nanjing staple. Fried tofu cubes and a selection of local vegetables give this soup a delicate flavor accentuating the texture of the bean curd.

Huilu Gan

Photo from Internet

Steamed buns

Steamed buns, filled with anything you can chop finely and wrap in the light airy dough, are another common sight all over China. In Nanjing vegetables like spinach take preference and a bag of three to five of Shuijing Bao are a common breakfast or traveling companion.

Steamed buns

Photo from Internet

Shao Mai

Familiar to many is Shao Mai, a palm sized amount of meat or other ingredients wrapped up in a sheet of dough gathered up around the sides. Nanjing cuisine is far less heavy than others in China and relies on a combination of oils and aromas that these snacks employ giving great results.

  • Best at: Ma Xiang Xing (马祥兴);No. 32 North Yunnan Road; open daily 6:30-20:30; +86 25 8328 6387/6388; Metro Line 1 Xuanwumen Station (玄武门) Exit 1. Walk backward for about 10 meters, turn right into Zhongyang Road, continue walking, turn right at Hunan Road, and turn left at North Yunnan Road. Total walking distance: 800m.

Shao Mai

Photo from Internet

Yuhuashi Tangtuan

Rain Flower Stone Soup, Yuhuashi Tangtuan is the most visually appealing. These little dumplings earn their name from the famous rain flower pebbles that are a famous gift item representing Nanjing. Legend states that the pebbles were formed from flowers that rained down from heaven and these soft and sweet glutinous rice dumplings are culinary copies of quartz and agate smooth stones.

Yuhuashi Tangtuan

Photo from Internet

Sesame pancake

The crumbly pastry comes in two types. The oval one is savory, with minced pork and spring onion; the round ones are sweet with melt-in-your-mouth sugar. For both flavors, the local secret is to enclose a lump of duck fat in the dough before baking.

The white sesame topping brings in an aromatically sweet kick.

  • Try it at:
    Qifang Ge (奇芳阁), No. 12 West Gongyuan Street; +86 25 8662 3159; open daily 7:00.-20:00; close to Jiangnan Imperial Examination Museum and Confucius Temple (Fuzi Miao).
  • On foot:
    From the center of the Fuziao Miao plaza, walk along West Gongyuan Street for 3 minutes.

Dumplings in red-bean soup

This traditional dessert is rich but not overly sweet. The glutinous soup is made with sugared red bean paste and pearls of soft dumplings. Osmanthus honey is mixed in at the end.

It is a popular food in Nanjing and east China and carries the lucky meaning of 'family reunion'.

  • Try it at:
    Lianhu Rice Cake Shop (莲湖糕团店), No. 24 West Gongyuan Street; open daily 8:00-21:00; close to Jiangnan Imperial Examination Museum and Confucius Temple (Fuzi Miao).
  • On foot:
    From the center of the Fuziao Miao plaza, walk along West Gongyuan Street for 3 minutes.

Hairy crab

The 300,000 square-meter Gucheng Lake in Nanjing's southern suburbs breeds some of the tastiest hairy crabs in the nation.

Every autumn between mid-September and mid-October, Gucheng County throws a grand festival to celebrate the harvest season of the lake delicacies. The local way to enjoy these crustaceans is to steam them, crack the shells open, then dip the meat in vinegar.

  • Try it at:
    Gaochun Old Street (高淳老街); to go to Gaochun from Nanjing downtown, take a bus from Nanjing South Long-Distance Bus Station (next to Nanjing South Railway Station); journey takes about 90 minutes.

Pidu noodles

Get ready for an overwhelming gastronomic experience. Approximately 15 different ingredients, including pidu, mushroom, vegetable and oftentimes pig liver, smother a bowl of steamy noodles. One portion is enough for two adults.

Pidu is a star in Nanjing food. These curly golden strips are actually sliced pig skin, which is boiled, wind-dried then deep fried.

  • Try it at:
    Yiji Pidu Noodles (易记皮肚面), No. 103, Mingwa Lang, Baixia District; open daily 7:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; RMB 32 per bowl.

Duck Blood Soup

Spicy duck blood soup, Yaxue Tang, with bits of duck gizzards is great on a cool morning to get you going or late on a chilly night to warm you through. While many in the West would not normally cook with blood it is a very popular Chinese dish and once sampled will quickly become a favorite.

  • Try it at:
    Nanjing Impressions, No. 2 Shiziqiao Gourmet Pedestrian Street (狮子桥美食街); +86 25 8330 5777; open daily 11:00-midnight
  • By Metro:
    Line 1 Xuanwumen Station (玄武门) Exit 1. Walk backward for about 10 meters, turn right into Zhongyang Road, walk a few meters, turn right at Hunan Road (first crossing), then turn left at the fifth crossing (Shiziqiao Pedestrian street ).

Duck Blood Soup

Photo from Internet

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