The Great Noodle Tour: Peking Duck at Wei Jing Ge

The last night of our stay, we ate at our hotel’s restaurant, Wei Jing Ge.

We had early flights the next morning. We were tired from sightseeing all day. And we wanted some Peking duck before we left China. Wei Jing Ge delivered on all counts.

20150428_065257 Pardon the dark photographs – the restaurant is very elegant (though quite empty) and it’s dark. I couldn’t put my flash on without being “that ugly American.” This is a great place for a client dinner or an elegant night on the town with a loved one.  20150428_065304-001 Or a family who is about to travel 17 million hours across the ocean soon.  20150428_065310-001 Beautiful Chinoiserie place setting.  20150428_072140-001 Crispy pork belly served with sugar and mustard

That’s right sugar and mustard! You dip the pork into the mustard first and then just a touch of the sugar. The result is a granular, spicy, sweet marinade that you will soon be eating off of your fingers. It’s awesome. So is the pork belly. The meat is firmer than I’m used to and with a more distinctively barnyard-y, hay taste. It’s like wild boar – I love it. The fat is only rendered on top – a golden, crispy, sharp crackling – so if you don’t like that squishy fat feeling of un-rendered fat, this won’t be for you.

Again, I love it.  20150428_072554-001 Sauteed Chinese greens with ginger

You might think that this is bok choy, but you would be mistaken. Our lovely server told us that there is no English name for this Chinese green which is sweeter, more tender, and much less fibrous than bok choy. With some ginger, it’s an excellent palate cleanser to a meat-heavy meal.  20150428_072558 Honey-lacquered bbq pork

I’ll just let you guess how melting, tender, juicy, soft, and sweet this was.

Yeah, it is practically dessert. 
20150428_073253 Spicy sesame noodles 20150428_073447-001 Oh, get the hell out of here, NYC delivery guy. This is such a far cry from the crap on Seamless. These noodles are bouncy, wheaty, airy enough to soak up the sauce. The sauce is salty, sweet, nutty, almost meaty. It’s complex and scattered with scallions and bits of sweet sautéed garlic. It’s just…wow. The dreamiest noodles I had on the entire trip.  20150428_074747-001 Peking duck

I wish that I had a better video or photograph of this. This Peking duck…damn. First of all, the whole duck is carved down to, what must be, an ounce per person of meat and fat. You look at it and you’re like…wow, is this the diet portion? Then you eat it and you’re like, wow…I won’t be able to finish this. And you aren’t. You are served meat with skin that is juicy, tender, and covered with sweet skin. You are served plain skin that is sharp and sticky, crackly and potato-chip-y in the best way possible. You layer them all in pliable pancakes topped with cucumber, scallions, chilli, and hoisin sauce. You think about how this is the greatest duck you have ever had.  20150428_074943-001 You eat these little tacos until you can no longer imbibe.  20150428_085720 You finish off the meal with the world’s greatest coffee frappe at the hotel’s famed Long Bar. It used to be that the people with the highest social status sat closest to the window and those who were still climbing the ranks sat toward the other end of the bar.

This meal is worthwhile no matter where you are staying. It’s on the pricier side of Shanghai dining, but with that price comes air conditioning, excellent service, and a memorable dining experience.

The Great Noodle Tour: More Looks at Weird and Wacky Tokyo

And now, a little interlude to bring you some more weird and wacky parts of Toky0:

20150420_165539 A hotel ironing board where the iron fits in the board and reheats every time that you put it back in its cradle. My husband thought it was the best iron he had ever used.

20150420_204133 He looks like a girl scout holding a beer.
20150420_204141 But, can I? 20150420_204838 The fake food is beautiful! It’s in all of the restaurant windows and entices you to go in and eat gyoza until your buttons pop.  20150420_210347 Why don’t our hot dog stands look so cute and clean? 20150420_210503 A myriad of delicious beverage options. 20150420_210904 Including 75 different types of tea.  20150420_210923 Something tells me that they don’t mean the state.  20150420_213402 Beautiful and incredibly pricey fruit.  20150420_213410 These ruby red strawberries were, like, $30 a package.  20150420_213434 The obsession with French pastries is rivalled only by that of…France.  20150420_213740 Ingenious addition to any bathroom – finally, help when you are shopping alone with your kid! 20150420_213745 Plus a way to wash, dry, deodorize, and musicalize your bathroom experience. The toildets in Japan are like Disneyland.  20150420_221318 Of course this is a natural mascot for an upscale woman’s shoe store.  20150420_221324 And this is a great name for said shoe store because we all like water and we all like massages. Duh. 
20150421_064554 Ladies’ only subway cars. There is apparently a groping problem in Japan, but I never had anything but excellent experiences.

 And now, we sadly have to depart Asia. But what a way home!

The Great Noodle Tour: Shopping in Shanghai

Japan doesn’t have all of the shopping fun. China has its own charms and wonder.

20150426_033628 The city of Shanghai loves to eat. Tons of snack shops and stalls on every corner.
20150426_034257 Including a thousand different lemonade varieties, each worse tasting than the last.  20150426_034306 Including a hot tea option topped with cheese.  20150427_005831 Eating, eating, eating.  20150427_020715 These creepy toys which I learned are called Monchicis…wow, so frightening.
20150427_021231 A million snacks which ranged from unappealing to vomit inducing. I will just never be into dried fish.
20150427_021248 Love these photos of Shanghai Girls on the drie fruit.  20150427_024629 Dried chicken feet in the convenience store. Yeah, you’re in CHINA. 
20150428_011834 These funny little cartoon girls advertising adult shampoo.  20150428_012119 Nori snacks rolled like fruit rollups.

20150428_013302 Black chicken and chicken with head and toes intact. 
20150428_013330 Langoustine and shrimp varieties ranging from the size of a needle to almost lobster like mammoths. Some came as far as Madagascar.  20150428_013356 Tiny quail eggs and huge goose eggs.

20150428_013445 No comment. Love it.  20150428_013525 American hot wings flavored Doritos! Why don’t we have these, just called “hot wings?” 20150428_013545 Gotta love an aisle of puffed foods. 
20150428_013857 I doubt I would use an aisle filled with spicy duck tongue and sauced duck neck.  20150428_014020 Love the packaging.
20150428_014931 Adorable buns filled with pork floss.  20150428_015413 And a huge shopping mall that is half empty and looks like Vegas on crack.

China was a trip and we hadn’t even enjoyed our most awesome meal yet – Peking duck.

The Great Noodle Tour: Shen Jiang Bao

So, there are these little dumplings all over the streets of Shanghai. They are called shen jiang bao, and they are more buns than dumplings. Fried doughy buns filled with juicy pork and fabulous soupy broth. I don’t know the names of any of the places that we ate, because they were just little holes in the wall with lines out the door. They are all over the place.

20150426_032247 Look at those little buns just waiting to get all fried and crunchy.  20150426_032256 Steamer baskets full in the windows of little shops. 20150426_032648 Cover and shake, then let them sit so the bottoms get golden and the juice is searing hot.  20150426_032917 A sprinkling of black sesame seeds and all that it needs ia a quick hit of vinegar.  20150426_033222 AAAH MAAHH GAAAHHH SO GOOD. The dumpling dough absorbs the flavor so much better than thin soup dumpling dough. The bottom is crispy and contrasts with the dough and the juicy pork within. Every dumpling is slightly different – softer, harder, juicier, meatier – but they are all absolutely delicious.  20150428_003503 The restaurants that offer these dumplings are very casual and often run out of them by early afternoon. They are mostly a breakfast or lunch food.  20150428_003505 Find some staff who seems nice and point to what other people are eating to order. That’s what we did.
20150428_003554 These long ones had the best ratio of meat:dough that we experienced in China.  20150428_003557 And this is one of my favorite meals of the trip. It was consistently delicious, fun, and SO CHEAP. 4 of us ate like kings for $5 per meal. Apparently they are available in NYC, but not to the same level of amazing-ness. Shen jiang bao – don’t miss them in Shanghai.

*Quick note: New Taste of the UWS is this weekend. This fabulous event covers 3 separate dining experiences and festivals with celebrity chefs and food from all of the UWS greats. The tickets are pricey but the proceeds all go towards beautifying and generally improving the neighborhood. My choice pick is Best of the West, but these are all winners! Get tickets here. This blurb is not sponsored.*

The Great Noodle Tour: Din Tai Fung’s Fabulous Food

I finally made it to the much-lauded dumpling parlor Din Tai Fung

20150427_065114 This Taiwanese chain was started by a Shanghai immigrant who brought his exceptional dumpling skills to Taiwan and created and international sensation known for its cleanliness, predictability, and totally delicious dumplings.

20150427_065104 We were quickly seated by a friendly, English speaking server and then the food came out in quick succession. 
20150427_065254
Even the ginger arrives artfully. 20150427_070337 Shrimp and pork wontons in spicy sauce

 The sleeper hit of the night. Meaty, porky, umami, and pleasantly salty with just a touch of salinity from the ground shrimp. The sauce is spicy, slick with chile oil,a nd peppered with chives. A truly delicious way to start the meal.  20150427_070341 Spring rolls

Crispy, piping hot, savory. Good, not memorable.  20150427_070344 Noodles with minced pork sauce

20150427_070720

MMM, MMM, GOOD! Bouncy, fresh noodles soaking up all of the meaty, tomatoey, porky goodness. A savory way to break up the dumpling monotony. 
20150427_070819 Spicy sautéed green beans…with pork

Notice a theme here? Yep, it’s all about the pork and the veggies are no exception. These beans are cooked over high, high heat until they blister and pop open, allowing the chiles and pork to seep into their every pore.

Good stuff.  20150427_071115 BBQ pork buns. Also good stuff.

20150427_070412

The soup dumplings. I’m so sorry that I don’t have a better photo of these PERFECT little soup dumplings. Oh, they are so divine. Thin skinned like gossamer little pockets of pork and broth. The broth is light and tastes clean, not at all greasy or heavy. The pork fairly dissolves in your mouth. This is a damned fine dumpling that enhanced, not made or broken, by the ginger infused vinegar.
20150427_072652 Sticky rice with pork 20150427_072722 Glutinous. Fatty to the nth degree. Salty and savory. Basically awesome.

If I lived here, I would be a Din Tai Fung fanatic. The service is excellent, they have diet coke (a MAJOR rarity in Asia), and the food is some of the best that we had in China.

The Great Noodle Tour: Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant

20150427_015527

The restaurant that I was told to visit in Shanghai, the city famed for its soup dumplings, was Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. It’s a mini chain and there is a location isnide the touristy but lovely and well located YuYuan Garden. Think Disney-esque China, complete with street performers, hordes of families with kids, and a million kitschy souvenirs.

20150427_013001 When you follow the signs and eventually find Nanxiang Steamed Buns, you will go upstairs (Skip that huge line outside for the counter service) and be confronted by 2 lines. They are, though not identical, nearly so. Go in whichever line is shorter – there is one dining room that has, like, a $5 minimum spending which you will reach, no problem.  20150427_013007 It’s very, VERY difficult to get any sort of service here. Breathe into it. And tip the first person who comes by. Then the service comes real fast. 
20150427_013500 Soup dumplings.

Pork and Crab. Lovely! Thin, soft wrappers surrounding soft meat and plenty of juice. The pork taste is predominant, which I prefer.  20150427_014233

You can see how juicy it is. The pork is a little underseasoned, but the tangy/tart vinegar spikes it up really well.  20150427_013539 Big ass crab dumpling
20150427_013836 It’s honestly huge. And delicious. Like the most buttery, silky, sweet crab flavored chowder ever. It’s clean and umami, not at all minerally or funky. You sip up the broth through the straw and then discard the wrapper. Or eat it, as I did. Doughy wrapper = excellent vinegar delivery system. 
20150427_015509 Nanxiang is certainly where the locals go and the food is inexpensive and delicious. However, was this the greatest soup dumpling of my trip? Why, no. That’s yet to come. 

The Great Noodle Tour: ANA Flight Tokyo to Shanghai

In which we may together lament the crappy way that Americans experience short haul flights.

20150425_174223 Seeing a cute Victorian home off of the Japanese highway was an odd experience, until I realized that it was Tokyo Disney. I went a long time ago (before this blog was even an idea in my mind) and would definitely go back for the day. It’s like going to an amusement park in outer space. 
20150425_191150 Whiskey and shochu tasting in the ANA business class lounge. Amazing. A damned whiskey tasting in a lounge with showers, shopping, and another sake tasting bar. All for a sub 4 hour flight.
20150425_191639 Noodle bar in that ANA lounge. It’s an extremely kick ass lounge and I highly recommend it.
20150425_201054 Cool livery outside of the airport windows. I would love to go to Thailand someday, sooner than later.  20150425_202416 Incredible business class seats on this short jaunt. Do you see those miles of leg room?
20150425_202425 Super comfortable with slippers, a pillow, individual entertainment systems, and a great recline. I could have flown in this seat for 6 hours.  20150425_213249 Mount Fuji from the airplane…exquisite and majestic. What a view! 20150425_213821 Random Japanese cracker snacks 20150425_214858 Easily the best thing that we ate on the flight.  20150425_220240 The rest of the food was very…Japanese. The western meal was okay – some tender (if salty) beef with a baked turnip, a rather fishy salmon roulade, and a very nice apricot cake. Exceptional, it wasn’t. 
20150425_220313 And the Japanese food, while beautiful, tasted uniformly of fish. And not the good kind of fish. Very thankful for the miso soup that came alongside.  20150425_222816 Plus we got to enjoy a great range of entertainment options, including some amazing documentaries on Japanese chefs. 

The food was a little weird for my tastes, but ANA is a first class experience even on a short business class flight. 

Southwest, eat your hearts out. 

The Great Noodle Tour: The Conrad Tokyo

We stayed at a phenomenal hotel in Tokyo – the Conrad Tokyo.

It’s located within walking distance of the Ginza, right above a convenient subway line, has all of the modern amenities (including a fabulous Toto washlet), several restaurants, and is beautiful. Here are a few snapshots of our time there (mostly food related): 20150420_161735 Beautiful king sized bed (not so easy to find in Japan). The rooms look exactly like they do on the website – no scary surprises here. Big, beautiful double sinked bathroom and plenty of space, even by American standards.  20150420_162356 Sitting area overlooking Tokyo’s busy buildings.  20150420_193751 Private breakfast room for our loud, large group. The rate can include breakfast, and if yours does, you will not be disappointed.  20150420_193840 Cerise, the continental restaurant that serves breakfast and the buffet is legit. Japan is often mocked as the worst Asian country for breakfasts, but the Conrad disproves that theory. A huge buffet filled with Asian dim sum, American omelettes, salad, pastries, fish, meat, and everything else you could possibly want at any time of the day or night. 
20150420_194035 The salad section was welcome after a 10 hour redeye flight.  20150420_194345 The tomatoes are sweet and jewel hued.  20150420_200253 And the bread pudding with Nutella is a good first dessert.  20150420_201204 We sadly never ordered the egg slut.  20150421_192031 But I did eat a ton of noodles with soft eggs and dim sum.  20150425_070126 One night, we actually broke our “all Asian all the time” vow and ate dinner here.  20150425_072406 The spaghetti Bolognese was the best I’ve had since…the last time that I was in Tokyo. Tokyo does the greatest Italian food outside of Greece. I feel like Italy needs to up its own game.  20150425_075339 The French pastries are, as always, sensational.  20150425_080931 A sweet goodbye note from our INCREDIBLE concierge, Ari.

A word about the staff here. The staff here is…impeccable. Leagues better than the much-lauded Park Hyatt. These concierges went above and beyond during a scary medical encounter – let’s just say that I had a bad, BAD allergic reaction after a meal. I was alone in a shopping mall and started to blow up with hives. I was scared that it would spread to my throat. Somehow, the hotel got me a cab, got me home, walked my dad down to a pharmacy, found me Japanese Benadryl, and got it to me within an hour. They closed down the front desk while this happened to take care of me. We weren’t in a suite. They don’t know that I write a blog  . They just did what was necessary to help someone far from home. It left an extraordinary impact on me. I would stay here again in a heartbeat. It’s my home away from home in Tokyo.

Now I just gotta get back there.

The Great Noodle Tour: Don Quijote, Tokyo’s Dollar Store

Now it’s time for: more wacky shopping in Japan!

20150423_201648 You could not pay me to wear this thing. I’m getting claustrophobic just looking at it.  20150423_201816 So much nail art.
20150423_202046 I mean…so much. 
20150423_202303 “Heart and the You” dry shampoo.  20150423_202434 Very scary mini toothbrush ad. 
20150423_203506 Disney-esque fake windows in the local dollar store.  20150423_204201 And real, super expensive handbags in the dollar store. 
20150423_204407 Japanese adults love Elsa.  20150423_210329 Don Quixote is the greatest dollar store on the face of the planet. You must come here for all of your personal and souvenir needs. 

Of course, there are other Japanese sights, too.
20150423_215102 Japanese mascots are unceasingly amazing.  20150423_221602 Plates inspired by one of my favorite artists, Rene Magritte.

20150424_001522 A $3,000 Hello Kitty statuette. Obvi.  20150424_001735 I want all of this fake sushi.  20150424_001804 And none of this Sanrio vomit.  20150424_001811 I especially don’t want this huge Hello Kitty chair.  20150424_002310 Leg covers so chairs dont’ scratch your apartment floor. Of course, they are adorable. 
20150424_002418 I could use “a little happiness” of me.  20150424_002907 Miranda Kerr representing a handbag line I had never even heard of. Of course, I bought one before I left the country.  20150424_054740 Oh no…IS YOUR PHONE RUNNING OUT OF BATTERY?! Don’t worry, many cabs have chargers. I love this pop cartoon because it’s exactly how I feel when my phone is almost out of juice.  20150424_202106 Banana flavored sweets and tonkatsu sandwiches reign supreme. 
20150425_005757 These socks are fancier than my wedding dress was.

Since visiting Tokyo, shopping at Target has lost a lot of its charm. I wish I could go back tomorrow. 

The Great Noodle Tour: Tsukiji Fish Market

Now, let’s walk through the Tsukiji fish market. We took a guided tour, which is the only way to get into the market unless you wake up at like 3 am and go see the tuna auction. It’s so worth it to see this place. You need to shell out of a tour or wake up early – well, I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.  20150422_193515 Everything in Tokyo is amazing.
20150422_193732 Tiny dried fish.  20150422_193805 The area around Tsukiji seems older, gentler, and more historical than most of uber-new Toyko.
20150422_193859 Fake sushi that I SO wish I bought! 20150422_193906 Fried shrimp crackers 20150422_193921 Freshly baked nori bread.  20150422_194003 Shuffling through the restaurants setting up outside the market.  20150422_194100 So many restaurants, all promising mouth-watering dishes of toro, uni, ikura, and every other luxury sushi bar item you can imagine. There are many sushi restaurants that have winding lines out the door, but that ain’t my style. If it’s yours, I hear that Sushi Dai is the place to go.  20150422_194112 A million stalls each selling one type of food. This one specializes in kimchi.  20150422_194424 Special tamago vendor. Don’t be afraid to accept the samples, everything is delicious and even this, an outdoor market, is impeccably clean.  20150422_194508 Whale sashimi
20150422_195224
Inside the inner market! Here is where the world’s premier fish is bought and sold. The entire place smells cleaner than your doctor’s waiting room – its unbelievable how non fishy it is. However, definitely wear boots and keep your hands to yourself. There are lots of live specimens splashing water everywhere and the place is filled with people running around with giant knives and driving tractor-like apparatuses. Follow your guide and walk quickly! 20150422_195243 Huge salmon fillets.  20150422_195305 Whelks? Some sort of shellfish that they don’t sell at Fairway.  20150422_195418 Octopus as far as the eye can see. 
20150422_195613 Like, a thousand varieties of fish in various forms of butchery, from still wriggling to just the sperm sacks. (Cod sperm…it’s a thing and it’s pretty good). 20150422_195829 Uni…glorious uni. Ranging in color from pale yellow to almost brown. From Hokkaido and everywhere else in Japan. Briny, creamy, salty, meaty. All incredibly fresh and incredibly well priced. I weep for the uni left behind.
20150422_195858 Uni not even out of its shell! 20150422_195927 Fresh crab, just picked and waiting for some rice…or a bread bowl and some butter. Weeping for this, too.  20150422_200110 Scallop shell!
20150422_200410 Big tuna
20150422_201018 But not the biggest they come. Those can fetch thousands upon thousands of dollars at the famous tuna auction. 
20150422_201318 Beautiful dried eel. Don’t you just want that over a bed of sweet and sticky sushi rice right now? 20150422_201656 Huge scallops, freed from their shells. 
20150422_202759 Ready made sushi for lunch.  20150422_202832 Because walking through the market is honestly exhausting.  20150422_203521 Hot corn soup anyone?  20150422_205740 HUGE scallops grilled with garlic and butter. I regret not eating this.
20150422_205931 Hello, fish.  20150422_210052 Tuna. Perfect, lean to super fatty tuna.  20150422_210158 Like a hot knife through butter.

Tsukiji was my number one experience this trip. Do NOT miss coming here. Walk around with a guide then go through the shops outside the market and buy lunch, a few ceramic souvenirs, and maybe come back later for dinner.

And…as Andrew Zimmern would say…”if it looks good, eat it!”