Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nan Yao Tou

November 8th.

After taking care of some CGA-studies, coffee, and blogging in the morning we decided to try to reach The Village on our own. Eric Li at work wrote down the phonetic english name for The Village so we figured we'd try to take a cab directly to it. Failing that we have the office address written in Chinese characters and know how to walk from the office to The Village. The Village is actually more "a village", specifically one named "Nan Yao Tou" (as Eric wrote it in English). This is pronounced roughly "nan yow toe". If we could make it to Nan Yao Tou we hoped to find what Rod calls Shoulder Noodles (cut with a knife off a board rested on the cutters shoulder into a big vat), which are more accurately termed "Dao Xiao Mian". Eric at work approved the pronounciation as (roughly) "dow sh-ow mean". This apparently translates literally to "knife-cut noodles".

So ... step one cab. We got into a cab, said "Ni Hao" (general purpose hello type greeting (hopefully)), and then "nan yow toe". The driver looked mildly bemused but responded with a slightly different pronounciation of "nan yow toe" in what sounded like a questioning voice so Rod nodded and said "yes" and we were off! Our first cab ride that didn't involve pointing to a Chinese character version in our notebook!! We reached Nan Yao Tou and got out, then realized we were in the eastern section, which is much less lively, and actually wanted the western section for the shoulder noodle restaurant. We walked over, across the road, recognized the intersection we pass when we walk south from work to Nan Yao Tou and headed into the village. The western part of the "village" is the low-rise buildings in this picture. It's not quite what we'd normally think of as a village at home and we're not sure how a given area becomes defined as a "village". In any case it is immediately south of the office and lots of workers from the software park go there at lunchtime.

The area is quite crowded at lunchtimes on workdays. On Sunday afternoon it was much less so. We saw some chaps playing street pool on severely non-level tables and a motorcycle that had morphed into a three-wheeled trucks propulsion system.

We wandered around trying to find our shoulder noodle restaurant. Rod was confused but Pavan somehow remembered the way in great detail despite that we entered Nan Yao Tou from a different entrance than the previous time and took a completely different path through the village. The restaurant is Mai Li Ji Tang Dao Xiao Mian. We are not sure what this means, we'll have to get a co-worker to translate. Luckily they have photos and prices outside. A bowl of shoulder-noodles with beef is ¥4.5 and a pop is ¥1. Somehow two bowls of noodles and a pop is ¥9.5. Not sure why, but the proprietor gave change for the ¥10 note. Ordering was a bit of a challange but by pointing at the pictures and laughing we managed to get through it. The proprietor seemed quite tickled that we made the effort.

The key to a tasty Dao Xiao Mian is adding some spicy ... stuff. The camera flash makes it look all colorful. In the normal restaurant lighting it looks kind of dark brown and nasty. It is delicious.

The TV was on in the restaurant. Initially it was playing some sort of war movie with chaps on horseback riding around and getting set for what appeared to be a big battle. The remote holder of the moment then channel surfed a bit and wound up on a channel showing UFC fights. Rod was very happy.

The pre-cursor to the Dao Xiao Mian arriving is cups of water in which noodles have been cooked. It has a kind of noodlish flavor, is warm, and is actually quite tasty.

Then the main course arrives. Dao Xiao Mian with cilantro and beef on top of noodles sitting over a small amount of faintly flavored broth in the bottom of the bowl. The broth doesn`t really act like a soup, it mostly just helps to form a sauce when you add your spicy stuff and mix it all up.

The ¥1 drinks have two options: Xi'an Ice Peak cola (kind of orangey) or a 200ml coke. This is great because normally we end up with way too much coke. 200ml is a nearly perfect amount - you get that wonderful first swig of coke and aren`t left with hundreds and hundreds of ml of much less enjoyable swigs 2..N.

Bouyed by our success at reaching Nan Yao Tou and ordering Dao Xiao Mian we decided to risk upset stomach and try some street food. We were a little nervous doing this without our normal local tourguide but the food looked really good. Rod walked up and started eying things and the girl at the stall handed over a plate. Through some pointing two skewers, one of cauliflower and one of lotus root, were ordered. Both were very spicy and very good. Significant confusion about the next step in our relationship with the vendor ensued but eventually we mimed our way through the notion we wanted to give back the plate and pay. The price was a whopping ¥1.

Pavan decided to go next, and for another ¥1 bought a small bag of little hand-made perogy type things with some sort of tasty greenery inside. Very greasy but quite tasty. We really only wanted one to try but they seemed to come in units of around ten for ¥1. They are the things near the word `These` in the picture below.

The week before a co-worker had given Rod some nuts that were quite good and quite unidentifiable. We call them "fun nuts" because the process of breaking them open by finding cracks and using one nut as a wedge against another is rather entertaining. Co-workers defined them as "um ... nuts" when asked what type of nuts. A small bag of fun nuts ran us ¥3.

Nearby the local fruitstands a number of children were playing badminton. Badminton is very popular in China. The majority of the Active staff seem to play basketball, badminton, or both.

Opposite the badminton court was a kind of mini-mall arrayed down a hallway.

As it was getting dimmer and we were fed we felt it was time to leave Nan Yao Tou. We didn`t want to call it a day so we took a cab to the Bell Tower. The driver drove rather fast and made a completely baffling series of turns along a route we had never seen before, went through one of the city gates, made numerous further rapid turns within the city walls, and eventually dropped us off near the Bell Tower after approaching it from the west. We aren`t sure which gate we entered through or why so many turns were taken but the trip was quite fast so no complaints. The Drum Tower and Bell Tower were both all lit up for the night.

We headed over to the grocery store where we had seen cereal. This is entered through a rather unimpressive doorway within the tunnel warren that leads to, and around, the Bell Tower just inside the warren entrance to the east of Starbucks.

The store appears to be called `Korean Food` and sells a wide variety of western and european style food, drink, and personal hygiene products. We bought a bunch of items we had been missing from home: Gouda Cheese with Cumins, multi-grain crackers, cereal, muesli, what is hopefully multi-grain bread, a bottle of Jack Daniels and Cola pre-mixed, and some sort of swiss cakey thing that was irresistable. This ran us ¥183, which seemed rather amusing after paying ¥9.5 for dinner for two at a restaurant a short time before.

We walked over to Starbucks for the facilities (which the adjacent haagan-daz staff also seem to use) and enjoyed a rather excellent kiwi juice. This tasted just as you`d expect putting a bunch of kiwi`s in a blender to taste. Pavan got an Earl Gray and we sat for a few minutes. During this time we saw a chap launching a kite-chain by floating first one, then another, while walking fairly rapidly to provide lift. We also saw the police excitement for the first time in China. We`re not sure what exactly happened but a mini-van and then a bunch of police cars drove down through a pedestrian area to near the front of a very fancy mall, a large crowd gathered, and then several vehicles sped away.

Our cab back was entertaining as the cabbie didn`t quite know the way and evidently neither did we. We spotted a sign for high-tech zone and thought we needed to u-turn then pull over to get to the apartment only to find that our high-tech zone sign is merely one of many along the way between the Bell Tower and the apartment. We cut back accross traffic and proceeded on past a second high-tech zone sign and found our apartment.

Outside the entrance to the apartment we stopped at an ATM for cash and on a whim dropped into a hairdressers to try to ask if they could thread Pavan`s eyebrows. After a considerable amount of confused English to Mandarin debate Rod managed to mime threading and one lady got it. She pulled out tweezers, a vicious looking razor, and thread. From there we were able to communicate that the razor was going nowhere near but the thread was good. Threading was ¥5 but then they offered a massage for ¥120 ($19). We figured why not and said OK. Rod went up to the apartment and Pavan was taken in back for a massage that somehow miscued into a rather elaborate facial treatment with endless creams, facial massage, gentle face-wacking, head-wacking, rather hard arm-wacking, and chest massage. Odd but quite enjoyable, though a bit over-priced.

We found that the bread we hoped was real multi-grain bread was indeed real multi-grain bread. Between that and Gouda with Cumins we were pretty happy with our purchases!

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