Archive for restaurants

Tibetan Restaurant

Hohhot has been good to me the last two days. (last week, not so much!) I’ve had good experiences at new places and hope you’ll enjoy these places too!

 I’ll break them in to separate posts so they’re easier to search.

The subject of today’s post:

Zhuo Ma Tibetan Restaurant

卓玛臧餐吧

成吉思汗大街阳光诺卡商业街西侧107号

 

I’ve passed this restaurant multiple times when I’m in the vacinity but never had an opportunity to try it until Friday. I think part of my hesitation about not going before was also not wanting to be disappointed. My very first trip to China was spent in Tibetan areas and I’ve always had a soft spot for them. Years ago there was another Tibetan restaurant near the square but it was disappointing not only in service, availability of menu items, but also in that it was owned and staffed by Mongolians. I like Mongolians too, but one would hope Tibetans would run a better Tibetan restaurant than Mongolians. 

Anyway, the place above was fantastic. It’s decor makes you feel like you’ve left Hohhot for Amdo lands. The staff, cooks, owners are Amdo Tibetan, and the food was delicious. 

We ordered three dishes. All were so good. 

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The left is some kind of bing 饼 with sweet cream/cheese like filling. The middle dish is called “Nepal Tofu” and the sauce was sort of like an Indian curry sauce. The dish on the right…..that, my friends, is a very close substitute for a chile relleno. It’s green chile peppers stuffed with seasoned yak meat and smothered in a tasty sauce. Pretend it’s enchilada sauce and your taste buds can be back in the southwest United States 🙂

They also have more traditional, standard Tibetan cuisine like tsampa and milk tea but we wanted to try some of the more unique dishes. 

I didn’t get pictures of the menu or the place itself, but below is the business card so you can stop in yourself.

 webwxgetmsgimg (77) Tibetan restaurant in Hohhot

The address is on the business card and written in Chinese above. It’s north of gong da, south of Genghis Khan Road, and east of Zhe Li Mu Road. 

iMoment Coffee Shop

If you still haven’t found your perfect hang out, we’re happy to introduce iMoment Coffee Shop. Connect with them on wechat using this QRcode.

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For the coffee lover, finding a nice coffee shop must be the first thing you do in Hohhot! By recommendation we found iMoment Cafe, a mysterious cafe hiding in an office building.

Why is it called iMoment Cafe?

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First, the English letter “i” shares the similar pronunciation with the word “love” in Chinese. You can tell the founder (a Taiwanese girl who speaks great English) loves coffee, wants everyone to enjoy their moment here in iMoment.

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Second, iMoment Cafe is a reminder that people need to drink the premium specialty coffee. It’s not just a regular commodity, they treat every cup of coffee seriously. I am sure iMoment Cafe has high standard in its coffee. They use LOVERAMICS’s cups for the coffee, created using state of the art equipment by Lamarzocco and Victoria Arduino’s Mythos.

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They also offer a selection of classic desserts to go with your morning coffee.

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The other part of menu was equally impressive, king size panini with fresh garden vegetables, cuttlefish ink and other healthy ingredients on the dishes. Apart from the coffee, the food is definitely worthy trying.

iMoment Hohhot

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They claim they are the furthest shop on Hohhot’s map of specialty coffee, but it’s definitely worth finding. From the warmth of the Taiwanese baristas to the food and drinks, it’s a spot to go! (and actually it’s not far at all )

Address:
內蒙古呼和浩特市賽罕區騰飛路51號金隅時代城(金隅朗峰)15號樓C座4樓
4th Floor,No.15 Jinyushidaicheng,Chilechuan Avenue

 

photos by Hilary Lee photography, used with permission

14 years in (and out of) Hohhot

 

Early September marks the anniversary of my first arrival to Hohhot in 2002. Although I haven’t been here continuously, coming in and out for 14 years I’ve gotten to see some pretty amazing changes in the city. I posted articles in the past from news sources about some of the changes, but this post is my own reflections on what has changed in the Blue City since I first arrived.

Airport Arrival

When I arrived in 2002 the current airport wasn’t in existence yet (the old HET was a few hundred meters to the east of the current location) and the road (Xin Hua) into Hohhot proper wasn’t paved.

Western Food and amenities

There were 4-6 locations of KFC, two locations of Dairy Queen and that was the extent of international establishments. The newest big “thing” was the mall that’s now called Kai De, although it had a different name then.

There was, surprisingly, a decent sit-down Western restaurant that could rival, and arguably upstage, Hohhot’s current Western restaurants.

Currently Kai De mall, the newest large shopping center at that time.

Currently Kai De mall, the newest large shopping center at that time.

Communication

I didn’t have a cell phone. Some foreigners and very few locals I knew did, but they weren’t a necessity. Every convenience store had a red public use phone one could use for a few mao.

This situation meant that one had to know the full Chinese name of one’s local friends because you weren’t calling them directly. The mother, father, roommate, etc might answer the phone and one had to be able to ask for Wang Shao Hong (or whomever).

I also think this made us (foreigners) learn the city better since we had to be able to get to a location without the aid of being able to call multiple times along the way when going to meet someone.

Transportation

EVERYONE with the exception of professional drivers and government officials rode a bicycle. I didn’t even know anyone who owned an electric bike until 2006 and didn’t know anyone who owned a car until 2007. (And I wasn’t a hermit who sat inside and didn’t know people).

The only vehicle on the road were taxis, public buses, deliver vans, and black government cars….and LOTS of bikes. Lots and lots of bikes.

Also, the size of the city was much smaller. The second ring road was an anticipated enigma much like the subway now and places that are now six lane roads were dirt alleys then.

My first bike, purchased on day two or three of my arrival in Hohhot. This one was in my possession less than 36 hours before the transfer of ownership to bike thieves. (Some things never change!)

My first bike, purchased on day two or three of my arrival in Hohhot. This one was in my possession less than 36 hours before the transfer of ownership to bike thieves. (Some things never change!)

Intersection near Manduhai Park circa 2003

Intersection near Manduhai Park circa 2003

Standard of living

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is the standard of living in the average person’s residence. Housing in Hohhot has come a LONG way in 14 years. For the first few years I lived here, one would have to inquire if a home had hot water all the time, or just the standard two days per week. The public water service provided heated water through the pipes at set times, twice per week, and landlords were only just becoming willing to fork over money for a hot water heater if one wanted hot water all the time.

I only knew of one complex of “high rise” apartments (I think it’s called the Metropolitan, west on Da Xue Lu). Otherwise, most lived in 4 or 6 story walk-ups and some in ping fangs.

Not an uncommon sight in 2002

Not an uncommon sight in 2002

Many homes still had plain concrete floors and interior design wasn’t a thing.

BUT, we’re all paying for those upgrades in our rent now. The first two bedroom house I rented was 450 RMB/month. The second one, 4-5 years later was 600 or 700. Even in 2007 I only knew 1-2 people (families with kids) who were paying more than 1000/month.

Interesting enough, though, it was much more common to be invited to someone’s home for a meal, instead of being invited out to eat. My guess is that economics is the reason for this. Meals could be prepared at home much more affordably than eating at a restaurant, which was still a luxury for many.

Entertainment

There was roller skating, bowling at the Xin Cheng, and KTV was big. The squares, particularly Xin Hua, had lots of cool things it doesn’t have now….a camel to ride on and take a photo with, and cars like these, below. They weren’t bumper cars and they weren’t for kids. Just small electric cars for adults to drive around the square.

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Other old photos

Chang Le Gong

Chang Le Gong and the New York New York Club used to be located in the same building.

I've heard that this was the tallest building in Hohhot until the late 80s or early 90s.

I’ve heard that this was the tallest building in Hohhot until the late 80s or early 90s.

Papa John’s

The opening of a Papa John’s in Hohhot was news to me. Did you know about it already? Are you excited or indifferent? leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.
The dine-in restaurant is open, but delivery service hasn’t started yet.

Location is the east corner of Zhong Shan Lu and Xilingol Road. (south of the Da Tian hotel, east of Hailiang)
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some of my favorites

Today is my birthday. (I know, I’m surprised as you that it’s not honored as a public holiday, too). Because it’s my birthday, I wanted to share with you some of my favorites so you can enjoy them too.

My favorite shopping:

  1. Chang le gong, 4th floor, stall on east side of furthest west hallway. This stall is full of intended-for-export clothing and shoes which means you can find foreign brands for local prices. This also means they have foreign sizes to fit those of us who aren’t Asian size. It’s not displayed well…no racks just stacks of stuff, and each time I go it’s a completely selection than the time before.
  2. Erlian Wen Zhou Shang Chang: This isn’t in Hohhot but in Erenhot/Erlian on the border of Mongolia. (This is also where all the jeeps to cross to border park and wait to fill their cars before crossing over). This market has 4-6 long hallways of stall after stall of anything you could possibly need. Some of the stalls are items intended for export, some are from Russia and Mongolia, and the selection is great. I’ve found great deals for clothes for my kids here, sometimes western name brands.
    Erlian jeeps
  3. Guo Mao/Tong da
    Both of these markets are near the train station. Tongda is diagonal toward the southeast, guomao to the south. You can find all the household items you need, stationery, clothing, Christmas decorations, and lots more. Find a map here. 

My favorite restaurants:

1.  Ban Mu Di You Mian Da Wang
You Mian (pictured below) is my favorite local food and Ban My Di is my favorite place to get it, although I’m not that picky. It’s a noodle made from oats that has a soup to dunk the noodles in. I like the cold vegetable soup but James prefers the hot mutton soup. Ban Mu Di has multiple locations throughout the city. It’s also a plus for the kids because they have a large glass window into the kitchen where you can watch the cooks work.
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2. Western: Cheese Factory
We eat at home more often than anywhere else, and we cook mostly western food at home. So if we eat out, we generally eat local food, but if we eat Western out The Cheese Factory is our favorite. Remember to use the code 0471 when you pay your bill for a 10% discount.

3. Korean: Hang Guo Gong
This is now on Wanda’s walking street but it used to be near the bridge. The owner is the sweetest lady in Hohhot. She will speak slow and smooth Chinese so that you can understand clearly.

 

My favorite local treats:

1. Bottled jasmine tea
I don’t have a picture but I love the one with the green and white flowers on the packing. I should just buy these bottles by the case or invest in the company or something.

2. spicy peanuts

Any brand, any kind. Packaged or the kind you buy by weight at the supermarket. It’s my favorite TV watching snack.

3. Nai Dou Fu (horrot)
This is a Mongolian traditional food that they eat dipped in milk tea. I don’t love milk tea but I do love this particular kind of nai shi pin. I usually go in phases of loving this for awhile, then not wanting it for a few months, then craving it again. It’s pictured below, but it’s generally served cut in small square slices.

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I could add to all these categories and make even more categories, but that’s all for today. Share your favorites with us in the comments.

A Tour of Wanda: The Center of Hohhot!

Wanda

Shopping malls dot the map all over China as a symbol of growing cities and more global influence over the culture. It is always a bit funny to wander China and see giant posters of Lebron James, Justin Bieber and George Clooney everywhere next to KFCs and Stradivarius stores. Shopping malls are usually a nice escape for foreigners go back home for a few hours, enjoy a movie in English and familiar food.

A local television commercial calls the Wanda complex in Hohhot the center of the city! with the loud voice reserved for monster truck rallies back home. My wife always rolls her eyes when she hear this because it is far from the geographical center of the city. Despite this I do find myself at Wanda a lot.

The Wanda area of coWandaurse has the Wanda Shopping Mall but also has several large cookie cutter apartment complexes, in classic China fashion, right behind it. There are a few schools in the vicinity as well as some international businesses so there are clusters of foreigners that live in these complexes.

It is where I work, amazingly my wife as well works next door to the complex, a lot of my friends live in the apartments behind Wanda and in general there just seems to be a lot going on all the time. Im not saying Wanda is busier than the areas near other shopping malls such as Victory or City Mall/Mo Er Cheng but when combined with everything else Wanda does give off the air of being the center of the city.

To start the Wanda mall itself is 3 stories with a very large ground plan. It alone dwarfs most shopping malls outside of the largest cities in the United States. There is a supermarket, multi-screen cinema, all of the major fashion outlets including Zara, Pull & Bear and Levis (the only notable exception is H&M, youll have to go to Victory for that), several electronics and phone outlets and an entire floor of Chinese and other Asian themed restaurants. Pizza Hut, McDonalds and KFC each have a two story representation to round out your belly.

Behind the mall is where the fun begins. Its referred to by most people I know from the area as Waking Street although signs call it King Street. Once you exit the back door you will find a never ending stream of places to eat. Your standard dry pot and hot pot places dot everywhere with different degrees of price and quality along with neverending noodle shops and other Asian ethnic cuisine like Korean and Japanese.

Wanda

Inner Mongolia is famous for its BBQ cuisine and it shows at night when the streets behind Wanda come alive with charcoal. While Beijing shuts down by 9:30 Hohhot stays up all night. Everyone chomps down on metal skewers and washes it down with cheap beer. Every third establishment it seems will bring out their grill pits and you can feel free to pull up a cheap plastic chair anywhere you want and order round after round of burnt pork, chicken and mutton sticks as well as mushrooms, tofu and noodles until the sun comes up.

There are more than enough Mahjong parlors, KTV clubs and billiard joints lining the street to wander into to keep things interesting.

Because of the cluster of foreigners as well as being the center of the city Wanda has some of the more famous Western style eateries. Now, I love Chinese food and I love saving money even more so I frequent these places less than some, but we all get a little homesick eventually.

I met my first little group of expat acquaintances when I arrived in Hohhot at Piri Piri, an (as far as I can tell) unlicensed rip off a famous South African based chain, Nandos. It specializes in burgers, wraps, chicken and deep fried Western staples as well as a few vegetarian meals. The service is very good, English friendly, prices just about right (35 RMB for a burger, little more for the french fries, Western prices) and the atmosphere is a cut above the noodle shops I tend to frequent.

Wanda

Next door to Piri Piri is Marc Starry Diner. I am a big fan of Marc Starry and I think the food is delicious. They have pizzas, brugers, pasta dishes, it tends to feel like a more formal experience with large booths and a million fake plants everywhere. It is of course pricier but they actually know how to make spaghetti (hint, dont use brown wheat noodles). Marc Starrey is a place to take a date on a Friday night after work with its calm interior.

The Cheese Factory is not far and I would say this offers the most authentic Western (Im biased towards the United States in this regard) dining experience. The menu is quite large and has steaks, pizzas (you should be seeing a trend by now), cheesecake and other deserts and a large selection of imported beer and wine. The decorations and theme are very authentic to TGI Fridays type places and you can feel yourself disappearing back home if only for an hour or two.

Across from this little strip is a sign that says American Rodeo. It immediately brings to mind memories sloppy buffets on the outskirts of town with one type of meat deep fried in the juices of other meats and enough potatoes for a small nation. When I finally found myself there I was verrrrrrrry dissapointed.

In China, when eating Western food, you will either get Western food or Chinesey Western food. Pizza made with mayonaise, wheat pasta with garlic sauce presented as spaghetti and shoestring thin french fries served in a large bowl for everyone to dip their hands in are examples of the latter.

The American Rodeo is over priced, has very slow service and food is just above edible. I would not advise anyone to try it out.

Farther up the street is one of the most famous places in Hohhot for foreigners, Yummy Box. They have a screen that plays a massive playlist of Western hits round the clock as well as showing Daily Show reruns in a little TV in the corner. The menu is totally Chicago oriented with deep dish pizzas being the star along with deep fried everything you can imagine. A large selection of imported beer, a lot of it for very good prices or Buy One Get One specials, round out the menu.

Yummy Box Hohhot

Many will argue that Yummy Box is the best foreign food place in town. I think Marc Starry has better actual food but Yummy Box transports you the Midwest with ease and Im amazed they havent tried to cater to western sports crowds.

The last place I have to point out is a new micro brew called Small Kidney. It is located a little out of the way, if you exit Wanda from the back and take a right past the all night fruit and vegetable market and hug the fence with the construction you will find a nifty little bar. It is two stories and feels incredibly Western on the inside. It is new to the area but they are lining their shelves with all the imported beer you miss from home.

This article barely scratches the surface and doesnt even mention the loud as hell night club, Milk, located in the front of Wanda. There are merchants selling clothes, shoes, toys, purses, etc. next to greasy food vendors on the sidewalk. About a dozen wine stores will satisfy your tastes with bottles from all over the world. Even pharmacies are across from your favorite hot pot restaurant to fill a prescription for the sore tooth the spicy food gave you.

Places like this are located everywhere and only stand to show how large and diverse even a small city like Hohhot is.

Steven Ayy writes for The Culture Bum Blog and Podcast series. He has lived in China for a year and loves to write about places to go and see in Asia, tips to save money, ESL methods and advice and anything else that comes to his mind.

cook like a local: men mian

I’m excited to share this recipe with you! Our house helper, who actually works for three foreign families here, taught this to the other families she works for while we were back in the States. Turns out, she had been holding back on us! Since we’ve learned to make this dish, we have it about once a week and I think the other families do as well.

Check out our other recipes here

This is a local dish called “men mian.” (For the record, I thought the pronunciation of this dish was meng mian for years and I still hear locals say it with a “g” but officially it is actually men mian).

There are a number of great places to get this dish locally if you don’t want to cook at home, the most famous one being the chain Tie Guo Yi Ju 铁锅一居  that has multiple locations throughout the city. However, I think after you try this and see how delicious and simple it is, you’ll eat at home more often.

Some attribute this dish to being a local dish of Ba Meng, but others say it comes from Shan Xi. My guess is that it’s both. I think a large number of Inner Mongolia’s population migrated from Shan Xi to IM so they probably brought this dish with them. (Thanks to JS for the help finding the sources).

Let’s not get caught up in arguing over where it originated and just get started learning how to make it!

 

Ingredients:

Meat: we use a tender cut of pork, but you can also use ribs.

Vegetables: Must have green beans and probably potatoes, but the rest is up to you. The tomato is needed to make sauce during the cooking process.

We used: 1-2 carrots, one large potato, about 2 cups of green beans, and one large tomato

Seasoning: green onions (2-3), salt (to taste), soy sauce (about 2 teaspoons), and shi san xiang (13 spices) (about 1 teaspoon, or less, to taste)

Noodles: qie mian or cut noodles. These are available at your local flour/grain shop, supermarket, and sometimes even the small vegetable seller stalls have them.

cooking oil (1-2 tablespoons)

water (1-2 cups)

ingredients

pork, carrots, tomato, and green onion

veggies

potatoes, carrots, and green beans

noodles

qie mian or cut noodles

shisanxiang

shi san xiang (13 spices)

 

Order/Method

Heat oil in skillet and add meat. Stir fry until almost done.
meat

Add all vegetables except tomatoes and green onions and continue stir-frying. This dish is going to cook in the rice cooker, so you don’t need to stir fry until completely done, just until vegetables have softened a bit.

in wok

Add spices

Add in your soy sauce, 13 spices, and salt. Stir fry until thoroughly mixed, fragrant, and veggies softened (again, you don’t have to wait for them to thoroughly cook yet).

add spices

Transfer contents of wok to your rice cooker. Add enough water to cover about 2/3 of the contents of the cooker. The dish should be dry, not saucy when finished. However, if it’s too dry the first time you try, add more water and/or more tomatoes the next time you try.

before tomatoes

Add tomatoes and green onions in a layer on top of the cooked mixture.
add tomatoes

 

Place the noodles on top of tomatoes and close the lid of the rice cooker. When we make this, our rice cooker is FULL by this stage. (like lid barely closing full, but that depends on the size of your cooker). Use the setting you would use for rice. For us, it takes about 35-45 minutes for the cooking process to finish. I’m sure the time will vary based on the amounts of vegetables you used and the size of your rice cooker.

in cooker 1

 

When the rice cooker has finished, it will look something like this:

in cooker

 

Mix the noodles in with the mixture on the bottom and you’re ready to serve!

It should look something like this:

men mian

This is really a delicious, easy, cheap, local meal to make. You have some prep time washing and cutting and a little time stir-frying, but mostly the rice cooker does the work for you.

If you try it, leave us a comment and tell us what you think. Does it rival Tie Guo Yi Ju?

Starbucks, or is it?

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I saw this “beauty” the other day in a housing complex on the north second ring road. In case you aren’t sensing my sarcasm, this is a picture of another fake Starbucks. (I saw another one near the Madison Patio housing complex on the far south side). The name is at least spelled correctly and the color scheme is the same, but no. Not a real Starbucks.

Here is the link to Starbucks’ official site with the locations they list for Hohhot. The one pictured above, surprisingly not on the list. 🙂

The official locations are:

  • Wanda
  • Moercheng (Victory City Mall)
  • Hailiang
  • Minzu (although the website lists this location as closed. not sure if it’s not business hours or if its operations are closed)

 

I also hope this post is helpful to the number of you who stumble across this website each month searching for “Starbucks Hohhot.” Perhaps I finally have the content you’re looking for?

 

What other fakes have you seen in town? Leave us a comment.

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