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Real Food Adventure - China Itinerary
Days 1-3 Beijing
Welcome to Beijing, an intriguing modern city with an ancient beating heart. A cultural and culinary hotspot for many centuries, there’s a lot to discover while here: from ancient hutongs and modern architecture to impressive cultural sights and food from all corners of the country. Kick off the adventure with a dinner of Peking duck, a luscious introduction to China’s surprising cuisine. Beautifully set out in delicate bowls, wrap up the meat in pancakes and drizzle with sauce, cucumber and spring onion, and enjoy this imperial dish that has been eaten in the region for around eight hundred years. The next morning, wander through the charmingly crooked streets of a hutong and breakfast on local dishes like youtiao (fried dough-sticks) and congee (rice porridge) before learning some Chinese at a fun language lesson. With new skills at hand, buy ingredients from the buzzing halls of the Sihuan Market and get ready to make some noise in a cooking class. Using sizzling woks and deft chopping skills, prepare some northern Chinese specialties and just try to stop salivating as cooking aromas fill the classroom. After enjoying the fruits of your labour, take a tour around Tiananmen Square and the captivating Forbidden City. Step out of the past and into the bustle at the Donghuamen Night Market. See row upon row of skewers of the more challenging kind: centipedes, sparrows and scorpions are but a taste of what is on offer here. Perhaps have dinner on the alluring Ghost Street, Beijing’s famed eating area that is beautifully lit up with red lanterns. Get in among the locals and order up a feast of local specialties while the hum of Beijing goes on around us. Early the next morning, head into China’s countryside to Mutianyu, where the spectacular Great Wall of China awaits! Walk along this partially restored section of the wall – the views from here are unparalleled and the sense of wonder at standing on something so old is awesome. Either negotiate the steep stairs or jump on a cable car or toboggan for the trip back down. Be treated to lunch at a rainbow trout farm, where fresh local produce and learning about local life is the centrepiece of the meal, before heading back to Beijing and boarding an overnight train to Xi’an.
ACCOM: Hotel - 2, Overnight sleeper train - 1
Days 4-5 Xi'an
Xi’an’s culinary chops are sure to delight foodies and travellers alike. With the city being the start (or end) of the Silk Road, fabulous foods and flavours were brought here in ancient times from all over the east and had a delicious influence over the region’s cuisine. Stretch legs then breakfast on Muslim Street (Huimin Jie) on delectable guan tang baozi, steamed buns filled with moorish fillings and gravy. One of Xi’an’s most talked about attractions is next on the cards – the affecting Terracotta Warriors. Built to guard the tomb of China’s first emperor in the 210 BC, these masterpieces lay covered until their rediscovery in 1974. Perhaps hire a guide for an in-depth insight into the statues. Xi’an is known as the snack capital of China, so what better way to discover this than going on a snack crawl! Rou jia mo (Shaanxi pork sandwich), liang pi (cold noodles), jin xian you ta (crispy fried noodles), jing gao (steamed glutinous rice) and huang gui shi zi bing (persimmon pastry) are just some of the mouth-watering snacks waiting to be tried. Spend the next morning at leisure, perhaps visiting the Drum Tower, seeing people practicing Tai Chi in City Park or wandering the ancient city wall. Then, lunch on Xi’an’s most famous dish - yang rou pao mo, a seasoned mutton stew with unleavened bread crumbled into it – before saying farewell to Xi’an and taking an overnight train to Chengdu.
ACCOM: Hotel - 1, Overnight sleeper train - 1
Day 6 Chengdu
Get ready for a peppery treat in this UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Chengdu’s most famous ingredient is the Sichuan pepper, which is an exquisite, if not spicy, addition to the region’s signature dishes. Get acquainted with this fiery treat at breakfast with a bowl of dan dan mian, a spicy noodle soup with pork and vegetables. Choose to visit some adorable pandas at the nearby Panda Breeding Research Centre then check out Jinli Street for a cultural and gastronomic treat. This restored ancient street dates back to 221 BC and is filled with food stalls dishing out food like deep fried stinky tofu, dumplings, Mapo Doufu (sichuan-style tofu and meat) and ye er ba (stuffed glutinous rice). Walk off lunch with a tour of beautiful People’s Park and settle in one of the numerous peaceful teahouses dotted around Chengdu, choosing from an array of fragrant teas. They are wonderful places to be among the local community and make sure to look out for a place that has a ‘tea doctor’ – their pouring skills and tea knowledge are out of this world. It would be sacrilegious to leave Chengdu without having a hotpot so tonight take a seat and enjoy the steaming deliciousness of raw foods cooked in a communal bowl of seasoned broth.
ACCOM: Hotel - 1
Day 7 Jinbo Village
Leave the city of Chengdu behind and head deep into rural China. Experience something few tourists do – a homestay in a beautiful Chinese farming village. This charming village is populated by Tibetan and Qiang minority families, who are organic famers providing produce to China’s small organic food markets. Get involved in their working day – perhaps help in gathering produce like wild greens and vegetables, make tofu or join in on some winemaking. Share a meal this evening with a local family, learning about their lives and being privy to their centuries-old culture.
ACCOM: Homestay - 1
Days 8-10 Shanghai
Wake to the sounds of the countryside waking and the aroma of breakfast brewing. Take to country roads once again before jumping on a flight to Shanghai. This modern metropolis has a fascinating history that is evident in its surprising suburbs. Take a walk along the Bund to witness its superb Art-Deco buildings and through the French Concession to experience a taste of Europe. Explore Shanghai First Food, a food store that overpowers the senses with the impressive range of foods it stocks. With appetites whet, dine in one of Shanghai’s amazing restaurants. Hairy crab is particularly popular in Shanghai while in season but other regional specialties include drunken chicken, spicy braised eggplant, niangao (pork, leek and crab in broth) and hongshao rou (braised pork belly). Breakfast the next morning on the irresistible xiaolongbao (soup dumpling) – beware of eating too quickly as that soup in its centre is hot! Get among the sounds and aromas of the Tongchuan Lu Shanghai Fish Market, buying a live fish to be cooked up for lunch at a nearby restaurant – talk about fresh! Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city, shopping for presents or relaxing in a teahouse. Meet up for a sundowner at a rooftop bar overlooking the Pundong Financial District, seeing the sun lower as the city lights start to sparkle. Head to a local restaurant that serves authentic and delicious Shanghai cuisine. Savour a feast of delectable dishes before perhaps spending the rest of the evening on a mini bar crawl and experiencing the city’s electric nightlife. Wrap up this culinary journey through China the next morning after breakfast.
ACCOM: Hotel - 2