Monday, November 21, 2016

Exploring Nanjing: 南京大排档 Restaurant

Our first semester here at the HNC passed at lightning speed, jam-packed with school events, traveling during the National Holiday, and lots of time spent at the library preparing for class. With all that’s been going on, I realized that most  of the time I’ve had with my roommate, Wu Ye, has consisted studying, discussing our course material, and more studying.

Luckily, we found some time this past week to get out and have dinner at a nearby restaurant she’d recommended as a must-go for Nanjing new-comers and locals alike.

南京大排档 is perhaps the best known restaurant in Nanjing. Conveniently located a short 15 minute walk from the HNC, this dining establishment serves authentic Nanjing cuisine. If you’re trying to get a good idea of what specialty dishes characterize Nanjing flavor, 南京大排档 is the place to go.

Before we even entered the restaurant I was struck by the beautiful exterior and luminescent interior. The outside of the restaurant is structured like a traditional Chinese mansion, and the inside is filled with bright red lanterns that display the names of dishes written in elegant calligraphy.

Upon entering the restaurant we were immediately greeted by an enthusiastic host who first asked for the number of people in our party, and then called out a 成语 using the number we gave him (两全其美). When we sat down, Wu Ye explained to me the meaning of the 成语, which translates loosely into “double-win” or “both sides get what they want”. Apparently the host can find a number-specific idiom to greet parties of any size!

Since it was my first time, I let Wu Ye do the ordering while I walked around the restaurant to snap a few pictures and watch some of the cooks in action. The restaurant’s interior is reminiscent of a traditional night market, with cooks working behind a counter set up like Nanjing street vendors or market stands. This is fun for people like me, who enjoy the chance to check out of the dishes and preparation methods before getting to enjoy the chef’s work.

When the dishes arrived I knew I was right letting Wu Ye take charge. Since she knows that my main dish of choice is always some kind of  面条, she ordered a large bowl of hand-pulled noodles in a delicious broth that I finished off without much help. We were both also very fond of the fried radish cakes, crispy and perfect for dipping in broth or with some black vinegar and  辣椒. My favorite dish was a bowl of finely chopped leafy green vegetable called 马兰头, which is local to Jiangsu province, paired with dried tofu, and delicately flavored with fragrant sesame oil.

I also highly recommend the 宋美龄粥,a classic dish of sweet, rice and soy-milk porridge, with tasty pieces of lily root thrown in. The dish is named after the famous and widely-loved female politician and diplomat, 宋美龄, wife of the KMT leaders and president Republic of China, 蒋介石. My roommate has many wonderful attributes, one of which is her extensive historical knowledge, particularly of influential women in Chinese history.

Written by Amanda Bogan, HNC Certificate '17