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I live and work most of the year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province in central China. It is known as one of the “Furnace Cities” of China due to the oppressive heat during the summer. I once stayed in the city for part of one summer teaching and can tell you that being away from a working air conditioner is torture, the daytime temperatures rise above 40C (104F) and the nights are not much cooler. It was a 20 minute walk from my apartment to the school and the humidity meant it was impossible to stay dry during that walk. I prefer to spend my summer in cooler climates.
The district of Wuhan where I live is called Jiangxia, it is about 20 kilometers from the centre of the city and home to several universities. Wuhan has more than one million students across its 80 colleges and universities. The college closest to my home is the catering college, or cooking school, and every weekday lunchtime and evening you can see the prospective chefs going to their favorite food outlet to eat. It always amuses me that they are learning how to cook, but then have to go out to buy their meals.
Every province I have visited in China will claim that their style of food is the best in the country. Sichuan (I lived there for more than three years) has some of the spiciest foods, Chongqing is well renowned for its hot-pot and Wuhan claims to have the best “Hot Dry Noodles.” In my opinion, Wuhan’s local specialty food is not among the best, but that does not mean the food here is not good.
With such a large student population, the local area is full of restaurants and takeaways to suit all tastes and budgets. For many years I was a chef and most days I will cook for myself or my family when we are together (my wife is Chinese and she lives in Jiangxi province, I go to visit her and our son on the weekends when I am not working). On the days when I do not cook, I will sometimes go to a restaurant and eat.
I can read and speak some Chinese and I find the best way to order what I want and not have it be a mystery meal is to get a copy of a restaurant’s menu and get it translated. I can then write in Chinese what I would like and give this to the waiter/waitress. There have been several occasions where I have been given something different from what I thought I was ordering. I have found that by being prepared and writing your instructions in Chinese before you go somewhere is a good way to avoid potential communication problems.
One problem I have found is some restaurants tend to change locations, maybe only a few doors away. Usually they set up somewhere, get a good reputation and either need a larger space or the landlord sees they are making lots of money and demands a higher rental fee. On several occasions, I have attempted to go into a restaurant only to notice it is slightly different in its setup with either new people or a new menu. If I am unable to find where the other restaurant has moved to, then I have to start the menu translation process again.
Wuhan is famous for several foods, I mentioned earlier Hot Dry Noodles, or Re-gan mian in the pinyin language and 热干面 in Mandarin Chinese. Re simply means hot and gan is dry. Mian is the Chinese word for noodles. It is considered to be a typical meal for breakfast, but many places serve it at any time of day as a quick snack. It is comprised of long noodles, freshly cooked and mixed with sesame paste. You can add as much or little of the spices available to suit your taste. I will eat these occasionally, but they are very dry and not really to my taste.
Duck’s Neck is a popular Chinese dish made of pieces of duck neck cooked with spices. The Wuhan version, known as Ya Bozi or 鸭脖子, is particularly popular and many visitors to the city like to take this local dish away with them. Each of the main train stations in Wuhan has stalls selling this dish. It is not to my taste, but when I travel with my wife to see her relatives in the south of China we have to take this with us.
Mianwo, or 面窝, is a type of salty doughnut, much thinner than a sweet doughnut and considered to be a typical local food of Wuhan.
One of the local foods I do like is Xiaolongtangbao, or 小笼汤包 in Mandarin. Tang (soup) and bao (bread) literally means soup bread or bread filled with soup. It is a thinly skinned dumpling stuffed with a juicy meat filling. When you bite into the dumpling, the meaty soup is released.
Some of my other favorite foods are:
I generally did not eat eggplant before I came to China, I did not like it. However, here in China it is cooked so differently. One way is fried with onions and garlic, but my favorite way is at a Chinese barbeque – the eggplant is cut in half lengthways and laid flat and cooked slowly on the barbeque, it is full of garlic and tastes delicious.
Probably my favorite dish is Ganbao Chicken; it is small pieces of chicken (no bones), onion, garlic, carrot, cucumber and peanuts all cooked together. Some restaurants will try to use chicken with the bones, which is not so good in my opinion.
This should leave you with a few dishes to try when you’re in Wuhan. Thanks for reading.
If you have enjoyed this article, you can read more about my travels and lifestyle in China on my blog.