Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sunset Stroll at 1912

Hefei sunset at 4:30pm (a sure sign winter is coming!)
Hefei 1912 Bar Street
Crossing of Ninghuai Road & Huangshan Road
A beautiful sunset was just the perfect inspiration for me to go on a nice afternoon stroll and check out the new Hefei 1912 Bar Street located in the city’s new technological zone. The 1912 Bar Street officially opened last September 23 and is slated to have more than 20 cultural and commercial shops. The new center also includes various bars, cinemas, boutique hotels and health spas. Most of the places have not yet opened but here are a few already happily welcoming customers and worth checking out. 

View of Hefei 1912 and the upcoming Cinema complex

Blue Marlin is a chain of restaurants that originated with several branches in the city of Suzhou. Since then, it has branched out to the nearby city of Nanjing and now, with an outlet in Hefei as well. Dishes on the menu are an eclectic mix of German, French, Italian and Asian fare. Recommended are the burgers and their grilled selections. Draught beer and a wide selection of drinks are also available. 

I love to call this "the restaurant with the mask" because of its beautiful, iconic red mask logo. If you have some sudden cravings for excellent spicy Chinese food, this is the place for you. Sichuan cuisine and its famously fiery elements made up of chilies and hot peppercorn ingredients are number one on the menu here. This growing restaurant chain is already valued as a brand with its authentic, delicious food, high-end decor (glass walls and comfy booth sitting) and upscale environment adding to its appeal. Top menu favorites are the spicy stone grilled beef, dan dan noodles, palace prawns, crystal shrimp, Ma Po tofu and home-style sea cucumber. 

Italy's beloved coffee roaster Lavazza has now come to China with plans of opening more than 200 coffee shops in the next five years. The first shops opened in the top cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and have now expanded to many smaller cities including Hefei. Real Italian Lavazza coffee is available here including some Italian cuisine. I decided to try out the Mochachino. Yummy!

A huge craving for some Spanish tapas and Paella brought Marc and I straight to this restaurant last weekend. The restaurant has a fine-dining atmosphere decorated in an old world ambiance. The authentic Spanish chefs who make the wonderful dishes hail from Valencia and San Sebastian. We sampled the Paella de Mariscos, croquetas de jamon, croquetas de verduras and really nice wine. The food was great and delicious and we'll definitely be back! 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Shipyard Cafe...a true Wuhu Road sanctuary!

Marc walking down Wuhu Road, Hefei
Beautiful rows of trees on Wuhu Road, Hefei

Wuhu Road in downtown Hefei is filled with trees....just rows of endless trees on each side that beckon you to walk through them especially in the autumn when the leaves turn yellow and bright orange, which not surprisingly fires up the appetite as well. It was lunchtime, my stomach was growling and the hunt for food was on. Being conveniently located downtown, naturally Wuhu road is filled with restaurants, mostly Chinese fare and coffee shops, but Marc and I were looking for something a little bit different from the usual. Having read about a charming place called Shipyard Cafe that serves great coffee, freshly made teas and some tasty dishes such as chicken wings and fries, we tracked it down in no time.

Shipyard Cafe is inconspicuous to say the least. Wuhu Road is also quite a long road but if you start walking on the right side of Wuhu just off Jinzhai Road, you will see it eventually. It can be easy to miss the outside sign written in green letters but if you walk slowly and look closely, it'll be worth the search. 

Shipyard Cafe's owner Jeremy with Marc by the bar
The moment we entered, we were greeted by Shipyard's friendly owner Jeremy. Jeremy is orginally from England and opened the cafe in April 2011 together with his lovely wife who designed the place. The entire place just envelops you in warmth and a feeling of joy. It has a very cottage-like and homey feel to it much like if you were in a French countryside cafe surrounded by flowers and sunlight. The place has several cozy nooks and private rooms and a nice general sitting area with one wall displaying a huge wooden book shelf with an assorted amount of books and even board games (I think I saw a Chinese monopoly!). The other walls are also decorated with Jeremy's beautiful photographs taken from his many travels. At the heart of the cafe lies the bar which was my favorite as it had a fantastic coffee machine, some pretty good wine and the most adorable hanging lamps with a beautiful design pattern resembling mosaic and stained glass. There is also a small outdoor area with one table for guests who want to enjoy their coffee al fresco when the weather is warm. The whole place was just screaming happy and cheery and I was glad we sauntered over for lunch.

The bar's beautiful hanging lamps
A table in the main sitting area
A private room
A cozy, relaxing nook
The charming book shelf
A lovely cabinet
Looking at the menu, we realized that the cafe doesn't normally have a regular menu for food but Jeremy revealed that if customers were hungry, they could happily whip up some dishes such as Steak and Chips (French fries) and Chicken wings. We each ordered the Steak and Chips which was great and the fries were just about the best we've tried so far in Hefei. They were made fresh and what a difference it makes. Real fresh potatoes! Marc ate all of his and half of mine! I glared at him and promised I won't be that nice next time, but I knew he was enjoying the fries so much so I gave in just this once. The main menu offers a really great selection of coffee and tea. I was impressed by the abundance of the tea list ranging from classic English teas, Chinese herbal teas and Fruit infused teas. I decided to try the Rose tea which came in a nice pot. It was fresh and delicious. 

Freshly made Rose tea
All in all, it is a great place to hangout with a cozy fresh atmosphere and we truly enjoyed our Saturday lunch. We will definitely be back soon and if you find yourself walking down Wuhu Road one of these days, why not check it out?

Shipyard Cafe 
377 Wuhu Road, Hefei, Anhui Province, China. 
Phone: +86 5512866895
Closed on Mondays

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lost in Concession

Dangerous for shopping: Changle Road

On a recent quick trip to Shanghai, I once again found myself lost in the French Concession. I wasn’t really lost of course. In fact, I know the area quite well by now. But I did roam aimlessly and float around its many clothing boutiques, little cafes, bookstores and beauty product shops for a good two hours wishing I could stay lost in that abyss forever. It is wonderfully magical and charming with its little alleyways, brick buildings, and the leafy Platanes (London Plane trees) planted by the French at the turn of the 20th century…but unfortunately, it is also heavy on the pocket! You will usually end up blowing your budget once you see the many wonderful finds available along the concession’s many streets…especially along Changle Road and Fumin Road where I stopped by a few beauty gems. 

Shanghai's French Concession

327 Changle Road, Shanghai
Open 8:30am-5:30pm

Casa Mia at 327 Changle Road
Casa Mia is a haven for new moms and anyone at all with dry, sensitive skin which are often prone to rashes and allergic breakouts. This little store may be small but it packs a punch with its complete array of imported skin and body care products especially made for babies or people with very sensitive skin. I was impressed by the complete range of Aveeno products (including sunscreens, lotions/creams, anti-aging moisturizers, body and bath, hair care and lip care). The store also carries well-known natural and organic brands that are completely free of harmful chemicals such as Weleda, Bella B, Burt’s Bees and California Baby. If you have very dry skin and are in need of some intense lotions, this is the store for you!

152 Fumin Road, Shanghai
Open 10am – 10pm

The Herb Store at 152 Fumin Road
This store has been a favorite of mine for awhile ever since discovering it two years ago when I first visited Shanghai. The Herb Store specializes in a more natural approach to beauty which you can feel the moment you enter the place. The smell of delicious teas and the potent aromas of essential oils float through the air and it is almost like entering a nature spa in the middle of the city. The store offers 100% natural products and traditional herbal remedies from a variety of herbal and medicinal teas, potted herb plants, oil burners, essential oils for aromatherapy and even natural skin care such as facial soaps, toners and facial beauty oils. My favorite is their Rose Hydrosol Water 100ml. (129Rmb/US$20). You can spray this on your face directly for a quick and deeply hydrating refreshing mist. It can also be used with cotton and applied to the face as a toner.

1221 Changle Road by Huashan Road, Shanghai
Open 10am-9pm

The entrance to Ba Yan Ka La
Ba Yan Ka La is my latest luxury discovery and my new favorite store in the French Concession. After reading about it in That’s Shanghai magazine, I couldn’t wait to track it down. I’ll give you an idea of what attracted me with a little introduction. Ba Yan Ka La is the first local cosmetic company to use 100% organic-certified formulas. This luxury skincare line is made from China’s finest raw materials, and only uses active ingredients made up of natural essential oils, vegetables and herbs such as Goji Berry, Chinese Mulberry, Tibetan Roseroot, Lotus Seed and Organic Coix Seed. Aside from this, all the products are formulated using the pristine water sourced and bottled at the mineral glacial spring in the spectacular Ba Yan Ka La mountain range on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. And if this wasn’t enough, Ba Yan Ka La fuses the holistic powers of nature and incorporates the wisdom of ancient Chinese healing and medicine into all of their products. At first glance, I thought, now this is quite unique but most of all, the whole thing…just sounds promising! I felt myself looking younger and staying younger forever just reading about it! 

Ba Yan Ka La's window display
So I wandered over to the store and was not disappointed. The beautiful boutique invited me through its glass doors and I was just immersed in product heaven. They have testers for all their products so you can try all of them before purchasing any. Choose from five different skincare lines and a variety of handmade soaps, shampoos, body washes, creams and lotions. Prices are a bit steep so you might want to start out sampling one or two products first, but after buying two products and trying them myself, I can tell you they are absolutely worth it.

I bought the Goji Berry Beautiful Hand Cream 75ml (88Rmb/US$14) and the Coix Seed Illuminating Facial Cleanser 100ml (188Rmb/US$29). Their star products are the Lotus Seed Precious Shower Oil, Chinese Mulberry Body Milk, Tibetan Roseroot Holistic Shampoo and Conditioner, Coix Seed Ultra Radiance Repair Cream and the Goji Berry Beautiful Hand Cream.

Coix Seed Illuminating Facial Cleanser & Goji Berry Hand Cream

Ba Yan Ka La is also committed to environmental sustainability and fair trade agreements with local producers. They are also against animal testing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The art of the Noodle!

Yesterday, I ate noodles the entire day, and I loved it. By far, the easiest and one of the most affordable meals you can have in China is the beloved Chinese noodle soup. This is served practically on every street corner restaurant and everywhere in China. My favorite is the Beef Noodle soup which is made primarily of stewed beef, beef broth, a variety of vegetables which consist mostly of “suan cai”, a Chinese sauerkraut and green onions, and Chinese noodles. This famous country dish goes back a long way to the Hui people who created this delicious meal during the Tang Dynasty (618AD – 907AD). Yes, it’s that old! Here in China, Beef Noodle Soup is served up in a large bowl and treated as an entire meal. I decided to try this awesome, hearty and comforting meal for lunch yesterday at the Howard Johnson Hefei hotel’s coffee shop…and it was hot, steaming and incredibly yummy.
Chinese Beef Noodle Soup 
Howard Johnson Hefei coffee shop
After that meal, I found myself still dreaming of noodles and decided I wasn’t done with it yet. However, I wanted to sample one of a slightly different kind but just as equally famous, so my husband Marc and I headed to Wanda Plaza here in Hefei to the Japan Yamazaki restaurant to try their version of noodle soups…the much-loved and popular Japanese ramen. Ramen consists mainly of wheat noodles, served in a meat or fish based broth heavily flavored with either soy sauce or miso, and with additional toppings of boiled eggs, sliced pork, dried seaweed and green onions. Ramen traces its roots back to its Chinese origin and slowly evolved into its own unique concoction and taste in Japan. The main difference between the two noodle soups lies in the broth. Japanese ramen broth tends to be thicker and heavier due to the miso and soya flavors. The ramen was simply delicious and I closed my eyes as I savored the last drop…at least for the day. 
Japanese Yamazaki restaurant, 4/F Wanda Plaza, Hefei
Japanese Ramen

If you ever have an urge to go noodle crazy like me for one day and don't have the time to visit China or Japan just yet, there's no need to worry as you can easily sample any of these dishes at any Chinese or Japanese restaurant in your hometown. Or better yet, here's a recipe for a simple, easy, homemade Chinese Beef Noodle soup that you can conjure up and enjoy at home. Happy eating! 

Chinese Beef Noodle Soup (recipe courtesy of

2lbs. beef (diced)
3-4 tbsps. oil
6 cups chicken broth
6 cups water
2 tbsps. soy sauce
12-14 tsp chili pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
340g. (12 ozs) egg noodles (dried wide)
3 green onions (sliced)

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the beef, in batches, and lightly brown.
  2. When the entire meet has browned, add the red chili flakes, and then add the meat back into the pot. Add the chicken broth, water, soy sauce and light brown sugar.
  3. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours. Skim the “guck” that comes to the surface the first 20 minutes.
  4. When ready to eat, boil the noodles in salted boiling water until tender. Drain.
  5. Add the cooked noodles to the soup. Add the salt and garnish with the green onions.
  6. Serve at once. Put the desired amount of noodles first at the bottom of each soup bowl and cover with the soup.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Getting packed and ready...and off to China!

I love new discoveries, so when my husband mentioned we were moving to China again, I felt a wave of excitement much like the very first time we arrived here. In the midst of all this, it also got me thinking that it was inevitable that I would soon start a blog. Aside from continuous shoves of encouragement from my best friends…I’ve also just realized that I’m a beauty product hoarder. Probably not as bad as the TV show. So far I haven’t seen rats among my stash of products!! But I’m a hoarder just the same. I have an insane addiction to beauty products…and yes, this includes staying way too long at beauty counters, perfume counters and cosmetic shops (who can resist the scents, sights, beautiful packaging and ambiance of these stores? I just love it!). As I was packing for the move, an endless row of perfumes, bath products, lotions etc. lay in a mountainous heap before me…most only half-used and some brand new. I thought there was no way in hell I could fit these in my luggage and so had to make do with giving some away, mostly to my sister and mom who are always happy to help me. But before I start beauty hunting on what's available here in China, here is one new obsession I managed to snatch from Manila just in the nick of time…

Alba Botanica’s Terra Tints!! 
Say goodbye to lipstick! (even just for a little bit..)

This miracle lip balm and lipstick in one is my new obsession. My mom convinced me to try Alba Botanica’s Terra Tints insisting she hasn’t worn lipstick since buying it because of the potent color and the intense moisturizing benefits. At first, I was skeptical as I’ve tried a multitude of lip balms in all ranges of tints and colors and most never come close to a proper lipstick. The fact of the matter is you really need a separate lip balm and lipstick, which let’s face it would still be much better for everyone and time saving if done in one swipe. My curiosity burning, I tracked down Terra Tints to see what my mom’s hype was all about and surprise, surprise…now I’m hooked!

Alba Botanica’s Terra Tints comes in six 100% mineral colors: Blaze, Bloom, Dawn, Garnet, Sienna and Sunset (available at Healthy Options Philippines or at So far, my favorite is Blaze (a rosy reddish color). It’s perfect for day and night. In fact, it’s the only thing I use right now. It contains zinc oxide for chemical free SPF 8 and organic coconut oil, olive oil, calendula, Echinacea, and organic peppermint to keep lips healthy, soft and hydrated. No worries, my love for lipstick has not yet died. I haven’t given up on lipstick yet. But when I’ll start using one again still remains to be seen.