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Shanghai’s most iconic bowl of yellow croaker noodles

Shanghai’s food culture is hard to tackle in one visit so I always tell visiting friends to start with two things: a basket of soup dumplings and a bowl of yellow croaker noodles. While soup dumplings have been widely covered, yellow croaker noodles really don’t get as much love!

黄鱼面 which literally translates to ‘yellow croaker noodles,’ are essentially springy noodles in a creamy golden broth filled with chunks of yellow croaker. At 蟹黄鱼 Xie Huang Yu, my favourite noodle spot, they also toss in minced crab to enhance the umami flavours. Add a light splash of vinegar to the broth and it’ll be just perfect.

Xie Huang Yu has a charming little store in Xintiandi that feels very down to earth compared to its surroundings (PC: Dianping)

Lunch spread! Each bowl of yellow croaker noodles comes with a little side of vinegar mixed with minced ginger

My two favorite dishes to share are the lightly breaded Chinese pork chop and the chicken thigh in a spring onion marinade

It’s rare to see such big chunks of minced crab & yellow croaker, they’re super generous with their portion sizes at Xie Huang Yu

These yellow croaker wontons are pretty phenomenal too–essentially, Xie Huang Hu stuffs yellow croaker chunks into juicy wontons and then add some minced crab on top

A local gem in Xintiandi, you’ll find plenty of locals lining up here during weekday lunch hours!

Shanghai’s best bowl of noodles

At Xie Huang Hu, they’ve really perfected that delicate balance of a creamy soup without any fishiness to it and chunks of yellow croaker plus crab. At 68RMB per bowl, it’s a steal! The restaurant’s signature wontons stuffed with yellow croaker are also excellent. You can really taste the fleshy fish meat and the wontons themselves are delicious when dipped in the vinegar-soy sauce. Other popular dishes to share include fried yellow croaker, chicken in a spring onion marinade, and Shanghai-style fried pork chop.

Note that Xie Huang Yu’s yellow croaker noodles are certified 网红 ‘viral’ which means that celebrities and locals alike will queue just to get a taste of it. My favorite location to visit is the Xintiandi branch, which is really in the heart of Shanghai. The key is to go after 2pm you want to miss the lunch crowds! After all, you really can’t leave Shanghai without trying a bowl of these yellow croaker noodles, it’s a Shanghai-must.

love,
eatprayjade x.

Xie Huang Yu 蟹黄鱼
Address// 200 Taicang Road, by the intersection of Taicang Road and Madang Road
Hours// 10am-late

A Curated Guide to Paris Desserts

When in Paris, there is no better treat than a fresh croissant paired with un café. “Paris is a moveable feast” as Hemingway once said, so the occasional indulgence is almost a must. Last year, I traveled to Paris frequently for work and found myself revisiting many pâtisseries and bistros for French desserts. Some blew me away at first bite and some were simply classics. Here are three spots I personally adored in Paris, alongside some neighbourhood favourites for a post-feast stroll.

Du Pain et Des Idées

Every time I take a bite of the pistachio-stuffed chocolate escargot at Du Pain et Des Idées I’m reminded of why I love french pastries. Buttery, flakey and decadent–it doesn’t get better than this.  Du Pain et Des Idées is a must-visit in the 10th arrondissement and worthy of a “bread pilgrimage” according to Condé Nast Traveler,

A gorgeous rustic bakery with limited seating, open only on the weekdays

This legendary pistache-chocolat escargot pastry is a Paris icon for me and worth trekking to Du Pain et Des Idées for

Rows of fresh pain au chocolat and croissants, this is what bread-lovers’ dreams are made of

A sneak peek of the bakery’s legendary recipes (all in French!)

The charming old bench outside is the only seating available but it’s more than enough for people-watching as you scarf down your pastries

Waking up early to arrive, order, and devour a fresh escargot before grabbing an assortment of pastries for my colleagues was a delicious routine of mine. Note that Du Pain et Des Idées very recently added a coffee list to their menu. I can never resist a coffee with my croissants but be warned you’ll find much better options elsewhere. That being said, the pastry selection is more than impressive and the escargots are simply irresistible. Truly an icon of my Paris trips.

Sébastien Gaudard

Previously the pastry chef behind Fauchon, Sébastien Gaudard has a charming pâtisserie next to the Tuileries Garden. The shop is bright and airy, with a gorgeous display of decadent desserts on the first floor and tea salon on the second floor. Sébastien Gaudard has quite an extensive menu. Among them the Paris Brest stuffed with praline cream is a crowd-favourite and so is the Mont Blanc cake. Because I like to visit in the morning, I also gravitate towards the viennoiserie and pick out a Chausson aux Pommes as well.

Surprisingly, one of my favourites at Sebastien Gaudard is actually the Chausson aux Pommes, which is a French Apple Turnover that’s extra flakey and buttery

Stroll through the Tuileries Gardens afterwards–I love to sit by the fountain and people-watch before making my way to the Musée de l’Orangerie

Musée de l’Orangerie was designed with maximising natural light in mind

Visiting Giverny, where Monet painted his Nymphéas, is on the top of my list for my next trip back to France

Sébastien Gaudard is a lovely spot for classic French desserts in the 1st arrondissement and perhaps that’s also why you do pay dearly for it (~8 euros per cake!). That being said, the shop is tucked in the corner of the Tuileries Garden and therefore conveniently on the way to Musée de L’Orangerie. A sweet start to the day followed by a visit to the Tuileries Garden and surrounding museums is the perfect Paris itinerary.

Le Récamier

When done right, soufflés are fluffy as a cloud and just dreamy–pretty much what I captioned on my Instagram post after my first visit to Le Récamier. My Parisian roommate back in university days said that Le Récamier had some of “the best soufflés in Paris” (and Vogue apparently thinks so too). So when I finally had a spoonful of the chocolat noir soufflé with a glass of chardonnay, I was pretty thrilled that it exceeded my expectations and more.

Le Récamier, located on Rue Récamier, is a chic Parisian institution that’s beloved by locals and high-profile celebrities alike

Terrace seating was quite cozy under the heat lamps and even more lovely in the summertime

A DECADENT chocolate soufflé with a glass of chardonnay, simply perfect

There are quite a lot of savoury soufflé options as well–we ordered the famous Henry IV, a chicken gravy soufflé that was bursting at its seams a bit!

Visit the nearby Bon Marché afterwards to enjoy the seasonal displays and some shopping

The food hall in Bon Marché is possibly my favourite place to pick up gifts in Paris, just look at the assortment of jams and spices available! PC: La Grande Épicerie, Interstore Design Team

Personally, my favourite thing to gift is Marlette–an organic baking kit with a nice selection of traditional French recipes to choose from

As Le Récamier is in the luxurious 7th arrondisement, there’s also a lot of nearby shopping available. For gourmands, visit Le Bon Marché and its adjacent food hall, La Grand Épicerie, for some gourmet shopping. You can most likely pick up all the ingredients needed to whip up your own French dessert!

Thoughts

I kept the list short but hopefully sweet. I have a long list of places I loved in Paris and I can’t wait to share it with you guys. Anyways, I’ve been told a dessert a day may not be the secret to Parisian chic but sometimes… it’s simply too good to resist.

love,
eatprayjade x.

Du Pain et Des Idées
Address // 34 rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris
Website // www.dupainetdesidees.com 
Tel // +01 42 40 44 52

Sebastien Gaudard
Address // 1 rue des Pyramides, Sous Les Arcades, 75001 Paris
Website // www.sebastiengaudard.com
Tel // +01 71 18 24 70

Le Récamier
Address // 4 Rue Récamier, 75007 Paris
Website // www.lerecamier.com
Tel // +33 1 45 48 86 58 

Dim Sum Fine Dining at Sense 8 誉八仙

Sense 8 誉八仙 is a gorgeous old-school Cantonese tea house in Xintiandi. From hairy crab shumai to truffle mushroom dumplings, you can find every style of dim sum and Cantonese delicacy at Sense 8.  The name 誉八仙 comes from the old Chinese legend of “Eight Immortals” and brings a dreamy element to the restaurant’s decor.

Walking into Sense 8 is quite a lavish experience. Filled with Chinese antiques and hues of red and gold, the main dining room is constantly buzzing with servers refilling teapots and carrying bamboo baskets of fresh dim sum. It is said we often feast with our eyes and in that way, Sense 8 is a crowd-pleaser and Shanghai gem. Many have asked me for my favourite dim sum spot in Shanghai so here it is finally!

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Similar to a traditional tea house, you’ll have a separate dim sum menu where you note down your order and hand back to the servers

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Dim sum spread begins! Most dim sum are in a trio so best to double the order if you have more than 3 people

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In front, you have the crab and pork shumai and in the back, the scallop and black garlic shumai

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Fatty and succulent char shiu pork, this is a must get for meat lovers

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Shrimp har gau is possibly my favourite dim sum–simple but excellent when done right

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In the bamboo basket up front is the assorted mushroom dumpling topped with truffle; the beautiful translucent jade green comes from spinach juice

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Pan fried radish and taro cakes are classics and great with Sense 8’s special chili sauce

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Notice the teapot and background antiques are decorated with the characters from the tale of “Eight Immortals”– a nice nod to the restaurant’s dreamy name

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Sense 8’s old-school opulent interiors

Sense 8 is best during brunch time where fresh dim sum is served. Sometimes you’ll even find servers walking around with off-the-menu dim sum! My favourites include the shrimp har gau, crab roe shumai and assorted mushroom dumplings with truffle. Don’t forget to pair your food with some pu’er tea served in a beautiful “Eight Immortals” themed teapot.

À la carte dim sum is not served during dinnertime but there is a dim sum platter with some of their classics. So if you cannot make it for brunch, be sure to ask for the dinner dim sum basket.

Goodbye 2018

Closing out the year with a Shanghai favourite of mine. It’s been a hectic year and I haven’t posted on this blog as much as I would’ve liked. Posting more will be on my list of New Year resolutions for 2019! A lot of you have asked me for recommendations and contacts in Shanghai, Yunnan and other parts of China. I’m always happy to share some local favourites–just drop me an email.

Happy holidays from Shanghai with love,

Jade

Sense 8 誉八仙
Address // Lane 8 Xintiandi, 181 Taicang Road
Tel // 6373-1888

Breakfast is served from 8am-10.30am daily and Brunch from 11am-3pm.

Glamping Above the Clouds in Shangri-la, Yunnan

The spectacular snowy peaks of Haba Snow Mountain in Shangri-La, Yunnan should be on every wanderlust traveler’s bucket list. Situated opposed the famed Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and above Tiger Leaping Gorge, Haba Snow Mountain means “golden flower” in the language of Naxi, the local ethnic minority. In order to visit Haba Snow Mountain, it is a 3.5-4 hour drive from the Old Town of Lijiang. The drive from the airport to the mountain is incredible however, as it includes the most spectacular journey through the Tiger Leaping Gorge 虎跳峡.

I took a last minute trip to Haba Snow Mountain this past March in order to stay at the newly opened accomodation, Clouds Glamping. It was actually a spur of the moment trip, which started with a call from my friend Qiqi asking if I was interested in going glamping. Qiqi is a creative and like me, always interested in new off-the-beaten path experiences (that and she’s also a Michelin-starred pastry chef that whips up some of the best desserts I’ve ever had!). Of course, like the start of all good adventures, I said yes without any prior research and booked a last minute flight to Lijiang, Yunnan.

Glamping is relatively a new concept in China so I really didn’t know what to expect, but when I finally met the charismatic owners behind Clouds Glamping, I could see how their vision of hospitality and entrepreneurship was incorporated into every detail of their property. I’ll let the pictures tell the story first because at an elevation of 3000 meters, Clouds Glamping truly felt like a hidden gem above the clouds.

*Updated as of September 2020: Yunnan was under quite strict travel restrictions this year so I recieved quite a lot of questions. Clouds Glamping is operating right now but at limited capacity. All locals and foreign-passport holders are required to show a green QR health code. For more questions, you can reach their front desk at 15011939988 (Chinese service line).

Clouds Glamping in Haba Snow Mountain with panoramic glacier views

Dreamy clouds with beautiful sunshine, truly Shangri-La at its finest

Each tent has a slightly different patio, all designed with afternoon lazing in mind

A large yet cozy tent with a queen size bed, equipped with all the essentials you’ll need

The tent is kept warm by a built-in-fireplace and once all the windows are zipped up, it’s quite cozy at night even when the temperature drops

Total of three tents in addition to the two pictured here, all with unique features (one of them even has a professional star-gazing telescope!)

Where I most frequently relaxed during my trip–these chairs are definitely the best seats in the house to take a nap in

Apart from the tents, there is a central kitchen and community area for guests to use. The first floor is a L-shaped kitchen, the second floor is closed off with a glass panel for late night tunes, and the third floor is open-air and great for some morning rooftop yoga

The bar area was always busy with someone making fresh Yunnan Arabica coffee, a huge perk of glamping in Yunnan

A surprise birthday cake by Qiqi! She managed to make a cake with all the random ingredients she found in the kitchen (some simple butter cake, banana cream, and fresh fruit)

If you stay at at the site for a couple of days, you’ll see that the sun rays hit the valley differently at every point of the day–I personally found the afternoon sun rays the most stunning

My favorite travel necessities recently: an edition of Magazine B and my Sunday Somewhere sunglasses

Highlight of our personal patio: taking an afternoon warm bath in the mountains

Spending a birthday with my feet propped in an outdoor bath and a clear view of the snowy Shangri-La mountains

Breakfast is a guaranteed feast with a view–we had steamed buns, fresh Yunnan coffee, eggs, pancakes… and if you fancy cooking, you are more than welcome to add to the breakfast menu

Chef Qiqi making some scallion pancakes on the grill (seriously, it’s a privilege to travel with a chef!)

The owners making some fresh congee for us in the morning; hands down the most charismatic couple you’ll meet

Boiling eggs with some mountain herbs–a little cooking secret Qiqi shared with us to make the eggs more fragrant

Skillet fried pork dumplings that were, for some reason, so amazing we had THREE skillet full of these!

A casual lunch with the Clouds Glamping team–all fresh, seasonal vegetables from the local Naxi village

Yunnan-style chorizo is fired up with Sichuan peppercorn and chili oil, it’s an incredibly tasty dish that is local to the region

In the afternoons, even though there was WIFI throughout the campsite, I found myself spending less time on my phone and more time listening to the other travelers share their stories

The Clouds Glamping team are all avid coffee drinkers, they can even give you a little brewing workshop for those that want to learn the art of hand drip coffee

(L to R): me in my happy place, Qiqi loving the kitchen she can cook and brew coffee in, our fellow campsite visitor who’s a coffee addict, and the beautiful owner Yoyo finally taking a moment to relax

At night, we grabbed Shangri-La beers (excellent mountain water means exceptional beer) over a bonfire

This clear shot of the starry night was taken by a fellow camper–it’s hard to capture how beautiful the night sky was at the campsite and how tiny I felt staring up at it

A very reluctant goodbye the morning of our departure

Leaving Haba Snow Mountain and driving down to Lijiang which is a 4 hour drive–we stopped to use the rest station, and this was the view right next to it (surreal, I know)

Before leaving Yunnan we visited the central market in the Old Town of Lijiang, Yunnan (you can still see the snowy peaks in the background)

Shangri-la, Yunnan is a fictional heaven on earth…

Clouds Glamping is run by Yoyo and her husband, both with incredible stories and vision. Yoyo use to be a national baseball player and her idea of good fun is basking in the sun with a coffee in hand. Her husband on the other hand is this comically funny, big heart, big personality type of guy that is always sneaking out to go on hiking trips with us. In the afternoons, we would all sit on the patio to admire the panoramic views of Shangri-la and discuss politics, travel, and what entrepreneurship looks like in remote areas of China. Clouds Glamping is a passion project they have built by hand (most literally) and that is why they so carefully curate all the items they provide for visitors. Whether it’s handpicking Yunnan Arabica coffee beans from a local plantation or choosing speakers that echo nicely in the mountains, the dynamic duo want to craft an unique glamping experience in China.

Considering that Qiqi and I are avid food lovers, the farm-to-table concept at Clouds Glamping was the perfect addition to our stay. Even in Shanghai, I’ve always adored Yunnan cuisine for its seasonal delicacies such as foraged wild mushrooms and peppercorn-stuffed chorizo. But what I enjoyed most about dining at Clouds Glamping was the hearty mix of local delicacies and wholesome, Chinese comfort food. The typical breakfast repertoire every day includes coffee, eggs, steamed buns and congee. All the guests tend to dine together in the mornings so I found myself waking up everyday to the smell of delicious creations like scallion pancakes and soft boiled eggs with herbs. Lunch and dinners were free-for-all so you could utilize the kitchen, cook with local produce you pick up from the nearby Naxi village, or go hiking and have a picnic. We went with eating what the locals ate i.e. hanging out with the staff members and eating traditional Yunnan dishes with them. It’s a great way to converse with local villagers and try out the crazy spicy flavors they love!

There are things that will inevitably come with staying in the middle of a snow mountain. For one, the temperature drop at night is quite significant so Yoyo would heat up a campfire for us to huddle around and distribute local Shangri-La beers to warm us up. No electricity at night (Clouds Glamping mostly relies on solar power) meant we would all star-gaze and chat before retreating to our tents lit up by small oil lamps. Limited hot water meant we would be more mindful of our water usage and be courteous to everybody. In a way, these inconveniences were charming reminders of the luxuries we take for granted in the big cities we were all from.

In short, I am thankful that Qiqi kidnapped me on such an unforgettable trip to Haba Snow Mountain. I was inspired by the people I met, the good food I ate, and the snow-capped mountains of Shangri-La county. There are places you travel to that stay with you for a while. While very much off-the-beaten path, Clouds Glamping was definitely one of those for me.

love,
eatprayjade x.

 

Haba Snow Mountain 哈巴雪山 
Directions // From Lijiang Sanyi International Airport, rent a car to Haba Village 哈巴村 which is the base of the Snow Mountain, or if you plan to stay in Clouds Glamping they can arrange a car for you to and from the airport for 600RMB/one way.

Clouds Glamping 云阶
Reservations // Add them via WeChat ID: clouds_glamping (or email me at eatprayjade@gmail.com and I can arrange a reservation for you)
Price// 1800RMB/big tent, 1500RMB/small tent (price includes breakfast every day)

A Curated Travel Guide to Ningxia, China

Ningxia (宁夏) may be covered by vast stretches of desert but it is also home to China’s most promising wine region. Along the foothills of Helan Mountain 贺兰山, neat rows of vineyards flourish on sandy terroir and plenty of sunshine. Most of Ningxia estates are growing red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt and Merlot. After all, a bottle of Ningxia red pairs deliciously with the region’s signature lamb cuisine.

I took a trip to Ningxia this September with a couple of friends that love wine & wanted to explore somewhere off the beaten track. Having visited most corners of Shanghai’s concrete jungle, we were all getting the travel itch. Thankfully, our friend A took the initiative to plan a 5-day getaway to Ningxia which included wine tasting, desert glamping & trying out local cuisine.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was our time spent in Tengger Dessert, which is on the border of Ningxia and adjacent to Gobi Desert. Named after the beautiful Mongolian word for “sky,” Tengger Desert is a sight to behold with its rolling sand dunes and golden sunsets. A 3-hour drive from Yinchuan city, the long journey to Tengger Desert will feel worth it once you’re sitting on soft sand dunes with a glass of wine.

 

First, visit the ancient ruins of the Great Wall

There are many Great Wall sections in Ningxia, among them we visited the Ming Great Wall located in Shuidonggou National Park

Hiking up and down as we wandered through the National Park’s various sites

Fun fact: most of China’s Great Wall sections we see today were (re-)built in the Ming Dynasty

Historically, Mongolian horsemen & nomadic tribes crossed this area frequently so Shuidonggou was a very important military base

To better understand Ningxia’s history, we started our trip with a visit to Shuidonggou National Park. Acclaimed as “the birthplace of China’s prehistoric archaeology,” Shuidonggou National Park is the earliest Paleolithic site in China. A guided tour took us along the ruins of the Great Wall before venturing into hidden caves where soldiers use to set traps for nomadic intruders.

While a bit tiring, trekking through the National Park was a fascinating look into how China’s peripheral regions developed throughout history. Local guides have many stories regarding Mongolian horsemen and nomadic invaders–make sure to ask about them!

 

Vineyard #1: Visit the family-owned Silver Heights Winery

Silver Heights Winery had laid-back vibes but seriously good wines

A walk through the vineyard with our guide to try some (sour) grapes

Next we explored the cellar where some wines were bottled already and some still aging in French oak barrels

Wine tasting time! This was a bottle of Silver Heights’ flagship wine ‘The Summit,’ a traditional Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon 40% Merlot

Most wineries in Ningxia only offer saltine crackers–Silver Heights was the only place we found a block of aged cheddar to nibble on

The al fresco wine tasting was a great way to soak in some sun & chardonnay

We started our trip with al fresco wine tasting at Silver Heights 银色高地酒庄. Considered one of China’s leading winery, Silver Heights is run by Emma Gao & her French winemaker husband. I first heard about Silver Heights via one of my favorite Chinese podcasts 杯弓舌瘾 (all about alcohol & spirits). Emma joined as a featured guest one episode and discussed her journey of studying winemaking in Bordeaux before taking over the family business in Ningxia.

Silver Heights may be serious about their wines but the winery’s environment was unpretentious and fun. We sat on a small patio to sample Silver Heights’ entry collection ‘The Last Warrior’ and a bottle of their flagship wine ‘The Summit.’ The first was a delicious blend at a great value and the second Bordeaux-style blend had a memorable finish. People also rave about the 2009 Emma’s Reserve–it’s on our list for next time!

 

Vineyard #2: Sunset at Domaine Des Arômes with biodynamic wines

The Chinese name of Domaine Des Aromes–博纳佰馥 (bo-na-bai-fu)

A very quaint vineyard, Domaine Des Aromes is owned by a Chinese couple that studied wine making in France

The two brothers and unofficial guardians of the vineyard–老白 ‘Lao Bai’ the goose & Dolly the labrador

Peng Shuai showing us the winery–we saw only 4 stainless steel tanks there, such a small operation!

Among all the vineyards, Domaine Des Aromes had our favorite wine cellar & tasting table

Each wine was pre-bottled and included a tasting card for you to read more about (you can also directly place an order for 10% off at the vineyard)

We opened an extra bottle of vintage red and strolled along the vineyard to enjoy sunset

Domaine Des Arômes produces <20,000 bottles a year and already has a cult following in China

A rare group photo of us–wine satisfied!

Domaine Des Arômes is the smallest vineyard in all of Ningxia, yet it was the vineyard that stole my heart. Upon arriving, we were warmly greeted by Lao Bai the goose, Dolly the labrador, and Peng Shuai the charming owner. As Peng took us on a short tour, he detailed the winery’s biodynamic transition and focus on soil maintenance. Like Domaine Des Arôme, more and more wineries in Ningxia are turning towards biodynamic viticulture.

For our tasting, Peng led us into the underground cellar with a long tasting table. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we tried 5+ wines from various years. Among them, the bottle we all fell in love with (and bought) was the 2015 Arômes, a fruity blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The 2013 Chardonnay was also brilliant as it was one of the few whites we thoroughly enjoyed this trip. Just make sure to not forget the time. Watching sunset at Domaines Des Arômes, slightly wine drunk, was magical.

 

Vineyard #3: Wine & dine at the well-designed Xige Estate

Xige Estate is the largest winery in Ningxia Region and possibly the best-designed

A Helan mountain stone on display, to bring out Xige’s vision of “Making a great wine that expresses Ningxia Terroir”

The visitor’s hallway where you can see Xige’s state-of-the-art facilities & equipment

An impressive 8000 square meter room full of stainless steel tanks for wine fermentation

A cellar full of oak barrels–our guide explained the room was full of sensors to real-time monitor temperature, humidity, and other indicators.

Yuge ‘Jade Pidgeon’ is an organic restaurant at Xige Estate–it was also the most polished restaurant we’d seen our entire Ningxia trip

Ningxia wineries mostly do not offer lunch but Yuge was a delicious surprise

You can even try boiled lamb, one of Ningxia’s specialities, at Yuge Restaurant

After lunch, we headed down to the Reading Room–the ceiling structure is meant to symbolize a continuation of Helan Mountain’s rolling hills

Wine tasting Xige Estate’s premium range of wine, ‘Jade Dove’  and Helan Red No. 28

As Xige had already started harvesting grapes, we did our wine tasting indoors to avoid the the bees that have flocked to the outdoor patio in search of grapes

Took a walk through Xige’s massive vineyard–we caught them at a time when grapes were ripe for harvest

Round and unique architecture, Xige Estate feels like a modern-day fortress (photo courtesy of Xige Estate)

Xige Estate is one of the sleekest & newest wineries in Ningxia. With state-of-the-art equipment and well-designed social spaces, Xige Estate is a modern symbol of China’s wine ambitions. Throughout our guided tour, we were thoroughly impressed by Xige’s combination of technology and winemaking. The pure scale of the stainless steel tank rooms (one for red and one for white) was a sight to behold.

Before our wine tasting, we enjoyed a nice lunch at Yuge Organic Restaurant. We reserved one of the private dining rooms (plushy couches and a nice terrace) so we could unwind a bit. The proper wine tasting took place in Xige’s Library Room, which was bright and airy with its floor to window ceilings. Among Xige’s wine ranges I personally preferred the Jade Dove Single Vineyard line. In particular, the 2017 Cabernet Gernischt was spicy and fun–a bottle that would go well with a nice steak.

 

Drive to the stunning Tengger Dessert

Glamping tents as part of the Tengger Gold Sand Sea Resort

Simple room with all the modern luxuries you’d need–bathroom, air condition, TV, wifi

Every glamping tent has their own patio in case you want to star gaze at night

Stunning crescent-shaped sand dunes with extremely soft sand

The resort has many (instagrammable) outdoor dining options available

Exploring Tengger Desert via a camel ride

Sand dune surfing via a bumper car–this was terrifyingly AWESOME. Much bumpier and thrilling than we thought it would be!

Some light sand dune hiking before dinner

We opted to have dinner in a glass dome so we wouldn’t freeze at night with the temperature drop

Dinner spread included stewed lamb, grilled fish & an assortment of desert herbs

Sunset in a glass of Ningxia wine (this one was the ‘The Last Warrior’ Chardonnay blend from Silver Heights)

Most pictures you take in Tengger Desert will feel like it’s straight out of a movie

After our vineyard tours, we drove over to Tengger Desert for a change of scenery. With beautiful sand dunes and stunning night skies, Tengger Desert was so much fun to explore. In the daytime, we enjoyed a variety of desert sports such as camel riding and sand dune surfing. In the evenings, we watched sunset turn the desert sky into fifty shades of blush orange.

Glamping at Golden Sand Sea Tourism Resort was a great way to fully experience Tengger Desert. With only 16 glamping tents in total, the resort area was well-equipped with basic necessities. Wifi connection was spotty at times but it was the perfect excuse to unplug and relax. In order to have the best vantage point for sunset, we did a light hike right before dinner and took a bunch of movie-esque photos. It is hard to capture the beauty of the desert in words, much better to go experience for yourself.

 

Before flying out, eat all the local foods at Hong Liu Zhi (红柳枝) in Yinchuan

Highly recommend a visit to Hong Liu Zhi 红柳枝 (Chinese for ‘Red Willow’) as it was was hands down our favorite restaurant in Yinchuan

It’s a great place to try the region’s signature dishes, everything from lamb skewers to spicy cold noodles

Hong Liu Zhi grills all of its lamb skewers on red willow tree branches to infuse its meats with a nice fragrant smell–hence the restaurant’s name!

Before we flew out, we made sure to thoroughly explore Yinchuan city and its rustic eateries. Once a key trading spot along the Silk Road, Yinchuan is now the capital of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The culture of the Hui ethnic minority (Chinese Muslims) can be felt most through food. Lamb is the main source of meat with plenty of grilled flatbreads, noodles and spices. Locals also love eating 沙葱 ‘sha cong’, which is a desert herb unique to the region and high in nutritional value.

Among the many restaurants we tried, Hong Liu Zhi was our favorite one. They whipped up some of the best lamb skewers I’ve had in China. Unlike ones that are overly tough, these skewers perfected the meat-to-fat ratio and literally fell off the stick. We also discovered ‘Eight Treasures Tea’ 八宝茶–a sweet tea blend that locals love to have with every meal. The challenge was always how much could we eat & drink before we hit a food coma.

 

Ningxia Afterthoughts

Compared to Bordeaux or Napa Valley, Ningxia wine tourism is still in the nascent stages. But in the vineyards I recommend above, there was a joint vision to elevate Ningxia wine to new heights. As a disclaimer, we did visit some wineries I would not recommend. Some felt overly-industrialized while others I simply did not enjoy as much. 

Overall, from wineries to desert sunsets, I was thoroughly charmed by Ningxia on this trip. I’ll be planning a return trip very soon.

love,
eatprayjade

 

Silver Heights Winery
Address // Helan Mountain Jin Shan District, Yinchuan City 宁夏省银川市贺兰山金山村
Email // visit@silverheights.cn
Website // https://www.silverheights.cn

Domaine Des Arômes
Address // 1855 West Beijing Road, Yinchuan City 宁夏贺兰山东麓银川市北京西路1855号
Email // contact@bonabaifu.com

Xige Estate
Address // Pidgeon Mountain No. 1, Wuzhong City 宁夏吴忠市青铜峡市鸽子山西鸽路1号
Email // yangjingya@xige-estate.com
Website // https://xige-estate.com

Golden Sand Sea Tourism Resort (Tengger Desert)
Address // Golden Sand Sea in Shapotou District (between Yinyan Road and Xiaohu Road)
Tel // 0955-3951666
*Chinese language service only, can reach out to local tour guide to help book

Hongliuzhi 红柳枝滩羊烧烤
Address // 银川市兴庆区文苑西巷14号

 

A Long Weekend in Shengsi Island 嵊泗岛

Only 4 hours from Shanghai, Shengsi Island 嵊泗列岛 is perfect for a short getaway. Over a long weekend, my friends and I traveled to Shengsi in search of some quiet beaches and hiking. If you’re looking to explore a Chinese island that retains a lot of its local charms, Shengsi Island is just that. Still a little rugged and spotty with service, Shengsi is filled with friendly locals that are curious to learn about each traveler’s stories. Not to mention, excellent seafood and ‘sea-to-table’ dining.

When we were planning for our trip, we had first considered the popular Hainan Island 海南岛. Nicknamed the ‘Hawaii of China’, Hainan Island is more convenient for international travellers that prefer a resort getaway. But we felt there are too many less-traveled-to gems in China and were very tempted by pictures of Shengsi’s quiet beaches. After all, when traveling in China half the fun is not knowing what to expect.

Note that traveling to Shengsi from Shanghai requires taking a bus and then a boat. During peak season, ticket purchase a day in advance is highly recommended. Travel details are at the end of this post. 

Getting to Shengsi Island

Ticket to Shengsi Island includes the 1 hour bus ride from Shanghai Nanpu Bridge to the boat dock

The bus drops you off here, head into the building on the left for the Tourism Center and boarding gates

Follow the crowd through this long walkway towards your designated boat

The slow boat takes around 2 hours while the fast boat takes less than 1 hour

Welcome to Shengsi! Get in line to hop on the official island taxis and make sure the meter is running

Enjoying Shengsi beaches and local eats

From our balcony, view of the hotel and private beach

One of the three swimming pools in the hotel–the large pool with the water slide is only open in the summer time from July onwards

Beachin’

We grabbed a friendly taxi driver and took an evening drive around the island, stopping at various lookout points

Some gorgeous greenery at dusk

Walking down to one of the quieter beaches on the other side of the island by the Fishermen’s Village

A lighthouse on the dock next to a pretty cluster of homes

“Three monks on a beach”

One of my favourite moments during our trip–sunset on this beach was gorgeous

Our long weekend spent on Shengsi Island was relaxing and spontaneous. The first day, our boat arrived on the island just in time for golden hour. To enjoy the pink skies before sunset, we grabbed a taxi driver and asked to be taken around. Our driver was friendly and chatty, he even took it upon himself to show us lookout points we would’ve never found by ourselves!

Among them, we found the the beach by Fishermen’s Village the most stunning for sunset. As we strolled along the beach, we met a couple of young monks picking up seashells and enjoying the sunset.

Hiking the perimeter of Shengsi Island via 六井潭 Liujingtan

We drove up to the eastern lookout point to look at the many untouched beaches on Shengsi Island

六井潭 Liujingtan is a must-visit on Shengsi Island with some nice views and relatively easy hike

Spring time on the island

The beautiful lighthouse with a paved pathway along the cliffs

Well-paved walkways, worth the climb

A short but pretty hike by the water (I could’ve done a couple hours of this!)

We even spotted goats grazing on the cliffs

Back at the quiet beach strip in front of our hotel for some card games

Beach, bikini and beer!

Favourite food finds on Shengsi Island

Island living means plenty of beers–we also tried this fruity, blackcurrant liquor that was quite strong

We went to Stars Inn Seafood for dinner. You can pick the seafood you want and the style of cooking you want (stir fry, steamed, with chilis, garlics, etc.)

Steamed octopus–this was INCREDIBLY tender we were really impressed by it

After dinner we found an ice cream that was trendy among island locals–salted egg yolk ice cream (it’s a little strange but quite nice!)

Next morning, we found this friendly Hawaiian-shirt local selling sweet mochi cakes that were incredible! Biggest regret we didn’t buy two bags to go…

Swung by the wholesale fish market in the island city centre

Many type of fresh fish–you can buy some seafood and take it a restaurant, they’ll cook it for you for a small fee

Chikadee is a patisserie (!!) we found on the island. It’s surprising to find a french bakery on this tiny little island but definitely worth a visit if you’re like us and missing wine and pastries

Assortment of madeleines and croissants

‘Traditional’ french.. on a very local Chinese island

We had our best meal on the island at Mr. Hou’s Seafood Noodles. It is a no-frills, family-run noodle shop where the owners wake up every morning at 4am to make Chinese-style gnocchi that’s incredibly chewy and flavourful, 10/10.

Seafood noodles in a clam-based broth–not the most beautiful picture but the soup was really flavourful

The aftermath of our dinner–we all agreed it was our favourite meal over the weekend!

When it comes to food, Shengsi Island is pretty much synonymous with seafood or ‘sea-to-table.’ All kinds of seafood are available and at extremely affordable prices. In the evening, the restaurant lights slowly turn on and soon the streets are lined with boxes of fresh clams, octopus, squid, sea fish, etc.

When it comes to dining, you only need to judge a restaurant by two things: 1. How fresh is the seafood catch you see outside the restaurant? 2. Do you know any familiar faces at this restaurant? These two tips are super important! The first one guarantees your seafood quality (pro tip: get all shellfish done with the signature chilli and garlic sauce!). The second guarantees a cheaper price for your seafood. We ran into our driver from the morning and he helped us get some extra dishes curtesy of the house. There’s definitely an art to dining on small islands!

The star among them all was Mr. Hou’s Seafood Noodles. It’s a family run store where the noodles are handmade every morning and are incredible when stir-fried with a dash of soy sauce. This was an awesome late night snack and went amazing with beers. Don’t miss this!

A last visit to Fishermen’s Village

Last stop before leaving the island, make sure to visit the colourful Fishermen’s Village–they sell grilled goodies all around town (left is rice cake brushed with sweet soy and right is grilled squid)

Fishermen’s Village is famous right now for its colourful revival–slowly adding murals to the public walls and painting splashes of colours to different buildings

A goodbye to the friendly people we met on the island, including this beautiful golden retriever that’s the unofficial mascot of the town

For all of its charm, Shengsi Island lacks that polished edge a lot of beach resorts and developed islands have. The hotel we stayed at was clean but still needed a lot more work on the interiors and service. Similarly, although taxi drivers now need to turn on the meter and have been more strictly regulated by island authorities since 2019, they still have the habit of arbitrary charging.

Traveling in China is an expectations game and it will take time to adjust. For every surreal moment you experience when traveling spontaneously in China, there will be significant inconveniences as well. But if you can get past the bumpy bus ride and hectic boat ride, Shengsi is nice for a weekend getaway.

Hope everyone is staying well and safe! These photos are from an old trip of mine in 2019, thought I’d take time to share some beautiful photos of traveling in China.

love,
eatprayjade x.

Traveling to Shengsi Island

From Shanghai, buy a combo ticket (bus+ferry) at Nanpu Bridge Station for Shengsi Island. Take the bus and then get on the ferry for Shengsi Island. If you want to visit the moss-island Gouqi Island, you still must get to Shengsi first (Xiaocaiyuan Pier) and then get on a smaller boat from there.

Restaurants
侯老师家的海鲜面 Mr Hou’s Seafood Noodles
嵊泗星宿海鲜餐厅 Stars Inn Seafood
Chikadee Pâtisserie

Island Must-Visits
六井潭 Liujingtan
东海渔村 Fishermen’s Village
南长涂沙滩 Beach where our hotel was located

Quarantine Diaries from Shanghai

2020 has been a whirlwind. I started the year with a month long trip to Australia, hiking incredible trails by the ocean and having plenty of Shiraz. I was savoring every moment of this once-in-a-lifetime trip when the news broke about coronavirus. Reading articles about the outbreak in China while very far away was both confusing and nerve-wracking. After all, Shanghai has been my home for the past 3 years.

Like many, I had exciting travel plans lined up for 2020 (Bangkok, Tbilisi, Tokyo and more) until COVID-19 came along. As the virus paralyzed China during Chinese New Year and eventually the rest of the world, I wanted to take this time to reflect on the past 3 months. I’ve had many international friends ask after my well-being so I hope this post can show what life under quarantine (‘strict social distancing’ if you’d prefer) was like in Shanghai.

Note: As I arrived in Shanghai early February, it was quite different from how international travel procedures are now. Things are much stricter in China as of March 2020, with travelers from certain high risk countries placed in group quarantine or refused entry. 

Traveling from Sydney back to Shanghai
Bay of Fires

I started 2020 in Tasmania’s Bay of Fire, climbing fiery red rocks under beautiful blue skies

After a month of traveling, my flight from Sydney back to Shanghai was unsettling & nerve wracking–with a very uncomfortable mask on 80% of the time

Priorities upon getting back to Shanghai? Swapping out my (dirty) air filter to an added-strength, anti-bacteria filter

Meet Otis who was a little irritated with my absence at first, but little did he know he would go from weeks without seeing me to seeing me EVERYDAY

Quarantine Day 1: Coming back to an empty fridge so my first meal back in my apartment was pancakes with a jam tasting

As I prepared to fly back to Shanghai, my 3 must-haves were hand sanitizers, masks, and wet wipes. They helped me reduce anxiety and practice personal hygiene for airplane travel. But there is no denying, the flight from Sydney to Shanghai was extremely uncomfortable with a N95 mask on for 10+ hours.

By February, international travel to China had largely halted so there were no air traffic delays as we quickly landed at Shanghai International Airport. Stepping into the Arrivals Hall, we were met with temperature checks and health questionnaires to fill out. At this point, international travelers were still allowed but they were strongly advised to home quarantine for 14 days, followed by strict social distancing. The normally hectic airport was bare and intimidatingly quiet.

After airport security, the next step was getting back into my apartment compound which had started to enforce a strict entry/exit system. The purpose of which was to account for each apartment residents’ movements. I won’t share any pictures here out of respect for the security guards but they did institute a somewhat draconian procedure. First, I needed to register travel history and personal details with my property management, before a temperature check from my security guard in a hazmat suit. After entering the apartment, a strict quarantine was enforced and leaving the compound was restricted to one person a day per apartment, and only for necessities. Yes, vigilant security guards will ask you where you are going!

In my first weeks back, my impression of Shanghai was desolate, cold and eerie. Never mind that I couldn’t leave my apartment complex, I also didn’t have access to masks (I only brought 5 masks back with me from Australia). I relied on my well-stocked freezer and China’s (overloaded) delivery system for essential groceries.

Dealing with work & coming to terms with the uncertainty

Despite the Chinese government extending the Chinese New Year holidays, my startup team was back in full force to discuss next steps and emergency measures (C-A-S-H-F-L-O-W)

Welcome to the world of WeChat video, a simple yet powerful tool to get everybody on the same page for morning meetings

For lunch, I snuck in a glass of wine & pulled out shrimps from my freezer–for reference, I had this combo of pasta+shrimp for 3 days til I was able to get fresh groceries

My standing desk is right next to Otis’ favorite spot, a perk of working from home was spending more time with my clingy cat 

Getting back into the grind of Shanghai was hard. Self-isolation made me realize a majority of my daily routines were based on physical interactions with people. At one point, I started wondering if I would ever see Shanghainese grannies chitchatting in the middle of the sidewalk again. They were essentially the vital voices of Shanghai streets.

Among all my routines, work was one of the more disorienting parts of this all. In January, the Chinese government had extended Chinese New Years holiday for an extra week to delay the mass migration of workers back into the cities. This meant factories were shutdown for an even longer period of time, causing major delays and disruptions to supply. Compounded with nearly 2 months of remote work afterwards, this was pretty much an unprecedented situation across China. Corporates and startups were all affected, from employee well-being to cashflow management.

Working from home also posed challenges for my startup team. WFH was such a foreign concept in China that the first week of remote work was all about identifying China-friendly collaboration tools and making sure all team members were comfortable with this new communication style. As I work at XNode, a Shanghai-based innovation accelerator, we needed to keep up to date with the fast-changing virus situation & consequent policies. Looking back, this seems simple enough but at the time China was the first country dealing with the outbreak and the policies literally changed everyday.

Some questions that we juggled with: What did all this mean to our overseas startup interested in acceleration in China? What about our corporate partners running innovation programs with Chinese startups that may have suppliers in high-risk areas? When should we go back to work in person and how do we check team morale everyday? Every day, the reality was so many questions and so little answers.

Cooking at home & coming up with indoor entertainment

Blogilates was my best workout partner during this time period, although it was still hard to prevent the inevitable weight gain

Making my way through Oscar films and thoroughly wow’d by Parasite, directed by Bong Joon Ho

These frozen shrimp wantons and frozen shrimps were the two bulk ingredients I had in my freezer when I arrived back in Shanghai

Taking time to experiment with new recipes (thank you Chrissy Teigen)

Going through Chinese social media (小红书 Xiaohongshu) and getting kitchen inspiration

Baking everything I could get my hands on (candied cinnamon apples in this case)

As I spent more time in the kitchen, I really put my small oven to good use

For me, finding indoor entertainment and establishing new routines were key to staying sane. I found a lot of comfort in planning my meals and cooking everyday. In the first couple days of being back in Shanghai, the food delivery system was still under a lot of stress. Meaning I struggled to get groceries delivered to my apartment because people were waking up at 7am to order large volumes of foods, thus overwhelming the limited number of delivery men. This meant I ate a lot of shrimp wantons (a handy item I always store in my freezer) and pasta. Quickly, I learned to plan my meals ahead of time and put in my orders early for fresh groceries.

In China, home workouts also became a thing via fitness apps like Nike Workout and KEEP. Personally I enjoyed Blogilates on Youtube and loosely followed a routine of morning stretches and afternoon workouts. Many people also joined live streams of trainers doing home workouts. For those that took it chill, the running joke on social media was how little steps one took a day. For reference there were days I did only 100 steps… hence the need for an occasional sweat.

Slowly venturing back into work with all the precautions

First day back at work, N95 mask on and fully covered

The team having a conference call with masks on–this is pretty much the max capacity of people in one room!

Treating myself to the (finally) reopened Shake Shack–they didn’t offer dine in but did do take out

As the number of COVID-19 cases started dipping in March, the local government loosened up policies and compounds slowly opened up. Once companies allowed for staggered working schedules, we slowly made our way back to the office. During this time, the Chinese government also implemented a health system with QR codes tied to individual IDs. Your QR code would be color coded green, orange, or red based on your travel history and health situation.

So what did this all look like? For example, going into work (and all public places) security guards will conduct a temperature check, QR health code check, name and phone number registration, and finally a visual check that you’re wearing your mask. In the buildings, we were also extremely careful and wore our masks at all time.

In late March, offices gradually filled up with staff that finished self-quarantine. Restaurants were slower to open up as local officials wanted to discourage social gatherings, but Shake Shack was among the first to get the green light. And it was such a treat to get a Shack Burger & fries!

When you emerge from quarantine, what happens next?

Shanghai’s West Bund area slowly resuming its outdoor activities

Flowers in bloom as the weather warmed up

My colleagues and I supported a local bar’s new product (canned cocktails) by organizing after work drinks in the office

Belated birthday celebrations with a couple friends via a homemade brunch

Wishing for a healthy 2020

Shanghai as a city is 70% back to life. When the weather is nice, the streets are full of people wearing masks while soaking up the sun. Local businesses and SMEs are struggling a great deal but a sense of ‘new normal’ has emerged. This ‘new normal’ is a mask-wearing and hygiene-conscious population that can go out to public places but still prioritizes homebody life.

How did I keep myself busy and fulfilled during the 2 months Shanghai was under quarantine? The honest answer was fear mixed with social pressure and the reality that I was very privileged. Shanghai had been walled off quickly with people strictly observing all government guidelines of social distancing and mask-wearing. Access to China’s advanced delivery system also meant I didn’t have to worry about necessities, I just had to stay home and be responsible.

Some of my basic learnings over the past couple of months:
  • Hygiene is everything–WASH. YOUR. HANDS.
  • Wear a mask if you need to be outside and in contact with people. This is the responsible thing to do even if it’s uncomfortable. But do not hoard masks!!
  • Use tissues or gloves when touching public surfaces (e.g. China started putting a tissue box next to the elevator so you would use that to press the buttons).
  • Support your local F&B and small businesses when you can. They are hurting a lot.
  • Social gatherings are a luxury you cannot afford until the infection rate tapers off. Find indoor entertainment and fully utilize video chat.
  • Read official sources and don’t share inflammatory news. Fake news is not helpful.
  • Be kind and realize we are all sharing one human experience. Discrimination generates hate. What we need is empathy and strength.

For my friends and readers that are scattered all over the world, I hope this post can offer a tiny peace of mind. This was my personal journey as someone living in Shanghai who was lucky to have a strong support network and stay healthy throughout the crisis. China had many first responders, doctors, and citizens that made many sacrifices to contain the situation. I’m immensely thankful to them. For my American friends and family, you are in my thoughts every day.

If you are interested, I’ll give an update next month of how Shanghai is recovering as the situation is easing and government policies relaxing. Please comment below or send me any questions you have, I will be happy to help answer.

Until then, stay safe & sound.

with love,
eatprayjade x.

Unwinding in Hokkaido with an Onsen Hotel

When in Hokkaido, don’t miss a trip to visit Lake Shikotsu 支笏湖 and stay at this quiet yet luxurious onsen hotel. Tsuruga Mizu no Uta is an onsen spa and resort located in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. With a warm fireplace and well-designed communal spaces, Tsuruga Hotel had me when I walked into the lobby and saw people roasting marshmallows in yukatas. It is rare to find such an effortless blend of modernity with Japanese onsen culture.

Oh and the food! In the mornings, we enjoyed traditional Japanese breakfasts with our own clay pot of steamed rice. With the rice, we indulged in unlimited ikura and fresh sashimi. Dinner comes with a selection of sake, and each guest is served a plated main dish alongside the buffet. By the end of our weekend stay, we tried everything from wagyu beef to local Hokkaido produce.

While Mizu no Uta is off-the-beaten path, it is well worth the trek for those that want a cozy retreat from the hustle and bustle of Sapporo city. I rarely share hotel recommendations but this is one of my favorite gems I’ve discovered in my recent travels.

Head over to Lake Shikotsu in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park–it is much less visited than Lake Toya but no less beautiful

There are shuttles to and from Sapporo Airport to the hotel, as well as from Sapporo Main Station. Make sure to reserve with the hotel a day in advance

Tsuruga Mizu no Uta has has perfect lake view and many communal areas to relax in–our favorite one was the lakeside foot onsen

Pictures don’t do the hotel lounge justice because it was our favorite spot to relax in–incredibly cozy and warm, with live music and drinks at night (PC: Tsuruga Mizu no Uta)

After a complimentary upgrade, we stayed in the junior suite with outdoor jacuzzi pool (PC: Tsuruga Mizu no Uta)

The room was a mix of Japanese and Western styles, with tatami mats in our living room and western beds. I highly recommend visiting the Pillow Gallery to select your own pillow!

As the hotel is separated into multiple wings, there are Japanese yukatas and quilted coats for guests to use on the hotel grounds

Follow this beautiful corridor into the west wing for dining

This wood-pellet stove in the middle of the corridor was a thoughtful touch–we stopped here everytime we were in this corridor

The dining hall is bright and airy, with literal window seats and excellent views

Breakfast options are light, with plenty of pickled vegetables and fresh fish

The best part of breakfast everyday was this pot of rice, perfectly cooked in a cute Staub pot

For those that enjoy salmon roe, pour some over steaming rice with a little bit of soy sauce on top–it’s a perfect morning combo

Who knew you could find incredible viennoiseries in a Hokkaido hotel–I should’ve asked about their pastry chef because these were amazing croissants

Leaving this here because you will thank me when you catch the fresh pastry cart in the mornings

After breakfast, visit the outdoors ‘so-so no yu’ or ‘hot springs for foot’ and enjoy the lake view. This helps improve blood circulation!

Visit the onsen, located on B1, to fully unwind

No pictures are allowed inside but the open-air onsen is incredible especially when there’s light snow outside (PC: Tsuruga Mizu no Uta)

The onsen has showers, a massage lounge, and a small library to relax in afterwards

After our bath, we swung by the hotel patisserie to pick up some cakes

I highly recommend the Japanese sponge cakes with local strawberries and Hokkaido fresh cream

We decided to take our afternoon tea in our room, on our tatami mats

While our room had an outdoor jacuzzi, there are suites with private onsens–definitely don’t let it go to waste and take full advantage!

images

At dusk, take a walk out to the hotel deck

Dinner comes with your choice of a plated main dish–this wagyu beef was excellent and came recommended by our server

The ochazuke station was perfect for Hokkaido’s chilly evenings

Before another onsen soak, toast some marshmallows in the lounge and enjoy the relaxing sound of a crackling fireplace

There are also two session of live music in the evenings (when we were there, there was a beautiful harpist playing)

Explore the Lake Shikotsu Area

My pictures don’t do Lake Shikotsu justice so look online for its pictures during fall foliage, spring blossoms and winter snow! Pro tip: during sunset, walk along the lake and past the bridge for a nice panoramic view. We found Lake Shikotsu’s surrounding town, Shikotsu Kohan, very small but full of delightful finds as well. During our many walks, we spotted a hipster grandpa making hand-drip coffee through LOG BEAR’s large windows and couldn’t resist peeking in. That somehow turned into us having coffee and chatting with the owner for hours.

From the local eatery to the visitor center, there was a nice charm to Shikotsu Kohan. Things were not overly polished but everyone was genuine and eager to chat. I appreciate this small town type of feel–something very comforting about going to a foreign country and being shown a snapshot of locals’ everyday lives.

LOG BEAR is a bed & breakfast, as well as a cafe in the day

Run by the incredibly cool grandpa sitting behind me in this picture, LOG BEAR has a fun collection of magazines and wooden toys for you to pass time with

Having traveled to 20+ countries in his youth, the LOG BEAR grandpa has a lot of interesting stories to share so don’t be shy and chat him up! His English is perfect and he’ll share the journey of how he built LOG BEAR from scratch

Swing by the Lake Shikotsu Visitor Center to learn more about the local wildlife as well as surrounding activities to do

The visitor center was very well-designed and beautiful in the afternoon sun. We grabbed a warm drink from the vending machines & slowly read up on Lake Shikotsu’s history (hint: it was formed by a volcano eruption)

The local eatery was pretty much our guilty pleasure spot–we found all sorts of Japanese comfort food here, from yakisoba to cheesy mochi

From left to right: buttery soy-sauce scallops, fried mochi with cheese inside, and ginger pork yakisoba

It was our first time having this, but something about the fried mochi with oozing cheese was just insanely good

Lake Shikotsu has less tourists than Lake Toya so if you’re looking for a quiet onsen retreat, visit here instead

From hotel design to service details, Mizu no Uta was a luxurious onsen experience. As it is not part of an onsen town, Lake Shikotsu is a retreat for those that want to enjoy the slow life for a bit. Spend a weekend unwinding in Shikotsu-Toya National Park, with incredible food & access to open-air onsen. You’ll feel fresh-faced & well-fed in no time.

love,
eatprayjade

 

Tsuruga Mizu no Uta
Address// Shikotsuko Onsen, Chitose, Hokkaido 066-0281, Japan
Web// https://www.mizunouta.com/en/
Tel// +81-123-25-2212

*The hotel is a 45 minutes drive from Chitose International Airport. Make sure to call the hotel in advance to arrange for a free shuttle. After your stay, you should also reserve an airport shuttle or ask to be put on the bus to Sapporo city.

36 hours in Hokkaido

From fatty miso pork ramen to the best cream puffs you’ll ever taste, Hokkaido is truly Japan’s ‘kingdom of food.’ My friend and I recently visited Sapporo with the aim of eating our way through town. Here is a curated food guide to the local gems we found & would recommend. This is a follow-up to my 36 hours in Kyoto: Food & Omiyage. Different city, different must-eats. Enjoy!

Friday

9 a.m. Arrive at Sapporo Station

Fly directly into Chitose Airport and take the airport express to Sapporo Station (~30 minutes). Sapporo Main Station is at the heart of the city’s central business district. Make sure to fully utilize the underpass that connects Sapporo Station with all of Sapporo’s major department stores (Stellar Place, AEON, etc.). It is a blessing especially in snowy weather and you will marvel at this well-designed & extremely convenient underpass.

Make sure to pick an accommodation close to Sapporo Main Station, you’ll be able to access the very convenient underpass that seemingly connects every main mall and hotel in central Sapporo!

Sapporo makes for perfect hat weather, it’ll help when the snow flurries

11 a.m. Visit Kitakaro Honkan for brunch

A 10-minute walk from Sapporo Station, Kitakaro is a beautiful confectionary shop housed in Sapporo’s oldest library. Renovated by Pritzker-winning architect Tadao Andao, Kitakaro retains its high ceilings and every bit of old world glamour. As the Japanese love their interiors to be clean and white, this confectionary shop is truly where minimal design meets dessert.

Head upstairs first to Kitakaro Cafe and grab a table by the bookshelves. While the menu is light, the daily pasta choices are super tasty and fresh. Make sure to grab a cup of coffee & order a ‘Hokkaido Cream Puff’ to share. Fluffy sweet cream will spill out as you break Kitakaro’s signature dessert open.

Kitakaro Sapporo has limited gift boxes (they had this amazing apple cider baumkuchen cake when we were there!)

Renovated by Tadao Andao, Kitakaro Sapporo Honten is a gorgeous meeting point of design and desserts