Real Food Adventure - China
12 days with Intrepid Travel Rating:
Day 1 Chengdu
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. Chengdu, an officially recognised UNESCO City of Gastronomy, is the capital of the Sichuan province and where you begin this Real Food Adventure. It might be one of China's biggest cities, but Chengdu has preserved plenty of its traditional flavour and visitors can still find famous teahouses, markets and some interesting food. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm. After the meeting, enjoy your first dinner in China with one of the country's most renowned dishes – an authentic Sichuan hotpot. Known in Sichuan as 'huo guo' (which roughly translates to 'fire pot'), huo guo is thought to date back more than 1000 years, originating from a meal enjoyed by boatmen working on the Yangtze River in the nearby city of Chongqing. Consisting of a communal pot of spiced broth, everyone can select their own ingredients to be cooked up in this delicious hot liquid.
Day 2 Chengdu
Sichuan province is a must-visit for those interested in getting to the heart of Chinese cuisine. It is perhaps best recognised for its fiery quality and the tingling, tongue-numbing sensation produced by its most famous ingredient, Sichuan pepper. Although only introduced to the region in the past few centuries, Sichuan pepper quickly gained a stronghold in local dishes. Start your adventure with a visit to the markets with a local chef to learn about the building blocks of Sichuan cuisine and to collect ingredients. Next, learn to whip up some classic Sichuan dishes in a cooking class. After feasting on your creations over lunch, take a walking tour through the centre of Chengdu. Visit Tianfu Square, where a giant statue of Chairman Mao stands tall. Relax in one of the most popular parks in Chengdu, People's Park, where you can experience the amazing Chengdu tea culture, an essential part of people's daily life. Sit on a bamboo chair in the park, sip some tea and enjoy casual chitchat alongside the locals. Also try your hand at mahjong, badminton, or even join in singing and dancing. Don't be surprised if somebody comes up to you with an offer of cleaning your ears! In the evening, if you're still hungry, why not taste more Chengdu specialities on Jinli Street. This street is famous for its historic atmosphere, bustling businesses and most of all its local snacks. Enjoy sticky rice cakes with sesame sauce, spicy chicken on a stick, sweet rice jelly, fried beef pancakes and, for the more adventurous, spicy rabbit heads.
Day 3 Emeishan
Visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, where you're able to witness the conservation efforts being made to save this endearing endangered species. There are only around 1000 pandas left in the world and 80% of them are found in the mountains in Sichuan. The facility was set up 30 years ago to help conserve this animal, and there are more than 80 giant and red pandas living at the base. The pandas have over 600 acres of parkland to live in, and you can get up close and learn more about these majestic creatures. Watch them play, eat bamboo and climb the trees. If you’re lucky enough you might even get to see newborns taking their first steps in the nursery (July-September). Drive to a family owned tea plantation near Emei mountain this morning (approximately 3 hours). There, one of the skilled workers will teach you how to pick tea leaves (depending on the season). Afterwards, visit the small factory near the house to experience the complete process from picking to drying to drinking. Your host will also use the freshly picked tea leaves to create some delicious dishes for lunch. Reach Emeishan by late afternoon. This mountain of thick forest, just over 3000 metres high, has been a centre of pilgrimage for over 1800 years, with over a hundred temples and monasteries hidden in its peaks. The area is stunning at any time of year, from the lush greens of the summer, to the golden reds and yellows of autumn, and the clear, mystical whites of winter. Here you will visit and overnight at a peaceful monastery, where you’ll experience sharing accommodation with monks and waking up to the sounds of drums and prayers.
Day 4 Overnight Train
In the morning, you will have an option to visit the nearby Leshan Buddha, a 71-metre tall stone statue carved from the cliff-face, built during the Tang Dynasty. Otherwise, spend the morning relaxing in the peace and quiet of the monastery. Leave for Chengdu in the late afternoon, then board an overnight train bound for Xi'an (approximately 16 hours).
Day 5 Xi'an
Arrive in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province and the largest city in northwest China. Once the imperial centre of China for 2000 years, Xi'an is now a vibrant, city dotted with many interesting historical sites and noted for its distinctive food culture. The food in Xi'an is marked by the strong salty flavours of Shaanxi cuisine, and has been influenced by the significant Muslim population, which is evident in the city's nut and pastry shops and the prevalence of snacks such as kebabs and flatbreads. Serving portions are notably generous and every dish has a story – from 'Old Ma Family's mutton' to 'Old Liu Family's Hulutou'. Other hallmarks of Xi'an cuisine are the prominence of noodles and dumplings as accompaniments to many classic dishes, as well as snacks and soups served at numerous food stalls that line the city streets. One thing is certain about any trip to Xi'an: you won't leave hungry. After you arrive (approximately midday), you’ll have a brief orientation walk then some free time to explore. For dinner you’ll find yourself in the heart of the Muslim Quarter to discover why Xi'an in considered the 'snack capital' of China. Go on a unique food crawl that will have you tasting some of the city's best: beef or lamb kebabs, cold noodles, a sumptuous lamb soup and steaming dumplings.
Day 6 Xi'an
Wake early to try local Xi'an breakfast specialties such as ba bao zhou (eight treasure rice porridge) and hula soup (pancakes and pepper soup with meatballs and vegetables). Then, journey out into the countryside surrounding Xi’an (approximately 2 hours) and visit what is undoubtedly one of the man-made wonders of the world – the Terracotta Warriors. You’ll learn all about this incredible archaeological find, discovered in 1976 by farmers digging a well, after being buried for 2000 years. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots (originally all painted) were commissioned by the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. Three main pits are open for you to view, where over 6000 warriors – each individually sculpted from clay, each having a different costume, height, and even facial expressions – stand in battle formation. The scale is incredibly impressive. For lunch you will have the opportunity to visit a local farmer-owned restaurant. With free time in Xi'an, maybe walk the city walls (the most complete in China) or explore the Drum and Bell Towers.
Day 7 Overnight Train
Get ready for a truly unique insight into one of China's most revered culinary arts today – noodle-making. With a hands-on demonstration you’ll learn a few tips about dough preparation, noodle making and sauce mixing, while gaining an insight into a modern Chinese life. Afterwards, perhaps head back into the Muslim Quarter to wander the narrow streets of quaint shops, lively markets, and groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in cafes and pick up some snacks for your overnight train tonight. You will travel from Xi’an to Beijing (approximately 14 hours), arriving in the capital the following morning.
Day 8 Beijing
Beijing is an intriguing modern city with an ancient heart. Numerous emperors brought accomplished chefs from around China to the Forbidden City in Beijing to prepare elaborate feasts for the imperial family and court officials, and today these regional flavours can still be found in many of Beijing’s celebrated dishes. After checking into your hotel, head to the narrow alleyways of Beijing’s historic hutong neighbourhoods. Explore one of the Hutong markets and see steaming fresh tofu and freshly made dumplings while learning about the key ingredients and spices used in northern Chinese cooking. Make your way to the centre of the city – Tiananmen Square. From here you will enter the enormous Forbidden City. Built more than 500 years ago and off-limits to commoners for almost all that time, it's a truly amazing place. As you explore the great halls and courtyards, you’ll be able to appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Visit the largest market in Beijing for an included late lunch, which specialises in seafood. A large variety is on offer, such as crab, king prawn, mantis shrimp, and a varied range of oysters and fish. Your leader will help you to choose what you like and introduce you to a local chef at the market’s on-site kitchen. They will prepare a feast in a variety of regional styles, such as Qingdao, Sichuan and Dongbei according to the ingredients on hand. Later, head to a very traditional tea house and learn the ancient art of China’s tea ceremony.
Day 9 Beijing
This morning you’ll drive out to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall (approximately 2 hours’ drive from Beijing) and spend some time exploring, taking photos and learning the history of this mighty site (and sight). An incredible piece of engineering, the wall stretches 6000 km westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect Chinese empires from the barbarians of the north and even though it failed in this purpose, it's still without a doubt one of the country's most remarkable achievements. You’ll often feel like you have the place to yourself as you take your time strolling along the wall, which snakes through the hills almost endlessly into the distance. It's up to you how far you walk once up on the wall. Return to Beijing by mid-afternoon. Dinner tonight is a real crowd pleaser. You haven’t tasted real Peking duck until you’ve eaten it in a Beijing kaoyadian (roast duck restaurant). Often referred to as ‘capital city cuisine’, the food of Beijing has been strongly influenced by its imperial heritage and Peking duck has been a dish on the royal menu since the 1300s.
Day 10 Shanghai
This morning, take a fast train from Beijing to Shanghai (approximately 5 hours). As a cutting-edge global city, the food of Shanghai is an exciting blend of traditional and international flavours. Given Shanghai's location on the East China Sea, as well as the region's extensive network of rivers, lakes and canals, both seafood and freshwater produce are also common. Join your leader for a walking tour that will take you to historical Shanghai. At the Bund you can get a taste of 1920s Shanghai; its spectacular array of art deco style buildings, formerly belonging to Western banks, line what was once the most important financial street in Asia. Wander the narrow winding lanes (nongtangs) of old Shanghai, where you can get a real glimpse into the locals’ daily life. Explore the European-influenced French Concession – the area of Shanghai once designated for the French, where tree-lined avenues and Tudor mansions still retain an air of the 'Paris of the East'. To celebrate your arrival, why not join your leader for an optional drink at a rooftop bar overlooking the bright lights of this exhilarating city. The rest of the evening is free for your own Shanghai food adventure. There are endless options in Shanghai, with a restaurant scene bursting with international flavours as well as one of the most vibrant street food scenes in China. Your tour leader will have plenty of suggestions for the best places to suit any taste or budget.
Day 11 Shanghai
This morning is free for you to explore. Perhaps drop into Shanghai First Food – established in 1952 this is the largest comprehensive food store in the world and sells more than ten thousand brands of fresh and dried foods from all over the country and the world. Alternatively, visit the Propaganda Museum for a fascinating look at China's revolutionary past, get a bird's eye view of the city from the Pearl Tower's observation decks, wander the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar, barter in markets, or stroll through modern Pudong. In the afternoon, try your hand at making Shanghai’s famous dumplings. Chomp on potstickers and slurp up the juice from Shanghai’s famous soup dumplings during a cooking class with a local chef, who will teach you how to create the perfect xiao long bao, which will be your early dinner for the night. Tonight, maybe scope out the city’s buzzing nightlife at a local bar for your final night on this Chinese food adventure.
Day 12 Shanghai
Your China Real Food Adventure comes to an end this morning. There are no activities today, and you are free to leave your accommodation at any time.
All This Included
Visit enigmatic China, where culture, history and cuisine all combine to create a truly mesmerising travel experience. Taste the peppery treats of Sichuan in Chengdu, then enjoy a visit to a small tea-farming village to discover the secrets of this most famous of Chinese beverages. Stay in a monastery in the lofty heights of Emei Shan, and travel to Xi’an to be struck by the magnificent Terracotta Warriors and to learn the art of noodle-making. Explore Beijing’s ancient hutongs to search out some of the city’s best street food, discovering Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Wander along the Great Wall of China, then board a train to Shanghai, one of the world’s most vibrant cities.
Guesthouse (1 night)
Hotel (8 nights)
Overnight sleeper train (2 nights)
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