Chinese meal

An Eastern Odyssey: Travelling in China

As we flew into sleek, space-age Beijing airport I was eager for a taste of everything China had to offer. In my world this is the perfect type of travel – you arrive starving, have enough time to delight in the nuanced flavours of each region, and digest the atmosphere, yet as you leave you’re still tantalised by all the morsels still left to taste.

Dim sum, China

I was held in salivating suspense as we drove; Beijing is encased by spiralling ring roads. Passing through each one was like peeling away the wrapper of a delicious sweet, the centre of which is a medley of cultural flavours. This metropolis sums up what you’d assume would be the conflicting aspects of China: it lingers in the past whilst simultaneously racing for the future. It’s a fascinating city, as proud of the ancient history of the Forbidden City as it is of the fashionable shopping centres and giant skyscrapers, and the tranquillity of the Temple of Heaven.

Lion gate in the Forbidden City, Beijing Lion gate in the Forbidden City, Beijing

 

 

Forbidden City, Beijing Forbidden City, Beijing

 

By trains, planes and automobiles we made our way through this startling country. The Great Wall astounded me with size and scale alone; the Terracotta Warriors impressed with their intricacy; the Yangshuo hills were even more beautiful and mystical than I’d hoped. The pace slowed to a gentle waltz when we reached the River Yangtze, where the only drama came from the green escarpments at the water’s edge.

Great Wall Great Wall

 

Terracotta Warriors Terracotta Warriors

 

Bamboo rafts on the Li River near Yangshuo Bamboo rafts on the Li River near Yangshuo

 

Each cultural experience was complemented by a culinary one, the most memorable being our Chengdu hotpot. We took our places around a large table with a gas stove embedded in the middle. Giggling girlishly, waitresses laid out a vast selection of uncooked ingredients in front of us, delighting in our ignorance as to what each one could possibly be. A steaming pot of spicy stew was then placed over the stove. Tentatively at first, we followed our leader, adding the raw dishes to the bubbling centrepiece. Like a giant scientific experiment we watched with anticipation as they simmered away, extracting them with questionable chop-stick skills and savouring the flavour of the finished product. It was a cultural experience in itself, adding depth and spice to our already rich Chinese take-away.

Chengdu hotpot Chengdu hotpot

 

Our journey ended in Shanghai. I took time out in a trendy café to contemplate the modern intensity, the vast landscapes and ancient, magical buildings. I was left with a pleasant, lingering aftertaste. My appetite was sated and I felt comfortably full without being stuffed. China is a sensory buffet that does not disappoint.

Discover China: Imperial China & Yangtze River Cruise  

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