Noodles a foodie's bright spot in Nanjing

By Pauline D. Loh in Nanjing ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-03-01 10:20:14

There is no polite way to do it - you have to bite off the top of the bun, allow the steam to evaporate and slurp. You could also deconstruct the bun, breaking apart the skin and eating the filling separately, leaving the soup for last as a final triumph.

We also had huge whopping snails, the size of a baby's fist, that were braised in a savory brown sauce. The meat has to be artfully extracted with a spear-and-twist motion. I must say I enjoyed the muscular part of the snail best, although the spouse and our dining companions did not seem to mind the crunch of baby snails hidden in the inner parts.

My favorite was the pig's tail, with its perfect balance of skin, bone and meat. Here, the little segments are braised so long that they fall off the bone, leaving clean little sections of vertebrae. The braising sauce is slightly sweet, and while I liked it, the old Beijingers with me complained a little.

I found this true throughout the trip and it brought home the differences between northern and southern palate preferences.

Beijingers and other citizens north of the Yangtze are used to heavy seasonings, and they like their dishes soused in thick gravies flavored by cumin, fennel and star anise.

South of the Yangtze, palates are more delicate, and sensitive to the freshness of ingredients. They are blessed, too, because they do get a good variety of produce from land, sea and river. And, because of that, they prefer a lighter touch when it comes to adding sauces and spices.

Nanjing Dapaidang certainly gives you a good feel of what the local cuisine is like. Judging from the accents around us that evening, it is patronized by a good mix of locals and visitors alike, which is pretty good testimony.

As an added bonus, if you go during the evenings, you also get to enjoy pingtan, the heart-rending melodies and songs that are performed at all the traditional teahouses.

The restaurant has a couple of branches in Beijing as well, but these may not have the complete repertoire of offerings. To get a true taste of Nanjing, you really have to make the trip.

If you go:

Nanjing Dapaidang 53, Dashiba Road,Qinhuai district, Nanjing. 15062211765. Average cost per person: 100 to 150 yuan ($1624). Recommended: Duck’sblood Glass Noodles, Soup Dumplings, Pig Tails and Peanuts, Fragrant Tofu, Yangchun Noodles.

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