BEIJING - The cuisine of Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, is more famous for its "small eats" than its main courses. These streetside snacks are about as famous as the city itself, which was the center of government for six ancient dynasties, the earliest dating back to the Three Kingdoms from AD 220-280.
The most famous food centers in Nanjing are at the Confucius Temple and Hunan Lu, and these bustle with visitors everyday. One famous restaurant on Hunan Lu, Nanjing Impressions, or Nanjing Hawker Stall, has arrived in Beijing to offer a taste of this ancient capital.
The decor is certain to rouse nostalgia and memories among those familiar with Nanjing, and pique interest in those who are not.
Everything is carefully reminiscent of Nanjing: decorated archway, gray tiles and stone brick floor, as well as a weathered wooden second floor. The high ceiling is full of traditional oil-paper lanterns on which are inscribed the names of all the famous dishes from Nanjing.
Private rooms on the second floor are named after the different districts of Nanjing city.
You can order your food two ways - either from a menu or by browsing the counters on the first floor where a variety of snacks are displayed underneath wooden plaques on the wall engraved with their names.
There are appetizers and snacks such as sweet and sour short rib, marinated duck head, and marinated chicken gizzard. Besides them is an array of nutritious soups: the famous duck blood "bean curd" with bean vermicelli soup, chicken and wild mushroom soup, pear and white fungus soup.
If you've been to Nanjing, you will also recognize some other popular dishes like the fried river snail, smelly bean curd, pork meatballs in clay pot, and steamed buns with crab roe presented in a bamboo steamer.
More formal banquet dishes are also available including Nanjing's famous smoked fish and rice-wine flavored chicken for starters. Marinated pork hock is a must-try, perfectly flavored and served with a side dish of spicy sauce. Nanjing-style roast duck is served in a platter of soybean sauce, with the same golden skin as Peking roast duck, but with a softer taste and more flavorful meat.
The pork lung and radish soup is not as strange as it sounds. Slow-boiled to a milky-white, the dish is supposed to be a nutritional tonic.
For your daily quota of greens, order a plate of tender and fresh luhao, a river reed. Nanjing is famous for using a variety of wild vegetables in its cuisine.
Finally, you have to try Nanjing's signature dish - the salted duck, brined to perfection in a sauce that chefs would protect with their lives.
Nanjing Impressions is a huge restaurant and sometimes the service can be a bit slow. The average bill is 60 yuan ($9) a person at the public area, and 80 yuan in private dining rooms. But the good food and period ambience make it an interesting place to try this regional cuisine.