Nov 11, 2016
Take a trip to Xietang Laojie, known as the ‘new old district’ in English and you will have a feast for the eyes and the stomach all at once. Xietang Laojie is situated to the east of Jinji Lake, and has its main entrance on Songtao Road. It opened a couple of years ago as a short strip with a handful of eateries and has continued to grow since then. It now covers the length of a whole block north to south and an entire living quarter east to west and has innumerable places to satisfy ones hunger or quench ones thirst.
Xietang Laojie is currently holding a festival of lanterns that on a clear evening is a beautiful sight to see. The lanterns are strung on all the high beams and at ground level and on the water there are lit models of birds, animal and fauna that stretch over bridges and along walkways. It really is quite pretty and makes for an enjoyable autumnal stroll.
Almost all of the restaurants offer Chinese food in a variety of guises but there is some diversity in the shape of chains like Papa John’s pizza, Starbucks and Costa Coffee. There is also an organic restaurant and food shop which is near a craft brewery called 11P (probably a brewer’s term) which seemingly offers two varieties of beer: light and dark. We didn’t do the organic thing, which I am not convinced by anywhere really, but I did share a three litre ‘tower’ of light beer with some friends and can report that it improved in indirect proportion to the fullness of the tower.
For eating we were tempted by the Indian curry being offered by one of the area’s only true international restaurants, Ganesh. I never have high expectations of Indian food in China, which is the result of sad and indifferent experience here, and of having lived for many years in the true home of a decent curry: East London!
Well, we were far from disappointed this time. As we asked for a bit of extra chilly or spice on each of the dishes, the sauces being tailored for the rather bland favouring Suzhou taste bud, all of the curries we tried had rich flavour and lovely, almost nostalgic, aromas. My personal favourite was the chicken butter masala, but the crab, lamb chops on mash, biryani and popadums were also considered successes. Far less attractive was the chicken korma which arrived somewhat grey in colour and devoid of flavour. I have yet to see a decent mouth-watering korma outside of the UK and don’t know, but perhaps it is a British dish like chicken tikka masala, after all.
Ganesh also boasts a magnificent drinks menu with a huge number of beers imported from across the world, but specialising in Belgium ales. It also has a decent wine list and offers traditional Indian drinks like Indian lassi. Neither the food nor the drinks are particularly cheap, but they are not noodle soup and Tsingdao either.
The decoration in Ganesh is pleasant enough with dark woods, Indian statues and sculptures all around but the flat screen television banging out Bollywood show tunes is an unnecessary distraction. My other point of contention is the staff. We have been a few times now and each time the staff seem more disinterested than you usually find. What is it with Chinese eateries and the lack of staff training? Very perplexing. It’s not that they are directly rude, just visibly bored and not enjoying or particularly good at their work. The last time I was there a flirtatious waiting couple even had a boisterous play fight between the tables. All a bit dull for the paying clientele.
All in all, if you fancy a wander amid the light show and a craft beer followed by a pretty decent curry then you can’t go too far wrong with Xietang Laojie. I’d recommend going before the winter weather sets in.
About the Column
Markus is from the Isle of Wight in the UK and had been living in Suzhou since 2013. It is his first time living in China and before this he was in London. He has been teaching English all of his adult life and in HE since 2000. He is lucky to have his wife with him in Suzhou and together they are making a new life. His interests include eating out (a lot) and exploring local areas on his ebike. And recently, walking a doggie.