The Nanfang / Blog

“Ghost Mall” No More, Dongguan Behemoth Becomes Culinary Paradise

Posted: 07/8/2014 8:59 am

south china mall When you’re in a big mall in China, you’ve likely said, “I’m hungry. Let’s go to the food court and see what restaurants they have.” Somebody has finally taken that concept and made an entire mall out of it

The newly-renovated South China Mall in Dongguan, long known for being an empty, abandoned behemoth, is once again a commercial success, having served 80,000 customers on June 1. However, it’s recent success is in defiance of its humble beginnings as a white elephant.

Having opened to grand fanfare in 2005, what had once been dubbed “the world’s largest mall” was bereft of customers just a year later as stores abandoned their leases. For seven years, the South China Mall remained largely deserted of any life as its own existence remained a legacy to its failure.

READ: Dongguan’s “Ghost Mall”

This year, however, the South China Mall got a new lease on life. Gao Tiechuan, president of the the South China Mall responsible for its restructuring, changed it from a US-styled mall to one that caters to Chinese interests, reports Want China Times. Namely, the focus was put on food offerings rather than clothing shops.

Gao scaled back the scope of the mall to attract local diners instead of trying to cater to the entire Pearl River Delta. Besides hosting branches of popular local restaurant franchises, the mall now offers more affordable domestic brands to attract budget-minded clientele.

The RMB 200 million (US$32 million) renovation also did away with previous mall fixtures like a fountain and a bridge that only got in the way of the crowds.

Now brimming with shoppers, the South China Mall is operating on a customer strategy whereby 40% of sales are from its restaurants, and 30 percent are from “experience stores”. In this new set-up, traditional retailers only account for 30% of the mall’s sales.

Photos: South China Mall


Here’s a Map of Shenzhen Restaurants Featured on Food Doc “A Bite of China”

Posted: 05/16/2014 4:53 pm

map shenzhen bite of chinaThe second season of the documentary A Bite of China has been somewhat of a letdown compared to its stellar first season.

Having a winning formula of telling human stories through mouth-watering depictions of explicit food porn, the new season of A Bite of China reverses the polarity of the narrative in order to encapsulate a theme on a broader, nationalistic level.

But no matter the narrative, it’s the subject of A Bite of China that still makes it compelling television. And as the show takes many of its cues from Cantonese cuisine, Shenzhen residents can take pride in knowing their city is well represented on the show.

Here’s a map of the 21 (!) Shenzhen restaurants featured on the second season of A Bite of China in just the first three episodes alone. 

Here the restaurants ordered by episode, dish, name, and address:

Episode One, “脚步”

buttered tea1. Buttered Tea 酥油茶

Yangjin Mazang-Style Restaurant 央金玛藏式餐厅
Area C, Huanle Coast Bay, #8 Baishi Road, Nanshan District

2. Lotus Root Packed with Glutinous Rice and Osmanthus Flower 桂花糕米藕
Jiangnan Kitchen江南小厨
Stall #499, Wancheng City, #1881 Bao’An South Road, Luohu District

3. Soft Dessert Curd 嫩豆花
Sichuan Dessert Curd 四川豆花
2nd Fl, Jintai Market, Jingtian North Road,  Futian District

4. Lantian Belt Noodles 蓝田裤带面
Xi’an Old Wang Family 西安老王家
1st Fl, New Xin Tower, #117 Zhenxing Road, Futian District

pungeant noodles5. Shanxi Pungeant Noodles 陕西臊子面
Xi’an Old An Family 西安老安家
B1 Nanguang Tower, #5 Huafu Road, Futian District

6. Jumping Fish 跳跳鱼
Xiang Man Tian 湘满天
#619-42, Jian’an First Road, Bao’an District 宝安29区建安一路619-42号

7. Shandong Flatcakes 山东煎饼
Yimengshan Fried Chicken 沂蒙山炒鸡店
#1 Xiangnan Road, Nanshan District 南山区向南路1号

8. Chaozhou Spring Noodles 潮州春卷
Chaojiangchun 潮江春
4th Fl, Baoli Cultural Plaza, #33 Wenxin Fifth Road, Nanshan District

9. Vietnamese Spring Noodles 越南春卷
Spring of Xi Language 春之曦语
Stall L337, Haiya Binfen City, #99 Jian’an First Road, Bao’an District

Episode 2, “心传”

twice cooked pork10. Twice-Cooked Pork 回锅肉
Bashufeng 巴蜀风
2nd Fl, Yuehai Amalgamated Building, #104 Longcheng Road, Nanshan District

11. Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles 武汉热干面
Cailinji 蔡林记
1st Fl, New White Horse Wholesale Clothing City, People’s North Road, East Gate, Luohu

12. Weizhou Stinky Tofu 微州臭豆腐
Drunk Man Pavillion 醉翁亭
3rd Fl, Central Commerce Building, Fuhua First Road, Futian District

13. Buckwheat noodles 饸饹面
Buckwheat Noodle Store 饸饹面馆
Xindi Station, Nanshan District

14. Han Middle Bread汉中面皮
Han Water Restaurant 汉水源餐厅
Zhenxing Hotel, #3007 Hongzhi Road, Futian District

15. Bracken Root Sticky Cake 蕨根糍粑
Maozhai Guizhou Sour Soup Hotpot 苗寨贵州酸汤火锅
1st Fl, New Xin Tower, #117 Zhenxing Road, Futian District

oyster16. Baked Oyster Cake 蚝烙
Village Kitchen 乡村小厨
Jinwei Bar Street, Taibai Road, Luohu District

17. Large Meatballs 狮子头
Large Dragon Lantern Jiangnan Restaurant 大红灯龙江南菜馆
1st Fl, Building A, Chang’an Garden, #19 Baihua West Road, Futian District

18. Dudu Pot 嘟嘟煲
Shengji 胜记
East Gate, Lizhi Garden, #1001 Honglong Central Road, Futian District

Episode 3, “时节”

iron grill fish19. Iron-Grilled Fish with Bread 铁锅炖鱼贴饼子
Old Liu Fresh Fish Emporium 老刘野生大鱼坊
Inside the Lake Xiangmi Villa, #6068 South Shenzhen Boulevard, Futian District

20. LihaoStir-Fried Preserved Meat 藜蒿炒腊肉
Little Whistle Bar and Restaurant 小啸酒馆
#13 Changxing Road, Nanshan District

21. Xinjiang Hand-Made Rice 新疆手抓饭
Zhongfayuan 中发源
1st Fl, Wantuo Garden, Jingtian Road, Futian District

Shenzhen residents: If you see some you like, you can actually order it. There’s no better way for you to decide where to eat than by sitting on the couch and watching it on TV.

We still have to say: it’s too bad the epic tree climbing scene in the first episode has been outed as plagarism of a BBC documentary which been further debunked by scientists who say even the tree is fake in that scene.

But, we’ll always have the food porn: every last explicit shot of hot, wet, juicy meat makes Shenzhen the culinary San Fernando Valley of China.

Photos: Weibo, wabuw, nipic, shopping 58, coolroid, chaozhou, bzcm


Lou Palacio Pizza delivers authentic Provence-style pizza

Posted: 04/8/2014 1:59 pm

When it comes to pizza, I’m very picky. Growing up in New Jersey with New York city just 20 minutes away, I would have many high quality choices to choose from when it came to pizza. In my eyes, fast food joints like Dominos and Pizza Hut just don’t serve the real thing.

Shenzhen is a city that doesn’t have a lot of great choices. Only a few places stand out, one of which is Lou Palacio. Named after its owner and chef, the restaurant serves traditional pizza made by a family that has been making quality pizza in Provence, France for generations. Does that guarantee a good pizza? No, people could make a bad pizza for generations. Luckily for the people of Shenzhen, Lou makes a good one.

This past weekend, the Nanfang paid Lou Palacio Pizza a visit in Coastal City to give them a try. We ordered a sampling of four pizzas. The style is similar to traditional Italian thin crust pizza. They offer almost 30 types of pizza as well as the choice to add toppings or create your own.

The Ratatouille (roasted vegetables) pizza was very good and topped with flakes of parmesan cheese. We also had the Honey Goat pizza, one of their traditional Provence-style pizzas, which was drizzled with honey, goat cheese, and pine nuts. It tasted good but it was a bit different from what I am used to. Definitely worth a try though.

Next, we had the best of the four, the Greek Rocket Salad Pizza, topped with delicious feta cheese, green olives, cherry tomatoes, and rocket lettuce. It has a nice saltier taste from the olives and feta that make it extra special. Finally, we tried a custom pizza with eggplant, onion, and mushrooms. It was good, but not as good as the previous pizza.

All of their pizzas use imported quality ingredients and come in two sizes, small (9 inches) and large (13 inches). Prices range from 45-75 yuan for a small and 75-125 yuan for a large.

For more information on Lou Palacio Pizza, please see our directory listing.

Photos: Jeff Bussel


Dongguan gets its first taste of authentic Mexican

Posted: 04/3/2014 11:50 am

el caliente mexican restaurant review

Mexican food has always been popular with foreigners in Dongguan. Burritos, fajitas and enchiladas are likely to be found in any food menu of any bar around Bar Street. For that reason, it is surprising that no authentic Mexican restaurant has opened in the city.

That changed late last year when El Caliente opened in Dynatown, promoting itself as a true Mexican restaurant. Despite the popularity of Mexican food in Dongguan, El Caliente has divided opinion among some. We recently took advantage of their set lunch to see for ourselves.

When entering El Caliente you quickly notice its stylish industrial décor and cool vibe. Steel pipes run along the ceiling. The red brick walls are covered in graffiti. Painted oil drums function as tables outside, and the bathrooms are decorated in pop art. As well, this restaurant also has one of the hipper playlists in Dongguan with music from the likes of James Brown, Beck, A Tribe Called Quest and The Cure.

For starters we tried the Sopa Azteca, a spicy tomato broth mixed with crunchy strips of tortilla, cheese, and avocado. The main course was Tostadas covered in fried egg, shredded lettuce and sour cream, with a side of rice and refried beans. The set lunch also included a free tea or soft drink and in total it cost a reasonable RMB 90.

Fish Tacos and Tostadas el caliente mexican food

As with any familiar cuisine, trying its authentic dishes can sometimes be surprising in comparison to its taste that you have become used to. Just like how Chinese food in England tastes different from the Chinese food in China, so too does the Mexican food at El Caliente taste different from what you can find at other restaurants in Dongguan.

While the dishes do look slightly unfamiliar and taste somewhat unusual, it can be refreshing to try something that is different. It may be tempting to compare the two, but it perhaps makes more sense judge them separately as what they really are; the authentic Mexican cuisine you find at El Caliente, and the Tex-Mex style you find throughout the rest of Dongguan.

Regardless of whether you prefer to eat Tex-Mex or authentic Mexican, there is little disagreement to be had over El Caliente’s choice of drinks. They have over fifty tequilas on their menu and a wide selection of cocktails served frozen or on the rocks. Even if you prefer Tex-Mex, El Caliente is worth visiting for some frozen margaritas on a sunny afternoon or some tequila shots on a wild night.

This may not be the Mexican restaurant that many were expecting, but hopefully dissenters can look past these differences. El Caliente is a cool place to hang out for grabbing dinner or just to enjoy a few drinks.

Click here for address and contact information.

Photos: Edward O’Neil


Cat café provides cuddles with coffee in Dongguan

Posted: 02/11/2014 11:18 am

Recently one of my friends asked me to go a café with them. I do not like to drink tea or coffee and I was about to suggest somewhere else before my friend added that at this café you could play with cats. Intrigued, I agreed to go.

Checking out MA Cat Teahouse

The concept of cat cafés is the same as any other except that there are cats roaming under your table and asleep on the seat beside you. The cats are there for those that are unable to have their own or for those who simply wish to relax after a busy day.

Like so many bizarre and often genius ideas, cat cafés originated in Japan. It was not long before the idea spread to the rest of Asia and in 2012 MA Cat Teahouse opened in Dongguan.

The small café was filled with a dozen or so people and about as many cats. The tables had been turned into scratch posts for the younger playful cats while the shelves had been taken over by the older sleeping cats. Pictures of cats sewn into quilts covered the sofas. Portraits such as a cat as the Mona Lisa hung on the walls.

Everyone in the café was there to play with the cats. Some people were more open about it than others. They would chase the cats around the café trying to catch one. Other people were shier. They would wait at their table for the cats to approach them and when one did they would tap their lap and imitate a meow.

Neither approach was particularly successful. Those that chased the cat found that even if they caught one it would usually run away again as soon as possible, while those that waited were rarely rewarded for their more patient approach. Even though it is more difficult to play with the cats than you might expect, watching these people can be just as entertaining.

While I tried to pet a fluffy white cat our drinks arrived. The hot chocolate I had was pretty terrible and my friend’s mango juice was not much better. They also had a snack menu that includes sandwiches and fries but my friend had tried some before and warned against ordering anything.

MA Cat Teahouse, however, is not really about the drinks and snacks. It’s better to think of what you buy as the admission fee to play with the cats. Besides, the drinks were not too expensive. We paid 34RMB for our hot chocolate and mango juice.

In a city full of coffee shops that all look and feel the same, MA Cat Teahouse is somewhere that is doing something different. It will probably never be a café you visit regularly but it certainly should be tried at least once.

Find detailed information on MA Cat Teahouse here.


Schizophrenic décor masks decent Australian grub

Posted: 01/21/2014 11:20 am

Drover’s in Nancheng

Drover’s is a strange place. In one part there is a bar with draught beer that makes it feel like a Western bar. In another part there are private function rooms that make it feel a Chinese restaurant.

Almost every table seems to have different furniture, which makes it seem more like a furniture store. The table we sat at had completely different sofas on either side.

Not only was the selection of furniture peculiar, but so was it’s positioning. There were no snug corners to enjoy a few pints or intimate dining tables for a romantic date. The most peculiar example was a row of bar stools facing a fish tank.

The decorations are just as odd; framed posters of movies that were not particular iconic, football club badges printed out on A4 paper, and photos of a foreigner that appear everywhere.

I can only guess the foreigner is either the manager or the owner. Regardless, the photos make me feel like I am in his living room rather than his bar or restaurant.

The overall impression is that Drover’s feels part bar, part restaurant, part furniture store, and part living room.

When I arrived at Drover’s I was excited to find signs advertising Dead Guy Ale and Brooklyn Lager. When I looked at the menu, however, neither was listed. When I asked the waitress she said they only had Brooklyn Lager. When I asked if it was included in happy hour she was confused. Eventually she said it was not included in happy hour because it is not on the menu. Somewhat confused and not entirely convinced, I decided to order a pint of John Bull from the menu instead.

With our drinks ordered we turned to ordering our meal. Drover’s is an Australian bar/restaurant/furniture store/living room so I wanted to order an Australian dish.  The menu suggested I should try their famous meat pie. When I asked the waitresses she said they did not have any. Fortunately, the menu does have a wide range of other dishes so we ordered a selection of Arrabbiata, Quesadillas and a Tuna Melt.

My pint of John Bull was great. Our food arrived quickly and was well presented. The bread of our melt was slightly burnt but they were generous with the tuna. The Quesadillas looked and tasted good. The Arrabbiata was particularly spicy, which gave it an interesting taste.

When you look past Drover’s schizophrenic décor you realize they have decent food and one of the better beer selections in town. For those living in Nancheng, it is definitely an option. For those living in Dongcheng, however, it is not really worth the trip.

For the address and other information about Drover’s, click here.


Dumpling fans rejoice at Guangzhou’s famous Jurong

Posted: 11/5/2013 11:19 am

Dumplings, or jiaozi, are most popular in northern China.  For this reason, the best dumpling houses are usually founded by people from the Manchurian region. However, when people use online search engines to find the best jiaozi in Guangzhou, they almost always end up at a Cantonese-run-restaurant called Jurong Dumpling Restaurant.


The restaurant offers many kinds of dumplings with different fillings. Dumplings with corn and pork inside are the most welcomed, but I strongly advise you to try the one containing shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and pork. Water chestnuts usually grow in southern China and is a popular ingredient in Chinese dishes. After boiling, it has slightly crunchy texture with a wee bit of sweetness that gives the dumplings a great flavour.

Chinese chives and beef dumplings are the most expensive in Jurong. Chives are believed to help build up a man’s sexual stamina, which may explain their higher cost.


While it’s common to dip dumplings in some kind of sauce, the best can be eaten without. Northern Chinese people usually dip dumplings into raw mashed garlic, while Cantonese like vinegar and soy sauce. Except for those two traditional sauces, Jurong also offers Shacha which is a popular sauce from Shantou.

Atmosphere & Price

Jurong is not a fancy restaurant. People don’t come here for the service, but that doesn’t mean the service is bad. It’s best described as acceptable.

The surroundings are simple, and like many other local restaurants, it is not 100% clean. But it’s great for a quick lunch and based on the great reputation the restaurant has, the food is safe. Although the restaurant offers air conditioning, it’s still pretty warm inside. Wait staff are mostly from Guangdong, so you can order in your best Cantonese if you like!

Jurong offer three different sizes of orders. The small includes eight dumplings, with the medium and large portions comparably larger.


Again, this is not a high-end restaurant; the atmosphere and decorations are simple but the food is delicious and full of local Chinese elements. Dumpling fans should not skip Jurong.

You can find Jurong’s address and information here.


Hidden Kyodaifune & Marutan authentically Japanese

Posted: 10/15/2013 2:00 pm

Fresh ingredients and delicate presentations are the most charming aspects of Japanese cuisine, and both are put on fully display at a little hidden place in Guangzhou.

A rumour has been circulating of late on Sina Weibo that Guangzhou’s best Japanese restaurant is hiding along Tiyu Dong Lu.  It’s an enticing rumour, considering how many Japanese restaurants have opened in the city.

The mysterious restaurant consists of two main parts: Izakaya Marutan on the ground floor and Kyodaifune, the restaurant, on the first floor. Kyodaifune and Marutan is hard to find because it has no sign and no logo. All that distinguishes the place as a restaurant is a small stand outside telling people they offer alcohol and Japanese dishes.

The Food

The best way to test the food quality of a Japanese restaurant is by ordering the ramen. Many people will ask, “But why not sushi?” Remember, you are going to a comprehensive restaurant, not just a sushi bar. Sometimes the texture in Japanese cooking comes out in dishes other than sushi.

Soup is the key element to a successful ramen; some Japanese describe it as “the soul of the chef.” Most of the Japanese food providers in Guangzhou serve Tonkotsu Ramen, which contains pork-bone soup. But the chefs in Kyodaifune use seafood in the recipe.

I ordered the salted version, but an unsalted option was also available. Different from Tonkotsu, which sometimes tastes very strong, the seafood soup was more simple, clean and fresh. It is probably not a very local Japanese flavour but it works for me, as a Cantonese. Going with the chewy noodle, tasty char siu, boiled egg, spring onion and nori, it was delicious.

Apart from ramen, the most popular (and delicious) dish is “fried milk with shrimp”. The deep fried technique, called karaage in Japan, is usually used on fish and meat. It is nearly impossible to deep fry milk, but chefs in Kyodaifune have found a way.

The pieces melt in your mouth along with a few pieces shrimp and an unknown dark sauce. The richness is really hard to describe: it tasted like milk, cheese and an overall mixture of tasty. I can’t recommend this dish highly enough.

Now it was time to try the sushi. The waitress suggested the conger sushi, which is popular in Kyoto cuisine. It was the first time in my life I had ever eaten conger. The presentation was very professional, and good quality ginger was provided (which is hard to find at some Japanese restaurants). However, the fish contained small bones, which shouldn’t happen in sushi.

After dinner in Kyodaifune, it was time to the ground floor to take a drink at Izakaya Marutan.  An Izakaya is a Japanese drinking establishment which also serve snacks and delicate food. They are sometimes rowdy after-work drinking holes in Japan, primarily serving salarymen.

Marutan serves high-end alcohol, most of which is imported from Japan. On offer is sake, shochu, and more with prices ranging from RMB360 to RMB1200 per bottle.  Marutan also has expensive snacks made from wagyu beef, which sell for RMB100 per 100 grams. Other food like Canadian horsemeat sashimi is occasionally available.  Despite the luxuries on offer, I opted for a simple Kirin beer.


I would say the feeling inside Kyodaifune & Marutan is that of a small version of Japan in Guangzhou. The restaurant is usually full of Japanese people. Most of the employees also come from Japan. If you like the culture and can speak some Japanese, this is a great place to practice your language skills.

By the way, you will need to sit on tatami mats for dinner, so be aware in case that makes you uncomfortable. Marutan is a bit small with only one bar counter and a tiny table, but the atmosphere is authentically Japanese.


To be honest, it is hard to find a Japanese restaurant with poor service. The nature of Japanese servers is generally polite, and this was no exception. Sometimes, they will even kneel down to serve you food. Nevertheless, the good service can really only enjoyed by Chinese and Japanese, because there is no English menu.


Kyodaifune & Marutan is a high-quality Japanese restaurant with probably the best ramen in Guangzhou. The food is great and there is a wide selection of alcohol.  Service is good but it could be better if they had an English menu.


Dinner for one person: RMB200

Address can be found here.


Guangzhou restaurants busted for adding addictive poppy powder to food

Posted: 10/15/2013 10:00 am

If food at some Guangzhou restaurants tastes so good you can’t wait to go back, this could be why.  It turns out a couple of restaurants in the City of Five Rams have been adding poppy powder – which is highly addictive, and illegal – to their dishes.

Want China Times reported:

The irregularity was first uncovered by the Guangzhou Food and Drug Administration in June last year. During a spot check of 70 of the city’s restaurants, inspection officials found that two of the restaurants were using the addictive poppy powder in marinade bags.

The kitchen staff at the two restaurants initially told inspection officials that they had no idea what was in the bags, and claimed that were delivered in that way by suppliers. However, they later reneged and admitted that the bags contained poppy powder.

Both restaurants were fined RMB50,000.

Despite the highly addictive nature of poppy powder, consuming it may be among the least bad things you might eat at Guangzhou restaurants.

(h/t Shanghaiist)


Now we have proof: Guangdongers eat more than anyone else in China

Posted: 10/1/2013 11:00 am

It almost doesn’t matter where you visit in China, locals will refer to it as a “culinary capital”. That term has been used for Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Qingdao, Chengdu, Changsha, Tianjin, and on and on.  But there is a culinary capital among culinary capitals, and that’s Guangdong province.

Our fair province was ranked first in a survey held by Baidu, which aimed to find which province or city had the most gluttonous people. We won the title of China’s biggest eaters, which will come as no surprise to those who live here.

Want China Times had the story:

“Eating in Guangdong” is a remark that all mainland Chinese recognize. There is a well-known joke: Guangdong people eat everything that can fly except planes, and everything that has four legs except a desk. With such views ingrained in the culture, it is no surprise that Guangdong came first in the Baidu survey.

Guangdong food is not just popular in Guangdong. Cantonese food makes up the majority of Chinese food found abroad, further cementing the local fare as the standard-bearer for Chinese culinary traditions.

(h/t Shanghaiist

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