China: The Great Cuisines of the Middle Kingdom - Atlas Obscura

China

China: The Great Cuisines of the Middle Kingdom

From bustling night markets to fine-dining institutions, this journey down China’s east coast reveals the story of countless delicious dishes and culinary traditions. 

Chinese cuisine is endlessly varied, and on our carefully curated journey we’ll be tasting our way through a particularly delicious sampling of it. We’ll board bullet trains and boats to experience Huaiyang, Buddhist, Cantonese cuisines, and other distinct culinary styles. Along the way, we’ll visit famed gardens and museums, testaments to the glories of one of the oldest civilizations on Earth. But, from harvesting lotus roots in a massive freshwater lake to conversations with culinary experts, food is the centerpiece of this adventure. As a popular local saying puts it, “To the people, food is heaven.”


This trip is best for people who are ...

  • Curious about China's hidden corners and open to both new foods and familiar favorites.
  • Ready to walk four to five miles a day, whether visiting a Taoist temple on Mount Lao or wandering Shanghai's night markets.
  • Expecting the unexpected, especially when it comes to daily schedules.
  • Eager to make the most of each day—when you’re harvesting lotus root, sampling salty duck eggs, and digging into a Huaiyang-style dinner, you have to cover a lot of ground.

Over the course of this two-week journey, we'll visit a number of cities in China's eastern region, beginning in Qingdao and ending in Guangzhou, with stops in Qufu, Yangzhou, Wuzhen, and Shanghai. We'll immerse ourselves in traditions and get a sense of China's urban and rural landscapes, while meeting local craftsmen and connoisseurs everywhere we go. We promise that you'll never go to bed hungry.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • China's eastern seaboard: Experience the Shandong, Jiangsu, and Guangdong provinces, as well as vibrant Shanghai, in this carefully curated exploration of culinary traditions.
  • Mingle with food fiends: Talk to and learn from gourmets and professional chefs, as you taste the oldest of China’s Eight Great Cuisines.
  • More than food: Learn about history, art, and philosophy while visiting farmhouses, gardens, museums, and skyscrapers.
  • Hands-on experiences: Harvest and cook some of China’s most famed dishes with help from the experts.

YOUR CHINA CULINARY GUIDE

Xiaokun Song (“Kun”) is a culture and travel enthusiast. Born and raised in Beijing, she received an MA in Western Art History and a Ph.D. in Chinese Studies. Her travel philosophy celebrates genuine encounters with locals as one of the most meaningful ways to introduce travelers to a culture. Kun is the founder and CEO of The Source, which specializes in designing and providing stimulating travel experiences focused on culture and community. With this culinary tour, Kun will showcase China’s food culture through the people who spend their days growing, cooking, and enjoying the ingredients and dishes that define it.

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment. 

Itinerary
zhangchaoran
Day 1
Qingdao Arrival & Welcome
  • Arrive in Qingdao, a seaside city famed for its seafood and Tsingtao beer.
  • Take some time to settle into the group’s hotel, then meet your guide and travel companions over a welcome drink in our hotel.
  • At our first meal together of many, we’ll go over our itinerary for the days ahead, and get to know each other over a dinner of local specialties.
Pooja Chaudary
Day 2
Fishermen, Old Town & Dumpling Dinner
  • After breakfast, we’ll be off for a drive to the ocean to visit local fishermen, and we’ll have a seafood lunch at one of their restaurants.
  • Afterward, we’ll return to the hotel to recover from travel and jet lag, with a few hours for rest, relaxation, and recuperation. If you’ve got energy, you can feel free to explore more of the city.
  • In the late afternoon, we’ll set off for a stroll through Qingdao’s famous Old Town. A local guide will lead us through European-style villas and streets constructed during the German Colonial Period (1897–1914). Time permitting, we’ll visit the Qingdao Beer Museum and learn about the fascinating history of beer in China.
  • We’ll have dinner at a famous dumpling restaurant, where we’ll witness the dumpling-makers' well-honed technique, and try our hand at making them ourselves. Dinner, of course, comes with the freshest draft beer from Tsingtao Brewery.
  • If you still have the energy, feel free to venture out and visit Qingdao’s vivid night market for snacks and shopping.
Giusparta
Day 3
Farmhouse Cooking & Clap Pastries
  • After breakfast we’ll drive to holy Mount Lao, one of the birthplaces of Taoist belief. The mountain is covered in freshwater springs, and after a walk we’ll visit a temple. The mountain was supposedly once home to supernatural beings, immortalized in the famous stories of Qing Dynasty writer Pu Songling.
  • Afterward, we’ll enjoy a cooking demonstration and lunch in a traditional farmhouse, where we’ll learn how to deftly cook with woks. We’ll make famed local specialties, such as cornmeal clap pastries. (The name comes from the process: The batter is cooked by slapping it on the side of a huge wok.) We’ll enjoy lunch not at a table, but upon a traditional kang, a bed-shaped platform that’s heated from the inside. Multipurpose kangs were once the go-to for eating and sleeping comfortably during winter in northern China.
  • In the afternoon, we’ll relax in the most delicious way possible, with famous local tea made with spring water, while playing cards, chess, and mah-jongg.
  • Then we’ll return to our hotel in Qingdao for some leisure time and dinner on your own. We encourage you to use your newfound knowledge of the city to seek out something delicious.
Piti Tan
Day 4
The Banquet of Family Kong
  • In the morning we’ll have an early breakfast, then take a smooth bullet train to the city of Qufu, where Confucius (Kong Zi) was born in 551 B.C.
  • We’ll enjoy a simple lunch in Qufu, and then visit the Kong Family Mansion, a sprawling collection of buildings that once housed Confucius’s direct descendants.
  • At dinner we’ll experience the Banquet of Family Kong—a series of dishes prepared according to the family’s traditional recipes. A local cuisine expert will join us for dinner and provide details on the history of each dish.
Jelena Koncar
Day 5
Lotus Root & River Crabs at Weishan Lake
  • After breakfast in Qufu we’ll leave Shandong Province and drive to the city of Yangzhou, in Jiangsu Province.
  • Two hours into our journey, we’ll stop for lunch at lotus-covered Weishan Lake, the largest freshwater lake in northern China. It will be harvest season for lotus roots and river crabs, which means we’ll get to enjoy these classic favorites. We’ll also join local farmers on their boats, and help them harvest lotuses and lotus roots. And we’ll try a speciality of the local cuisine: salty duck eggs.
  • After two more hours on the road, we'll arrive in Yangzhou, known for its glorious gardens and cosmopolitan past. 
  • We’ll take some well-earned rest at the hotel before a Huaiyang-style dinner to remember. Yangzhou is known for its light and sweet Huaiyang cuisine, one of the great traditional culinary styles of China. Since many Huaiyang dishes depend on deft knife work, the chef will show us his impressive techniques. 
MyCreative
Day 6
Buddhist Cooking & Zhenjiang Vinegar
  • In the morning we’ll visit one of Yangzhou’s most famous sights: the Buddhist Daming Temple, dating to the fifth century.  In addition to viewing the reliquaries, we’ll gaze over the city from the top of the temple.
  • Afterward, we’ll enjoy a tasty lunch at the temple restaurant. There, the cooks practice the art of traditional Buddhist cuisine, in which meat is cleverly imitated with vegetarian ingredients. While enjoying these dishes, we’ll learn how monks developed their vegetarian cooking skills.
  • In the afternoon, we’ll take an excursion to the city of Zhenjiang, less than an hour away. Zhenjiang is famous countrywide for its briny black vinegar. We’ll visit a vinegar manufacturer and learn about their traditional brewing methods.
  • We’ll also have dinner there, including the local delicacy of steamed buns stuffed with crabmeat, served with Zhenjiang vinegar.
Lukiyanova Natalia frenta
Day 7
Traditional Gardens & Local Gourmets
  • After breakfast we’ll drive to Suzhou, less than three hours away. The city has long been famed for its beauty, which inspired a Chinese saying: "In the sky, there’s Paradise, and on Earth there’s Suzhou and Hangzhou." Not only is Suzhou the center of Chinese traditional gardening, it’s also famed for its southern Su cuisine, which is filled with seafood and sweet, aromatic flavors.
  • We’ll have a low-key lunch at a popular noodle restaurant, where we’ll learn about the city’s rich noodle tradition. Then we’ll head over to the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng yuan). Anything but humble, it’s one of the “Four Famous Chinese Gardens,” the epitomes of traditional Chinese garden aesthetics. Constructed by a retired official in the 16th century, it's also believed to have been the teenage stomping grounds of author Cao Xueqin. It is said to have provided inspiration for his sweeping 18th-century novel, Dream of the Red Chamber.
  • Dinner will be at the oldest Su cuisine restaurant in the city, where a local connoisseur will join us for conversation about the cuisine’s history and preparation.
  • To cap off our day of sightseeing and walking, we’ll treat ourselves to a relaxing traditional foot massage.
Xiaokun Song
Day 8
A Day in the Water Village
  • After a relaxing morning we’ll depart on the short drive to the canal-lined town of Wuzhen.
  • There, we’ll embark on a leisurely afternoon of wandering the village, and admiring its vintage houses and elegant canals. Handicraft workshops abound, as do sellers of local snacks.
  • Dinner will be at a gourmet restaurant along the river, followed by a nighttime boat ride to admire the glittering lights of the town from the water.
Inspired By Maps
Day 9
Shanghai: Culinary Fusion of East & West
  • After breakfast we’ll head straight to Shanghai, about two hours away.
  • Upon disembarking in a popular walking area, we’ll immerse ourselves in the Shanghai bustle, and head to lunch at a local restaurant. We’ll then go to our hotel for a few hours of rest before diving back into the city.
  • In the older sections of the city, such as the French Concession, we’ll absorb the vivid history of Shanghai. We’ll stop for a quick coffee break at trendy, stylish dessert shop Bobo Lee, where French technique meets Chinese cuisine.
  • In the same spirit of old Shanghai, we’ll enjoy a special “Western” dinner. While Western cuisine in China can consist of anything from fine Italian food to hamburgers, this dinner will take place in one of the oldest Western restaurants in the city. Founded by the Jewish-Italian Louis Rovere in 1935, this French restaurant survived World War II and remains a culinary and historical cornerstone.
  • As night falls, those who feel up to it can venture out for a drink or two in one of the most exciting cities on Earth.
Johann Visagie
Day 10
Shanghai Snacking
  • After breakfast we’ll visit the renowned Shanghai Museum to deepen our understanding of Chinese history and culture.
  • The afternoon will be filled with lunch and snacking, as we embark on an immersive food tour through the city.
  • Though we’ll be munching on things all day, dinner is not to be missed. Not only will we enjoy local Shanghai cuisine, but we’ll have a beautiful view of the Huangpu River.
  • After dinner we’ll walk among the skyscrapers in Lujiazui, the financial quarter. Then we’ll ascend to the skies to view the nighttime cityscape from the 118th floor of Shanghai Tower, the second-tallest building in the world.
  • We’ll conclude the day with a walk along the Huangpu River, beneath Shanghai’s super-modern skyline.
终有 那天
Day 11
Bullet Train to Guangzhou
  • By a morning bullet train, we’ll zip to our next destination: Guangzhou, nearly a thousand miles away. We'll get there in a little under seven hours.
  • After arrival, we’ll enjoy dinner at a popular restaurant, where a local expert will give us an introduction to the city and its famed Cantonese cuisine, long one of the most beloved Chinese culinary styles worldwide.
margaret tong
Day 12
Morning Tea & Cantonese Cuisine
  • We’ll start the day with morning tea, which consists not just of tea, but also of numerous delicious dim sum specialties.
  • In the afternoon we’ll visit the Nansha Temple of the Queen of Heaven—the biggest temple dedicated to the oceanic goddess Mazu in Southeast Asia. First built during the Ming Dynasty, the temple was recently restored and features a majestic granite statue of the goddess that soars nearly 50 feet high.
  • Then we'll have time to explore Guangzhou on our own, or take an optional excursion up Canton Tower. The top of the tallest television tower in the world provides a panoramic view of the city at night.
06photo
Day 13
A Final Food-Filled Day
  • Today is all about putting your new culinary knowledge to work. We’ll head to the local market with a local chef for a hands-on tour.
  • After lunch, we’ll have a demonstration and cooking lesson from the chef, who will walk us through several dishes. Better pay attention: We’ll be cooking our final dinner ourselves!
Day 14
Farewell & Departure
  • Our journey ends in Guangzhou. From there, you can fly home from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport or continue your Chinese adventure. 
The Fine Print

YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA CHINA TRIP INCLUDES

  • All lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $790. Otherwise we'll work to place singles of the same gender together.) 
  • Meals as listed in the itinerary.
  • An experienced, multilingual guide to accompany you throughout the trip.
  • Transport throughout the trip, in comfortable minibuses and bullet trains.
  • Admission to all proposed activities and experiences.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that China's culinary scene has to offer!

TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR

  • Transportation and flights; note that the trip begins in Qingdao and ends in Guangzhou.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).
  • Baggage charges.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
  • If applicable, applying for a Chinese visa. (We recommend applying through the service Visa HQ.)

NOTE ON FLIGHTS

When planning your travel, we recommend that you arrive in Qingdao by 4 p.m. on October 8 and depart from Guangzhou anytime on October 21. If you'd like assistance booking flights, let us know and we'll connect you to our flight specialists.

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, with schedules and availabilities that may change in coming months. If any activity or attraction that is advertised is missed or not available, we will replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.

NOTE ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

This tour is fairly active; travelers should be reasonably fit and feel comfortable walking four to five miles each day, and remaining on their feet for long periods of time. Several parts of the tour involve some longer walks, including up and down stairs and on uneven ground.

PAYMENT

The total trip cost is $5,350. You will be charged a $500 deposit to hold your space. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The final payment of $4,850 will be due by July 10, 2019. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $790. will be included in the final payment.

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