Cơm gà Bà Buội

22 Phan Chu Trinh St, Hoi An

The charming exterior. What horrors await inside?
The charming exterior. What horrors await inside?

Shabbiness: 3 laowais

Food: 5 laowais

Mood: Vaguely colonial

Theme: Venerable shabbyplace

We’reeee baaaack! (Though only for some vietnamese special features, but still). This time we visited a famous restaurant in Hoi An, who’ve apparently been around since the 50s. That’s older and more famous (except for Tim Ho Wan) than any shabbyplace we ever visited before, so we enter with somewhat mixed expectations. The facade, like all of Hoi An, is painted in a pleasant yellow hue and looks generally, generically pretty in a somewhat bucolic fashion. Can this really be what it’s purported to be, a shabbyplace?

Yes it can! Asia always delivers.
The cramped (‘cozy’) interior space sports some fancy hardwood pillars and terraces, but the grease-stained and bleached mint-green walls and hard concrete floor offsets any comforting feelings this might engender. Unless you’re like us, that is; now, we’re giddy with excitement. The color scheme and the peeling paint creates a vaguely Caribbean colonial atmosphere. An open kitchen, cold metallic tables, plastic footstols, bleached photographs and random plastic sheets with floral patterns completes the wonderful picture, though a bonus mention goes to the mystery door with a blue plastic curtain, framed by walls where the paint have peeled of and exposed the grey concrete underneath. What horrors lurk behind? Could it be the only thing worse than an Asian shabbyplace; an Asian bathroom?


We don’t dwell on this, however, but eagerly proceed to the food. Like in a hundred thousand times more fancy (but less cozy) places in Europe, there’s one single dish. In this case; Chicken rice. One should be able to assume they’ve mastered it by now, because we do have fond memories of similar shabbyplaces, surprisingly excellent, back in Kunming. Not taking anything for granted however, because Asia is the continent of randomness and weirdness, we take a bite. And two. And three.


There’s tender, tasty chicken pieces on top of masterfully steamed rice, decorated with onion slices and a cornucopia of herbs, and accompanied by some bowls of a really, really amazing broth. Like most good vietnamese food, there’s an odd feeling of freshness and crispness to it, despite it’s ramshackle surroundings. Though the portions could have been bigger, of course it’s dirt cheap, and we leave satisfied (and mystified that we haven’t gotten stomach sick yet). Once again we’ve proven our case! The best food is found in the shabbiest places, in China as well as in Vietnam.

Chòngqìng Kǒukǒuxiāng Shāokǎo | 重庆口口香烧烤

Mayuan daokou 麻园道口CIMG1169

Shabbiness: 4 laowais

Food: 4 laowais

Mood: Neighborhood joint

Theme:  Shāokǎo virtuosity

Tonight we went to explore the fundamental chinese institution of night shāokǎo (barbecue), in a place just off where the famous narrow gauge train tracks intersects Dianmian avenue. Chòngqìng Kǒukǒuxiāng Shāokǎo was reputed to have Kunming’s best shāokǎo (at least according to one trustworthy but subjective source), so we were slightly giddy with anticipation.  It turns out this place is truly above the norm, with a bbq master that’ll lovingly tend to every skewer, sprinkling liberally with spicy goodness like it was an art form. He’ll also happily shāokǎo the hell out of any random wierd shit you might have brought along, like in our case with some dog meat we bought up on Hongshan donglu just to make the experience a tad wierder. Chòngqìng Kǒukǒuxiāng Shāokǎo has a good selection of stuff, and does initially seem to be more keen on cleanliness than others, having the skewers on display covered in a plastic film. We quickly notice an insect crawling around underneath, however, giving us the comfortable assurance that this is indeed a proper shabbyplace. (In case you’re picky (read: whiny), the laoban will still happily fetch new skewers of stuff from inside the restaurant, but given how it looks inside that isn’t necessarily a guarantee of freshness).

CIMG1161The lotus roots are supposed to be good, and indeed, they are, with a perfect amount of spiciness that makes them just about the best barbecued ones we’ve ever had. There’s also a kind of long, thin fish that’s absolutely delicious (and a bargain, at just five kuai), as well as nice skewers of lamb, beef, leek, fish balls and mushrooms that are all not too oily, not too spicy (which one of us would argue is a drawback in the meat’s case, but we did ask for bu tai la…), and just generally a treat. It’s not the epitome of culinary  exquisiteness (shāokǎo from a steel wagon in a god-forsaken back alley seldom is, despite the theme of this blog), but it is lovingly and masterfully barbecued, and definitely worth the excursion unless you’re in Chenggong  or something. The dog experience shouldn’t really be part of this review as you’ll have to go to the dog place on Hongshan donglu for that (it’s easy to find, just look for a mutilated dog carcass on a plate…), but look if we care; it ought to be said to the barbecue master’s credit that he manages  to make the rather boring taste moderately more interesting after a short stint on his grill.


The outdoor seating do compromise our ability to truly savor the shabbiness, but in a nice Kunming night like this one even we can’t bear to go inside; a true  shāokǎo experience is supposed to take place under the stars (meaning, the smog). But we do make sure to explore a bit, and it’s shabby indeed, with the compulsory decrepit plastic footstools, greasy miniscule tables, a random and dirty wash basin in a wierd crevice in the wall, visible and rusty plumbing, a complete lack of any decoration whatsoever, and a generally soulless urban decay feeling. It’s still not Shípíng Shāokǎo-style horror, but well on the level of Uncle Shu-Shu; a true and properly shabby hole-in-the-wall of the kind western health inspectors would close down quicker than you could say ‘laduzi’.

The master at work

Uncle Shu-Shu


Lánzhōu Zhèngzōng Shǒulāmiàn 兰州正宗手拉面

In an alley off Wenlin Jie 文林街

Shabbiness: 4 laowais

Food: 4 laowais

Mood: Refugee camp

Concept: Late night drunk food

This Kunming institution in the alley next to the entrance of Wenlin Memento is one of two near-identical muslim places in the same decrepit building, both of which has the concept of almost never closing, serving late night post-drinking binge-food to the city’s bar crowd. Like all truly proper muslim places, they both serve shaokao (that is, barbecue), and have a nearly identical picture menu with classical staples like a plethora of hand-pulled noodles, noodle soups, fried rice, gaifan and similar chinese comfort food. The main difference between them is that one has recently renovated and is therefore less shabby than it used to be, which makes the other one, colloquially dubbed ‘Uncle Shu-Shu’, the obvious choice.  Also, Uncle Shu-Shu has better food, and a bigger outdoor seating, and nothing can really compare to the insane frustration of sitting down for dinner in the alley, and then suddenly having to move because some fucktard with a ridiculously huge car just has to squeeze the beast through this tiny alley even though it doesn’t lead anywhere. And upon asking him “why, god, why so big?”, he proudly answers: “大是好” (Big is good) .

CIMG1105The outdoor seating is probably the main feature of Uncle Shu-Shu, but you might also wanna experience the interior of the place, which manages to look improbably similar to a makeshift barack made out of sheet metal, fabric and old cardboard, combined with generous amounts of tin foil from the set of some B-sci-fi-movie. There’s dirty glass/plastic windows trying to wall of the kitchen areas, which is not strictly necessary because the area where they actually cook the food is hidden away from sight in a dark, remote corner man was not meant to know, saving you the horror of  actually having a clue what goes on in there. As one sits down on the broken plastic footstools one might briefly toy with the notion that the place is rather decent (it does have a cozy wooden roof), but then comes the sensation of the fat-encrusted tables and walls and the flies swarming around to their tiny hearts’ content. The sheer popularity of Uncle Shu-Shu does ensure a high customer turnover, and the thrash cans are of course there to be missed, so don’t ever put your bag on the floor here, ever. Yet, all of this, the roofs and corners stained black from decades of smoke, the cracks in the floor, the dirty, Harbin Beer-sponsored wallpapers about to peel off…while definitely a true, hardcore shabbyplace in its own right, it just can’t compare to Shípíng Shāokǎo.

CIMG1108The reason you’d visit Uncle Shu-Shu is mostly, however, because they make good food, and does so while being open at those really inconvenient dark hours when you’re truly 饿死了. The 炒饭, fried rice, is better here than at almost any other place, and the various fried noodles dishes are savory, tasty, just spicy enough, and almost guaranteed to make you full. The staff will happily make ridiculously spicy food for you if that’s your idea of awesome, and they somehow have an uncanny ability to make all the vegetables in their dishes feel weirdly fresh (probably a masterful illusion). The food here won’t win any awards, and there’s better places if you want gaifan (dishes on rice) and barbecue, but Uncle Shu-Shu will always deliver your noodle fix, and whether you want their great 丁丁炒面 (fried noodles chopped in tiny pieces so you can just gobble it up with a spoon, for when you’re too drunk for chopsticks) , their 新疆拉面 (cold Xinjiang noodles that you mix with a bowl of meat and vegetable matter) or the ubiquitous noodle soup, satisfaction is almost guaranteed.

One of the few places we've seen with the dreaded 'C'-rating, and proudly displaying it. (We've never ever seen any place, no matter how fancy, with an 'A', so we assume the minimum requirement for that is a really fat bribe).
One of the few places we’ve seen with the dreaded ‘C’-rating, and proudly displaying it. (We’ve never ever seen any place, no matter how fancy, with an ‘A’, so we assume the minimum requirement for that is a really fat bribe).