Suzhou is at the junction of the north-south axis of the Grand Canal and the east-west running Yangtze River. As with most great crossroads, such as Istanbul, New York or London, a lot of passersby stop, settle down and start selling food. In Suzhou you could eat out in a different restaurant every night of the year and change regional specialties every other day. Sadly, most eating guides for the city usually just focus on high end restaurants, but don’t fret! Suzhou has a smorgasbord of cheap eats from morning to night offering fresh, home cooked delights in small mom and pop diners. Here are some of the best areas to find some cheap grub.
1) Suzhou University - Fengmen Road
Although these little gems are spread throughout the city, the mother lode of choice eateries is to be found, not surprisingly, around Suzhou University’s (Soochow University) old campus. Just south of the campus along Fengmen Road there is hardly a shop that doesn’t have to do with food. Starting at the east end by the elevated road, there is the well known dumpling shop that beats Lonely Planet’s much touted Yang Yang’s, just down the road, in freshness and price. On the sidewalk you can see them frying Suzhou dumplings packed with sweet meats, stewing them its own sauce or steaming them in bamboo drums.
2) Suzhou University- Korean
Continue west and there is Xinyang Minfan and Fujian Minglia, both popular with students. A bit further towards the moat is the perennially packed Korean restaurant where you can have kimbob, kimchi, or Korean dumplings for less than 15 RMB including complementary tea, kimchi and tofu with spicy sauce and fresh green onions. You can choose to eat at a table with chair or on a section of raised floor while you sit on heated mats.
3) Suzhou University- Zhuangxian Wan Road
On the north side of the campus runs Zhuangxian Wan Road. This is a favourite night haunt for students, faculty and locals alike. A big 5 RMB beer is a great companion to any of the fresh sea foods swimming in the blue and red plastic basins outside, especially the famous Yang Chang Lake hairy crab. Eat and drink to your contentment and you will probably not spend more than the price of a couple of beers at a Shanghai club. If you want to go a bit up-market, just outside the campus’s east gate is the long standing Snowy Pea, a cavernous mini-Versailles resplendent with mirrors and heavy drapes. The bible-thick photo menu offers a huge choice of terrific dishes ranging from tongue to trotters.
4) Suzhou University - Xianyuan Housing Estate
Staying on the east side of the campus, walk up Jinjihu Road and turn south at the first street into Xianyuan Housing Estate. One block down are two little eateries with food in the window. You choose what you want from fish to fried vegetables and the lady will fill your plate and give you complementary soup, rice and tea. I’ve never paid more than 8 RMB! Plus, you have the choice of eating inside or out under the trees and so you can watch the comings and goings on the shopping street. Don’t let the greasy tables and low stools put you off. The food is great. Afterwards, don’t miss the night markets on Moye Street along the moat!
In the morning, this area is also good for quick breakfasts. Custom made omelets, rice porridge, or deep fried dough sticks (youtiao) with sugar all served in convenient carry-to-class plastic bags. You can also try one of the six canteens on campus. You can fill your tray at lunch for less than 10 RMB. The campus has one coffee machine where you can get a cup of something that passes for java for 1 RMB. Apart from that I have yet to find a good cup of coffee at a reasonable price in Suzhou.
5) Central Park S.I.P.
If it is Cantonese food that rings your gastronomic bell try the Hong Kong Dim Sum on the third floor of Rainbow Shopping Center just east of Central Park in the S.I.P. You can choose from the passing trolleys a seemingly unending array of southern Chinese delicacies. Two can eat well in a pleasant décor for around 120 RMB. They also have milk tea and a variety of flavoured pearl teas.
If you are an aficionado of lamb the Xingjian region is well represented. A favourite is The Camel Restaurant on Jinjihu Road a half a block east of S.I.P. central park. Flat breads are freshly baked in the tandori style oven and the kebabs grilled over coals. Try the fried and spicy long beans; they’re crunchy and spicy. And for those with a sweet tooth, the baked apples covered in a hot, sticky sugar coating is a perfect end of a meal treat.
6) Shopping Malls on Xiandai Avenue
Another Korean restaurant that is popular with families is on the second floor of the shopping center on the corner of Xinggang Street and Xiandai Avenue. Be prepared to share a table with others sitting on the raised floor. But don’t fret, the rice, kimbob and barbeque meats are served quickly and copiously just like the beer. A good meal can be had for 40 RMB including the drink.
If it is Japanese food that you are after the least expensive is in the basement of the In-City shopping Mall, also on Xiandai Avenue. Here, the conveyor belt chugs by with freshly prepared sushi, sashimi, salads, deserts, beer and sake. When you are done the waiter comes by and counts up the number of plates by colour. Most delicacies are 10 RMB per plate so you can try lots of different dishes without breaking the bank.
7) Singa Plaza - Mister Pizza
One of my favourite restaurants in all of Suzhou is Mister Pizza in Singa Plaza (Xindu Guanjian) on Jinjihu Road. In addition to Pizza, proprietors James and Grace serve up Malay, Indian and a broad range of burgers, pastas and delicious cod fish and chips. A big Tsingtao is 10 RMB and the service is friendly and fast. Eat inside or out under the sparkling lights. Main courses run in the 30 to 40 RMB range. So for 100 RMB two can have a lovely meal and a couple of beers.
The choice is wide, the prices are very reasonable and the range of regional cuisines is wide enough to fit the palette of any foodie. Eating in Suzhou is indeed a movable feast that one can enjoy on a church mouse’s budget. In Suzhou people eat out, eat often and eat local. Bon appetite!
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Keywords: Budget eating Suzhou restaurant guide Suzhou food near Suzhou University cheap eats in Suzhou
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