Shenyang offers a warm welcome

The capital of Liaoning Province is casting off its reputation as a post-industrial rustbelt city to offer travelers a host of pleasures both ancient and modern.

Before embarking on a trip to Shenyang in mid-April, I particularly packed a pair of long johns and a mask, taking into consideration the city’s notorious freezing weather and “reputation” as a heavily industrialized city.

I was totally wrong, though, right after stepping out of the Taoxian International Airport. The sky was blue and clear, and the weather was pleasant, even warmer than my home city of Shanghai.

The capital of Liaoning Province, in northeast China, has made great strides in getting rid of its title as a post-industrial rustbelt city. With two Metro lines leading to major tourist sites, the city is easy to navigate. The streets are buzzing with lively, vibrant scenes and sounds; locals are confident, positive and urbane.

People in Shenyang often like to call their home city Da Shenyang, or Big Shenyang, not because of its geographic location, but for its welcoming and hospitable nature. 

Shenyangers, known for their frankness and humor, are extremely easy to get along with. They are never shy from communication; instead, they can easily break the ice with something as simple as “where are you going?” or “what are you doing here?” — of course in dongbeihua, or northeast dialect, a language considered the essence of the famous errenzhuan (literally “two-people rotation), a genre of local folk singing and dancing.

The city’s name, Shenyang, literally means “the yang (sunny, positive) side of the Shenhe River.” The Hunhe River, formerly called the Shenhe, is at the south side of the city. Chinese culture holds that a river’s north bank and a mountain’s south slope are considered to be the “sunny” – or yang – side.

Li Bin / Ti Gong

Shenyang, serving two Qing Dynasty emperors, is widely known for its Manchu culture.

Shenyang was first established in about 300 BC during the Warring States Period and was then named Hou City. In 1625, the Manchu leader Nurhaci captured it and decided to relocate his entire administrative infrastructures here. The official name was changed to Shengjing (“rising capital”), which derived from the Manchu word mukdembi, meaning “to rise.” On Nurhaci’s order, the imperial palace was constructed in 1626, symbolizing the city’s emerging status as the political center.

After the fall of the Ming Dynasty, the capital was relocated to Beijing, and Shengjing was renamed Peidu, which again changed to Fengtian in 1657. However, it remained crucial as the secondary capital and the spiritual home of the Qing Dynasty through centuries.

The city got its current name in 1929 after General Zhang Xueliang proclaimed his support for Kuomintang.

While for many travelers, Shenyang boasts a long history, decent museums and exotic Manchu culture, I was more impressed by its modern side, from fine parks, Koreantown to distinctive food.

Korean street

Every day after 6pm is when Xita Street wakes. Lights are on and people keep arriving. The buzz and bustle continue until 2am. Sometimes there is traffic jam even in the middle of the night, as late-night gourmands and clubbers throng here. It is indeed a “sleepless” part of Shenyang. 

Xita, or west pagoda, gets its name from the white pagoda in Yanshou Temple in the area. Because of its location — in the west of the old town — people often call it West Pagoda.

Imaginechina

Xita Street, lined with restaurants and shops featuring signs written in both Chinese and Korean, becomes bustling when night falls.

Xita Korean neighborhood, formed about 100 years ago after Korean laborers were brought in by Japanese invaders, is the largest of its kind besides Korean ethnic autonomous prefecture and county in northeast China. It is home to over 30,000 Korean ethnic people. 

The central landmark, Xita Street, stretches 680 meters. With a variety of Korean-style restaurants, bars and malls, this area offers every element of culture, entertainment and everyday life that is unique to Koreans.

Korean-style buildings line the streets, and the shop signs are written in both Chinese and Korean. Waiting staff at restaurants are dressed in traditional Korean attire and receive guests with Korean etiquette. 

Li Bin / Ti Gong

Dressed in traditional attire, a waitress from Democratic People’s Republic of Korea performs Korean instrument at Pyongyang Resturant.

Li Bin / Ti Gong

Korean cold noodles

Li Bin / Ti Gong

Korean pickled vegetables

Li Bin / Ti Gong

Taedonggang, a beer popular in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Xita Street offers a variety of Korean food, including hotpot, stir-fried tofu, squash soup and seafood omelet. Pingrang Guan (Pyongyang Restaurant), at 93 Xita Street, is one of a few in the style of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Food here includes the famous cold noodles and barbecue beef. Meat and seafood are said to be directly imported from North Korea. Taedonggang, a local beer, sells well. 

After 7pm, the waitresses emerge in beautiful Hanbok (Korean dress) and take turns singing, dancing and playing musical instruments. They are all smiles and very hospitable, and at times interact with guests. Quite a unique experience indeed.

Xita Korean fair on Huichun Road is the largest bazaar for Korean goods in Shenyang. The market has various stands and stores selling an assortment of Korean products, from specialty food and spices to noodles, jars of condiments, fermented vegetables and all sorts of cookery and pots. 

Liu Qi / SHINE

Huichun Road is home to a large bazaar for all kinds of Korean products.

Riverside park

It is often said that a park is where you can find the spirit of a city: How the residents treat their parks tells you who they are.

Wulihe Park, the biggest riverside park in Shenyang, is probably the city’s most peaceful park. Sitting along the Hunhe River, the 126-hectare area is great for walking, sports, cycling, relaxing and picnics. With a lovely walk among trees, I almost forgot  for a moment that I was in the middle of a city.

In spring and summer, the walkway is lined at both sides with blooming flowers in various species and colors. In early morning, locals can be found doing exercises or tai chi, but most of the day there are few people here, which is a rarity in China.

At night the park is well lit. There are a few playgrounds, basketball courts, soccer courts and rock-climbing facilities.

The park has an artificial beach, a great running track, and you can rollerblade and ride bikes without interference from cars.

For cycling fans, there’s a nicely paved path leading to the Bird Island with decent scenery. It has been voted as the “most beautiful cycling route in Shenyang.” So if you’re a cyclist, this is the path you definitely don’t want to miss. 

Liu Qi / SHINE

Wulihe Park, the biggest riverside park in Shenyang, is great for walking, cycling and running.

Liu Qi / SHINE

In spring and summer, the walkway is lined with blooming flowers.

Liaoning cuisine

Widely considered as the birthplace of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Shenyang boasted the complete culinary culture of the imperial family — a fusion of Manchu and Qing Dynasty aulic cooking — which resulted in a full, formal banquet called Man Han Quan Xi (Manchu Han Imperial Feast). 

Traditionally, an all-encompassing banquet featured eight delicacies from the mountains, eight from the land and eight from the sea. It was widely seen as a representative of Liaoning cuisine.

Today’s Liaoning cuisine, developed on the basis of Shandong cuisine, is strongly influenced by the Manchu cooking style. It integrates the quintessence of imperial dishes, home cooking and street food that spread far and wide. 

“The main characteristics of Liaoning cuisine lie in the fact that it is colorful, with rich taste. While one dish can have many layers of flavors, the savory and the salty tastes are very distinct,” says Liu Wenjie, 66, executive chef of Mukden Chinese restaurant at Hilton Shenyang, which serves authentic Liaoning cuisine.

Although it is not among the world-famous “Eight Culinary Styles of China,” Liaoning cuisine was listed as national intangible heritage in 2015, being the first and the only one of its kind so honored. 

Ti Gong

Liu Wenjie, executive chef of Mukden Chinese restaurant at Hilton Shenyang, was an apprentice of aulic chef Wang Puting, founder of Liaoning Province.

Li Bin / Ti Gong

Sauteed sea cucumber with scallions is a famous aulic dish in Liaoning cuisine.

Li Bin / Ti Gong

Bear's paw, a representative dish in Manchu Han Imperial Feast, now uses substitute such as beef.

The success and popularity of Liaoning cuisine, says Liu, are attributed to the meticulously selected materials and highly skilled preparations. The Bohai Gulf in the south and the Changbai Mountain in the north contribute to a rich choice of ingredients.

“Liaoning cuisine pays much attention to the techniques of knife and ladle, as well as heat control,” says Liu, an apprentice of aulic chef Wang Puting (1912-84), founder of Liaoning cuisine. “It is specially known for stewing, braising, stir-frying and sauteed.”

Braising (pa 扒) is often seen as a strength in Liaoning cuisine, and one of master Liu’s specialty dishes is braised Chinese cabbage.

Soaked in soup-stock, the sliced cabbage is turned over again and again in an iron pan over medium heat ─ from up to down, left to right, front to back. When it’s ready, the cabbage displays a unique bright luster.

Other famous Liaoning food includes aulic dish sauteed sea cucumber with scallions, home-style pork and vermicelli stew, chicken and mushroom stew and Laobian dumplings, as well as restaurant recipe double-cooked pork slices.

Li Bin / Ti Gong

Master chef Liu's signature dish, braised Chinese cabbage

Li Bin / Ti Gong

Double-cooked pork slices

If you go:

It takes about two and a half hours by air from Shanghai to Shenyang. By high-speed train, it will take about 10 hours.

  • Xita Korean street

Address: Northwest section of Heping District, near Nanjing Street N.

Getting there: Buses No. 249, 271, 252 or 255 to Chubeiju Station

  • Wulihe Park

Address: Shenshui Road, Heping District

Getting there: Metro Line 2 Wulihe Station

  • Xita Korean street

Getting there: Buses No. 140, 152, 243, 249, 252, 255 to Xita stop.

Where to stay:

On downtown Qingnian Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Shenyang, the Hilton Shenyang is convenient for both leisure and business travelers, with a Metro stop in walking distance that connects the hotel with essential business and entertainment venues. It’s a 15-minute walk to Wulihe Park, and the Imperial Palace is a 30-minute drive away.

The hotel’s design draws on the historic and cultural heritage of Shenyang, which is considered the birthplace of the Qing Dynasty. Traditional Chinese elements, such as detailed silk paintings and the incorporation of metal and marble, are integrated with modern conveniences.

The hotel offers a heated swimming pool, an outdoor garden and a 24-hour health club.

For those looking for authentic local food, head to the Mukden Chinese restaurant, which serves authentic Liaoning and Cantonese cuisines. The restaurant is now working on a Manchu Han Imperial Feast menu and will launch it soon.

Address: 374 Qingnian Avenue, Heping District

Tel: (024) 2271-8888

Ti Gong

One-bed suite room with view

Li Bin / Ti Gong

The Mukden Chinese restaurant serves authentic Liaoning cuisine.


Special Reports
Top