Shanghai Adventures, Part 1
A destination that I have been wanting to travel to for quite some time is Shanghai. In 2005 I travelled to China with my family however we only spent a few days in Beijing. The trip to Beijing wasn’t a planned one. My parents were flying over to Hong Kong for business at the time and my brother and I were lucky enough to be able to tag along. A few days before we left my dad suggest that we go to China for four days since it was only a short plane ride away. I begged and pleaded with him that we stay in Hong Kong because I didn’t want to go to China and wanted to stay and go shopping but in the end we went anyway. Turns out I had a fantastic time during those four days, visiting places like the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall of China and Tianamen Square. I couldn’t wait to go back.
Anyway just recently the opportunity came up again to go to China with my family, but this time Shanghai. It wasn’t for business this time but lets say my brother had some important things to do over there. Seeing as I wasn’t going to be away at sea I decided to go along with them for the seven days. I bought myself a Lonely Planet Pocket Guide and did some research on what to do and where to go but most of all I was excited about the food.
We arrived in Shanghai late on a Tuesday night having flown all day on Cathay via Hong Kong. Some of the plane food was particularly questionable especially a prawn noodle salad that was little on the smelly side. We all erred on the side of caution and didn’t eat that delicious looking prawn noodle salad, instead opting for the Haagen Daas ice cream that was brought around. Arriving so late there wasn’t too much that was open around our hotel near the Bund so we went to bed looking forward to a Chinese breakfast in the morning. Some travellers may opt for the hotel breakfast – usually Western fare of bacon, eggs and hashbrowns but not family. Frankly I think if you are eating in the hotel in a city like Shanghai then you have rocks in your head.
The next day we headed off early for our first Shanghai adventure. We headed down the street past a Shanghai institution called Shanghai Grandmother (our dinner destination for that evening) and found a busy looking dumpling place filled with Chinese. Mum, my brother and I decided that’s where we were going and after ignoring my dad’s protests to find somewhere further along the street we went inside. Anyone that has tried to order food or anything for that matter overseas where there is no english spoken knows how difficult it can be but after pointing to a few diners slurping away on their wonton noodles and a couple of other things followed by holding up some fingers to indicate how many we wanted we managed to get our point across. Finally we handed over all of 25 YUAN(about AU$4) we waited for our food.
Up the front of the restaurant right in front of the window a man was cooking an enormous batch of the dumplings that Shanghai is famous for – Xiao Long Bao (dumplings filled with soup). These were at the absolute top of my list of things to try whilst in Shanghai. As each batch was ready diners rushed to the counter to collect their freshly cooked Xiao Long Bao and after being yelled at by the Xiao Long Bao man and looking at him like I had no frigin idea what he was saying one of the locals who spoke a little English chimed in and ask if I wanted to ‘have here or take away’. Thank god for the English speakers.
My family and I sat down with our wonton soup and Xiao Long Bao and ate our Chinese breakfast. It was delicious and honestly one of the best breakfasts I have had, not only because of the food but as cliché as it sounds, the experience.
The Xiao Long Bao which I saved till last (I always save the best till last) were the most amazing things I have ever put in my mouth – food wise anyway haha. These ones were fried, not steamed, and the bottom was slightly burnt and crispy which made them an absolute delight.
I am salivating at the thought of these things and our breakfast was that good that we returned for the next three days to eat breakfast at this bustling little place. Each day the male owner became a little bit more friendly, learning our order and helping out us semi clueless Westerners.
Our first breakfast on that Wednesday was followed by pretty much an entire week of eating for us. While in Shanghai we had our fair share of street food from freshly made honeycomb made by a friendly man on the side of the road, super spicy pizza type bread for no more than 20 cents from a roadside bakery, roasted chestnuts from a guy that I’m almost certainly doubled his prices for us Westerners and steamed pork buns from a man with only two teeth that laughed at my brother for wearing pink shorts,
Later that night we ended up at Shanghai Grandmother, the Shanghai institution that I mentioned earlier, for dinner. We had Braised Pork, Bean Curd, Water Spinach with Garlic and a yummy dish that I remember eating on tour in Beijing, Fried Egg with Tomato. Doesn’t sound like much I know but it’s so damn good.
Shanghai Grandmother was flat out and the two floors were packed to the brim with diners. The best thing about dining in China – or Shanghai is that despite how busy or how big the restaurant is, you never have to wait long for your food. 15 minutes is the absolute maximum. Don’t worry about what’s going on in the kitchen – you just don’t think about that part. If the place is busy, it’s a goer.
Next up my brother and my dad had a few things to do on the outskirts of Shanghai so mum and I were left to our own devices. We headed to our favourite breakfast spot, this time mum had the bean curd, which she said was superb. I stuck to my wonton soup and Xiao Long Bao. We both decided that we wanted to go to the Super Brand Mall on the other side of the river. Mum who had travelled to Shanghai previously but not done much sightseeing said that there was a tunnel under the river that you could walk through. We followed the signs to the Shanghai Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and after thinking we were walking the 2km or so to get to the other side found ourself in a weird tram type thing that took us to the other size in what the Lonely Planet described as one of the most bizarre tunnel experiences in the world. I have to agree with the LP. It was a capsule that took you through a tunnel filled with lights and sounds and other weird things.
Definitely worth it, well maybe not for the 15 or so dollars we spent but at least that included a return ‘trip’. I can’t really explain it, you will just have to try it for yourself.
Anyway after all that the Super Brand Mall turned out to be the Super Shit Mall so we got some Starbucks (Green Tea Latte yeah!!!) and headed back to the other side.
After a larger than expected lunch in China Town that was rudely interrupted by a Chinese man with a cigarette that wanted our table we did a bit more sightseeing and then returned to China Town to scope out this apparently famous dumpling restaurant and takeaway joint for some more dumplings. With the amount of dumplings I was eating my dad reckoned I was going to turn into a dumpling. Meh, you can never have enough dumplings in your life in my opinion. The Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant wasn’t hard to spot, simply because of the ridiculous line of people queuing for dumplings. Apparently there is a surcharge for dining in the restaurant so most people just get takeaway.
There is a large window where you can watch the workers inside making the thousands, if not millions of dumplings this place must go through a day.
We took our spot in the line and after about 20 minutes got a serve of our own dumplings for only 5 YUAN (less than AU$1). Some of the people in the line were getting these super big dumplings (Steamed Bun with Crap Roe and Soup) that had a straw sticking out of the middle, assumedly to drink the soup in the middle. Mum and I thought that was a little strange so we ordered the smaller dumplings. They were also filled with soup – again it’s what Shanghai is famous for.
There is definitely a technique to eating Xiao Long Bao because the soup inside is steaming hot. I burned myself multiple times on the multiple occasions that I ate these delightful things or I just spilt the soup all over myself. They were good but in my eyes nothing beat the fried ones from the awesome breakfast place that we had been frequenting.
The next evening after a day of shopping my whole family was famished and we headed off on another adventure to get some dinner (it’s always an adventure with my family). This time we were staying in a hotel about an hour out of Shanghai. Lets just say that my brother needed to be close to a circuit that was nearby for the next couple of days (sorry I’m not trying to be elusive, okay yeah maybe I am). So we headed off down the road and found ourselves in a little town. It wasn’t hard to find where the food was – it’s where all the people are. We walked past and looked at a place that my mum absolutely refused to go to because of all the large bones on peoples plate. What’s wrong with eating large bones of questionable origin? We looked in the window of a butcher at all of the weird, wonderful and downright bizarre things that were inside to take home and cook. Then we found ourselves outside what looked like a busy noodle shop.
Again dad tried to move us on to ‘see what was a little further down’ but the rest of us took a stand and walked in. I wouldn’t say it was a restaurant. More a hole in the wall with a big wok out the front and a couple of tables inside with a little old man clearing out finished bowls and making space for new diners. A refrigerated cabinet inside had a large selection of different types of noodles and meats and vegetables on skewers.
The deal was that you took a colander, selected however many noodles, meat, vegetables, tofu and other random skewered items you wanted, paid your money and then the woman on the wok next to a big pot of broth cooked it up for you. Some of the things I had to take a guess what they were – what I thought was tofu turned out to be a fish ball after biting into it but that’s all part of the adventure. I am a little less adventurous than my brother who selected a couple of ‘mystery meats’ that he literally had no idea what they were. It’s all in good fun and like I said, as long as the place is busy then it’s a goer.
In the end our four noodles bowls cost us 49 YUAN which is only AU$8.40, an absolute bargain if you ask me because it was one of the best meals I have had. My brother erred on the side of caution and decided that he would leave his mystery meat to the side since after the cooking process it still didn’t resemble anything we recognised. He needed to be on top of his game for a very important event the next day so I urged him to be a little bit smarter with his decisions.
Stayed tuned for the second part of my adventures in Shanghai…