19 January 2012

China Tour ~ Shanghai - Part 1

Our bellies do flip-flops as we rocket into Shanghai from the airport. And it's not because the train is doing over 300kmh (seriously). It's because we're in freaking China! China and it's five zillion year culinary history has directly influenced all the Asian cuisines we love so much. Even though we're a pair of skippy non-Asian Australians, we feel like we're coming home to the motherland.

We get off the train in Shanghai to discover that we can't escape Christmas, even in China. We're a bit lost and some random stranger sees us struggling with a map and helps us find our way to our hostel. What a nice bloke, and what a nice welcome to China. Chinese folks we know back in Sydney were convinced we would be mugged, extorted, poisoned and possibly eaten as we backpacked China. But within five minutes of the holiday we've already had the exact opposite experience, and continued to do so throughout out the trip. Folks were super nice and helpful and we always felt at ease. Though once Shawn was slightly molested on the bottom, unfortunately by a bloke, but that happens to him all over Asia. Nothing so exciting happens back at home.

We're superstitious about the first meal of the holiday: it sets the standard for the rest of the trip.  We could have eaten at one of the dozen too-tidy looking primary coloured Japanese/Taiwanese/Hong Kong style chain joints as we left the subway.  But we held out until we found this: northern style cumin lamb kebabs cooked on hot coals and served in fresh flat bread. This is the last thing we were expecting and the best thing to find as the temperature was dropping down towards freezing. We paid 15 yuan, less then $3 Aussie. This is going to be a good trip.

This setup is permanently affixed outside a Northern style halal restaurant. We guess it keeps the smoke out of the restaurant, saves space and catches extra takeway business.

We wander around a little more and find some street hawkers selling bbq skewers and noodles.

This simple noodle stir fry was devine, made by a one-dish master. Our thick egg noodles were mixed with egg, bean sprouts, chili, green veggies and a bit of salt. We go back to our hostel to learn that Kim Jong Ill just died, Chinese TV said he was a real swell guy who expressed some interest in economic reforms.

We awake to find we're staying in pleasant neighbourhood with relatively calm, tree-lined streets. We were near the French Concession, on the Ji'an Temple side.

For breakfast we judiciously pick the first place we find, and it's a beauty.

We figure this is a real Shanghai style joint, the trays of ready-to-go dishes remind us of the Shanghai joints back in Ashfield in Sydney. The restaurant is squeaky clean and served by a cheery army of aunties and uncles. They weren't sure about us the first visit but on the second visit we were greeted like long lost relatives.

We want to transport ourselves back and dive into the bainmarie of love. Lonely Planet tells you never to eat pre-prepared food, which would mean missing out on the best stuff. The trick is to find it fresh, that's usually when it's crowded with locals.

We could spend half our trip in here.

If any germs make it through the hygienically sealed chopsticks the fiery chili paste should kill them.

There's no finer breakfast than noodle soup, especially when there's a pork chop involved. The broth is dark and sweet. The noodles are perfect. The tops old auntie sitting next to Alison burps all cute and lady-like. If Brad and Angelina can adopt overseas kids can we adopt overseas old ladies?

As we eat a production line appears out of nowhere behind us.

A hundred or so lunchboxes are being made up. We see folks eating these everywhere.

For breakfast the next day we pick from the bainmarie of love. Chopped tofu, pickled cabbage, slow stewed five spice pork, pork schnitzel and a soy egg.

Much the same selections only add an egg for a breakfasty touch. The stewed spare rib added a spare tyre.

As we eat all restaurant activity suddenly ceases and all eyes are on the TV. Howls of laughter erupt as the 'Good Morning Shanghai' type show plays the 'ultimate dog tease' Youtube clip. Some things are universal.

We hit street food gold.

Google tells us the lady is making a Taiwanese pancake. A large freshly cooked savoury crepe with a splash of egg and (hoisin?) sauce and filled with a fried bread stick, herbs and luncheon meat sausage.

It's all rolled up into one big pile of starch, fat and carbs.

It's not art but my god it's delicious on a cold Shanghai morning. Sydneysiders can find these rolls at Red Charcoal BBQ in the Eating World Food Court.

We'd read that Shanghai is no good for walking, which is our next obsession after food. Shanghai is brilliant for walking, especially in late December when it's quite chilly but pleasant, as long as you're rugged up. The main threat is crossing the road. There's all manner of vehicles, from Mercs and Audis to scooters held together with sticky tape. A green man at a pedestrian crossing simply means it's time to play chicken. We much prefer the Vietnamese style of crossing the road - just walk slowly and the traffic flows around you.

Random fun looking Shanghai eat street.

This fine hound stopped chewing his bone to come and say hello, what a gent.

We find an open air wet market on Taiwan Road, a few roads up parallel to Nanjing Rd, and far more fun than endless Gucci stores.

Man that bird looks so good but there's no room in the tum.

Smooth bakery operator.

Crispy deep fried cake with a sweet filling, possibly sweet potato. Looks good but the plain cake was better.

Is that a bear or a dog? Alison stupidly tried to pat him and nearly lost an arm.

Soy milk and bread stick shop.

Random hole in the wall joint.

A bit different to your Aussie style Chinese restaurant.

Chinese takeaway. Man we wish we had a look in those pots.

Wedding photos taken on the Bund. She must have been freezing. For a cracker post on getting your wedding photos done Asian style check this post on The City That Never Sleeps.

Pussycat with multi-coloured eyes. He and his gang ran the Pudong riverfront.

View of Shanghai from the 88th floor on some finance building, the Jin Mao Tower. Shanghai just goes on forever. Sydney is just a country town. It's freaky.

But not half as freaky down 88 floors down the middle of the building, only a sheet of glass between Shawn and a Luke Skywalker fall.

One block from the high-falutin' commercial district we find this low-falutin' restaurant for lunch.

The joy of holidays - beer at lunch. Much of the Chinese beer we found was mid strength to light. The beer is light in density and is perfect for eating with. Notice the plastic cover on the table.. When we leave the boss lady simply pulls off a layer of plastic leaving a new fresh layer underneath.

The staff speak not a word of  English and we speak even less Chinese. We order by pointing at what other folks are eating and smiling like idiots.  We get a huge bowl of soup packed with chili and Schezuan peppers.

The broth blew our heads off but the fish is divine, having soaked in the flavour of the broth but without getting too chili hot. We noticed other folks had removed a lot of the fiery ingredients from the soup and dumped them on a sideplate. The kind waitress lady did the same for us.

Egg and garlic shoot stirfry, this was a simple blend of flavours that had some special flavour magic happening. It was the veggie dishes that really blew our minds in China. This would have cost around a dollar.

Our fellow diners and the boss lady wondering why the idiot tourist is taking a photo of them.

Five star awesomeness.

Alison finds a strawberry lady on the street. Dig the old fashioned weights. The strawberries were incredible, as was much of the fruit we had in China.

Din dins time. We spy this fellow finely slicing meat out the front of a restaurant. We have to try this, whatever the hell it is.

Downstairs is pretty quiet but we were shunted upstairs where it's party time.

We order by using the point'n'pray method and receive a huge hotpot filled with big chunks of lamb on the bone, sliced meat, tofu and veggies. The broth was delicious and not spicy for a change, with flavours of star anise and pepper.

Somehow we ordered a bunch of extra meat, greens, tofu skins and a beer. We thought we made pigs of ourselves but the locals shamed us. Businessmen in suits, lovey-dovey couples on dates, and bunches of blokey blokes ate continuously from the time we entered to the time we left. We don't know where it all went.

The hot pot was full of lovely big hunks of lamb on the bone. It took a good hour to work our way through it. There's nothing like a big protein hit to make one feel at home thousands of miles away.

We love China.


  1. "Point & Pray". You guys are so brave! And yay to your first meal being food on sticks...in bread! Noice work.

  2. So so jealous! I would love to food-explore Shanghai. One day!

  3. What a fantastic piece! My own experiences of China we on a 4 star tour, great food, but a little to westernised and same same same after a few days, cant wait to go back and eat YOUR way!

  4. I would love to travel with you two..you are really adventurous with your food! The last time we went to Asia, we hesitated between going to Shanghai and Kyoto/Osaka. We ended up picking Japan and absolutely loved it but looking at your report, I am pretty sure we wouldn't have been disappointed either way. Can't wait to make it to Shanghai now!

  5. You guys stayed really close to where I live in Shanghai. I miss my scallion cake street vendor, salty fried pancake + egg on top = best breakfast food in the world.

  6. Wow - it's a lovely part of Shanghai, what a great place to live!

  7. The spicy fish dish is called "water boiled fish" (a bit of a deceptive name..) and is a Sichuan specialty


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  9. It was similar but I don't remember the one in Shanghai being so uber oily as the Golden Fang dish :-)

  10. Shawn and Alison, what a fantastic post, I really enjoyed reading it!! I'm going Shanghai in April (it'll be my 2nd time) and can't wait to explore with my belly!

    Do you rememebr the address for the lamb & flatbread place?

    Wonder if you made it to Huanghe Lu for food? We went to a Siu Long/Xiao Long Bao (dumplings filled with soup & meat) joint and it was the best juicy dumplings we'd ever had! Can't wait to go back there either. This
    blog mentions it:

  11. I recommend you to try the Spicy SIchuan Restaurant in Sydney if you like the spicy fish. I ate it when I was in Sydney and when you stayed in China. It was authentic. here is the link: http://www.spicyfood.com.au/

  12. Did you put the extra things in the hotpot? They should be cooked in the hotpot then dipped in the sauce.

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  14. wooooow,I don't know how to tell what I feel after reading it, you guys are TOTALY Chinese people! hahaha, at least our eating habit doesn't have any gap! Strongly recommend these 2 cities: Chong Qing and Cheng Du. You'll probably forget to go home after eating the food there:)Countless famous delicious food come from there.HOHO

  15. It's not Taiwan pancake. It's originally from Tianjin City.


  16. Hi guys, you really have a good trip in China. I come from Nanjing and now am studying in Adelaide. I recommend that you guys should go to Nanjing and try our traditional food there. I think you will have an excellent trip too~

  17. What about the price of the food???

  18. i'm so happy you enjoyed Chinese food. I'm a Chinese now in US. Your pictures make me hungry and my mouth watered. Miss those food so much...

    and there are two things: first, the rolled pancake, is not a Taiwanese thing, it's a typical and popular breakfast in Northeastern China, if you go to Beijin or Tianjin, you will find the streets are full of carts selling this roll during the morning breakfast time. second, that "huge bowl of soup packed with chili and Schezuan peppers and sliced fish", the broth is not supposed to be eaten, it adds flavor to the fish, so have the fish only.

    keep enjoying and posting, you guys have fun!

  19. hahahah....i think you guys are pretty brave and cute...not all chinese people have the courage to eat those food since they think those are dirty...however hope you enjoy your trips....PS: as a chinese....i have not had the chance to taste those delicious food as you did....so jealous....=P

  20. This is awesome! You guys should come to Xi'an, Shaanxi sometimes! The various kinds of delicious Northern food and long-lasting history will definitely surprise you :D Just thinking about that already made me hungry lol

  21. come Taiwan next time for some REAL Taiwanese food, you guys will love here!


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).