A morning train from Hangzhou to Shanghai. It was fascinating spending an hour at the gate, observing all the travelers waiting for their journey to begin. Chinese culture is so different–people just care significantly less about social propriety. Shoes off, legs and feet dangling over the backs of chairs. Clipping toenails as other travelers walk past. So normal in Asia, yet completely frowned upon in Western culture. Didn’t capture the worst offenders, since I felt it’d be too obvious…
First matter of business after arriving in Shanghai was lunch. Of course. My mom took me to one of her new culinary discoveries: a restaurant named 关于唐朝 (guan yu tang chao), or Tang Dynasty Restaurant. We were immediately seated after arriving in the restaurant, and given our own dining room. Beautiful paintings and tapestries lined the walls, while a gorgeous emerald chandelier hung overhead. Behold the delectable:
Tiny pumpkin mochi dim sum. Chayote (佛手瓜 ‘fuo shou gua’, or Buddha’s hand squash) stir-fried with babycorn and pickled baby cucumbers. Watermelon, taro and lotus seed (蓮子 ‘lian zi’) dessert soup. A beautifully-arranged pyramid of pickled, sweet shredded carrot, mustard greens, and seaweed. Bean curd (香干 ‘xiang gan’) sauteed with cilantro. One of my favorite Chinese dishes that I always make when I’m at school–scallion-tossed noodles (葱油拌面 ‘cong you ban mian’). Lastly, a signature Shanghainese dish: 麵筋 ‘mian jing’. Mian jing, or wheat gluten, is stewed in a soy sauce broth and then stir-fried with freshly-sliced bamboo shoots, giant shiitake mushrooms, some 木耳 ‘mu er’ (literally, “wood ear”, a type of fungus), and poured over fresh baby bok choy. So good. Highly recommend this restaurant if you’re ever in Shanghai; the pricing is incredibly reasonable given how much we ordered and the quality of the food! The address is:
199 Fangdian Rd Pudong, Shanghai, China
+86 21 5033 9766
Bellies full, we walked back to our hotel to rest. The view from our room was pretty great, despite the heavy fog (or smog?) of Shanghai. I thought the “zongzitang” provided by the hotel, along with the card that came with was really cute. 粽子 ‘zong zi’ are rice dumplings; 糖 ‘tang’ means sugar or candy. So zongzitang was rice dumpling-shaped candies and “perfect for sweet dreams” according to the hotel. My mom had a meeting with someone, so I spent most of the afternoon just strolling along the pier of Puxi 浦西, the historic center of Shanghai that lies across the Huangpu River 黄浦江 ‘huang pu jiang’. (Just a quick fyi, 江 means river in Chinese!). As evening set in, my mom’s friend took us out into Pudong for a lovely dinner in a relatively isolated commercial district. A completely vegetarian restaurant, hidden on the 2nd floor of a building. An unexpected surprise.
糖藕 ‘tang ou’ (or lotus root) stuffed with black sticky rice and glazed with a sugar syrup made from osmanthus flowers. 福包 ‘fu bao’, or fortune dumplings, which were minced 雪菜 ‘xue cai’–preserved mustard greens–and tofu wrapped in a transparent 腐竹 ‘fu zhu’, or tofu skin. That was probably my favorite dish of the night. We also had vegetarian meatballs, cutesy heart-shaped tofu in pureed edamame sauce, some 红油炒手 ‘hong you chao shou’–wontons in spicy, vinegar sauce–, and 九層腰花 ‘jiu cheng yao hua’. 九層腰花 is a very common vegetarian Chinese dish modeled after other non-vegetarian kidney, 腰花, dishes. The “vegetarian” kidneys are made from konjac, a vegan substitute for gelatin that comes from the konjac plant. They’re wonderfully chewy when stir-fried in a Chinese brown sauce with spicy, black peppercorns and cilantro.
Our first day in Shanghai concluded with relaxing walk along Huangpu River, from which we watched glistening tour cruises showered in neon-lights sail past in the foreground of the Shanghai night scene. We treated ourselves to some 宵夜 ‘xiao ye’, or midnight snacks, at a Cantonese dim sum restaurant that sold particularly good brick toast. Brick toast is essentially half a loaf of toast baked with large amounts of butter, sugar, and sometimes coconut flakes until it is crunchy on the outside but still soft and flaky on the inside. It’s served with a nice dollop of vanilla ice cream, which melts wonderfully over the hot bread. Mmm.