Shanghai, May 2006
Like the salmon going back to its original place of birth, I find myself drawn to China as I grow older. Although born and raised in Sabah, I am increasingly curious about the country my parents grew up in, and escaped from. Growing up, China was the last place I wanted to visit because of tales of starvation, poverty, repulsive toilets, communists etc plus the fact that it wasn't 'cool' to visit ("Where did you go? USA?! Wow, so lucky!!)("China??" "Err.."). Besides it wasn't until the late 80s or so when the Malaysian govmt deemed that China was safe to travel for all democracy-loving Malaysians..for some, like my Dad, it came too late. He did get to visit his first wife and their two kids, after 40+ years, but not long after that he passed on.
Last year I visited China not once or twice, but three times!! The first visit in May was to Shanghai with my husband, our two boys, my mom, my niece and my in-laws. My in-laws are from Shanghai and like all Shanghaians/Shanhainese, they think there's no place like Shanghai, no food like that in Shanghai...you get it. All of us not from there don't argue with that because you simply can't out-argue a Shanghaian! Believe me when I tell you we saw people shouting and arguing a few times a day, and be warned about shopping there because they have a "no buy, no touch" and "you look, you buy" policy! And forget about bargaining. I felt as if they were going to kill me if I bargained and not buy. I'd rather shop anywhere else but Shanghai, which is a shame because they do have some fantastic shopping streets, such as Maoming Lu and Shanxi Lu, which have hundreds of shoes and clothing stores that sell quality goods at very low prices, about 1/3 that of the departmental stores .
However, prejudices aside, the food in Shanghai was very good, both home-cooked and in the restaurants. The amount and variety of dishes the uncles and aunties cooked for us were fit for emperors! We especially love the Shanghai wontons cooked by the 'Ahyi' (aunt) who has worked for the Hongs a long long time. Those smooth, tasty juicy wontons are different from Cantonese wontons (which I love too) in that the skin or wrapper is white, not yellow (i.e. no eggs used), thicker (which is fine cos there's texture and bite) and they used minced beef or pork, with a local veggie called 'xicai'. Really good! Of course there's the ubiquitous 'xiao loong bao' (small steamed buns, famed for the mouthful of 'soup' and filling inside and the thin skin/wrapper) which is sold at every corner. For a change, the 'ganjenbao' (dry-fry buns??) is also fantastic, being more 'xiang' or fragrant (to appreciate chinese food, you must sharpen and draw on all your senses. Even touch is not left out for food texture is considered, whether something is silken smooth, or crunchy or coarse. On your tongue of course). Eating in the restaurants is really humbling, because the typical meal is a banquet consisting of many dishes! They'll begin with 10 starters, each beautifully presented and every dish is just delightful! Then you get the main dishes, another ten or so but the portion is not huge, unlike what we get in Malaysia and western Chinese restaurants. I say 'humbling' because the food is so fine and superb and lavish, I felt like some bumbling fool from some countryside eating well for the first time! Honestly, Chinese food is far more superior and varied than other cuisines but because of the unpretentious way its prepared and served, it gets second-rated. For instance, there's not as much variety in Japanese cuisine but because they always serve their food artistically (even artfully!) and in such tiny amounts, and at such ridiculous prices, people feel its exquisite. Its like Italian food versus French food. Italian food is like Chinese food-- scrumptious, satisfying and totally unpretentious. What you see is what you eat, haha, not some sauce-covered overdressed ( French)or underdressed/minimalistic (Jap) concoction. Don't get me wrong, I still love French bread and desserts, and sushi and tempura. But I think you know what I mean. Ok, my son tells me blogs shouldn't be too wordy, so I'll bring on the pics!
Outside the home of youngest Hong uncle in a 'longtong' off Huahai Lu. Looking like an idiot was Wey's favorite expression on this trip.
On The Bund, the old French buildings behind us. We missed the last cruiseboat ride on the Huangpu (Yangtze) River because Wey went missing. In China's (and world's) largest city of 19 million people!
On The Bund with my mom and niece Mona, Pudong New District behind us.
The Ma aunties are all great cooks. The tomato-egg fry was my request; this simple dish is delicious if you can get juicy and flavorful tomatoes like they get in China. The smoked vegetarian duck was wonderful beyond description...
These are just the starters, each one very delicate and tasty. I didn't like the ducks' tongues (at the back) but the pumpkin on red dates (next to it) was very refreshing and surprisingly good. The starters were followed by another 10 main dishes, each one extremely delicious and beautifully presented.
These radish puffs were unbelievably light, fluffy and just so yummy. I am in awe of the person who first came up with them!
You'll find these yummy and inexpensive 'gohteh' (potstickers) and 'sengjenbao' (pan/dry-fry buns) on the streets everywhere.
Say "No" to braised noses! Ouch!
My son Wey stopped breathing at a stinky tofu stall. People actually regard it as a delicacy?!
We always have pumpkin cakes in Shanghai; a must!
The original famous statue on Huahai Lu (a major shopping street) was stolen, cut up and sold as scrap metal but it was so missed by everyone, a replacement was made. It is symbolic of that street and so loved by everyone that nobody dares abuse it now. Except for these two boys. No, they're not mine.
Pressed pig's face...people really eat this??!
At this stall in touristy Chenghuangmiao, we saw people walking away, smiling sheepishly after watching this 'peep show' and so we all sat down...then we knew why they smiled cos we too walked away with a sheepish smile, and the curious onlookers like us before quickly took the seats and so it went on and on...you'd have to fall for one of these shows yourself to know what the whole thing is about!! (Hint: look at that guy in dark glasses; how could we have paid him to fool us!)