One night, we were walking home, not particularly hungry but it was a chance to eat something less fancy than banquet dishes. I wanted the noodles being fried on a cart by the corner of the street but Hub was adamant that it was dirty. I watched them cook; their hygiene wasn't worse than the restaurants. There was a queue too and the noodles smelt damn good. No, Hub said, they probably use dirty oil. So we walked on and came to a Chinese fast-food restaurant. Hub gave his order, the lady shouted it to the kitchen which I was facing. A middle-aged lady who was digging her teeth with a finger replied "Oh", took her finger out and grabbed a handful of mung bean noodles. With that hand. I told Hub he was going to eat her teeth plaque. The noodles came, he dug into them bravely, saying we probably have eaten worse than teeth plaque many times before. My noodles came, I took a bite (I had watched another cook cook my noodles and she behaved herself) and stopped. Hub stopped. We both stood up and walked out, no words needed. How tasty do you think those two bowls of noodles were, looking at the photos?
Another day, another fast food restaurant. The savory soy bean milk (upper left) was good, the wonton (upper right) hardly had filling and the soup was bland (Shanghainese wontons just can't beat Cantonese ones), the xiao long bao (lower left) was a disgrace (hard wrappers and no broth inside) in the city famous for these dumplings and the goutie (lower right), the worst I've eaten, was so hard that it lacerated the inside of my cheeks. We decided that Chinese fast food restaurants are to be avoided completely.
On another night, we were curious because the restaurant was full of diners so we went in for a midnight snack. Not too bad tasting but too greasy so I felt sick and regretful:
Remember Guang Ming Cun? What a difference a storey makes because the food on the 2nd floor was very much inferior to the food on the 3rd floor. We should've known by the prices, because the food on the 2nd floor was cheaper:
My MIL, though Shanghainese to her marrow, doesn't like xiao long bao. She said they are made of low-grade pork and too oily. To prove her wrong, I let the broth out of my bao. She was right. It was disgusting, and I now agree with our Shanghainese relatives who disdain xiao long baos. I think 'real' xaio long bao started out as street food, considered coarse food, but have become popular around the world after restaurants like Crystal Jade and that popular restaurant for tourists in Chenghuangmiao refined them and served them as fine food.
The spring onion pancake (upper left) was good but greasy, the savory sesame bun (upper right) was okay, the chi fun (lower left) was tasteless and the da bing (big cookie) was not very tasty but greaseless and had a nice toasted flavor. Da bing are baked in open clay 'ovens' but when I asked to go to the market to see them make the da bing, I was told that I wouldn't be able to eat if I do. The cousins then laughed and told each other in Shanghainese how they'd seen the guys who make da bing wipe mucus off their noses and then work on the da bing. I can understand more than 90% of everyday Shanghainese so I kept quiet about going to the da bing stall.
Chinese beer is horrible--tasteless and flavorless. Avoid it.
Physalis is RM11.90/USD3.80 per punnet of 250 gm here but in Shanghai, they are RMB8/RM4/USD1.30 per jing, about 500 gm. Tasted good.
Vendors like the lady above are from the countryside. You can tell because they are darker, shorter and dressed more shabbily than the city folks.
This is a kind of nut that grows in water. We called them "moustaches". My dad used to cook them and eat as snacks and sometimes string them as ornaments; I still have one of the ornaments he made over a decade ago. They are usually available in the fall, around Mid-Autumn Festival. The ones we get in Malaysia are black by the time they get here.
Here's something I ate on my first day in Shanghai that was so good I craved it every time I thought of it. It was a piece of the best chocolate cake (5 layers of cake, 5 layers of choc fudge, topped by a rich, thick ganache) from a shop called 'Awfully Chocolate'. Either that's a hip name or one of those broken English names, prevalent in Taiwan and China. The choc cake was in a block and they cut off the amount you want. This small piece cost a whopping MB35/RM17/USD5.70. The little shop had only 3 kinds of cakes and no sitting area. You know how once in a while you eat something that's better than what you can make? This was one of those things.
Everybody was eating this on Huahai Lu. It was good, not too sweet.
And now, one of the best things I ate: a slice of banana tart (RMB25/RM23/USD4). This was in one of those fancy coffee houses in Xujiahui. I thought I was in Europe. Anyway, I'm now a banana tart lover after this piece of heaven . If anyone has a good banana tart (I tried making one last week and it was awful), please send me the recipe. And I mean a banana tart, not banana cream pie (after years of begging from Wey, I made one a few months back and we both think cream pies are just that, full of cream) which I dislike.