A Travellerspoint blog

Xiao Long Bao 小笼包

Nom nom nom.

We all know the real reason we spent our vacation in Shanghai. FOOD.

And the dish Shanghai is currently most famous for is xiao long bao, known in the US as soup dumplings. It doesn't matter that traditional Shanghai xiao long bao are not really all that soupy (the name literally means "little bamboo-steamed packages"). The popularity of the soupy kind has made it the dominant bao in Shanghai now. It was definitely on our list of eats.

Ling Long Fang

The first trick is to decipher the menu. If you have no Chinese speakers, just go for the cheapest bao on the menu (this should be pork). The most expensive should be crab.

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Then you can watch your bao get "bao'ed."

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We went with pork and pork/crab mix. We ate about a basket and a half each (we started with 4 baskets, but I think we went back for 2 more). So delicious and these ones didn't give me a heavy feeling for the rest of the day like some dumplings I've had. They're full of soup and meat, but they weren't exactly greasy.

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Must be eaten with a side of marinated ginger.

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We also tried some of the soup - it's pretty bland, but it does compliment the dumplings.

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If you've never tried xiao long bao before, it's a dimsum style dumpling, but it's made with special filling that basically melts into soup when it's steamed. It comes out super-hot and must be eaten carefully to avoid injury. It's one of our favorite foods and we probably could have eaten them every day in Shanghai. They're not popular in Harbin, so we had to eat our fill on this trip.

The total cost for this luxury came out to about $20 total for a group of four.

Then End

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Posted by Blanchardlawn 22:10 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shanghai Trip

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We travelled to Shanghai during the Fall Festival (known as golden week in some areas). Having just been to Shanghai in the summer, I had come to realize that Shanghai is a great place for tourists. My complaint in the summer was that it is hard to find the "heart" of Shanghai and to understand what makes it unique, but my realization was that the beauty of Shanghai is its approachability compared to other Chinese cities. It has everything a Westerner could miss, plus some great things to see and do. Because of the holiday, we expected a lot of crowds, but in general, it was not as crowded as it had been in the summer.

Our first stop was a shiny looking dim sum restaurant. We had the obligatory Peking duck (I wouldn't recommend it here, the skin had no crispness to it).

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The coolest thing about this place was the genius idea of putting a disc of cooked carrot at the bottom of the steamed rice flour dumplings. Normally these babies stick to the bamboo or parchment paper and you have to either use your fingers to peel the paper off, or you have to have some help from a neighboring eater. With carrot discs, no stick, no fuss. large_blogshanghai0003.jpg

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Our next stop was at a famous park area called Xujiahui.
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We didn't actually go into the park, but the surrounding side streets are full of fun looking shops where everything is 10 Yuan (about $1.60)

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We also sampled some of the street food. The "stinky tofu" is especially famous in Shanghai, so we tried it. It was...well...it's not as scary to taste as it is to smell. The smell is a little like sour milk and rotting vegetables mixed together. I'm not sure how it ever gained the popularity that it has, but the flavor is a little like fried tofu with Korean bibimbap sauce or a sweet chili pepper flavor.

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Our last stop for the day was at a Hunan style restaurant in the Shanghai Zhabei Stadium.

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This dish is mountain yam which is slimy root with very little flavor. It's covered in a berry sauce. It's popular at a lot of restaurants as an appetizer.
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And this fungus has the unfortunate name of Jews ear. The name is supposedly not as horrible as it sounds. The original name was Judas ear because legend has it that Judas hanged himself from the type of tree on which they grow. I don't know. It made me feel a little funny when I saw it on the menu. I had never eaten these in the midwest where I grew up. I've had them a few times in Hawaii, but they are really, really popular (and inexpensive) in China.
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And finally, the fish, which was delicious. It had two types of sauce. The red was the green tasted like a really good tomatillo. The red was more of a chili pepper flavor.
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After the dinner we went outside to watch the lights and water show. They have this show on the hour and it was really nice (and free). It made for a really enjoyable evening.

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Posted by Blanchardlawn 23:01 Tagged shanghai Comments (0)

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

Zhongqiu kuai le!

overcast 64 °F

Today is Mid-Autumn Festival in China. It's a day to celebrate and eat mooncakes. Mooncakes are not at all like a western "cake." It's a cake in the sense that it's slightly sweet and it's baked. Other than that, it's more like a really thick, dense mincemeat pie. And if you've never had mincemeat before, well...it's like a sweeter, stickier moon cake. I'm not sure what other traditions are associated normally with Zhongqiu, but it's a national holiday and it's a nice time to mark the season.

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Traditional Mooncakes

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(That's right, Important Person)

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(It may be a bit of mislabeling to say it's intense pleasure, but it is delicious)

Our autumn in Harbin has really be beautiful so far. The weather has been in the 50s at night and the 70s in the daytime. Clear skies, nice breezes, dragon flies. It's a big change from last year when it was HOT and humid until the first school break in mid October. It's the first time since we've moved here over a year ago that I could say the weather was 'good.'

Back to moon cakes. We've been eating more than our share this year, and I've developed a fondness for their dense, crumbly texture and mild flavors. The insides are filled with things like red bean (azuki) or date or coconut and traditionally they have a salted egg yolk in the center (to represent the moon). The outside crust is thin and stamped with the bakery and/or characters for blessings or good wishes. One of our students delivered some mooncakes made by Starbucks. They were semi-traditional but had some chocolate, coffee and lemon fillings. I'm not sure what the other round cakes are called, but they had a similar filling and flavor. The rabbit also represents the moon, so pictures of rabbits are popular on mooncakes or their packages.

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Mooncakes have become such a big business that the nicer ones come in really fancy boxes (you can see the extravagant Starbucks box) and can go for $10-$100/box. It's very similar to the idea of the prepackaged Christmas food trays of cheese and salami you can buy at the mall. People buy these for their co-workers and friends as kind of a gift exchange. But they're not really seen much at other times of the year, so stock up now.

BTW, Wikipedia says that one mooncake is about 1000 calories, so be warned.

Posted by Blanchardlawn 20:38 Archived in China Tagged festivals zhongqiu Comments (2)

Yang Mei Season

The Yum Berry

sunny 81 °F

It's yang mei season! Never heard of yang mei? Well, me either. You MAY have heard of yumberry which is what some companies have called it in the past, although if I had seen a package that said yum berry flavor, I would have assumed it to be in the category of Crunch Berries or snozz berries. And that brings us back to the name yang mei, which is what it's called in China. It's related to a bay tree (like where we get bay leaves). The leaves look like bay leaves, but I've never seen berries on a bay tree in the US. We passed some street vendors selling these in berry crates meant to hold raspberries or strawberries. They're about the size of a medium strawberry, but cranberry colored. The outside looks like one of those marzipan sugar decorations. It almost glitters like a raspberry. But the flavor is probably closest to an acai (or what I think acai tastes like based on all the anti-oxidant treats I've had). It's sweet and juicy and a little tart. It's no wonder it was called yumberry in the few products that used it for flavoring.

And, like the mighty acai, the yang mei is full of anti-oxidants.

Why isn't this is the US? Ah ha, here's the catch, it's only around for a few weeks at the end of spring/beginning of summer. And once it's picked, it only lasts for a few days before it starts to get moldy and mushy, so it's best to eat as fresh as possible. But when it IS in season, it seems to be at all the fruit stands. I even saw a little old lady selling it from a basket on the street.

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Posted by Blanchardlawn 02:35 Archived in China Tagged food Comments (0)

Day in the City

sunny 73 °F

We spent part of our day in the city last week. Getting to the city center by cab is always an experience. This cabby tried to charge us double the normal rate. I just laughed at him. And then I took a picture of his Chanel covered carseats.

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Of course we made the obligatory stop at MacDonald's.

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Because the weather is finally getting nice, it was really crowded. You know it's crowded when even the Chinese people are taking pictures of the crowds. large_blogIMG_0395.jpg

We headed for the river walk and passed by a few street calligraphers. There were about 5 or 6 older men and women with these huge brushes writing on the sidewalks. I have no idea what they were writing. After a bit of googling, I learned that these are just hobbyists. It's a fairly common pastime in the cities to practice (or showcase) calligraphy like this. As you can see this lady's is so-so.

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But this guy's is really beautiful.

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Next time we're in the city, I'll look for more examples. I love the idea of it being so temporal.

The river was also crowded with people just watching the boats go by.

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And the boats here are definitely worth watching.

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Maybe a boat ride is in our future. But for this trip, we continued down to watch the kites. I remember from past summers seeing hundreds of kites for sale near the river. We walked down to the area where everyone was flying them.

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Most of these are purchased from small sales stands like this one.

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And one more picture to share today - these workers on top of what was probably a ten-story building. No safety nets or anything.

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BTW, it's currently 73 degrees and headed higher. Good bye spring. We barely knew ye.

Posted by Blanchardlawn 18:20 Archived in China Tagged kites harbin Comments (0)

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