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Shanghai (Part 1)

by Harley Spiller

Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan

Spring Volume: 2003 Issue: 10(1) page(s): 5, 10, 14, 36, 37, and 38

Is there any place you think about when you hear 'hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho?' Think of sister cities! And to help with the answer, is there any place in the world which boasts a museum shaped like an ancient food pot? In twenty years of professional museum work, and daily Chinese dining, I had not. So off I head to Shanghai. It is a thirteen-hour flight from LaGuardia, over the North Pole, to Shanghai, China's most international city, to the 'Paris of the East.' The trip proves to be both fun and challenging, and one thing is for sure, man did I eat! Shanghai locals are used to interlopers, at least in the city limits, and many say 'hello' and 'bye-bye' in English. I bolster my few pitiful words of Mandarin with three expressions in Shanghainese, nong hoa meaning hello; xia ya nong to say thank you; and ze wei for goodbye. A lot of pointing ensued.

Shanghai is a huge urban seaside port, nearly six thousand years old, on the shores of where the Pacific Ocean and the Wusong and Huangpu Rivers meet, and it is just twenty kilometers from the renowned Yangzi River. This multifaceted region has for millennia drawn a diversity of people, foods, and cultures. The French say the best wine grows under stress; maybe it is the high level of stress in this urban-rural confluence that helps make Shanghai's cuisine so glorious.

Shanghai is dichotomous, at once a city gritty with the raw materials of life and a lavish haven for the posh. I witnessed old-world craftsmen making string and traditional stevedores slinging bamboo yokes. Meanwhile, bankers buy heavy 24-carat gold-and-jade jewelry and stroll the Bund with nary a care. Some couples make a living using wooden beaters to smack bunting into homemade mattresses while others luxuriate in imported French linens. Some 'go jelly' at the opera or symphony while others go deaf at ancient, sooty, charcoal briquette stamping operations. Packs of men play the stock market while across town gaggles of ladies harvest tiny translucent-red worms to sell as bird food. Regardless of your standing in life though, be it stylish or street, Shanghai is a place for all you can eat.

In the 1930's, Shanghai was a world nightlife capital that eclipsed any place in Europe or the USA. The rollicking times to be had were so legendary that, for example, far across the world in Havana, Cubans dubbed a glorious new 30's theater 'The Shanghai.' Cab Calloway captured the feel of Shanghai in the refrain to his famous ditty about Minnie the Moocher, whose friend Smokey 'took her down to Chinatown--hidehidehidehi Whoah Hedehedehedehe A-hidehidehideho.' Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin and many other celebrities and hangers-on made their way on to Shanghai's who's who list. By the next decade, Shanghai was so respected that many Chinese-American nightclub imitators sprang up, some paying direct homage to the swinging city with salads named 'Shanghai Gesture.'

Shanghai's fabulous nightlife is now long gone, but so is the era that followed it when Mao Tse Tung set up his political headquarters at Shanghai Mansions. It is now back to the point where people can once again order Consomme Eggs a la Marlene (Dietrich) at the illustrious hotel and buy autographed cowboy actor photos of the 30's in nearby antique shops.

Bear in mind as you tour the old haunts that underneath all that 30's glitz, Shanghai's unstable leadership was unable to prevent many city quarters from seething in chaos. Hopefully similar corruption is not festering beneath Shanghai's current and massive drive to 21st century modernization.

Regardless of their income, Shanghai locals eat so much it seems like there are five meals a day, all starting an hour or so earlier than usual in the West. There are a million ways to eat, from pricey spots to middle-of-the-road lunch counters to street stalls of every stripe. There is also a wide range of international restaurants, Italian and Japanese food being the most popular. Thai food was experiencing a wave of popularity in 2001, and there are also popular Spanish/Mexican/Brazilian barbeque bastardizations. Of course, there are also 'self ethnic' restaurants, from China's many regions, with native-costumed staff serving Mongolian, Sichuan, Huaiyang, Fujian, and other cuisines. Without the language, though, it is a lot easier to point out something on a street griddle than to try to get what you want from a printed menu. Vastly cheaper, too.

Far and away the best thing I ate in Shanghai was sheng jian baozu, at a SHANTOU 'convenience' SNACK SHOP on the corner of Remin (People's) Square at Yunnan Zhong Lu and Shantou Lu. This Shanghai speciality is a sesame seed and chopped green-chive-sprinkled bun filled with pork, chives and soup. The plebeian, awninged, outdoor snack shop rules the corner. Its heavy-handed aromas draw customers all day and into the night. An octogenarian impatiently awaiting a fresh batch of buns nearly knocked over his cane and stool, jumping into action when the wok lid was finally lifted. His gleeful haste made it clear these were very special buns.

Looking for ambiance? Head elsewhere. At Shantou, customers line up to pay first, trading their RMB (Chinese money) for a thin paper receipt. Next, grab a stool and wait for the number to be called. Napkins? Not available. Instead, grab a swatch of toilet paper from the center of the communal roll--the core has been removed for windproof dispensing. There are at least a dozen staffers rotating from job to job like a volleyball team. One buses tables, one cleans dishes, one kneads, one pinches, one wields the rolling pin, one sees to the vinegar and hot chile dips, and one uses a small bamboo paddle to apportion the soupy pork/chive paste and place it inside the wrapper, wetting the skin to stick with the thinner opposite end of the paddle. The utensil seemed like a necessity, but elsewhere the owner/chef of a crowded late-night cart famous for chive dumplings manipulates an un-split pair of disposable chopsticks for the same purpose, flashing her fie ji as deftly as a kayaker's paddle.

The round dumplings are then fried, maybe eighty-eight at a time, in a wooden lidded, flat-bottomed pan that the chef continually spins for about ten minutes over a fifty-five gallon drum-cum-coal-burner. When loading the dumplings into the well-oiled pan, the chef uses an eagle eye--a dumpling with even the tiniest crack is rejected. He stays on the job, as undistractable as a Beefeater, spinning and checking repeatedly to keep the dumplings cooking evenly for about ten or twelve minutes.

Finally your number is called. You line up again. There is no time to dry dishes in this carousel of cuisine, so the server gives each freshly washed bowl a last minute flick to rid it of remaining water before loading it with buns. The dribbles of excess water goes into another bowl which is where they toss your flimsy receipt so it gets wet and will not blow away on the windy corner.

The dough is bready like bialy and the bottoms ever-so-slightly burnt to develop a scrumptiously crispy and moist crust, similar to that achieved by Totonno's, Coney Island's first pizzeria. Sheng jian baozu are a taste of Seventh Heaven. First a nibble of the hearty dough, then a scalding blast of oily soup, followed by pork-and-chive stuffing as silken as today's tofu. After irresistible second or third helpings, it is all you can do to waddle away sated like a stuffed penguin, chirping and smacking your sticky lips.

Another sheng jeng baozu specialist in a workers luncheon strip on Changle Lu draws big lines but the dumpling is just not the same. You get greasy color-coded poker chips instead of the paper chits, and the mini-buns are too bready and hard. Like at Shantou, though, Wundun (wonton) Soup is a popular accompaniment (for driven Shanghailanders, a double-dumpling meal is no problem). Many other regulars round out their dumpling platters with a bowl containing four large scoops of fresh bean curd or dofu fa, which is brought to a rolling boil in soup. When heated thoroughly, it is adorned with hairy black seamoss, laid across the surface of the soup like the numbers on a clock, plus pickled cabbage, vinegar, soy, oil, bits of gau choy (green chive), spicy chile oil, and brine shrimp, all for two RMB. For love or money, though, there is nothing on earth comparable to Shantou's juicy sheng jeng baozu, a dish commercially unavailable in New York City.

Another Shanghai regional specialty, one that has recently taken hold in New York and is now spreading westward across the continent, is the soup dumpling, shao lung bao. These miraculous pork and crab nibblers are cradled carefully betwixt the chopsticks because they conceal a blast of hot soup fairly aching to burst its wrapper. Locals and tourists craving the hard-to-make-at-home snacks head to Yu Yuan Gardens, a five-hundred-year-old sprawling estate that has become a kind of Chinese Disneyland. There are a dozen or so purveyors of shao lung bao, all seem to be of similar quality, which is not as good as JOE'S SHANGHAI on Broadway; in New York City's Queens outpost in Elmhurst. A traditional accompaniment (in Shanghai there's often one dish that simply must accompany another) is a thin broth beef curry with fun tsee noodles.

One other item of interest at Yu Yuan, besides the rather wonderful tour, are the giant soup dumplings, each one fills its own four-inch steamer. The little monsters are served with a plastic straw inserted into the pea-sized openings atop the fun snacks. The dumpling skin is inedible. You just suck up the boiling hot soup inside. This 'straw' lung bao is traditionally accompanied with petite spring rolls stuffed with shrimp paste and yellow leeks.

Everywhere you turn are purveyors of another Shanghai speciality, wine chicken. Restaurants specializing in this dish dot the landscape with bright logos and playful names like 'Long-Legged Chicken.' A popular spot, XIAOSHAOXING CHICKEN RESTAURANT just north of Renmin Square has not an empty seat during the lunch-hour rush. Every single table has at least one plate of the warm chicken sliced to order, and a cup of clear soup, the necessary side dish. Confused about the ordering system, I am somehow whisked upstairs to a fancier dining room with hardback menus offering fancy platters such as: Tossed Sliced Jellyfist (sic); Beered Giant Frog; and what is surely Kung Pao Chicken translated delightfully as: Fried Nuts and Chicken Bits. Despite my attempt to order like the regulars, I am made to feel like an interloper and served an entire chicken and a huge vessel of Hot-and-sour Soup. It is way too much food and grief, so I balk, go downstairs, and get in line like the locals.

Relieved to be among regular folk, I finally get a human-sized portion of chicken and do not have to deal with surly wait staff and posing customers. There are no condiments on the shared tables, just one table with seasonings for all. Cooking powders such as salt, white pepper, and bouillon are used liberally, here and throughout Shanghai. Soy, vinegar, and chile also get a workout. Spoons are not served with the soups which are intended for slurping. My weak broth is laden with superb red stewed super soft but still together five-flower pork, with a touch of tendon and just enough muscle intact to require a strong chopstick scissoring technique. You can still smell the flour of the fresh noodles as they continue to soften in the soup.

Shanghai Wine Chicken is a mild and subtle bird and you can feel the silkening effects of the wine more than its taste. Superthin marrow revealing cuts make for succulent eating and it seems it would take years to suck out every last bit of food. The total meal costs less than three bucks, American.

At another but lower class wine chicken restaurant, I pay a little less for the chicken and soup, and get a few more earthy ingredients in the bowl such as chicken-blood cakes, liver slices and Shanghai's nearly ubiquitous baby bok choy. Here, some people accompany their chicken and soup with a filling side dish of golden fried New Year's Cake, a dense wad of sticky rice flour.

A few blocks from Shansan Guild Hall, a museum of everyday objects, is CHUEN SHING NONG YA, the Farmhouse Noodle restaurant at 44 Onanchezou Lou. it is on the corner of Quxi Lu. Run by a team of ladies in white chef's hats of differing heights designating their rank in the staff, Farmhouse Noodle offers a variety of hot and cold dishes at reasonable by-the-kilo prices. I enjoy kaufu (wheat gluten) with lily buds, peanuts, black wood-ears and black mushrooms. The well-rounded and full-flavored dish is more salty than sweet, the most complex and delicious example of kaufu I ever sampled. Shredded bean curd as long as spaghetti, with some coriander and carrot for color, is surprisingly pickled. Free soup is plain and delicious with its added chives, pockmarked tofu (achieved by freezing), and surface of oil. The highlight, though, is roasted duck wings, very well browned, quite tough, and succulent. They practically flap back at you when you spread them open for a bite, giving a real feel for the wing-strength of these high fliers. It is nearly impossible to clean off the bone on these tendon-y wonders, like one can do so easily with a deep-fried Buffalo wing. I put in a valiant effort though, and when I am as close to finished as I can get, the pile of bones is higher than the original pile of wings. It is an empowering lunch, so good it gives me goose bumps and literally makes the hairs on my arm stand up as if ready to fly.

Back down in the center of the city there is a small district populated by Uyghur people (pronounced 'weeg-er') from Central Asia's Xinjiang region. Shops, restaurants and many stalls selling shashlyk (shish-ke-bob) with both Arabic and Chinese writing fill a four square block ghetto with the customs and culture of this ancient Silk Route city. Trying some, I end up with a great sampler of exciting Uyghur cuisine. There are delightfully-textured tidbits of fatty, well-done mutton, dusty with cumin and chile powder; and Socolo, a mahogany-colored lamb-foot-stew with green and red bell peppers, dry chile, and anise, served with rectangles of chewy corduroy-textured bread. A salad of sliced fresh tomato and Bermuda onion with red and green peppers provides roughage. The manager gives me a taste of red chicken-potato stew the staff is eating, but I have no room left to try Laghman, fat white noodles even denser than a chow fun rice noodle. I learn a little Uyghur language which makes my hosts proud. Goshtiz means without meat, rachmed is thanks, yaksloe is tasty, and hoosh is goodbye.

The one time I eat in a fancy restaurant in Shanghai, it proves hard to order food that is not 'dumbed down' for Occidentals. I settle on PENG at 125-31 Zapulu Lu. This is on a dinner-time-street chock-a-block with restaurants. I have to practically jump up and down to get seated. The staff brings me the restaurant's one English menu but with translations like 'Sainted Kidneys,' I know there will be trouble, but a friendly man at a neighboring table helps me translate, and finally my order for saek law (snails) and potatoes is taken. Minutes later at least a hundred tiny molted snails arrive, with celery; large, slightly bitter but delectably textured fresh gingko nuts; and decorative carrot. I also get a dish many American people do not recognize as Chinese, sauteed julienne potato with fresh dried chile, an oily and spicy delight. The house tea, poured from a long-spouted brass ewer, contains chrysanthemum, boxthorn fruit, and many other ingredients. The food is excellent, the special Tsingtao-apron-clad beer waitresses are entertaining, but overall, it is too much struggle to get fed properly.

One night I try a local Sichuan Huo Guo (hot pot) restaurant, and have a lot of fun with the tabletop yin-yang soup wok, one side filled with very spicy red broth, the other with clear. This SHANGHAI CHUAN MEI ZI CAN YIN JI TUAN proves to be a deservedly popular chain of hot-pot-erias, and you order from a list of more than a hundred items to add to your soup, the best of which are large, fresh oyster mushrooms, the likes of which I have only had previously in a canned version.

Chinese restaurants that cater to foreigners are more common in the French Concession, and there is a unique place called GAP FASHION SHOW at Maomung Lu where each night diners are treated to a faux-Folies Bergere fashion revue. Beer companies provide plastic covers for the back of diner''s chairs. These devices are originally anti-pickpocket protectors, but are now more commonly used to protect the diners from spills. Thank goodness the beer companies also provide beer--it is a very tacky scene.

Gap Fashion Show's best dish is Frog Hotpot with black and white fungi and loads of fresh ginger. The menu has boneless chicken dishes for frightened foreigners, but be forewarned that there is no way the Chinese would be as prissy as the French, serving only the frog's leg and wasting all that good body meat.

The best restaurant I sample has seating for no more than eight and it features historic homes, a numismatic museum and leftover Mao pins and little red books in every nook and cranny (locals delight in talking euphemistically about how the old leader had 'many nurses.' DUO LUN AH TZU or 4th GENERATION RESTAURANT is at 251 Duo Lun Lu Culture Street; corner of Alley #237. It is is hard to find in the busy neighborhood, but well worth the search. It is on the south side of a large building that looks like a church. Go down the alley and look for a fringed red and gold banner, a common sign of a Chinese restaurant. Inside two minuscule rooms, Pop cooks and Mom takes care of the front of the house. Little extras like fried fish and kaufu are passed around among old-time regulars. Lunch begins just after 11 am. The most popular condiment by far, here and everywhere in Shanghai, is su (vinegar), helpful in the digestion of Shanghai's oily cuisine. Word has it there is a lot of lime in the soil in and around Shanghai, and large amounts of tea and vinegar are purported to help the body.

There are three stools outside Duo Lun Ah Tzu, enticing local retirees and school children who prefer to eat in the sunshine. They specialize in a variety of homemade noodles and dry-fried dishes. Suddenly I recall a Shanghai special I had forgotten about and I order Shanghai Chow Nin Goa. Happily, they understand me and we are all relieved that the ordering has gone so easily. The filling dish consists of dense rice cakes sauteed with shredded ingredients and Pop pulls me into the kitchen to approve each and every item going into his wok. When asked if I like la (spicy), I smile again and he beams right back.

A few minutes later I am served a platter so piping-hot that I could not see the food until the steam cleared. The rice cake is properly gooey, gummy, al dente, and there are loads of baby bok choy and lip-smacking good meat morsels. I wipe the plate clean, burp a good solid burp of thanks, and vow to return. On a second visit, I order what all the retirees are relishing, chicken soup with fresh shiitake mushrooms and fat rice noodles. Pop remembers just how much chile I take, and the clear and mild soup with chive, cilantro, and watercress flavor still has a special spot on my palate. In the case of Duo Lun Ah Tzu, lack of common language is no barrier to superb home-style cooking.

I hear that the fast food outlets which advertise with a Chinese-eyed Colonel Sanders imitator are better than they look, but I just could not go there. Aside from the aforementioned restaurants, the rest of my Shanghai meals are street eats. In Vancouver, Canada, I once paid twenty bucks for fresh noodles, only to learn we missed the nightly noodle-making show. In Shanghai, that regret is erased forever. In just minutes, a side-street storefront-window noodle maker slaps, snaps, pulls and twists a fresh order of la mein for less than one buck. Once shaped, the wheat noodles are put in hot broth for no more than eight seconds. They are served in a thin beef curry broth with super thin brisket, a big pinch of yin tsai (parsley); dry fresh maroon-colored chile with a teeny bit of oil, and the aforementioned New Year''s cakes or a pork chop atop. The noodle shop is dingy but its product is pure elegance. The la mein is slipped inside way too fast for this reporter to recall any further details.

Shanghailanders of all ages manage food carts of all descriptions. Old baby carriages are converted into stockpot cradlers where Grannies sell eggs and cakes of tofu that simmer with giant slabs of cinnamon bark in soy and vinegar. Defunct doors are thrown across wheel-less shopping carts to form chopping blocks. All of the snacks seem to cost either a dime or a quarter. It is pointed out to me that the cheaper items are water-steamed, whereas the pricier treats are fried in more expensive oil. There is a great deal of poverty in Shanghai; yet nearly everyone seems to be able to scrape together a meal, and most people appear healthy.

A sure sign of great xiao chi (little eats) is a long line of kids clamoring for after-school treats. A particularly crowded squid griller charges only one RMB for a skewer of either tentacles or body parts. He then spends about three minutes caressing, searing, squeezing, and perfectly charring the squid on his flat metal grill, adding five-spice powder, white pepper, oil, sesame seeds, seasoned salt, chile powder, and hoisin sauce, flattening, mauling, pressing, and slitting the cephalopod meat with a sharp-edged metal press. It is impossible not to get back on line for seconds. I try squid at other crowded locations, but soon learn the school-kids' palates can be more aware, and their hard-earned coins more carefully spent, than those of the adults.

It seems that twice as many street carts appear in the dark as during the daytime. One lady, famous for chive dumpling soup, has no less than twenty-five ingredients on her tiny cooking table. Her pride, and happy attitude, obviates the need for language. Customers come from near and far for her precise soups, selecting any number of ingredients and sitting at rickety stools while she fairly whisks the soup together before their eyes. She uses just one utensil, a big spoon, as she snaps dry and wet spices (including choking amounts of MSG) into the wok, along with broth, chopped parsley, pickled golden bok choy, tofu croutons, fish and meat balls, and much, much more. If there is ever a gap in orders, she starts wrapping dumplings as quickly and evenly as a hummingbird's wing-beat. A bowl of soup with vegetables and a dozen gao choy (chive) dumplings, costs two RMB, and on a second visit she remembers just how I like mine.

There is little need to make reservations in Shanghai because most everything is available at all hours. Workers come and go with aluminum lunch pails, three eight-hour shifts a day, and because of this industriousness, areas like Pudong are well on their way to boasting hundreds of skyscrapers as big as the Empire State Building. Fresh and prepared food markets spring up daily in every part of town to satiate the masses. There is someone selling food in just about every shaded nook and cranny, and the sweeping riverfront highways are flanked by humongous restaurant supply wholesalers that make the Bowery pale by comparison.

When you first enter your hotel room and turn on the light, the TV automatically turns on full volume. Chinese like life reinao (hot and noisy), and some believe raucousness keeps bad spirits away. There is no escaping the noise, the heat, and the clamor for snacks that defines Shanghai. If it is appropriate that the city museum is housed in its oversized Bronze-age cooking vessel called a ding, then Shanghai can justly be likened to stir-fried rice, a happy amalgam that sizzles, snaps, and cracks everywhere you turn.

Like clockwork, morning urban roosters are drowned out by the din of tin being hammered into woks and ranges. Mean and gleeful cops bash down illegal housing and arrest unauthorized street vendors in ostentatious displays known as 'killing the rooster to frighten the monkey.' Noise even sulks into your hotel room, and sleep is broken by foghorns bellowing soulfully all night long. Only once in fifteen days in Shanghai did I encounter silence. That was when I was lost in a back hallway by a broken elevator in an underground park. I can not think of the ideal adjective to describe Shanghai, so I will steal one from Mr. Calloway, 'scoodlelywoscoodlelywoscoodlelywoodlelywoodlelywo.' Shanghai sleeps less and eats more than even mighty New York.

By seven in the morning, young adults are off to work and the city parks are loaded with grandparents and babies. People in their 20's are surprisingly tall. I inquire if it has to do with modern and Western medicines, and am told that ancient herbal and acupuncture systems are still effective and trusted. A six-footer explains that modern life has meant no war, less stress, enough nutrition, active sports and phys-ed programs, and desk jobs instead of backbreaking field labor.

Early risers can watch the giant ships unload wares at the fruit market along the Huangpu. The din makes a monkey house seem peaceful. Trucks and laborers of all description can barely creep along the crowded two-mile-long workplace. There is simply no way to capture the image of the endless piles, and further endless piles of fruit that color the scene as far as the eye can see. Once you think the market has ended, it goes off in a different direction, revealing sugar cane mountains and pineapple piles that might one day reach the moon.

Fruit retailers set up just outside the wholesale market. A pineapple professional artfully pares his wares on a plastic bag, then effortlessly flips the whole lot inside out, making a perfect takeout sack-of-fruit for just forty-eight cents. Holding the pineapple by its spiky leaves, he peels downwards to remove all the skin, reversing direction for the topknot. Then using a special three-pointed chisel, he cuts along the natural spiral of pineapple, removing the 'eyes' and simultaneously making a pinwheel design. His pineapple is succulent and the paring technique enhances the juiciness of each bite. I buy one of the wood-handled aluminum tools for a quarter and the seller cackles to all her friends how she had really made a killing on that sale to the foreigner!

It is while studying menus in Shanghai that I finally realize there is a rhyme and reason to how Chinese dishes are named. The method of cooking is listed first, followed by the main ingredient and cut, and then secondarily, the ingredients. For example, Braised Beef Tendons with Green Shallots, or Stir-fried Eel Shreds with Spring Bamboo.

I also learn firsthand the meaning of an important Shanghai food term, muo zi, the tastiness achieved with the use of salt and long cooking over a low flame. Shanghai food is heavy on seafood, rice, flour and lots of creepy-crawly stuff like frogs, turtles, snakes, and eels, but regardless of the ingredients, much of the cuisine can be characterized as salty, oily, rich food with tasty and fragrant character.

As for alcoholic drinks, I can find nothing really special in Shanghai. Pricey cognacs abound but wine selections are pitiful and the beer, even at the latest German-style brew-pub on the Bund, is wanting. You can find old cans of Guinness, but thin lagers reign, and the best seller is bodiless Reeb (beer spelled backwards).

Tea is everywhere. People carry their own special tea bottles, with built-in strainers, and spend hours daily preparing their decoctions from the abundant hot water fountains around town. The only cold-water fountain I see in all of Shanghai is in a Western hotel. It is nigh-on-impossible to find ice. One hotel sends me upstairs to their fancy restaurant, which makes a big deal of giving me six cubes. I guess they feel a cube a bottle is sufficient to cool a six-pack of Reeb.

Prized Hongzhou Longjing tea is in season during my visit. I spend three hours one night alone with the owner of a tea house, getting the full effects of the tea ceremony. It is a thoroughly relaxing custom, and you might find the host amenable at LU YU TEAHOUSE on the north side of Northern Boulevard; east of Main Street in Flushing, New York.

Shanghai is a place with zero food fear. I hear no talk of food allergies, nobody squawking for pulp-free juice or spineless white meat chicken. People eat on the streets without qualm, slurp jiao zi, the ubiquitous dumplings created in the 1300's that are still made the same way. Fried, steamed, boiled, whatever the manner of preparation, Shanghai creates in me a deep and intense lifelong craving for these pork-and-chive pillows of perfection. In Shanghai, eating is very important. It is such a major pastime and social lubricant that instead of saying 'how are you,' Shanghailanders greet each other with Ni chi fan le mei yu?, meaning 'Have you eaten yet?'

(continued in Shanghi Part 2)

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