Do you love to see how other people live? It’s human nature to be curious abut the insides of other people’s houses. Ever since I toured the Tenement Museum in Manhattan 15 or so years ago, I have a fascination for these tiny, but very personal museums that detail how life looked in a certain place at a certain time. From Dicken’s House in London, to Freud’s in Vienna, and the Blackhouse in the Outer Hebrides, and I’ve poked my nose in everywhere, and especially into the kitchens.
The Shanghai Shikumen Open House Museum at Xintiandi is just as interesting as any of these, and gives a glimpse into life in a stone gate (shikumen) house of 1920s Shanghai. These houses were the birthplace or early homes of more than 70% of Shanghai’s residents in those days. Usually three-sided, two-storey houses, they centered around a light-filled courtyard one entered through the stone gate. The kitchen is surprisingly similar to the one still in use at a farm I visited, with a wood-fired stove taking up most of the tiny space. The stove top has a two recessed woks, usually one for frying, and one holding boiling water for steaming, both covered with heavy wooden lids. What struck me was how little preparation space there was, and what a dark, small lowly space the kitchen occupied: unlike the central position of today’s kitchens.
The rest of the house is equally fascinating, with footage from 20s and 30s Shanghai projected on the walls. Whether you’ve lived here for years, or visiting the city for the first time, have a poke around and enjoy the ambience. It’s smack in the middle of Xintiandi so you can combine a visit with a spot of lunch – looking at kitchens always makes me hungry.
The Shanghai Shikumen Museum
No 25, Lane 181 Taicang Lu, Xintiandi
Ph +8621 33070337
Open 7 days: Sun-Thurs 10.30-22.30, Fri/Sat 11.00-23.00