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Happy (Chinese) Halloween

Not everyone can be happy dressed as a pumpkin, but really, Chinese people seem to have a pretty good grip on this whole Halloween thing. Last night I saw  a ghoul, a huge yellow and blue stripey tiger and a sumo wrestler wandering along the street, followed by someone in a swimming costume with an overcoat and blonde wig (on second thoughts, she may have been going somewhere other than a Halloween party). There are spider webs and skulls in all the shops, and even The Lady of Wulumuqi Lu has been ahead of the game with huge pumpkins for sale in her shop since last month.

At school, the annual Halloween parade is held in the grounds of the very busy and very public Shanghai Zoo. This makes for a pretty interesting spectacle – a couple of hundred foreign children in costumes, followed by a couple of hundred interested bystanders with cameras. Some of them are even parents. For the Chinese zoo visitors, it’s like an open air wildlife safari, filled with exotic, colourful species from far away lands. I was wondering why the school erected a sort of rope barrier, but after experiencing the Chinese paparazzi I can see why. Crowd control.

Daughter Number 1 thought she would go as a sort of ghostly skeleton, with Ugg boots, because she’s just discovered that Australia’s uncoolest sheepskin boots are now really cool; and Daughter Number 2 told me she wanted to go as a dinosaur, no wait, a princess, no wait, a witch, no wait, a fairy…..but finally settled on a black bear costume in the shop. Happy Halloween!

The New Langham Xintiandi – Lunch with Easton Pearson

It’s not part of my normal, bus-dodging routine to have ladylike lunches at fancy hotels, but sometimes, in the name of patriotism, I have to suffer. Australia has some inspiring talent – take, for example, Pam Easton and Lydia Pearson, fashion designers of international standing who happen to also come from the same tiny speck in the Southern Hemisphere that I do….Brisbane. Their detailed hand-worked garments are works of art, and highly collectible.

This week they are gracing Shanghai in anticipation of next week’s BIG social event, the Melbourne Cup. In case you’re from, like, the rest of the world, the Melbourne Cup is a famous annual horse race, not in Shanghai but several thousand kilometres away in Australia. The cultural significance of this race to Australians is not to be understated, and a few hundred of us will be putting on fancy hats and misbehaving badly next Tuesday in honour of our home country. But more on that next week.

Today we all had a fabulous lunch at the new Langham Hotel in Xintiandi. Despite being only unofficially open they still managed to feed and water seventy or so famished fellow Australians who came along to listen to Easton Pearson speak about their eponymous fashion label, and enjoy a peep at the hotel’s gorgeous new horse-inspired interior. Easton Pearson charmed us all with their down to earth take on the global fashion industry, and their love of Chinese embroideries and textiles.

We were served fillet of salted sea bass with sichuan peppers and tender baby mushrooms , followed by an exquisitely plated dessert – a simple chocolate and walnut brownie, with creme anglaise, a quenelle of caramel ice-cream, and a slender straw of sugar toffee topped with a single flake of gold leaf.  If this is their catering menu, I can’t wait to see what their restaurant has to offer when it opens shortly.

What Exactly is Normal? M’s Rules for Living In Shanghai

Photo thanks to a very observant F Tobin

Ahhh…back in Shanghai, and back to normal. But what is normal exactly?

I started thinking over the weekend that perhaps I’ve been living here too long, and things that were once eye-popping, or funny, or just downright alarming, seem totally, utterly normal. Take the brass band in the back of a truck I kept seeing all weekend in Shao Xing, for example, as they were shunted from one Chinese wedding to another. A truck full of gold suits worn with trainers, along with bugles, cymbals, trombones and drums. Why were they there? I didn’t even think to ask. I didn’t even take a photo, for pete’s sake, but luckily someone with me did. No, I just mentally noted that the truck in front of me was carrying an entire brass band in the back, and then looked out of the taxi’s other window at a dog wearing shoes and a raincoat. Like I said, normal. Or at least normal on a rainy Saturday in Shao Xing.

So how the hell did that happen? How did the bizarre transmute into the mundane in such a short space of time? So I got to thinking….what was it that I found so crazy about Shanghai when I first arrived? Other than the strange foods, what cultural habits seemed so out of tune with life as I knew it?
Then I remembered M’s Shanghai Rules. M is one of the coolest ten year olds I know, slightly obsessed with Pokemon, but also a keen observer of life around her. She wrote these rules off the cuff for a newcomer to Shanghai who was finding the whole experience a bit overwhelming. They have stood the test of time and we relay them to every visitor who stays. Have a read (I’ve aded my comments in brackets), then add your own ‘Shanghai Rules’ below in the comments section!
1. Buses are the top of the food chain
(Shanghai buses are death machines driven by megalomaniacs. If you see one coming, step back on to the curb, then take another three steps back.)

2. Don’t mess with them
(Sensible advice. They don’t stop for little old ladies, they don’t stop for mothers with new born babies in their arms, so they certainly ain’t gonna wait til you cross the road safely. They’ll just mow you straight down.)
3. The green man doesn’t mean it’s safe to cross
(Just as buses are at the top, pedestrians are definitely the lowest life form on Shanghai streets. Nothing pisses off a Chinese Buick driver more than a bunch of pedestrians thinking they have the right to cross the road just beause the green man is flashing. The black Buick is the status symbol of the road, and if you have nothing but legs for transport, you’re clearly way below everything else with wheels, including wheelchairs.)

4. Always look left and right when crossing the road
(Not just a quick glance. Give yourself whiplash looking in front, behind, above and below, as well as left and right. Repeat in sequence until you are across the road safely. If needed, go frogger-style, one lane at a time, with traffic whistling past you as you perch pathetically on a thin white line)
5. Be careful what you step in
(Wonder why Chinese people always remove their shoes at the front door? The ground is a minefield of spitgobs and other unmentionables.)

6. If you step in poo, don’t assume it’s come from a dog
(Toileting toddlers in split pants rather than nappies can get messy. Better to do it on the street than in the house)
7. Always carry tissues with you
(Toilet paper is in extremely short supply in all but the flashest facilities. If there is toilet paper in a restaurant toilet, I automatically grant it 4 stars in my mental rating system, regardless of the food.)
8. Learn how to squat
(Not just in the bathroom. It’s helpful anywhere there is a spare few inches of space, and your legs are tired. Crowded subways are a local favourite spot for squatting, and Expo queues.)

So there you have it. Shanghai streetsmarts in 8 easy steps. Been to Shanghai? Live here? Don’t forget to add your rules too!

A sensible cyclist decides to let the bus have right of way, even though she is on a pedestrian crossing and the bus is going through a red light. I can see the driver giving her a ‘Don’t even think about it….’ kind of look. 

Grocer and Ham Expert, Shao Xing

This kindly camo-wearing grocer operates a stall in the big wet-market in Shao Xing. While stumbling around in the rain yesterday we practically fell into the wet-market entrance, and the first stall we came across was his. A neater, tidier little shop I have never seen (one of these days I’ll post some behind-the-scenes photos of the barely managed chaos that is my local grocery store in Shanghai).
These grocery shops can be found in the corner position of every wet market, and they sell dry goods of all kinds, from bottled sauces (soy, oyster, chili) to dried pulses (millet, soybeans, mungbeans), dried fruits (red dates, Xinjiang sultanas) and lastly dried meats, jellyfish, shrimp and fish. 
This fellow’s specialty was clearly ham, and I have never seen so many good looking pig’s legs in one place. Jinghua ham, Yunnan ham, cured pork belly, it was all here. He passed me various cuts to smell – all the different hams have different curing processes, so the aroma of each is quite different. An entire leg of cured Jinghua ham cost 150 yuan ($25) and came in its own tennis-racquet shaped plastic holder with a handle. If I hadn’t already bought two heavy porcelain bottles of Shao Xing wine I would have been sorely tempted to take one back to Shangai to hang in the kitchen for the winter.  I could take it down and saw bits off as needed, all medieval-like. 
I think you can tell a lot about a town by the state of its wet markets and grocers. Shao Xing looks to be in pretty good shape – a vibrant food and wine culture, a well-maintained and very clean wet market, and little gems like this shop here there and everywhere. Just planning my next trip there now…..

Just Spit the Bones on the Table: Shao Xing Lunch

Shao Xing has, in one fell swoop, managed to turn my pre-conception of tourist restaurants as being overpriced, underflavoured traps on its head. Trying to escape the relentless rain near Lu Xun street, we followed a small conga line of umbrellas into the Xianheng Restaurant (open since 1894). Ahead of us, a huge hall opened out, filled with black laquered square tables and low square stools. There were two hundred people inside, all with the excited buzz and anticipation that comes with a great meal.

The main tourist street of Shao Xing is right outside the restaurant, the site of the birthplace and childhood home of China’s most celebrated modern writer, Lu Xun (1881-1936). I guess that, seeing as the restaurant opened when Lu Xun was only thirteen, it can’t really be accused of capitalising on his fame, but it now feeds around eight hundred tourists every day. Very well, as it turns out.

There is no menu, just a long open kitchen and glass shelves stacked with bowls and dishes of fabulous food. You buy a card at the cashier, pre-loaded with a cash value you decide, then line up at the kitchen and point to what you’d like. Traditionally, the ‘Ten Dishes Feast’ was a way to celebrate a meal when family come together. It wasn’t hard to find ten dishes I liked the look of: Xian Beng chicken pickled in fermented rice wine sauce, dried beancurd with Kalimeris Indica, red dates in Tandiao rice wine, dried bream seasoned with soy sauce, or pork belly with fermented green vegetables.

We settled on the crispy skinned chicken – crunchy, salty and with tender and succulent meat; green peppers with eggplant and fermented beans; the pork belly – sweet, melting cubes of pork belly resting on a pile of shredded, salted, preserved green vegetables; and smoky red dates cooked in tiajiao wine. The smoky flavour of the dates was a real surprise, and married well with their sweetness. Not surprisingly the food goes really well with Shao Xing wine, although we stuck with fresh green tea poured from a simple white porcelain teapot with blue trim into small white cups stamped with the restaurant’s trademark. 
Around us the chatter of families enjoying lunch was rising to a crescendo. There were piles of spat out bones, seeds, prawn shells, and snail shells in piles next to each and every person. All that was left of our meal was the chicken’s head. That crispy chicken was good. Really good. But I still can’t bring myself to eat the head.

Xian Heng Restaurant (Xian Heng Jiu Dian) 
179 Luxun Zhong Lu, Yuecheng District, Shao Xing



Open 7 days for lunch and dinner

Ph: +86 (0)575 8511 6666

Happy Under the Umbrellas in Shao Xing

The woman in the seat behind me on the train has taken off her mock-patent leather high heels and slipped into a much more comfortable pair of gigantic plush Minnie Mouse slippers for the two hour journey from Shanghai to Shao Xing, home to famous rice wine. She’s looking forward to having two days off to relax and enjoy herself, starting now with her slippers. I love leaving Shanghai for the weekend too, to see somewhere new. I love pulling up at Shanghai South Railway Station on a Friday afternoon, jostling through the weekend crowds to get to the waiting room, and then the mad pushing, shoving rush on to the train, despite all of us having pre-assigned seats.
When we arrive in Shao Xing, it’s raining. Hard. Typhoon Megi is off the coast far, far away and so we’re in for a wet, wet weekend. Shao Xing is an ancient trading town with a network of water canals and flagstone streets, and with the atmosphere of a big village despite its population being similar to Sydney. 
Today, as we wander the narrow canal-side lanes in the wet, I see a rainbow procession of dripping umbrellas everywhere I look, and below each umbrella is a happy red face. When Chinese people visit a new place they always try the local specialties, be it hairy crabs or ginger candies or mountain tea. In Shao Xing the local specialty is the rice wine, mellow, smooth and warming; so even tee-totallers may decide to have a glass at one of the many wineshops as they enjoy the local ambience. The wine shops are filled with enormous stone pitchers of aged wine, and shelf after shelf of small decorative bottles in fancy boxes, for gifts. When Chinese people drink wine it tends to turn their faces red, and so the town is filled with cheery, flushed tourists all having a great time. Even though it’s pouring and we’re all drenched, we’re happy. I like a town dedicated to enjoying yourself.

Eating at the Peace Hotel, 1962

The Peace Hotel, Art Deco masterpiece on The Bund, recently re-opened to great acclaim. Known as the Cathay Hotel when it was first built by famous Shanghai entrepreneur Sir Victor Sassoon in 1929, it is Shanghai’s most famous and well-recognised hotel with its iconic green copper pyramidal roof.

I was back there again yesterday for a function and to my delight they have now opened a tiny museum housing interesting objects from the hotel’s past. The museum’s curators asked locals to dig deep into their cupboards and find any ‘souvenirs’ they may have brought home with them from a visit to the Peace Hotel. What popped up were old key tags, cards, menus, and cutlery. Interestingly, all the hotel’s cards were in Chinese, English, Russian and French, reflecting the business mix of the day.

I love the serrated heavy metal key-tags – ‘Please Leave at Bureau’ and the old heavy hotel crockery. 
And of course I was transfixed by a menu from 1962 – just before the start of the Cultural Revolution, and not the hotel’s glory days, but fascinating all the same. Some of the gems from the front page of the 1962 menu included:
Stew Bean Curd Clot
Sparpows with Aniseed (could it really be sparrows? – only 0.6 yuan each!)
Cashew Nuts with Sea Liver Mosses
Jelly Fish with Golden Melon
The little museum is a bit tucked away, just ask the concierge ‘at the bureau’ to direct you. No entrance charge.

Shanghai Street Food #12 Dàn Juǎn 蛋卷

Welcome to Number 12 in this series on Shanghai’s vibrant and delicious street foods.
Shanghai wouldn’t be Shanghai without its incredible street food! You can read about the others here:

Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3   Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4   Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5   Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6   Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7   Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 8   Dan Gao – street cakes
Number 9   Shao mai – sticky rice treats
Number 10  Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits

Number 11  You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12  Dan Juan – egg rolls
Number 13  Shao Kao – street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy
Number 20  You Dunzi – fried radish cakes

Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes 
Number 22  Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 24  Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27  Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28  Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29  Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
Number 30  Shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings

Number 31  Mala Tang – DIY spicy soup

Dàn juǎn 蛋卷 are literally ‘egg rolls’, but these are the sweet, brittle biscuit variety, not the savoury egg rolls known to many as spring rolls (chūn juǎ春卷)

To make these delicious snacks a mildly sweet egg and wheat flour batter is spooned on to a hot griddle and cooked like a pancake or waffle, then, using gloves to protect from the heat, folded up and rolled whilst still soft. As the dàn juǎn cools it becomes crunchy and biscuity. Variations include black sesame, white sesame, and seaweed flavours.

Some may not consider dàn juǎn a street food because they are available to buy in packets at the supermarket, just like biscuits. In Shanghai though, you can find dàn juǎn vendors at Si Pai Lo Lu, near Yu Gardens, and in the streets behind the fabric market on Lujiabang Lu. There are probably another fifty locations I don’t know about too! Hot off the griddle, and eaten as street food, they are a warm, crunchy, sweet snack. 

Street Barber, off Huashan Lu

Street barbers are no longer as common in Shanghai as they are in other parts of China, so I was delighted to see this set-up, inside a laneway just off Huashan Lu yesterday. Tucked between a flight of stairs and a grocery store, the barber has great natural light and everything he needs at hand. He’s even brought his bird out for company. Price of a haircut- 8 yuan ($1.20).


Oh bugger it! Eliminated!

To be honest I’ve been overwhelmed and surprised to have made it this far in Project Food Blog, into the final 100, and I’ve been inspired by the challenges and completely exhausted by completing them! Thank you to each and every one of you who voted, I mean I really, really appreciated your support.

Anyway, one of the best things about the competition, other than overcoming a fear of deep-frying, has been discovering all sorts of wonderful food-related blogs. Some are still competing, some are out, but they’re all worth reading!

Croque Camille (see below) nominated the three blogs she thought might make it through to win PFB, although sadly we’ve all three of us now been eliminated. Wanting to return the favour, I decided the best way to honour the blogs I’ve enjoyed reading is to award Life on Nanchang Lu Blog Awards of my own, in completely fictional made-up categories.

Now, they don’t come with any prizes worth having, but if anyone is really desperate for concrete proof of their win, I have a pair of Hello Kitty Chinese kitchen arm protectors up for grabs. Now to the winners….

Best Foodie Overseas Blog – Croque Camille

Camille is an American pastry chef living and working in the food capital of the world, Paris. Read about her adventures both in and out of the kitchen, and her only-a-pastry-chef-could know-this recipes. Check out her incredibly detailed Google food map of Paris for restaurants, food stores, and food-related sites, and you’ll be buying a plane ticket before you can say croquembouche.

Best Asian Food Blog- Tiny Urban Kitchen

Jen lives in Boston and whips up amazing dihes from all the major Asian cuisines – Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese.

She’s made it through to Round 5 of PFB and it will be great to see what her take on pizza is for this challenge. I can be confident it won’t be what you expect either.

Best Whacky Blog – Amuse Bouche

Kentucky girl Whitney drinks, swears and cooks up a storm, all for our enjoyment. A self-confessed comfort food enthusiast, she is one of the few blogs whose writing makes it laugh out loud. They should have kept her in the comp because everyone else was getting way too serious.

Best Photography – Palachinka

Marija lives in Belgrade, Serbia, and takes the most glorious photos – they totally transport the viewer to another place. I’ve never been to Serbia, but when I look at her photos I can imagine exactly what it’s like, and what they eat there. She has a perticular interest in traditional ethnic foods and their preparation.

Bravest – Tomayto Tomaaahto

For the Luxury Dinner Party of Round 3, Ruby took the bravest step of all by reminding all of us that while we thought of nothing but food, there were many in the world going hungry. She served her family plain rice, and clean water. It obviously pricked a few too many consciences because despite writing a fantastic blog about food from her own multicultural perspective, she didn’t make it through to the next round. Instead, she established Foodies Sans Frontieres as a way of raising awareness of the issue of world hunger within the foodie community. Bravo.

So keep on enjoying your daily slice of Life onNanchang Lu. Shanghai and I aren’t going anywhere and there are lots of exciting adventures coming up. Thanks again!