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Shanghai Street Food #36 Big CrispyPancakes: Dabing 大饼

For many people, dabing 大饼 is their first introduction to Chinese street food. And what a great place to start!
 
A huge round of flaky bread, leavened or unleavened, dabing is cooked in a contraption that looks like a giant waffle maker, leaving it oil-crisp on the outside and flaky, chewy and soft within. Dabing are always savoury – topped with white sesame seeds and green scallions; or brushed with a red, spicy, garlicky sauce made from pixian soy bean paste.

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Night in Shanghai – In Conversation with Nicole Mones

 

 

 

I fell for the writing of American author Nicole Mones a few years ago when I first read her love letter to Chinese food, disguised as a novel called The Last Chinese Chef (2007). Mones writes beautifully about China and the intersection of cultures, from Lost in Translation (1999) to A Cup of Light (2002), and now her latest work, Night in Shanghai.
Night in Shanghai brings the decadent, seductive jazz age of the 1930s to life as seen through the eyes of African American pianist Thomas Greene. It’s a vivid, lyrical, musical novel that draws the reader in to the world of Ye Shanghai, with its powerful underground gangs, irresistible jazz, and heady mix of Russian aristocracy, Chinese elite, and wealthy foreigners. Thomas finds that in Shanghai he can become whoever he wants to be, but as the Japanese grip on the city tightens we are left with a sense of impending loss – these might be the last days of old Shanghai.
Night in Shanghai is also the extraordinary true-life story of how the city of Shanghai saved the lives of 25,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Europe at the start of Word War II. At a time when every other nation in the world rejected thousands of terrified Jews (including the United States, Great Britain and Australia), Shanghai opened its ports and welcomed them in.
In an unbelievable twist Mones and her researcher uncovered evidence that the Chinese government also had a well-established plan to re-house 100,000 Jewish refugees in Yunnan. The evidence of this plan has all but been swallowed by history, and deserves much wider recognition.
When Mones’ publicist sent me a copy of Night in Shanghai out of the blue, I read it, loved it, and emailed to ask if Mones might be interested in an interview. I admire her so much as a writer but didn’t think for a million years she would say yes, so imagine my surprise and utter delight when Nicole herself emailed to say she had been a follower of this blog for some time and would love to do an interview. I felt like the kid who gets to ask the Prime Minister a question.
Here’s what we talked about – I hope you enjoy the conversation.

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Old Fashioned Tofu at Kung Woo Beancurd

Tofu pudding, silken tofu, firm tofu, golden tofu puffs, folded tofu skins, spindly white soy bean sprouts, hot sweet soy milk,  red fermented tofu, tofu knots.  
 
Kung Woo Beancurd in Sham Shui Po illustrated the soy bean in all its manifest expressions. 
After I learned to make soy milk in the traditional way with a grindstone, and then learned (often disastrously) what was involved in making tofu at home, I was fascinated to search out places in China still making old fashioned tofu. You know, the kind that’s made for taste; not for shelf life or low cost, using beans, water, a grindstone, and wooden molds that impart the faintest flavour to the curd.
What I have discovered is there aren’t many of them left – traditional tofu makers are a threatened species and the last are disappearing fast.
So when I heard about Kung Woo Beancurd from Hong Kong food writer e_ting I knew I had to visit on my recent trip to Hong Kong.

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