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Street Foods of Kashgar

Kashgar. It’s a city that will never cease to be intriguing, beautiful, and complicated, sitting close to China’s far west border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. I visited the city again at the end of last year and despite recent upheavals the city remains safe for travellers. Even solo female travellers like myself. Importantly, the rich  human landscape of Kashgar survives unchanged – welcoming, friendly, and above all hospitable.
And the food? The food is as glorious as ever. Smoky lamb kebabs, great flat rounds of crisp nan bread, mounds of buttery rice polo, and browned pockets of samsas – Kashgar remains one of the best cities in China, if not the world, for street food.

Although English and Chinese are of limited use in Kashgar, within a day or so, I had learned the only two phrases a food-loving traveller needs:

rahkmet  – thank you
tamak bake orshepto – that meal was delicious
These two used in combination with a lot of charades and pointing brought delighted smiles to these street food vendors.
Should you make it to Kashgar in the next little while (and as an ancient Silk road city it’s on many travellers’ lifelong lists) here’s a guide for eating street foods in Kashgar. Some I’ve written of before, many are new after my most recent visit, all delicious.

For up-to-date travel information on the region from a local expert I suggest reading Josh Summers’ excellent blog Far West China.

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Shanghai’s Best-Kept Culinary Secrets: The Glutton Guide Shanghai

There’s a woman I’ve long admired in Shanghai – she speaks fluent Chinese and is a street food obsessive who knows all the best snacks and where to find them. Like me, she genuinely loves China – particularly its edible, delicious side.
Meet Jamie Barys, who, along with friend and business partner Kyle Long established Untour Shanghai, a hugely popular off-beat tour company. Their tours remain the best way to get to know Shanghai’s street foods, even for locals. “We wanted to show off the city’s best street food and hole-in-the-wall dumpling and noodle shops to visitors and expats who didn’t have the language skills or local food knowledge to find it themselves,” says Jamie. “So we started offering culinary tours of the breakfast stalls, night markets and everything in between.”
Fellow students at Peking University in 2005, Jamie and Kyle discovered a common interest in everything food-related, and cemented their friendship exploring Shanghai’s restaurants. In Jamie’s words, “Three years and about thirty thousand xiaolongbao later, we launched UnTour Shanghai.”

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A Beginner’s Guide to Green Tea

Picking Dragon Well tea, Hangzhou
Qingming Festival, on April 5 this year, is a day when families pay respects to their ancestors by tending their graves. It’s also an important date on the annual calendar of Chinese teas because it marks the harvest of the first flush of early spring tea leaves. I’ve been lucky enough to catch two Qingming harvests of Dragon Well tea in Hangzhou, while there was still a winter chill in the early morning air followed by the growing warmth of the spring sunshine.
After picking was over for the day I sat and sipped tea in the cool air of the tea terraces There really is nothing quite like the chestnut aroma and clean grassy taste of freshly-roasted green tea – it makes all the worries of the world fall away.
Green teas are a perfect introduction to the family of Chinese teas because they are more lightly flavoured and easy to prepare, with a taste everyone enjoys. Here’s an easy guide for learning more about Chinese green teas.
Dragon Well tea leaves. The picker’s fingers are stained with tea oils.

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Eating at Shanghai’s Street Food Night Market: At Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park 张江高科站夜市

Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park street food night market
Happy Lunar New Year! Here’s to the Year of the Sheep, and plenty of eating in good pastures for all of us.
I’ve been searching Shanghai recently for that elusive place, a night market full of atmosphere and great cooking smells, bursting with people. Shanghai has to have one of those, right?
There is the tourist-y one on Sipailou Lu near Yu Gardens. It has great hustle and bustle, but the vendors are jaded and routinely rip-off tourists of any denomination. Locals don’t go there at all.
I was looking for a local street food market, where people might go to hang out after work with friends. I followed several blind leads,  and took late night jaunts with my family in tow to the campuses of various universities in Shanghai where I heard night markets existed, only to discover they were sad jumbles of a few stalls and a strip of indoor restaurants.
The crackdown on street food vendors in Shanghai has meant that impromptu, unauthorised gatherings of street food vendors are becoming a thing of the past. And, I wondered if the rising wealth in Shanghai meant people no longer wanted to eat outdoors, especially in winter.
It was with a sense of impending failure that I dragged my long-suffering husband, children and brother-in-law to the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park station to see if this, the last on my list, might be the one.

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Shanghai Street Food #37 Tofu Pudding: Dou Hua 豆花

I consider this the tofu connoisseur’s breakfast. It’s a set-in-the-pan soy milk custard, warm and savory, as soft as a cloud, surrounded by a clear broth flavored with soy whey as it sets. You might have previously tried the sweet version with ginger and brown sugar syrup, popular in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Dou hua 豆花 (literally ‘bean bloom’) is made by pouring hot fresh soy milk into a dish containing a coagulant (usually gypsum – calcium sulfate) and dissolved corn starch. The starch gives duo hua its silken, just-set texture. After a few minutes, the tofu ‘blooms’, setting in the centre of the bowl in a quivering flower surrounded by yellow whey.

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Sunday Street Style, Kaili

 

I love an octogenarian with attitude. I spied her one Sunday in Kaili Old Street, with her hair and specs rather eccentrically arranged. She was embroidering herself a new belt.
Sunday is no day of rest in China. In fact, it’s often the busiest day of the week as families, groups of friends and workers head for the shops on their one and only day off. Kali, in Guizhou Province, is no exception as the Sunday Market gets into full swing, starting in the old part of town and spreading like topsy into the surrounding streets.

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Farm to Table Feast, Miao Style

Farm to table. It’s an well-worn phrase on city restaurant menus, but what does it really mean?
 
Many would say it means using seasonal ingredients, with the fewest delays and distance possible between farm and plate, and a high degree of transparency in this process. Others would say it means local farmers deliver directly to restaurants. In rare cases, it means that some items on the menu are actually grown in the restaurant’s own kitchen garden. But that’s pretty uncommon.
 
The appeal of farm to table is obvious – the food is fresh, local, and has maximum flavour because it’s at its seasonal peak. I would argue almost all our food should be ‘farm to table. The disadvantages of our current food supply are that we don’t know exactly where our food comes from, how long it took to get to us, or what was done to it along the way.
 

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Shanghai Specialty Food Stores: The Insider’s Guide to Chinese Delicatessens

They’re mysterious places, Chinese specialty food stores. But if you’re interested in Chinese food you will inevitably find yourself wandering into one and contemplating the rows of strange foodstuffs and intriguing smells, wondering where to begin.

For a long time living in Shanghai I felt depressed about the lack of a really good European delicatessen, the sort of place where I would go back home to look at acres of cheese and sample four kinds of prosciutto. The great news is that the  equivalent does exist – think Harrod’s food hall and Dean and DeLuca with Chinese characteristics.

Most specialty food stores have a similar range – cured, dried and preserved goods; baked goods and confectionary; fresh foods, and freshly-prepared meals to eat at home.

Here are three of Shanghai’s best:
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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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