Back to blog index

Let it snow!

We have a house full of Australians staying for Christmas. In my part of Australia it never snows. Not ever. A really cold winter day might plummet to, oh, 13C. Everyone puts on their boots and jumpers when it hits 20C. So imagine the collective household excitement when we saw today’s newspaper………snow predicted! By late morning the first flakes were falling. Had you been here, you would have noticed a group of eleven foreigners walking down Haui Hai Lu, twirling around with their heads back and their mouths open, and causing a lot of commotion on the footpath. You can see the view from our lane below.

Fuxing Lu, 6am

On my morning walk along Fuxing Lu at 6am it’s very dark and quiet. The winter sun rises late. The steamed bun (baozi) shops are just getting their first customers of the day, who pick up their breakfast on their way to work.

Most of the customers come from a nearby construction site where an old building is being preserved in the midst of what will eventually be a skyscraper.

This little shop makes the day’s first batch of fried bread sticks and savoury pancakes, other popular breakfast staples.

By 6.45 am the streets are still quiet but daylight is beginning to creep in. I love this early morning hour of quietness, but soon the streetlights will be turned off and by 7.30am the streets will be filled again with people.

Merry Xmax!

Merry Christmas to all of you! Although Christmas in Shanghai is often all about rampant commercialism (as opposed to the West where it’s about………….hohoho rampant commercialism!) the sentiment is still understood, even if occasionally lost in translation. A chinese friend sent us this message today –

I hope all of us have a happy day and also have a delicious dinner tonight!
Then i wish our company will have a great future.
At last i wish happiness to all of family members have healthy bodys,then we could do more work and make more money!
hehe,It is just play a joke !but i could try more hard for corpration,learn more knowedge,to learn more from you!
Make an extra affort,all of us , for corpration and also for us!

So healthy bodys and happy dinners to all of you, with love from Shanghai!

The Wet Market, Julu Lu

I love wet markets. Wet markets are the opposite of supermarkets. They’re called ‘wet’ because most of the produce is wet, and they get hosed out at the end of each day. Come here to buy the freshest fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, fresh noodles, tea and 58 kinds of tofu. I am tired of things bought in plastic wrappings, totally devoid of their origins and already a week old when you buy them. Enter the aisles of my supermarket and view the produce on offer…………

The mushroom sellers – fresh shitake, enoki, oyster, straw and button mushrooms.

Fresh winter bamboo shoots. Larger and a little tougher than the autumn shoots. Delicious stir-fried with pork and ginger!

Bok choy. Beautifully arranged. About 5c each.

And now on to the meat aisle. Viewing on an empty stomach not recommended.

The chickens are attractively displayed feet first. The feet are, after all, the best bits. The black skinned chickens are commonly used in soups.

And the site of the Great Julu Lu Fish Massacre……….you should have seen the fishmonger.

Please refrain from lighting your cigarette until you move away from the piglets.

After all that excitement you may need some calming tea…….pick up 100g of oolong and struggle home with your various bundles. Try to ignore the twitching coming from the fish bag……..

Shanghai Street Food #1 Roast Sweet Potatoes

Char-grilled sweet potatoes are the perfect winter comfort food, and they keep your hands warm as you eat. Just look for the smoking 44 gallon drum on any street corner, and choose the potato you like the look of. You can tell how well done they are by giving them a sharp poke. Quite acceptable.

Because I love street food so much, and because it is an integral part of a food-loving life in China, I’m working my way through all of Shanghai’s street foods, one by one. This is Number 1 in the Shanghai Street Food series. Enjoy tasting them all!

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

Chinese Wedding Cars

While we’re on the topic of weddings, every Saturday and Sunday morning on Nanchang Lu, wedding cars line up to be decorated. Now these are the cars that take you to your actual wedding. Not to your ‘Themed Wedding Photo Day’.

The decorations take hours, and may involve flowers, attractive Disney stuffed toys and pretty pink registration plate covers.

If you can’t afford the stuffed toys, what the hell, just sticky-tape a few flowers to the doors and be done with it. And if a bit of duco comes off in the process…..never mind, you can probably repaint the whole car for less than the cost of the flowers.

Chinese Weddings

Maybe I just haven’t lived here long enough, but I don’t understand modern Chinese weddings. After the Official Registration Process, you have a small, understated do in a restaurant somewhere (the groom will probably wear jeans). The bride might splash out on a new dress for the occasion, but the main emphasis will be on food and drink. Lots of drink.

Then, the money and energy you would have otherwise spent on the wedding itself can be invested in the purchase of a very expensive set of Themed Wedding Photos. For this you will have to find the right Themed Wedding Photo Shop. There are dozens of them on Huai Hai Lu. Here you can spend hours with a consultant (aka shonky salesperson) poring over ‘lookbooks’ of different wedding photo styles and backgrounds. Western style is the most popular, but you can have Traditional Chinese, Salsa, Scottish, Scarlett O’Hara or anything in between. 

Then, on a completely different day, usually in the months after your actual wedding, you and your beloved will get up early, climb in a minibus, and be driven to your chosen scenic destination. Here, in the nearest public toilet, you will change into the hired wedding outfit, have your hair and make-up done, and with a photographer, gopher, lighting guy and stylist have your themed photos taken. This will cost you quite a small fortune. I’m so glad that the rip-offs applied to weddings in the West have also found their way to the East.

You can save a bit of money by travelling in a group!

Here’s a tip though – if you choose a popular destination, you should position yourself carefully….

…………….to avoid the annoyance of having a pair of strangers in wedding dress and their photography team in the background of your photos……………….alternatively, choose a location no-one else would ever think of………..

……….like outside our local fine-dining establishment, Monty’s Steakhouse. Now that would make a unique set of wedding photos.

The Knife Sharpener

Everyday a multitude of different tradesmen and hawkers wander into our laneway, each with a distinctive call or bell so you know whether it’s the rice man, the watermelon seller, or the styrofoam recycling man. Of course, mostly I dash in and out to see what’s happening because I have no idea what they’re saying, or what that bell means. But yesterday I managed to catch the knife sharpener completely by accident, as I was coming home. I have two chinese cleavers, very blunt from desperately hacking at chicken carcasses and pumpkins. OK, and maybe I sharpen the odd pencil with them or open the occasional cardboard box……

For less than the price of a cup of coffee he sat astride his settle and whittled my blunt blades to a wafer thin sharpness on the whetstone, smoking like a chimney all the while. Perhaps the ash helps with the sharpening?

Fuxing Park, 9am

Welcome to Fuxing Park, my local park. It’s a pretty extraordinary place. On any given morning it will be filled with….oh….about 1500 people, just going about their morning park business. Which may be…………

………group calisthenics…..anyone under 60 should not attempt these difficult arm swinging moves.

Or some solo tai chi? I’m not sure how she kept her composure and balance because there was a large group playing their maraccas right next to her. And next to them was the ‘Happy Every Day’ choir, who sing bracing communist era songs as a morning wake-up.

You could find a quiet spot to read the paper, away from the maraccas………………….

……or chat with friends………………………….

…………or take up ballroom dancing! This is by far the most popular activity with no less than 10 different ballroom groups competing for space around the park. Waltz? Jive? You’ll find it here. So when you’re in Shanghai make sure to spend a morning at the park. Oh! I forgot to mention there’s also kite-flying, chinese chess, free blood pressure checks, chinese opera, an area to practice your musical instrument in, sword fighting, badminton, diablo, card games…….you get the idea.