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Qibao: 7 Buddhas, 7 Street Foods

Talk about mixing the sacred and the profane, but when I was in Qibao last week I did just that – visited the Qibao Temple, then ate a stack of great street food. Qibao, you may remember from a long ago post (wow, my photos were really pretty terrible back then) is a little water town (read: tourist trap) in the south-western suburbs of Shanghai.

Way back in the days of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), Qibao was a flourishing town in its own right, famed for its wine and its temple. Legend has it that Qibao (literally, “seven treasures”) was once the home of seven priceless treasures including a Ming Dynasty bronze bell (‘floated from afar’), an iron Buddha, a thousand year old tree, a jade axe, a cockerel made of gold, jade chopsticks and a Golden Lotus Sutra written by a tenth century Imperial concubine.  Some of the treasures may never have actually existed, but the bell and the Sutra reside in Qibao today. 

Qibao Temple (Qibao Jiaosi) is just down the main canal from Qibao’s food street, and it’s a refreshingly simple and unpretentious place, with a seven story pagoda in the grounds which can be climbed for a great view. Each of the seven floors of the pagoda contains a different manifestation of Buddha repeated in hundreds of perfect golden miniatures arranged in orderly rows around the octagonal walls. At least, I think some of them are Buddha, but at least one is a woman and two are sporting a very unBuddha-like goatee beard.

Once you have visited the temple it’s time to eat! I have kind of been avoiding Qibao for a while because the last time I went it was overwhelmingly crowded…but I had forgotten just how good the street food is there. They have a couple of their own specialties, including stinky tofu, which I avoided, and red bean cakes, which I enjoyed. Here are seven of the most interesting:

1. Chick on a stick. At least they removed the feet.
2. Juqibao fangzheng gao – a steamed pastry made of glutinous rice with sweet bean paste, best eaten hot

3. Lovingly basting a tray of succulent pigs’ trotters. Try and look elegant while gnawing on one of these as you walk.
4. Bamboo stuffed with flavoured sticky rice. These are definitely delicious.

5. I have no idea what these are, and I’ve studied anatomy. Innards of some kind would be a fairly good guess, but really, no idea. And no, I didn’t taste them.

6. Chicken feet bound with tendon, in case one tough gristly item isn’t enough.

7. Lotus root stuffed with sweetened sticky rice and coated in syrup. Really fantastically delicious, the lotus root is slow roasted so it takes on a caramelised dark red-brown colour and a sweet nutty flavour. Serve in slices cold or warm.

Qibao’s main canal, with the pagoda in the distance.

Shanghai Qibao Water Town

Want to visit a water town while you’re in Shanghai? Don’t have time to get to Tongli or Zhujiajiao? Visit Qibao instead! It’s an ancient water town that was once, long, long ago, miles from Shanghai; but is now surrounded on all sides by its sprawling western suburbs. But it’s so easy to get to you can see it in the morning and whizz back to People’s Square by early afternoon. And if you half-close your eyes you can see just the pretty canals and bridges, and squint out the high-rise apartment blocks in the background.

Once there, you can sip oolong tea overlooking a canal, eat some delicious snacks including those from one of Shanghai’s most famous chòu dòufu 臭豆腐 (stinky tofu) vendors. Hold your nose while you eat it!

There isn’t much serenity to be had on a weekend – a weekday morning will be your best bet for peace and quiet. And Chinese national holidays? Avoid the place like the plague, unless you’re trying to cure your agoraphobia with repeated exposure to really intense crowds.

There are occasional quiet spots to be had. Have your photo taken sitting in a pavilion in front of the realistic mountain scene mural. Try not to include the apartment windows. 
Or peer into the little alleyways, where you will often find a more peaceful scene. 

So how to get there?  From People’s Square subway station take Line 2 to Xujiahui station (5 stops), then change to Line 9. From here it’s 6 stops to Qibao. Once outside the station follow the crowd, the entrance is about 200m away.