Back to blog index

The Shanghai Kitchen Market, Aomen Lu

Are you in the market for a wok burner so powerful it would launch into space if it weren’t riveted to the bench? How about a large wire basket for safely keeping live crabs in? Or a dim sum trolley just like at yum cha? Do you love stainless steel and knives? If the answer to all of these is ‘no’, don’t worry, you’re probably just normal. And if the answer is ‘yes!yes!!’ then have I got the place for you….

I got tipped off about the Shanghai Hotel Equipment Company by The Shanghai Foodist and yet it’s taken me months to get round to going. One of my most exciting shopping experiences all year, and that’s saying something. It’s four floors of everything you need to start a Chinese restaurant, and if you’re  not in that category, never mind, because members of the public can wander in any old time to look at all the shiny stuff. Most of it can be bought by the piece, although there is also a bulk price on many items, should you actually need one dozen cleavers.
Here’s some of the treasures I found:

I have a thing for tin mess trays after all those years working in hospitals. Only 12 yuan ($2) each! So  I found myself seriously wondering how a canteen style dinner party would go down….thank God something else bright and shiny caught my eye before I put them in my trolley.

Menu holders in four different heights! Never knew I needed two of those, did I? And every aisle practically devoid of people! Fantastic!

Woks in 18 different diameters! And, they have a Lazy Susan Department. Can you believe it?? 
 The green plastic grass that goes with every plate of sushi! This is where it comes from! Colourful squeegee bottles!

Shiny silver cleaver keepers! And just when I thought I might faint with sensory overload, I found just what I was after – a box of buffoon sticks for only 7.3 yuan. Little clowny cocktail favours on a stick, who looked a little like red-nosed KKK.

Four floors of kitchen shopping excitement. I took my buffoon sticks and called it a day.

Shanghai Hotel Equipment Company
345-349 Aomen Lu, between Jiangning Lu and Changhua Lu
Putuo District
+8621 62669988

上海酒店设备股份有限公司; 澳门路345-349号

The Shanghai Fabric Market Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Fiona’s Guide to Shanghai’s Fabric Market. In Part 1 you can read a step-by-step guide to having something tailor-made and details of five stores I have recommended. Today I’ll cover another five stores.

Shop 374

There are very few tailors in the fabric market who will make simple, unfussy children’s clothes,  so when Shop 374 opened it was long overdue. Catering primarily to girls, they make dresses, tops and skirts in Liberty-style prints, but can also make boys’ shirts in checks or plains, and women’s dresses and tops. Nothing over 200 yuan ($34). Allow 5 days.

Shop 355  Cashmere Haute Couture

I had never worn cashmere knits before coming here, but having them made-to-measure is so reasonable compared with what I would pay in Australia it suddenly seems affordable. For 800-1200 yuan ($130-200), choose a shade from any of the hundred on offer and then browse through the racks of men’s and women’s knitwear to choose a style. Allow 7-10 days.

Shop 160 ‘Ping’

Ping’s shop is a recent discovery, but I wish I had seen past the not-overly-exciting samples outside and taken a look in before now. Ping is a great copyist, and can reproduce practically anything in the way of womenswear, and she also makes fabulous lightweight cotton/silk summer maxi dresses in a flattering tiered bias cut (about 480 yuan, $80) and similar skirts. In the hot weather it’s exactly what you feel like wearing. Allow 5-7 days.

Shop 145 ‘Chinese Style Dress Shop’

Exactly as the name implies, these tailors specialize in everything Chinese – qipaos (cheongsams) with contrasting piped froggings, silk brocade jackets, and Chinese style silk blouses. They are also happy to make their dresses and jackets in children’s sizes. This is still the only shop I’ve come across whose overnight service can be trusted. Usually though, allow 3 days. Prices vary with most items less than 300 yuan ($50). Their brocades can be bought by the metre (45 yuan, $8) and make great cushions.

Shop 195

For tailoring, I find it very helpful to have someone who speaks excellent English to help with subtleties of fit or style. Angela works here with her father, and together they make a great team – one a top-class English speaker and fitter, the other a top-notch tailor. Business suits, business shirts and sports jackets are their specialty, primarily for men, but their womenswear is also excellent. Expect to pay 100 yuan for a shirt ($16), and 600 yuan ($100) up for a suit, depending on the grade of wool suiting chosen. Allow 5-7 days.

The South Bund Soft Spinning Material Market
399 Lujiabang Lu
上海南外轻纺面料市场, 399陆家浜路

Open 10am-6pm seven days

The Shanghai Fabric Market Part 1

This is Part 1 of Fiona’s Guide to the Fabric Market
Fiona’s Guide to the Fabric Market
Need a suit made in 24 hours? Want a copy of your favourite dress made in a different colour? The Fabric Market on Lujiabang Lu, also known as The South Bund Soft Spinning Material Market, is a tailoring mecca. For the price of mid-range off the rack clothes at home, that never quite fit properly, you can have made-to-measure clothes that fit perfectly and in whatever colour or style you like. 

In this guide I’ll tell you which stores to visit, and what to do once you find them. It’s completely subjective, based on the making of some several hundred garments over the past year, for myself and for visitors of all ages, shapes and sizes. There are undoubtedly other gems as yet undiscovered, but this guide is meant as a way to get you started at the fabric market, and once you know the ropes you’ll have more luck at finding those gems for yourself. I’ll cover ten stores in all, five today and five tomorrow.

The lowdown – the ‘market’ is indoors and has three floors, with 60 to 80 tailors on each floor Each tailor’s shop specializes in a particular kind of garment and/or fabric. Some only make business suits, others only shirts, several just work in cashmere, velvet, leather, or denim, and a number of shops make Chinese dresses (qipaos) and jackets. In each store they have 20 to 30 garment styles to choose from, and a range of their own fabrics – from twenty to two hundred rolls or more. It’s an overwhelming experience the first time you go, and more than once I’ve taken visitors there only to have them do a fast lap of the ground floor and walk straight back out again. 

Knowing you will be overcome by choice anxiety, it’s best to have some general idea of what kind of garment you’d like to get made before you go, for example a cashmere coat or a summer dress. Only last month I took a visitor to the fabric market not expecting to buy anything myself, and came away having ordered a reversible cashmere cape. It’s 38 degrees outside! I won’t wear it for months! But this is exactly what happens when you don’t go armed with a plan.

So take a stroll through all three floors, then hone in on whatever interests you. Now you’ve found a store with samples you like the look of.

What happens next?

1. Decide on a style. Pick out the sample you like and try it on. There are no change rooms so this usually happens behind a sheet held up by the store owner to protect your modesty. Many tailors can also copy a garment you provide.  

2. Ask a price and decide on it before going further. Once they’ve measured you up they know you’re hooked and the price goes up. Expect to be able to bargain 10% off the original quoted price.

3. Choose a fabric. If you don’t find one you like in the store, you can usually buy by the metre from any store in the market and bring it back to them, and be charged only for making. Check first with the storekeeper because this is not always possible.

4. Final details of the garment should be decided very specifically, unless you want the garment exactly the same as the sample. Things like necklines, sleeve lengths, looseness of fit, pockets and cuffs should be decided. Check the lining colour and fabric, and specify a different one if you don’t like it. Ask about buttons, and if you prefer provide your own from the Button Shop 231 (see below). 

5. Get measured. This is where every bit of you gets measured and recorded on the order sheet. 

6. Pay a deposit. Generally 50-60% of the total is paid up front, and the remainder on completion. You will be given a copy of the order.

7. Decide on a delivery date. Generally, too fast = shoddy workmanship. The best results come when the store is given adequate time to complete garments. I allow five days for dresses, shirts, skirts and trousers, and seven days for suits and coats. 

8. Collect your garment. Always try it on. Any adjustments needed will be free of charge, but usually take 24 hours, necessitating a return trip. I’ve found adjustments are necessary around 30% of the time, higher with fast turnarounds. Pay the balance once you are happy with the fit and workmanship.

The First Five Stores

Shop 366/367 ‘Shirly’
Shirly has hands down the best cut, fit and workmanship in the market. She specializes in high quality silks and cashmere, and you will pay extra for the fine fabrics and the exquisite details and hand finishes. Her garments are inspired by Marni, Shiatzy Chen and Louis Vuitton. If you need a jewel coloured opera coat, an incredible classic camel cashmere coat, or a dress for a special occasion, Shirly is it. Cashmere coats 1100-1800 yuan ($170-300), depending on cashmere grade chosen. Dresses 700 yuan ($110). Allow 7 days.

Shop 226 specializes in shirts for both men and women. Their cottons are excellent quality and their workmanship is great. I haven’t replaced a single button yet on any of my shirts. Choose a fabric, then select collar and cuff styles from the board. Shirts range from 100 – 150 yuan ($16-25) depending on size and complexity. They will also make any style into a shirt dress for about 150 yuan. Allow five days.

Shop 231 sells buttons, braids, chinese froggings, silk knot buttons, ribbons, elastic and thread. Buy buttons here to replace those provided by the store.  Don’t rely on any English being spoken – the back of their card exclaims, in excruciating Chinglish:

 ‘We with new principle of management and The quality that is more, display more abundant article toward you Grow with fashionable of style, to thank numerous new old The customer continue patronage and support, thanks!’ I think it means they’re glad to have your business……
Shop 303 make mostly skirts and trousers, in relaxed styles, in wool, cotton or linen. They also do a line in pleated woolen tartan skirts, if that’s your thing. Their fits are good, and prices are very reasonable. Less than 200 yuan ($32) for skirts or trousers. Allow 5 days.

Shop 230 ‘Mina’
Mina speaks excellent English, a massive bonus when it comes to honing details of cut or fit. Her store specializes in jackets and coats in cashmere and wool. Last winter Mina made hooded duffel coats for all of us in medium grade cashmere for 650 yuan ($110). They had proper toggles, lovely pockets and were fully lined. She also makes long men’s cashmere coats in classic cuts for around 1100 yuan ($170).
The South Bund Soft Spinning Material Market

上海南外轻纺面料市场, 399陆家浜路

Open 10am-6pm seven days

This is Part 1 of Fiona’s Guide to the Fabric Market, read Part 2 here

Stealing State Supermarket Secrets at Ole

I don’t find supermarkets exciting anymore after the live-action thrills of the wet market – the gruesome sight of live fish being chopped up, baby bok choy so fresh it was born just a few hours ago, and the elbowing, jostling and general physical discomfort of shopping with hundreds of revolution-hardened Shanghai pensioners.  
But Shanghai now has something genuinely different to offer in the supermarket line. None can compete of course with the enormousness of Carrefour, or the bargain prices at Jia Deli, but Chinese retail giant Ole has just opened in the basement of Grand Gateway shopping centre in Xujiahui, and it’s pretty interesting. 
Appreciate these pictures too, because I nearly got evicted for taking them. Every time I pulled out my camera the staff looked fretful and managers menacingly appeared from behind the dairy cabinet. When I asked why, they just looked mysteriously at me and frowned. So what are the cutting-edge developments they’re worried the competition is going to photograph and steal?
For starters, they have a fully fledged mushroom bar….no hallucinogenic kinds, but they do have shiitake, oyster, enoki, white cloud ear, black cloud ear, swiss browns and a whole bunch of pink and yellow ones I’ve never seen before. The range is astounding, they’re all certified organic, and they sell them in pots too. Just like those potted herbs we all buy to make us feel virtuous that we’re actually growing something, now you can buy a potted mushroom to put under your bed. Genius.

The next aisle holds packets of who knows what? They look like individual turds vacuum-packed in sewer water, and decorated with seashells and starfish, but on closer inspection I realise they’re sea cucumbers. So about the same level of appetising-ness.
Unbelievably, the turds, sorry, sea cucumbers, are eye-wateringly expensive. These little beauties are $240 each. ‘Japanese’ the sales assistant tells me. Well, that explains it. There are no $240 edibles at Carrefour, but you can buy a motorbike, plus a bicycle, for the same amount.
Over in the fish section they have decorated the fish head shelves with a stuffed crocodile. There is no crocodile meat for sale as far as I can see, but the Chinese like to be oblique in their decor style. Next to the crocodile is an empty bottle of Bordeaux, and a wine glass. I can’t think about what it all means, until I find another empty wine bottle with a glass in the cheese cabinet. Why haven’t City Shop been doing this? The empty wine bottles make the food look much more attractive. 
I leave with a really expensive bunch of bananas and some UHT cream.  Is that someone following me??

Hongqiao International Pearl City

It’s a long way from downtown but there are treasures plenty out west at Hongqiao International Pearl City, known by locals as ‘the Pearl Market’. Don’t be fooled into thinking that pearls are all you’ll find here, because this is three floors of so much more than that.

The first floor and third floor are full of shops selling $10 Converse sneakers, North Face jackets, and Ed Hardy t-shirts. I wonder sometimes how all of these seemingly unrelated items of clothing came to be faked en masse in Shanghai, and who decides what’s next for copyright infringement. Last month it was Goyard bags (Paris price $2000, Shanghai price $14), but in hideous and lurid colours that would make the tasteful French assistants at Goyard wince. This month it’s Cath Kidston knock-offs, and Paul Smith’s new line of sneakers. You need to bargain hard, and leave your intellectual property morals at the door.

The second floor is where the jewellery is. My jaw literally dropped open when I saw this place for the first time – row after row after row of stalls selling pearls, jade, coral, aquamarine, lapis, and turquoise. More stalls selling ready made costume jewellery at prices that will make you regret ever buying the same thing for twenty times the price in your own country. Beads, bracelets, keychains, anklets, drop earrings, chandelier earrings,  fun earrings, serious earrings. 

If pearls are your thing, they are cheaper here than practically anywhere else in the world, and they come in every variety possible – freshwater, South Sea, seed pearls, big fat black pearls. You’ll go nuts.

If you don’t like what you see on display, you can also have something made up for you on the spot, and the only cost will be the price of the raw materials. Choose the beads or pearls you like, choose a pendant to go with it, and wait for five minutes while you have it all put together. Earrings start at 10 kuai (about $1.50) and necklaces at 30 kuai ($4.50).

I can highly recommend seeing Charles and Jennifer at CJ Pearls for fair and reliable prices and great workmanship. I love to take them some piece of old treasure I’ve dug up at the Ghost Market or Dongtai Lu Antiques Market, and seeing what they can transform it into. Last week it was a pair of jade fish (I thought it was a pair of hammerhead sharks when I bought it – but fish are much luckier). Charles drilled a little hole, Jennifer made the necklace to hang it on, and hey presto, a heavy duty jade lucky fish-shark necklace.

Hongqiao International Pearl City, 3721 Hongmei Lu near Yan’an Lu 

Treasures from Dongtai Lu

I always find treasures at the antiques and curios market at Dongtai Lu, although it involves a lot of ferretting in dusty boxes, and very hard bargaining. This time it was a basket full of old silk embroidery thread bobbins. On some of the reels, the paper brand was just visible – Flying Wheel thread. After all these years the colour of the silks was as vivid as ever – reds, purples, golds, pinks. 
Now I can add ‘Wooden Chinese Bobbins’ to my growing collection of things picked up in dusty corners  of dusty antique shops. Add them to – a pair of wicker suitcases with really gorgeous paper lining (unlikely to ever get through the rigors of Australian Customs), a set of three long wooden sticks for bashing washing against rocks when doing laundry by the side of a stream (I know those will be useful), a couple of carved wooden molds for making mooncakes, and scores of black and white photographs of Chinese families I’ve never met. Possibly it’s an illness. I should just order the shipping container now.

Until the Crickets Sing, it is not Summer

That’s an ancient Chinese proverb. Suddenly everyone in Shanghai has gone cricket mad. Warmer weather brings the start of the cricket season, and  in a city where space is at a premium, small and compact crickets make space-saving pets. Don’t go thinking crickets are just for kids though – cricket culture is deeply engrained here, and cricket fighting is a popular activity amongst adult men.

Cricket enthusiasts begin to come to the Bird and Insect market (Xizang Lu- across the road from the Dongtai Lu antiques market) in early April, looking for that elusive champion fighter. They spend hours poring over the individually boxed crickets, looking for……well, I’m not sure exactly. What do you look for in a top-notch fighting cricket? Strong legs? Short wings? An aggressive sneer? 

 A likely contender?
Your spending only begins with the cricket itself. After that you’ll need a cricket home (woven bamboo, terracotta, carved mahogony inlaid with bone) and some cricket maintenance tools. There are various little feathery things on a stick devoted to cleaning your cricket, other little things for cleaning its house, and still other things for it to lie on and eat. Then there are the cricket teasers, things that you poke the cricket with to goad it into a fight.

Once you’ve got all your cricket gear, you can get together with other cricket fiends, talk about your crickets and have some cricket fighting tournaments. The best fights are filmed for posterity, so when cricket season ends in October, you can relive the highlights on DVD. 

 Bamboo cricket homes with crickets inside – 10 yuan each.

Dongtai Lu Antique Market

I could quite happily go ferretting around antique markets every weekend of my life. An ideal Sunday for me  would consist of early morning coffee at Baker and Spice on Anfu Lu, then a cycle through the old town to the Ghost Market , followed by noodles on 
FangBang Lu, then a really thorough going-over at the Dongtai Lu 
Antique Market.
Of course, there aren’t that many real bargains to be had, but the fun is in the searching, and the haggling. There are plenty of ‘new’ antiques too, easy to spot because every second stall has the exact same genuine ming dynasty celadon bowl, actually made last week in Ningbo and buried in a mixture of soil and ash for an instant lived-in look. 

You’ve got to bargain real hard, and at the same time pretend you couldn’t care less whether you walked away with that Chairman Mao teaset or not. It works best if you have two people involved in the transaction, a double act like Laurel and Hardy. Or Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. Here’s how to get the best price possible.

Kevin: (in fluent mandarin) Excuse me laoban, how much for this delightful Communist-era knick-knack?

Laoban: 6 million kuai. Very cheap! Best quality, only one in Shanghai!

Tony: He’s ripping you off mate. Walk away.

Kevin: I can see it’s well-made…..

Laoban: How much you pay? Verrrry cheaper for you. How much? How much?

Tony: Mate, there’s one over there for 50 kuai!
Laoban: OKOKOKOK, you friend, give you verry cheaper price. 5 million kuai. 

Tony: What the…..?!

Kevin: Yes, things are a bit tight this week, there hasn’t been much GST coming in since Fiona left the country….. OK, how about 3 kuai?

Laoban: OK, 3 million kuai. Very good price.

Tony: Not 3 million kuai! Three kuai! Quick, walk away! Walk away!

Kevin: How about four? Four kuai?

Tony: Mate, that was just insulting. Keep walking!
Laoban: (as they walk away) OK 2 million!……OK OK 5000!……Wait mister! 400!…….. Wait! Last price! 130! …………Friend! 20! 

Tony: (turning back) 5 kuai. Final price.

Laoban: OK OK. 5 kuai.

Kevin: Thanks, Tony. That was extremely impressive.

Tony: It’s all in the walk away, mate. It’s all in the walk away.

My New Birdcage

Chinese birdcages are so beautiful. Each one is like a tiny palace, intricately constructed by hand. I’ve always wanted one, so I grabbed the chance today to visit the Bird and Flower Market on Wanhangdu Lu. I don’t know why, but in Shanghai there are no Bird Markets selling only birds, and no Flower Markets selling only flowers. Only Bird and Flower Markets. Another Chinese puzzle.

The birdcage shops are a wonderland for bird-lovers – beautifully carved perches, hand painted porcelain seed and water bowls and the cages – shaped like pagodas, lanterns or square, each one has exquisite details. Mine has little hand-carved birds in a pale-coloured wood decorating it.

Of course, they are tiny palaces, but tiny prisons too. Every time I’m out walking and hear beautiful birdsong, I look up to see a nightingale, an oriole or a jackdaw hopping around in a cramped cage. So rest assured, I have no intention of having a real bird in my cage. I just love it because it’s so beautifully made. 

Shanghai Confucius Temple Part 2 – Outside

Outside the Confucius Temple, you can walk an interesting loop leading you into an old neighbourhood. At the temple gates turn left as you step out onto Wen Miao Lu, then left again into LiuJiang Jie. You will pass by a book market at the back of the temple, and some little street food vendors. Things get more lively as you go further along the street. At the end of LiuJiang Jie, turn left again onto Menghua Jie. Enter another world. This is old Shanghai. Unadorned, exposed and raw. Not dangerous, but very gritty – there has been no facelift here in time for World Expo, and it is quite confronting to realise that less than a kilometre from the opulent shops and restaurants of the Bund, there is a Shanghai without running water or indoor toilets. 

Tiny lanes wind in and out. There are no cars because the street is too narrow, but the occasional motorbike gets through, and plenty of bicycles. There is a vegetable market, a fish-monger, a sweet maker, a cigarette seller and all manner of other tiny businesses on the street. In the space of a hundred yards you can buy a fresh fish for your dinner, have it killed, gutted and scaled, choose the vegetables to go with it, then take it all to your  kitchen lane to clean and cook it. A lot of outdoor cooking is happening at all hours of the day – no-one here has an indoor kitchen. Life is lived in public view, because indoor space is very limited and very dark. 

Children are running everywhere along with dozens of cats and dogs and everyone stops everyone else to chat, argue and bargain loudly. Not wanting to be left out, women yell down to the street from upstairs windows to join the conversation. Everything seems to happen at full volume. 
By now you have reached the end of Menghua Jie, and a left turn will bring you back to where you started on Wen Miao Lu, and the temple. By now you maybe in need of some more quietness.