I doubt this is politically correct, but I left for Shanghai humming the tune “I Like Chinese” by the Monty Python. I briefly studied the city of Shanghai at university when I took an intro to urban studies, so I was always curious to see this city with my own eyes. China is moving fast and I was becoming afraid that I would not be able to catch a glimpse of Shanghai with it’s old shikumen (traditional 2 or 3 stories buildings) since they are being destroyed at an alarming rate.
I had 2 other reasons to visit Shanghai. First, the Shanghai Expo 2010 will be over this October and secondly I wanted to eat real Chinese food in China. My conception of Chinese food like almost everybody has been dictated by the worldwide interpretation of original homeland dishes by the ever-growing diaspora of Chinese chefs.
A first meal in a new city or a new country is like a first kiss. Would it be something memorable or just a speed bump on the road to unfulfilled desires.
I took the Maglev train into the center of Shanghai, nothing like a futuristic floating train to put you in the mood. Finding my hotel on East Jingling Road turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. Shanghai is pretty easy to navigate with its grid design.
From my hotel, my first destination was the Bund with its view on the hyper-modern Pudong skyline.
The view is breath-taking and worth the trip to Shanghai itself. After getting a good feel of the busy Bund, I slowly made my way toward People Square on Fuzhou Road which is lined with bookstores and stationary shops. I ended up going back on Fuzhou road many times during my 10 days in Shanghai.
People Square is not really a square as much as a huge park, nothing like Red Square or Tiananmen Square. When I got there, I was hot, tired, pretty hungry and anxious to get my first Shanghai meal. I skipped all the big obvious food chains and decided to eat something local.
I made my way to Yunan Rd which intersect a block North from my hotel, the street is a restaurant hub which pretty much overwhelmed my senses. There was food and smell everywhere, live crabs and meat getting grilled on charcoal.
I was attracted by the restaurant Xiaoshaoxing, where everybody was slurping soup in a spacious room. The place reminded me of a Russian cafeteria.
I grabbed the attention of one of the lady and pointed toward a bowl of noodles. I love ramen and there was something symbolic in eating the grand father of ramen for my first meal in China.
When a restaurant this size only serve a limited range of dishes, you can make the assumption that it would be the mother of all chicken broth and I wasn’t wrong when I tasted my bowl of brothy goodness. Good broth, good noodles and fatty pork, my first meal in Shanghai was simple, but simplicity often has a very perverse charm. It’s very easy to screw up something simple… but these guys made it perfect.
I actually ended up coming back a couple of days later during the Spring moon festival. There was a huge line outside the restaurant for the boiled chicken but the soup window wasn’t too busy.
I ordered a wonton soup and a bowl of rice porridge. The soup was generous and I was surprised by the filling which turns out to be 50% meat and 50% bok choy. The soup is a meal in itself, nothing like the wonton you would get in Montreal.
The porridge was made with chicken stock, pieces of chicken and seasoned with a dash of soy sauce. I really Japanese okayu which is generally made with water, but the chicken stock definitely added depth to this porridge. The rice congee is a speciality of this restaurant and I will try to make my own the next time I find a chicken carcass.
Xiaoshaoxing is a great place on Yunan road, I am really sad I didn’t get to try the boiled chicken.
It was a great first meal in Shanghai, I was smitten and you will see soon that Shanghai has many surprises.
69-75, Yunan Road, Shanghai
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