18 February 2009

First Taste of Shanghai

We arrived in Shanghai in the late afternoon to warm air and green leaves on the trees, already very different from Qingdao. After taking a taxi to our hotel, our stomachs, as usual, dictated what we would do next--find food. At least they gave us peanuts on the plane, a rarity these days on US flights, but we were still ready to eat.

The hotel staff directed us to the closest area for food, a street a few blocks away, that had a range of options from street stands to fancy, "pet shop" restaurants (because you point out the fish that you want to eat from a range of aquariums, or in less posh places, from buckets of water on the
floor). As it was only 4pm, we didn't want to sit down for a full dinner so we found our go-to street food--lamb kebabs! It is really hard to go wrong with one of these little Muslim places. You order however many kebabs you want and then have a seat in the little restaurant. From the grill on the street arrive your lamb skewers, perfectly seasoned with spice and salt. They go well with beer (which at most Muslim joints is a no-no), but we managed to get a "black beer" to wash down our food.

Satiated, at least for the next hour, we wandered around the vicinity of our hotel, to the famous Nanjing Road pedestrian area, filled with shops, restaurants, and of course, people (tourists and locals alike). Around dinnertime, we started to aimlessly look for a place to eat, someplace simple and not too expensive. Down one street, a hawker started yelling at us that his place was a good place to eat. We think he said they have American "sala," what we know as "salad." Because we were getting tired and hungry or because of his friendly demeanor, we caved and chose that restaurant for dinner. It turned out to be pretty good. The menu was enormous, with English and pictures! Always a plus.

Along with rice and
a couple of Tsingtao beers (hard to beat our local brew, we ordered family-style Shanghai dishes: bean sprouts with tofu, eggplant in garlic sauce, stir-fried spinach, and sweet and sour pork spareribs.

The ribs were delicious, sticky, sweet, and awfully similar to American Chinese food. Because Shanghai is closer to southern China, its cuisine reflects the Cantonese style of cooking, which is the cuisine that Chinese immigrants brought to America. In Qingdao, the local food is more northern in character, using less sugar and more vinegar.

Although the rice was photogenic, it was mushy and on its way to being porridge!

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