Monday, 31 March 2008

Shanghainese Feasts - continued

Continuing on our cultural experience of Shanghai, my mother and I went on a day (which lasted all of one morning) trip out to the 'ancient' town of Qibao. Apparently built in the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1126), whatever that was ancient about the town seems to have now disapeared. In its place stand mock ancient Chinese buildings (in the style of the mock Tudor style buildings) that cater to the mainly local crowd. Despite the architecture that wouldn't inspire anyone to venture out here, I had a good time. A good sniff in the air brought me straight to the food street, where every shop and stall sold a tasty morsel.

Candied fresh fruit tang hu lu- I really wanted to try this since I saw pictures of them sold as street food in Beijing. I got a traditional Chinese hawthorne fruit stick (the fruit is supposedly very good for you) but ERGH! Two bites was all I could take. It tasted like apple...gone wrong. Soft and tasteless, it had nothing going for it except the hard candy shell. My mother had it in Beijing on a previous trip and admitted this one didn't taste so good. In the bin it went... what a waste! Maybe we should have stuck with a 'normal' strawberry and kiwi fruit stick. The man was also selling grilled bananas in bamboo - and that's him breaking open the bamboo. It wasn't particularly we moved on to the next stall.

Next stop, the tong yun shop. Dough balls filled with either a sweet filling - peanuts, black sesame, etc or savoury - pork (what else?this is China after all!) and boiled. It doesn't sound particularly appetising and these weren't the best. The dough was too thick but my filling of choice, black sesame, was good. The balls were also served with the water they were boiled in .. perhaps a little sugar syrup would have perked the dish up a little.

We passed quite of these stalls selling all sorts of meat on sticks. Actually, not just meat. All parts of any animal on sticks, which was fried, grilled or boiled. I can't say if any of it was any good. I had a good look and moved on to more recognisable food.

The wine shop didn't seem to be doing very good business that morning.

One of many shops selling packs of sealed glutinous rice with dried fruit, nuts and beans. I've seen this sold in the Chinatown supermarkets in London but nothing in comparison when it came to variety. I'm no dried fruit, nut and bean girl so I passed on this.

I found this oddly fascinating - lotus root stuffed with what looked like a mashed bean mix then drenched in syrup. I've never seen this before and maybe one day I'll get round to asking my mother to translate what it says on the glass case.

These dumplings were made in a special griddle mould. The girl would pour a mixture into each individual mould and as it cooked topped it with bits and bobs...cabbage, cooked squid tentacles are the only two that come to mind. It looks so yummy when I look at it now but it didn't call out to me then. Sigh... what a wasted eating opportunity.

This goodie I did try :) Fried dough with spring onion, Chinese 5-spice powder and very liberally sprinkled with sesame seeds. I found the 5-spice powder a little over-whelming so I left my mother to it. She really liked it, perhaps she fancied she was eating something healthy with all those sesame seeds te he he...

After lots of tasty treats, we found that there wasn't much to do so decided to head back downtown to the very touristy area around Yuyuan Gardens. I was nicely surprised with the gardens itself. Away from the hustle and bustle of the shopping area outside it's old walls, it was very peaceful and surprisingly clean. I was a little anxious I would be told off for the cup of coffee that I had brought in with me but no one gave a fig.

After emerging from the gardens, we passed a stall selling braised tofu and quails eggs in a herbal broth. I'm a huge fan of braised tofu (not so much the eggs, which mum happily ate anyway..everyone was happy) and couldn't resist. The firm tofu was braised long enough for little air holes to be formed inside, which was then penetrated by the soya sauce-herbal broth. Ohh, tasty goodness. You can sometimes get this in shops with just the eggs sold as 'herbal eggs' but hardly ever the tofu, so you can see why I was so excited :)

Further along there were two girls selling pancakes filled with red bean paste. These pancakes did smell very good. The girl cooked up a batch by adding batter to oiled moulds and as it cooked added mashed red beans and added another dollop of thick batter. She then sprinkled a thick layer of sugar to a flat pan on her left and flipped the half cooked pancakes onto the melting sugar. Ohhhh smells so if only I liked beans....

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