China… Home to 1 in 5 of the planet’s population… The superpower the world fears, but few really know, was my destination a few months ago… Excited and thrilled, like a child I flew into Shanghai to explore a culture I have always been fascinated about and as the fastest way to the heart of a country is through its food, my taste buds and curiosity helped me squeeze the most out of this trip …
Shanghai is the largest Chinese city by population and the largest city proper by population in the world.The two Chinese characters in the city’s name are ‘上’ (Shàng – “above”) and ‘海’ (hǎi – “sea”), together meaning “Upon-the-Sea”.
Shanghai is a well known city in history and culture, and the financial trade and shopping center.
The architecture in Shanghai is another landscape; The bund, Shikumen houses and various Shanghai-style buildings, modern facilities represent all kinds of architectural styles which are the products of the combination of Shanghai local culture and foreign culture.
As you may be walking in a fascinating district with captivating sceneries and luxurious aspects it could take you a few minutes to cross the street and find yourself in a poor area where you can actually see nothing but clothes hung over the streets to dry on ropes and bamboo pipes in narrow alleys… A scene reminiscent of Shanghai’s poor life with harsh conditions to survive in small spaces or perhaps a simple spirit of hosting a green event, featuring clean technologies… Just imagine the amount of energy conserved to dry clothes for a nation of 1.3 billion people !!
The must see
Huangpu river, The Bund, Nanjing road (the first street of China – Pedestrian/shopping), Xintiandi, Yu Garden area (street food to be tried there), Tian Zi Fang, Shanghai Museum, Jade Buddha Temple, Longhua Temple, Xujiahui (foodie’s paradise), World financial center, Oriental Pearl TV tower (the third tallest TV tower in the world (with 458 meters in height) and is the first tallest tower in China.You can have a nice panoramic view of the whole city when you are in the 236-metre-high- observation ball.The Oriental Pearl Revolving restaurant is the highest revolving restaurant in Asia (267-meters-high ball))., Dong Tai Lu (Flea market where all you have to do is Bargain and bargain!)
Shanghai cuisine also known as Hu Cai, includes two styles of cuisine: Benbang Cuisine and Haipai Cuisine.It is not considered amongst the 8 major cuisines of China which are: Shandong cuisine, Guangdong Cuisine, Sichuan Cuisine, Hunan Cuisine, Jiangsu Cuisine, Zhejiang Cuisine, Fujian Cuisine and Anhui Cuisine.
Benbang Cuisine: means local cuisine and is in reality the traditional “family style” cuisine that appeared in Shanghai over 100 years ago. It relies on the use of fresh fish, chicken, pork and various vegetables as the main ingredients, in addition to oil and soybean sauce.
Haipai Cuisine: is derived from the cosmopolitan culture formed in Shanghai in the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It is an inspiration of foods from other regions of China that have been adopted to fit local tastes. Fresh fish, shrimps and crabs are the main ingredients of Haipai Cuisine.
Cooking techniques have many variations; They include steaming, braising, stewing, stir-frying, quick-frying, deep-frying, boiling, marinating, smoking and roasting. In a nutshell, they could be considered healthy when steamed, boiled, marinated, etc. and unhealthy when deep-fried! The freshness of the ingredients is really fascinating especially when it comes to seafood that’s my favorite! I realized how much the cuisine in Shanghai relies on various seasonal fresh ingredients whether it is vegetables or fruits. I could simply see that everywhere not only inside restaurants but mainly on the streets where Shanghai is widely known for its street foods incredible diversity.And, when enjoyed they become one of the daily joys of living in Shanghai!
The Little Emperor Syndrome
The Little Emperor Syndrome is an aspect of China’s one child policy (introduced in 1979 to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China), where only children gain seemingly excessive amounts of attention from their parents and grandparents. Frequently, as parents would be at work, children would spend most of their times with their grandparents that wouldn’t refuse anything they ask for specially that they had witnessed the great depression in China where food was scarce which pushes them to always express a great desire for their child to experience the benefits they themselves were denied.
This phenomenon is generally considered to be problematic since Chinese children are blindly bewitched by Western Fast Food chains that are known to offer foods that are highly caloric, rich in fat (saturated and trans fats) with high amounts of sodium, cholesterol, sugar and carbohydrates… Highly processed foods with little nutritional density when compared to Chinese rural diet that’s based on natural ingredients with a high consumption of vegetarian proteins and some dietary fat…
Unfortunately and sadly, China’s youth are at risk of developing chronic disease… “A 2012 study in Obesity Reviews Journal compared the risk of chronic disease in China to other countries including the U.S.The researchers found that approximately 12 percent of Chinese children and adolescents aged seven to 18 were overweight and about 1.7 million children under 18 suffered from diabetes. Additionally, the rate of diabetes among Chinese adolescents aged 12 to 18 was about four times that of American teenagers.”
The Chinese department of health decided to take an action and put into practice a campaign “Eatsmart@school campaign” (http://school.eatsmart.gov.hk/en/template/home.asp) where education about nutrition and health would help increase China’s youth awareness and guide them into healthier food choices that started being offered at schools in order to be able to learn effectively and grow healthily!
On another note, it’s impressive to see women engaging in physical activities on the streets such as dancing while exercising rather than being seated drinking tea and socializing … It’s a sign of their increased awareness to opt for healthier habits and modify their lifestyles…
My food discoveries
Doujiang or soybean milk in Shanghai is consumed salty mixed with dried small shrimps, minced pickled mustard tuber, minced chive, laver, Youtiao pieces, chili oil and other ingredients.The beans are completely soaked in clean water and then crushed into slurry for filtration.After boiling the essence from filtration with adequate water, the soybean milk is done!I had the courage to taste it but disliked it! Prefer to stick to my vanilla flavored soy milk with my bowl of bran flakes!
Smashed bean steamed bun is also another Chinese traditional food item consumed throughout the day for Breakfast, lunch or Dinner! It has a sweet taste, beans are mixed with sugar and a bit of oil in order to get the texture of a paste. It is extremely satiating as beans are a great source of fiber and proteins!
Also another bean paste filled dough is the delicious red bean roll! Moderation is the key as the dough is caloric!
Chinese dim sum is one of the common food choices for breakfast and lunch The term “dim sum” first appeared in Tang Dynasty, and it generally refers to all common Chinese-style snacks.There is a wide range of Chinese dim sum such as steamed buns, steamed salty dim sum, steamed rice-roll, pan-fried and deep-fried dim sum, rice and noodles, boiled vegetable and desserts. The ingredients used for making Chinese dim sum included different types of cereal products, meat and poultry, seafood, vegetable and condiments. Chinese dim sum is mainly prepared by steaming, and some of them are prepared by pan-frying and deep-frying. The use of lard and monosodium glutamate (MSG) is believed to be quite common in the preparation of Chinese dim sum.
Hence, although the fact you may read that dim sum are steamed they may contain fatty substances and be highly caloric (a dim sum could contain between 90 to 200 calories)! Always choose dim sum that contain low fat fillings and start with a fiber rich source of food such vegetables/salad and avoid consuming the soup of rice-in-soup and noodles-in-soup.
I also tried this steamed vegetable bun for Breakfast and was surprised by its exquisite taste!
Another traditional “Shanghaien” food for breakfast is the Zongzi or traditional Chinese rice pudding! It is wrapped in bamboo or red leaves.The sticky rice appears to by pyramid-shaped, reason for which it is called zongzi (meaning pyramid).Rice is mixed with meat and is steamed.The scent of the bamboo leaf can be brought out by white sugar and the meat stuffed zongzi balances the oily meat with light rice!
You may also find tea eggs; another typical Chinese savory food commonly sold as a snack, in which a pre-boiled egg is cracked and then boiled again in tea, soy sauce and/or spices.
I also fell on the millet congee and tried it with sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds, dried tangerine, raisins and banana crisps! Millet is one of the gluten free grains that i often praise about its high nutritional value! It is rich in proteins, fiber and is satiating.
Snacking on fruits is crucial even when on vacation!Opted for watermelon, pineapple and pitaya or dragon fruit! The dragon fruit is cultivated in tropical regions around the world. The flowers of the dragon fruit plant only bloom at night and usually only live for one night. Pollination happens at this time to allow the fruit to emerge. The flowers of the dragon fruit give out a very beautiful scent, and the smell can fill the night air wherever the plant grows. It is rich in Vitamin C, fiber and flavanoids!
The Hot Pot experience!
With nearly 2,000 years’ history, hot pot is a great creation by Chinese and has spread to many other countries. It is extremely favored by Chinese people. Especially in winter. There are many kinds of hot pot in different regions of China; however the dining customs are similar. Usually there is a copper pot in the center of the table containing a simmering soup base. Various food materials are placed into the pot, including sliced mutton, beef, chicken, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, glass noodles, frozen bean curd, and seafood. The foods are cooked only a few seconds after placing into the boiling soup. Then they can be eaten with a dipping sauce.
Being a Pescetarian and in Shanghai, couldn’t stop me from ordering seafood dishes and tasting all types of shellfish!
Seafood is of an extreme freshness and tastes so good! Sashimi and maki rolls are outstanding!
Also in season were the hairy crabs! Delicious tender meat that’s low in fat, rich in proteins and omega-3!
Also, I didn’t miss eating grilled calamari that’s rich in proteins and low in fat!
One of the unforgettable dining experiences I had in Shanghai was at Mercato Restaurant by Jean Georges!
The food was literary out of this world! And i can say that I had the best salmon tartare ever! In addition to extraordinary scallops, black cod with mussels and squid!
Jean Georges is a famous chef and restaurateur, responsible for the operation and success of a constellation of three and four star restaurants worldwide.
“His signature cuisine abandons the traditional use of meat stocks and creams and instead features the intense flavors and textures from vegetable juices, fruit essences, light broths, and herbal vinaigrettes.”
Finally, You can’t be in China and refuse to try green tea based desserts! Although they might not taste as good as they look, trying them is a must! I actually enjoyed eating a green tea cheesecake!
And disliked the green tea sorbet!
Last but not least, trying in moderation Shanghai’s walnut mooncake, sesame seeds cake, radish cake and red beans sesame cake is inevitable!
And if you happen to be in China and decide to go to the bank, don’t be surprised if you see a stand of vegetable oil for sale with a special offer on each container! Some things happen “Only in China”!
“Travel is the only thing You buy that Makes you richer”!
Looking back I realise that, in just seven days, Shanghai filled my senses with flavors, colors, sounds, scents and smiles… With a language barrier and unusual rituals and habits you cannot spend a day in Shanghai without saying: “It’s all Chinese to me”!
If You ever think about traveling to Shanghai remember to …
Dietitian Nicole Maftoum