Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Kimura Japanese Kitchen & Some Katsu

In my somewhat limited experience, the best Japanese restaurant in Shanghai goes by the name Kimura Japanese Kitchen.'s not easy to tell exactly what the name is, as the billboard seems a random mash of Chinese, Japanese, and English. It's located at 2255 Beijing Road, near Jiaozhou Road and a little north of Jing'an Si, and here's a picture of the sign:

As somebody who won't even go for a California Roll, thinking it's just too unauthentic, China's take at Japanese food is worlds beyond that. Sushi, for instance, will have mayonnaise piled on, sometimes it'll be pressed into the form of a sandwich, it'll have sweet things added to it, and maybe it'll get heated up in the microwave before serving.

So there's plenty of Japanese restaurants, but many of them are either extremely un-authentic, or are targeted at the Japanese expat community. That makes it way out of the price I prefer to pay for a meal, particularly as I'm not a huge fan of Japanese food. Kimura Japanese Kitchen is a favorite for the way it breaks out of this pattern. It's authentic, the owner is Japanese, there's Japanese signboards, and most of the customers can be heard speaking Japanese. But it's also cheap, as far as Shanghai's foreign food goes. Consequently, the place is usually pretty packed, even if you can't tell that here:

The simple interior reminds me of a basic restaurant from the times I've been to Japan, and the menus and signs are in both Japanese and in Chinese. They also have an English menu.

My favorite thing to get is the katsu, maybe because I like it in a Hawaiian plate lunch, ha ha. Here's the katsu curry, it costs about $4:

And my friend quite liked her ramen, which is more photogenic, anyway:

For katsu fans, there's also a very good, very Japanese-style place around the corner on 176 Jiazhou Lu, near Beijing Lu. Forgive me if I make a Japanese mistake, but I think the name would transliterate to Shi-chan's Tonkatsu? Get the fatty tonkatsu, it's better than the lean. It is a little expensive though, at about $10 for a not-large order. Here's a picture of the storefront:

The Japanese chain Curry House, which is also in Honolulu and pretty much exactly the same (they don't offer "The Challenge"), has a rapidly-expanding number of stores in Shanghai. They're casual, and always crowded. Somehow it inspired a Japanese video game as well, wow. The katsu and curry rice is about the same price as Kimura's, if not as good. It's still decent and there's a lot of different varieties, and I think the place is worth going to. The food is, uhh, better than it looks:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Shanghai, 1980

There's not much to say in this post. In 1980, right after China was opened to foreign tourists, my grandparents took a guided tour to Shanghai, Beijing, Canton, Guilin, and other top tourist spots in China. My grandfather shot a number of pictures to Kodachrome, which have preserved pretty much perfectly. Here's some of the most interesting pictures.

There's not as many picture of Shanghai as I would have liked, but the pictures do show a wildly different look to them. Here's the former French Concession, I believe. Only there's no cars, and everybody's wearing blue or grey pajama-suits:

Here's another shot of the cool clothes. Sometimes maintenance workers dress a bit like this, but you don't see it much anymore:

While people aren't staring at the camera in that one, there's plenty of other photographs that demonstrate a foreigner was a big novelty. I at first thought this was some kind of fight, but really the crowd is just gathered around the foreigner with a camera:

Here's a young lady, I guess she's having her picture taken.

They still had the old boats in the Shanghai-area rivers, and they looked even more beat up then than they do now:

And here's a nice picture of Guilin. I was never much interested in visiting Guilin until I saw his shots. This is just one of many amazing pictures:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gulang Yu & Xiamen

I'll have a few posts about a trip I made to Fujian Province a few months ago. Fujian Province is along the southern coast of China, directly across from Taiwan. I had been to Fujian Province before, on a company field trip to Wuyi Mountain. I had considered a trip back ever since then, and so I was delighted that the return trip was also excellent. Some places more than others, but it was generally a sustained high point.

My first stop on the trip was to Xiamen & Gulang Yu. Xiamen is one of the major cities of Fujian, I've also heard it referred to by the name Amoy, which comes from the local dialect. It's a large, sprawling city, although the downtown area was fun to wander around. The city is built on an island, with the Eastern Coast being the downtown of the city:

The picture was taken from the small Gulang Yu island, which was an interesting if heavily-touristed area. More than a century ago, Xiamen was the center of foreign operations in China, and Gulang Yu was where the foreigners lived. A lot of their houses remain, in various states of repair:

And the streets have a charming randomness to them, with a lot of thin alleys leading every which-way:

It's all very beautiful, and with a strong foreign feel. There were a number of small and relatively inexpensive hotels and hostels, dramatically sticking up in the air, to the left of the ferry peir. It was all very beautiful, and I've never seen so many cameras in my life - and in China, that's really saying something! There were plenty of old film cameras or Holgas in use, and also a large number of couples getting their marriage photos taken - it's a big Chinese custom, done a few weeks before the actual wedding:

But while Gulang Yu is beautiful, it's not the most exciting place. There's a cheap five-minute ferry to downtown Xiamen, and the shopping street of Zhongshan Lu. It's a large pedestrian street that's pretty similar to the other large shopping streets in any large Chinese city. However it did have plenty snack foods, some interesting side streets, and a few activities, like these people performing traditional Chinese music:

And there's also Nan Pu Tuo temple, a large active Buddhist temple with an interesting series of hills to the rear of the temple ground:

All-in-all, I don't know if Xiamen and Gulang Yu merit a special trip on their own, but they're relaxed and beautiful and generally interesting places to be.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Taikang Lu - stuffwhitepeoplelike

I've become a big fan of the website Stuff White People Like. It catalogs the interests and concerns of the Caucasian hipster set, and I like to think that it "keeps me real," as it were, after living years in Shanghai. For better or for worse, a lot of people in Shanghai just don't share the hipster aesthetic.

Taikang Lu is the best place to immerse myself in a hipster setting. A semi-converted shikumen full of cafes and boutique stores, I think it's the stuffwhitepeoplelike center to Shanghai. You could look over the updated list from their website, compare it to what's available on Taikang Lu, and probably check off 90% of it. You couldn't do much better even in the US, unless you were in the Mission District, Brooklyn, or downtown Portland.

Taikang Lu is not particularly convenient to get to. It's south of the uncool foreigner hub Xintiandi, which is itself South of the Huangpi Nan Lu Station. The walk from the station is about twenty or twenty five minutes. It's a short street, and really what people care about when they say "Taikang Lu" is the shikumen and buildings starting around Alley #210. However, the street has an interesting mix of down-market restaurants, up-market bars, and a local-style vegetable market:

These shikumen are a really interesting setting. I've talked about them before. It's a brick building structure, with shops on the outside street, and on the inside a series of narrow alleys, common courtrooms, and small apartments. It's really quite beautiful, and these shikumen are well preserved:

However what was formerly people's apartments has often been converted into trendy shops, such as this store selling ethnic chotchkies, scarves, and handbags:

Or a very, very large number of cafes, of all kinds: small little nooks, to larger chains - Maui Coffee has a couple branches:

And similarly, there's a large number of art galleries of all different sizes, here's a small one:

I don't want to continue along these lines too long. What else is there? A large amount of foreign restaurants (including a burrito stall, but it's not good), a number of boutique fashion joints, a Tibetan jewelry stall where the jewelry was owned by famous Tibetan lamas and now goes for thousands of dollars, and small cocktail bars. There's English speakers and English menus to everything, and most places have outside seating.

A couple favorites includes an eclectic Chinese antique store, which has things like 60s sewing machines, and Projection 216, a fashion design studio that cheaply shows art movies on their projection TV, during the weekend, in a very small room. Unfortunately, they're taking a break for the summer.

Anyway, the area is also interesting because it's only been half-converted into a retail space. It's still very much in use as a residential space, especially towards the back, and it's a fun way to check out what a real shikumen looks like, while being ignored by the residents. They're going about their lives oblivious to the tourists wandering around, and often snapping pictures of everything in site:

And there's the ubiquitous laundry, getting hanged up on a sunny day:

So I hope I give a good impression of the area. Taikang Lu's shikumen is definitely one of the best places for a foreigner to go in Shanghai. And don't get me wrong, I recommend my Chinese friends to go, and they enjoy it too.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Two Macau-style Restaurants

A small update here, about two restaurants in the style of one of my favorite cities: Macau! Truth be told, Macau's food is one of the reasons I love it so much. There's excellent Cantonese-style food, there's excellent Portuguese-style food, but best of all there's a local, pan-Portuguese cuisine, mixing Chinese and Portuguese with Portuguese Colonial influences. The two restaurants mentioned here aren't quite up to the real thing, but they're both excellent restaurants.

The first is Macau Portuguese Restaurant, on Xikang Lu near Wuding Lu - putting it right around the corner from Thai House, my favorite restaurant in Shanghai. Stiff competition, and maybe Macau Portuguese loses out in comparison - they're both semi-casual, good-value restaurants. Macau Portuguese Restaurant is slightly more formal, but slightly cheaper. Here's what I had last time I visited:

That plus a salad bar plus a Lemon Iced tea cost 30 kuai, about $4, not bad at all! If I lived or worked nearby, I imagine I'd be going there all the time. The restaurant has weekend buffets, and on weekdays offers a large number of lunch specials. Menus are in English, and much of the staff speaks English - along with Pilipino, and there's a Pilipino menu. You can see from the picture above that my dish was extremely rich from a butter-sauce, which is endemic to the restaurant. I ordered pork and black fungus, ha ha have I gone too local-style? Anyway, here's the other lunch-set options that were available that day:

So if that restaurant is very good, I'd have to say that Lisboa Macau Restaurant is outstanding, and one of the best restaurants in Shanghai. However, that comes with the caveat that the environment is basically a step up from a cafeteria. Really, it's just a large uncarpeted room with a bunch of IKEA-esque tables and chairs. There's two branches, one in the Times Square Mall East of Huangpi Nan Lu Station, and one on the sixth floor of the Super Brands Mall, near Lujiazui Station.

Regardless, the food is what's important. While the food has a definite localized tilt to it, it's a restaurant where just ordering whatever sounds like it might be tasty nearly always pays off. It's the first good restaurant I "discovered" in Shanghai, back when I was still new to the city and killed time just wandering up and down Huaihai Lu. I've been a number of times, and I've never been disappointed. However, it's not one where I've taken a number of pictures, and here's a not-entirely appetizing look at the African Chicken, a specialty dish from Macau:

They also have danta available - while the origins are debated, they're a small egg-custard tart, very good, and very common throughout Shanghai. The danta at Lisboa Macau are excellent, particularly the creamier, egg-white version. I would call them the second-best danta I've had in Shanghai - I'll have more to say about danta soon.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wanshou Zhai Xiaolongbao

Wanshou Zhai Xiaolongbao is a small stall that sells an atypical but very tasty xiaolongbao. It's on 123 Shanyin Lu, near Duolun Lu and the Hongkou Soccer Stadium, in the North of Shanghai. It's not the normal stomping grounds for myself or the average foreigner in Shanghai, but actually the area is one of my favorite parts to wander in Shanghai - I'll have a few updates on the area before too long. It's another place that I had walked past before, without giving it a second thought. The storefront is small and really nothing special to look at:

And it's cramped on the insides as well! I took this picture from the far corner of the restaurant. There's four tables inside and one table outside. This place is packed even during off-hours, strangers end up sharing tables:

In the back are cooks, preparing food. Here's a shot of it below. In this case, they're preparing won-tons, not xiaolongbao. They also serve noodle soups:

So obviously the restaurant is not anything fancy. The xiaolongbao, though, are excellent, if unusual. The general idea with xiaolongbao is, the skin should be as thin as possible, without being easy to break and letting out the soup inside. However, the xiaolongbao at Wanshou Zhai are unapologetically thick and chewy, the complete opposite of the general ideal. However I feel about this, there's no way around that the soup inside their xiaolongbao is the best I've ever had, absolutely juicy and full of flavor. The meat is decent and the vinegar is typical. Here's a picture of four and a half kuai's worth:

This restaurant was rated on as the fourth best xiaolongbao in Shanghai. I wouldn't go that far, but they're definitely very good. Being in an interesting area of older houses, and the nearby Lu Xun park, certainly doesn't hurt. I recommend any xiaolongbao fan to check them out!

Update 2/17/09 - I've been a number of times since writing this, and have a few more thoughts. This is the rare xiaolongbao restaurant which would be a very good restaurant even without having xiaolongbao on the menu. All the noodle and won-ton dishes are excellent. Myself, I generally go for the spicy-pork noodles, alongside my xiaolongbao.

That said, it can get absurdly crowded any day of the week, particularly around lunchtime or as an early-ish dinner. I also feel quality varies. While it's never bad, the xiaolongbao can be made sloppily when it's too packed, and not have any soup inside. So it might be worth it to make a point of visiting at an off hour, say the early afternoon or after 6:30