Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Chun - A Shanghainese Restaurant

This will be the first post in a series about favorite Shanghai-style restaurants. That's in addition to my series about the best places to get xiaolongbao, a local-style snack.

Shanghai's cuisine is not my favorite. I prefer the stronger flavors of South East Asian cuisine, or maybe the hot, oily Sichuan and Hunan styles of Chinese food. Shanghai style food relies on subtle flavors, where quality comes from the fresh ingredients. There's less oil than other Chinese cuisines, with foods often being steamed, rather than fried in a wok. Local seafood is prevalent, as is local produce – farms still line the outskirts of Shanghai. Sauces are mild, often depending on interplay of light soy sauce and sugar – really a lot of Shanghai's food is mildly sweet, and that's probably the biggest hurdle for someone new to the cuisine.

That being said, probably my favorite place in Shanghai for local-style cuisine is Chun, on 124 Jinxian Lu, right next to the Lomography store and nearish to the Shaanxi Nan Lu Subway Station. The restaurant has only four tables, between that and a NY Times write up it all sounded very mysterious. But really the insides are nothing special – it looks like a normal hole in the wall, only maybe just a little fancier and a little smaller. Also, with such a small restaurant, it's a good idea either show up really early, or better yet to book a table, the number is 21-6256-0301.

There's no menu. Instead, the chef prepares what's fresh that day – customers tell the waiter how many dishes they want. Of course there's some leeway to order favorite dishes, or to request certain foods not be served. The waiter only speaks Chinese, but the restaurant is well-known enough with foreigners that I'm sure it's possible to order without the local lingo.

All the pictures above have been taken at the restaurant, and they were all incredibly delicious, to the point that it was hard to choose a favorite or least favorite dish. If there are any caveats to be made, it's that the food is served local style, and personally I'm so lazy at eating, I hate spitting out bones, or digging the meat out of shrimps.

What was shown? The pictures were taken at a meal for two, where we got a cold braised pork, a plate of seasoned shrimp, a steamed whitefish with a hong shao sauce, and pork soup with bamboo shoots and those crazy tofu sheets that are tied into knots. A lot of food, although I should have added a vegetable. It came in to slightly under 200 kuai, or about $14 per person. About double the price from some of my other favorite Shanghai-style restaurants, but you pay the big bucks to get the best!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

More Old Chinese Movies

I've posted before about old movies of Shanghai, it's become something of a hobby and I'm contemplating rolling out a separate blog about the subject. A couple months ago, I posted a list of thirteen pre-Communist Shanghai movies that were freely available, with the promise of more. Never one to disappoint...

Silent movies, with original English and Chinese intertitles:
Poor Daddy - 儿子英雄 (1929)
An Orphan - 雪中孤雏 (1929)

Silent movies, with only Chinese intertitles:
Daybreak - 天明 (1933)
Greedy Neighbours - 恶邻 (1933)
Cosmetics of Market - 脂粉市场 (1933)
National Customs - 国风 (1935)

Movies with Mandarin Chinese audio, but no English subtitles:
Plunder of Peach and Plum - 桃李劫 (1934)
Twin Sisters - 再生花 (1934)
Bible for Girls - 女儿经 (1934)
Children of Troubled Times - 风云儿女 (1935)
The Boatman's Daughter - 船家女 (1935)
Song at Midnight - 夜半歌声 (1937)
Youth on the March - 青年進行曲 (1937)
Dream of the Red Mansions - 红楼梦 (1944)
Diary of the Homecoming - 还乡日记 (1947)

I'll still post more movies, but I think I've already uploaded many of the best, so I don't expect to be updating frequently. However, all these movies are posted to the excellent, so if you're hungry for more, try browsing their archives. Also, a number of these movies are available off,, or rented from - the ones from Netflix and Amazon will have subtitles.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wuyuan and Surroundings

Feeling adventurous after a small trip to Fujian Province, I decided to take the bus back, rather than a plane. That allowed me a chance to look over the countryside, and to make a small detour to Jiangxi Province, on the way back to Shanghai.

Don't do this.

Here's the bus I took, it was a bunch of lay-down cots rather than seats. The cots were a foot and a half shorter than me, meaning I had to sort of fold myself into the cot. Everybody around me was chain smoking. To top it off, it was an 18 hour bus ride. And, the driver dropped me off by the side of the dark highway at 2:30 in the morning, and told me (and a fellow traveler) that it was about a mile to Jingdezhen, a medium-sized no-horse town a few hours away from from my final destination of Wuyuan.

But that's an overly long introduction to Wuyuan. Basically, Wuyuan is an ugly city that acts as a transportation hub to the beautiful villages nearby. So the first order of business is getting out of Dodge and making it to somewhere else. With me, I went to Small Likeng:

As a small village, it made for an interesting contrast with the Hakka villages I had been to several days before. It felt more typically Chinese, not being a Hakka area and all. The countryside, with plenty of rivers and streams, was beautiful, if not quite up to the standards of Yongding. And the buildings were beautiful, well-preserved, and built right against the water. I did have a complaint about all the tourists:

It's not an elitist "I'm too cool to be in a touristed spot" attitude, although of course I do have that attitude. It's more that, Small Likeng is a small village with small sidewalks. With the large tour groups and busy crowds going by, I found myself waiting in line just to walk down the street!

But I don't want to exaggerate; even in Small Likeng, it was easy to get away from the crowds. Here's a couple quick pictures:

There were a number of other villages that weren't quite as impressive, but weren't as busy. They didn't all feel cut from the same mold, though, there were marked contrasts between them. It doesn't photograph well, but Sixi Yancun had a labyrinthine feeling of large featureless buildings, connected by thin irregular pathways:

Whereas Qinghua had a more country feel to it. Here's looking under Rainbow Bridge:

And nearby to central Qinghua City was a beautiful valley filled with older homes:

Similiarly to Yongding, there was an odd relation to the locals, and it felt like their normal lives had turned into a tourist attraction. I was also on the receiving end of this, as random morons would go up to me and yell "Hello!" constantly. Anyway, whether it's cultural imperialism or not, I thought it was interesting to see the villagers doing their thing, here's a few quick pictures:

From Wuyuan, it was a seven hour bus ride back to Shanghai - the proper kind of bus, with seats and rules against smoking.