Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Decent Western Food in Jing'an

I love talking bad about the foreigner food in Shanghai. That’s just what I do. OK, the food has it coming; it’s none of it very good, and really I don’t think there’s any foreign restaurants that would make it if they were based back in San Francisco. But partially I just like complaining about restaurants, and really I could whine on and one about even my favorites.

But I’m going to take a break from the trend with this update, and talk about a couple Western Restaurants that, while not perfect, I’ll give a qualified recommendation. They’re both reasonably tasty, reasonably inexpensive restaurants that are worth casual visits.

The first is Munchies, a American Restaurant in the modus of Shanghai’s other American Restaurants, where in addition to a psychedelic Pac-Man logo, there’s a menu full of hamburgers and hot dogs. I mean I guess back in America I’d eat hamburgers and hot dogs every once in a while, like at ballgames or on the 4th of July, but it’s a little strange how it’s the staple of nearly every single American Restaurant in Shanghai. But I have given both of them a try at Munchies, and they’re both good renditions.

It wins points for having a side of a decent cole slaw (or French Fries or various salads), but really hamburgers are boring, who cares. Most interesting is that they have Cincinnati Chili. I’ve actually never heard of that before, and was only vaguely aware of the idea. It’s a Midwestern variation of Chili, with cinnamon and all-spice, and not any heat at all. Instead of dumping it on rice like anyone sensible human being, they dump it on spaghetti! It also comes in different 'specials', where maybe they’ll also dump cheese or onions or beans on the spaghetti. This is a five-way special:

Except for the hamburgers the portions are more of a snack than a meal, and the desserts are just cake and ice cream. Regardless, go for the chili, and if any gentle readers can say a word about whether it’s authentic, that would be appreciated. Actually I’d recommend searching some Cincinnati Chili down, even for those in the US - Amazon has mix packets of Skyline Chili, maybe they’re worth it?

Munchies is on 974 Wuding Lu, near Changde Lu, about a ten minute walk north of Jing'an Si Station. Meals cost somewhere around 50 kuai per person, about $7.50, and it's open from 10 until late every day.

The other place I'll mention here is Wagas, a chain with numerous locations wherever white people congregate. I tend towards the branch on Jiaozhou Lu and Xinzha Lu, about a five minute walk north of Jing'an. I’ve known about Wagas for years, but just as an annoying Café. OK I’m not a café person and so I can’t claim expertise, and their black coffee does seem pretty decent. However the several times I had gone before, it was over-run with office-away-from-office people, all on their computers and loudly talking business on their cellphones. Since I go to cafes to chat or study, it’s kind of not the atmosphere I go for.

However I found out that after six at night they have a deal where their pseudo-Italian dishes get priced down to 33 or 40 kuai, that’s about five or six dollars. It’s a pretty good deal: some of the pastas are really excellent, I haven't had them all, but my favorite has been a pasta with pumpkin, spinach, and feta cheese. Additionally the meals come with a small salad and a few pieces of very plain bread.

It’s not all perfect: Wagas’ atmposphere just isn’t as relaxed as a café should be, and I guess the computer nearby my food shows I’m guilty of treating Wagas as an office, as well. It’s also strictly a restaurant to visit by yourself, and between the bad atmosphere and the dog-bowl-like serving plate, I’d strongly recommend taking someone out to even Saizeriya, before Wagas.

Also, a simple can of soda costs 20 kuai, the equivalent of three dollars, which makes sense for a café but is kind of absurd if you’re there for inexpensive pasta. A few of the dishes are horrible, one pasta dish is literally noodles, thin chicken strips, and a quarter of a lemon for you to squeeze on top. So, order with a degree of caution, and things generally aren’t perfect, but on the other hand, excellent 33 kuai pastas make it all worthwhile.

I’ll end this post with a semi-apology. I have very strong feelings about what’s happening in Xinjiang, and I feel a little silly writing a China blog and talking about a couple semi-competent Western Restaurants. Adding on to the absurdity is that this blog is censored in China, and my counter-censorship service is also being censored, and I'm doing weird run-arounds to get this blog posted.

However from the beginning I’ve given myself rules for this blog, it’s not a personal account of the awesome party I went to over the weekend, it’s non-political, and so forth. I'd surely break the rule if I had a wonderfully informed opinion or any special information, or perhaps if I went to a particularly bouncing party over the weekend, but that's not the case. I do encourage everyone to inform themselves about what’s happening, even if it’s just a quick look over Wikipedia entry on Xinjiang.


Totalz said...

I been to the Wagas on Nan Jing Luo. I remember Wikipedia mentioning the place as being an Australian business but with European influence. I went mainly for the half price breakfast between 9 to 10am. Actually not bad, lot better than Denny's or IHOP here in the states.

DUBE said...

i so needed ur blog some months ago, when i found my self in a twist, with chinese food, the msg reacted hectically with my body ---anyway thats all in the past. i liked ur blogg entry on the Xing Guan Photographic Mall --- i am in dire search of a small kodak shop that made small images for me, is there CENTRAL SITE THAT LINKS ALL THE SHOPS IN THAT MALL --your help in this will be much appreciated.

Jeff Rutsch said...

Hi, thanks for the nice comment. No, as far as I can tell there isn't a central site that links all the shops in the mall. Even if there was, it would be tough because there's so much turnover both in what's in stock and which stores are there! Anyway they have everything you might think of, and then or Ebay is the way to buy photo stuff off the internet in China.

I strongly believe that MSG being at all bad for you is just an urban legend. The double-blind tests on people who claim MSG allergies is what I find most convincing. Also that there aren't hundreds of millions of constantly woozy Chinese people. Also that it's just a salt of a common amino acid that is necessary for life. Also that Chinese restaurants have mostly switched over to chicken-derived stuff instead of MSG, it's the same amino acid but it's not MSG.

unicorn jones said...

just a quick comment to let you know you have some v. appreciative readers out there, so thank you for not giving up and keeping on posting, even if it is a hassle!

from a fellow foodie and chinophile(?), thanks for the blogging!

Danu Artha Putra M said...