Thursday, November 6, 2008

Shanghai, take a bao

by Stephanie

I'm just going to put this out there--I am a terrible blogger. I have serious problems posting regularly and often, two things that make a good blogger. And I don't love taking pictures of food (I'd rather eat it while it's hot and tell you about it later). I'm trying, I really am. But I do absolutely love the writing that goes into these as well as the promise of eating the results of said experiments. I think those are what keep me going on this thing. (Slight nudge to Lisa who has been a little MIA for the past 50 years)

That said, Shanghai happened. By happened I mean we thought it would be fun to take a weekend jaunt to Shanghai, a glamorous city beyond comprehension for us country bumpkins. I was humbled by the sheer volume of the city--18 million residents and far more modernity than I imagined. The city is an interesting example of the East and West trying to blend (and the West somewhat winning in dominance). That fact was more than slightly okay with me because I have really been missing my western food. Yes, I'm admitting it. I put myself in charge of food on the trip and found some really exciting places that warmed my heart and will hopefully fulfill the quota for a while.

One thing I have been missing dearly (and this will come as no surprise to anyone) is not just good coffee but also cafe culture. Berkeley is so in step with this, and so it has been greatly jarring to my system to not be able to step outside my door and get a foamy latte at Strada before embarking on my school day. I found this French bakery that somehow made its way to Shanghai--and for an hour or so I was able to re-immerse myself in the art of cafe-ing.

The last capp I'll have for a while

me, Jena, Ellen being cutesy and adorable for the camera

We also visited Ellen's research site, which is this adorable enclave of twisting alleys, cafes, and other commercial things that come with gentrification. Another East meets West example.

That was very well and fun. We topped off the night with a ridiculous dinner at the rotating restaurant at the top of the Radisson: smoked salmon pasta, aloo gobi, and garlic naan never tasted so good.

credit: Jena

But there was a Shanghainese specialty that still eluded us: one of the chief reasons I went was for the xiao long bao, which some have described as "seductive". Is food sexy? These must maintain a precarious balance that far too many establishments have not been able to reach. The skin must be of the right thickness, only melting in your mouth and NOT the steamer basket. The meat cannot too overpowering in taste, for the highlight must be the soup inside, which should be piping HOT, delicately scented . And it should all slide down your throat like a beautiful dream. After a bad experience with the little soup dumplings/buns/jury's still out on how to categorize these, I was ready for the real thing.

Friends, they were delightful. More than that. I built them up so much in my mind because I knew they had incredible potential--there are people out there who scour the globe for the best xiao long bao--and they didn't disappoint. Shanghai did not disappoint.


Lisa said...

way to be, stephie. i chuckled for quite a while at your title. this whole thing reminds me of how much i miss you. oh so much.

i love you lots!

Molly said...

Cutesy and adorable indeed! Glad to hear you got your coffee fix. Some times in the morning when I'm enjoying my coffee I think about how I should be extra grateful because there are people (specifically you) who don't get to enjoy coffee daily.