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Shanghai Pathways Blog

Understand ​China​ ​From the Local ​Perspect​ive

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Food

KFC Pro – Fast Food Revolution

I have to admit that as a Chinese born in the 80s, I do have a complicated “love and hate” relation ship with KFC. It is the very first Western fast food company in China since 1987.  Now has 5,138 outlets in China as of 2017.

Basicly, a good treat in my childhood means going to KFC and order a set of fried chicken… KFC also have tried very hard to approach the Chinese market including offerings such as congee and ‘fungus salad’ and local creations such as the ‘Chizza’ (chicken pizza). Continue reading “KFC Pro – Fast Food Revolution”

French Wines from a Chinese Perspective

10 years ago, red wine would be drunk as a highball with coke, and white wine with 7Up. In the old days, when it comes to the western wine, I only know two types: Red and White. Now, most of my Chinese friends would turn to me when they decide to order some western wine during parties, they often assume that I would have a better taste in wine simply because of the international travels that I did. During such occasions, I always say to my friends that “the more you drink, the less you understand.”

Is China becoming a wine superpower?

China uncorks more than 1.2 billion bottles of wine every year. Most Chinese people, saw fine wine primarily as a way to impress their business clients and guests and reach for French wine when they want to sip something special. Wine from Bordeaux is, by far, the most fashionable beverage among China’s elite. France supplies nearly 40 percent of the total wine imported by China in 2012 and China has also invested heavily in vineyards in France. By August 2012, an estimated 30 chateaux in the Bordeaux region had been bought by Chinese businesses and investors and an estimated 20 deals were in the pipeline.

The interview with Vincent Hess, general manager of Vins Descombe, has really opened my eyes and answered to this question. Just like the Chinese tea is sipping into western healthy lifestyle, many young people in China are trying to copy the western lifestyle, drinking has become a new social language in China. It promotes friendly relations between people during business dinners and parties. Vincent says: “Chinese mainly drink and order wine at restaurants but as the western wine is becoming more available from specialist wine retailers, stores or even supermarkets, they are also starting to drink more wine at home as well. They opt to drink wine because it is seen as fashionable, rather than the traditional alcoholic drinks often preferred by their parents. There is also a lot of talks about red wine is good for health and skin.”

Wine to show off

While there is a small growing group of wine connoisseurs in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, Vincent notes the bulk of wine consumers in China are still in the “beginning” phase, buying bottles to show off to their business partners or as an expensive present.

China has also become obsessed with one source and one source only – France. “Bordeaux was the very first French wine entering the market, and so much money were spent on marketing, so it has become a super brand for Chinese people,” Vincent points out. “When they buy wine, it is always the 1st option if they can afford it. Very often, rich Chinese people would come to Vins Descombe and just want to buy the most expensive wine which we have in the store.”

French really believe “a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”. The common misperceptions about wine that Chinese believe is that wine is only for the rich people, and drinking wine means you are western educated. At Vins Descombe, some Chinese wine consumers even judge a wine by the label, they do not particularly like plain white labels, but tend to prefer red backgrounds and golden writing, as the two colors are regarded as lucky, and suitable for the gift season.

Wine to socialize

East has more of a private, service-oriented mindset, while the West has more of a public, business-oriented mindset. The tea ceremony is an act of service by one person toward another as a fairly private occasion, usually taking place in someone’s home or even in a special room constructed specifically for tea ceremonies. The wine tasting is usually a public occasion with any number of people participating.

“I have been surprised by the increase in the number of people who want to sign up for our wine-tasting club. And more and more Chinese people were able to tell the difference between two wines confidently in a blind tasting.” Vincent says, “Through wine and wine-related events, you can know people with similar interests and similar income. So it is an easy way to make friends and create business connections.” Some of his Chinese client tells him that “If we don’t drink, you don’t get the same atmosphere and things are not as lively.”

“It is quite hard for Chinese to understand when they read ‘hints of blackcurrant leaf’ in the tasting notes, because they don’t have blackcurrant China and there is just so much chaotic wine information online.” Vincent says, “To teach people about wine, you have to speak their language.”

Perhaps very soon, the stereotype of foreigners knowing more about wine than Chinese is about to lose ground.

Pairing Chinese food with French wine

In Vincent’s opinion, wine is like women: really attractive in the outside and so complex in the inside. Sometimes so complex that not able to understand them fully. Food and wine pairing is a complex art that only few are able to master. The best achievement for a good food wine pairing is not only that wine and food goes along but more that wine brings another taste to the dish and brings it to another level, following are the insider’s info from his own experience with Chinese food:

Sichuan: beaujolais chilled or Rhone Valley wine

Shanganese food: white chardonnay or Burgundy

Peckin duck: Beaujolais

“The Chinese are very interested in our wines and buys a lot. They’re looking for companies specialized in producing high quality wines,” said Vincent, “Not only we are selling French wine, we also share with our clients about the French culture and arranged wine trips to France.”

A Bite of China

 

A Bite of China, a televised documentary with the delicacy theme, became a new CCTV evening program since May 14th, 2012. No one would expected that this documentary series soon turned into the hotspot on the screen. Those epicureansgourmet gourmet who promised they would never watch TV began sticking in front of their televisions on time, waiting for this program starting from 22:30 every night on CCTV channel 1.

Never before in Chinese history has a documentary film aroused so much public enthusiasm. In my case, as someone who is trying to stay away from TV, I only heard about this documentary from people around me, over and over again, which caused me to search the 7 series online and started to watch it….so far only made to the 3rd part but it has been an amazing experience and the food has made my mouth watering. At a point, I felt a need to follow the movie travelling around China in order to meet these local people who made these yammy food.

There are many TV programs on Chinese cuisines, but few are like A Bite of China. The majority of Chinese audience sees this program as more than just the regular food show; they see it as a revolutionary program to reflect the value and quality of Chinese food and societal changes. It is a serious documentary providing a unique view of Chinese as well as the relations between people and food and between people and society from the perspective of food.

More interestingly, according to Taobao, China’s biggest online retail website, just five days after the series began to air, nearly 6 million people went to the site in search of various local specialties, particularly those mentioned in the documentary. More than 7.2 million deals were concluded.

Peace Hotel: High-Tea

The famous green roof Peace Hotel
 
China may be a land of contrasts, of high rise cities and rice paddies tilled by oxen, but few cities offer the varigated past of Shanghai — colonial port city with a history of war, capitulation, blockades, and stunning architecture that spans almost a 100 years of style and design. One of the icons of that past is the Peace Hotel which started life as the Cathay Hotel, built by Victor Sassoon as part of his real estate empire in Shanghai.
 
The Peace Hotel Lobby
 
The original hotel officially opened on August 1, 1929. It was widely known as the “Number One mansion in the Far East “, due to its prime location along the Bund and for its luxury, including the distinctive copper-sheathed roof 77 meters above ground, white Italian marble floors, and priceless Lalique glass artwork. It was also the tallest building in Shanghai and hosted many famous guests over the years including Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, General Marshal, Noel Coward and President Bill Clinton. It was known for its Old Jazz Bar and band, which has been resurrected and plays again today. From 1949 to 1956 it was used for government offices, but in 1956 it resumed its use as a hotel, the name being changed from the Cathay Hotel to the Peace Hotel. A major 3 year renovation was just completed in 2010 to bring it back to its 1920′s glory.
 
The gorgeous high tea experience
 
Yesterday, I ended tour at the Peace Hotel with a lovely British couple – Michael and Adrienne, they have been married for 49 years. Adrienne’s eyes lit up when she discovered that it is still the high tea time in the hotel’s Jasmine Lounge. In her words, it is the perfect way to recalling Shanghai’s ‘Paris of the Orient’ and its fame for having introduced European high tea to the city in the 1930s.
 
It was a lot for tea, can’t find any space for dinner afterwards
 
To me, I could never resist good food and it is wonderful to have British people confirming that the quality of the high tea in Shanghai is as good as what they have in London. The other thing is that you don’t really have to dress up to enjoy it 😉

The Vegetarian Tiger

In Shanghai, the vegetarian lifestyle is more popular than ever. I love organic and healthy veggie but I do eat everything that is well prepared and taste wonderful. So people like me maybe considered as “semi-vegetarians,” which usually means that they eat vegetarian most of the time but occasionally eat meat. Unfortunately, being “semi-vegetarian” is like being “semi-pregnant.” You either are or you aren’t. A more accurate term for semi-vegetarian eating habits is “flexitarian.” But if the person in the photo will cook for me, I’ll eat veggie everyday!!

You are what you eat! This ancient saying can apply so well on Lulu, who started to change her life style about 10 years ago due to many chronic diseases. She was suffering from so much pain that no doctor across the continents could help her. She met a Healer in Hong Kong who told her to stop eating meat if she wanted to be healed because by cultivating more bad karma does not help us to cure from the core, he said. She didn’t understand why but she stopped. 10 years gone by, she has not only cured her own physical sicknesses, but also helped many people around her as well. To her surprise, the impact of food indeed goes far beyond the physical body.

Learn to eat foods that bring long lasting health, beauty and happiness
Sometimes you meet people and click right away, this is what happened to me when I met this famous happy chef, who has some amazing energy around her. She is so much into the energy of the food that she has chosen to follow the ancient yogic food philosophy, which encourages people to consume mainly sattvic food (vegetables [except pungent], fruits, nuts, grains, gentle herbs and spices). By following this philosophy Lulu has developed unlimited amount of fusion cuisines, she presents me a variety of tasty food that I didn’t even realize I wasn’t eating meat, milk products and pungent food at all! By eating the sattvic food, Lulu calls it “Joyfood” because these foods can give us long lasting health, beauty and happiness if we practice hard enough. Long lasting GAIN of course comes from long lasting PAIN, most people have no endurance, this is the major problem of her pupils, Lulu said. That’s why Lulu organizes private dinner with live music, so the people can at least experience momentary long lasting health, beauty and happiness in her Yogic Food Garden, she was laughing along this sentence.

The Whole World in one kitchen:
Lulu strike me as a Vegetarian Tiger, Soft outside but tough inside – that is what she is.  She is a language freak, speaks 6 different languages plus 3 Chinese dialects. But the richest side of her I guess it comes from her multicultural background – she is a funny mixture: she looks like a Chinese doll from outside, sweet and cute, almost like a kindergarten teacher, inside her the German system runs, yet from her core you can see and feel the Spanish fire.

When I asked her why she came to Shanghai, she said it was a call. If she could choose, she rather goes to somewhere warmer. Taking as her mission to incorporate the best organic supermarket concept from Germany (Alnatura) she is now helping her friend who owns 13 organic chain stores in Shanghai Haikele (HiQuality), helping them to upgrade to the international standard, meeting the latest health trend, allowing herself to shop the whole world in one single go.

All great things start from a simple idea

All the wonderful things in Lulu’s life came from changing what she puts into her mouth. Now that she is leading a life according to the Buddhist and Yoga teaching, together with lots of art and music, all she wants to do is to pass on this simple happiness to those who are searching for it.

Wanna come with me to a “joyfood” tour? Taken at Lulu’s home: the Yogic Food Garden:

                 A nice cozy kitchen create nice food 

             Colorful salads        

The food is beyond words! Full of LOVE and ENERGY!!! This great lunch lasted 7 hours, my goodness….. danger of two creative hearts on one table.

w.e Musical Education Fund for Migrant Children:

 Ever since Lulu was a child she wanted to learn people but her parents didn’t have the money for that. She started her piano lesson at her teenage with her pocket money. Thanks for the joyfood, her musical talent sprouts, she improvises and composes songs as hobby nowadays. Therefore she wants to help other potential Lulu who might also have the same dream. Therefore she founded w.e musical education fund for migrant children shanghai. w.e has many interpretation, one of its is “wealth exchange”, it’s a “made in Germany” product, place of its birth. 10% of the Yogic Food Garden revenue goes to this fund, now they have one child learning piano. Right, Lulu has a lot of interesting ideas, this is just one of them, you got to meet her if there is a chance.

The Green Ball Dumplings

My friend Bobbie just asked me today about the strange green balls which are selling all over the Shanghai streets now 

What is it?

It is Qingtuan (Chinese: 青团, literally “green cake”) is a traditional Chinese dish. This food, which looks like a round green stone, is made of rice, red bean paste and a special plant called maiqing (麦青) (barnyard grass shoots) or aicao(艾草). The exact technique in making qingtuan is quite complicated. Barnyard grass shoots are edible only in spring, so this food is eaten for the annual Qingming Festival, which falls around April 5 in the Gregorian Calendar.

This is the look after you took a big bite, yummy~

The best green ball dumplings are made of Aicao, it is a special plant which is wildly used in China as a type of traditional herb medicine. So it is more expensive than maiqing, cost wise and people believe it is better in taste.

Step1: wash it and boiling

Step2:add glutinous rice and flour

Step3:mixing

Step4:make it into small little balls with red bean paste inside.
IMG_5068

Step5:steaming for 20 mins, ready!

IMG_5096

Quality  

I am picky with food, have to! Sometimes the poor quality balls tastes like Chewing Gum and the green color looks like fake paint – you don’t want to risk your stomach.  The best mass production ball dumplings are sold in Wangjiashao, go there and you will see a long waiting line, which is always a good sign for decent food.

張相片

Or you could go somewhere far, i.e. chubby feng makes amazing green balls.

張相片
 
Dough colored with wild herbs, homemade bean paste.
 
Chubby Feng's Qingtuan looks really fancy too!

Chinese Soy Sauce

Back to just a year ago, if someone tells me that I will have anything to do with Chinese Soy Sauce, I will probably think that he is crazy. Now, not only I am providing the only soy sauce tour in China but also working with the factory to help them marketing their products. It is to my surprise that such good products could not compete will the mass production junks and people has so little access to know or buy healthy food. Tomorrow, the very first Slow Food tour to the soy sauce factory will start and following is some info about it.

History of Traditional Chinese Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is originated in China 2,800 years ago and spread throughout Asia. Red cooking or hongshao is the word for Shanghai cuisine. For centuries, the city’s culinary culture has been stewed, simmered, sauteed and braised in soy sauce, a brownish-red condiment with a rich fragrance. Soy sauce is a condiment produced by fermenting soybeans with Aspergillus oryzae molds, along with water and salt. After the fermentation, which yields fermented soybean paste, the paste is pressed, and two substances are obtained: a liquid, which is the soy sauce, and a cake of (wheat and) soy residue, the latter being usually reused as animal feed. Most commonly, a grain is used together with the soybeans in the fermentation process, but not always. 

The Manufacturing Process: Brewing or Chemical-hydrolyzation.

In older times, the mixture was fermented naturally in giant urns and under the sun, which was believed to contribute additional flavors. Today, in industrialized factory the mixture is generally placed in a temperature and humidity controlled incubation chamber. The fermentation method takes more than six months to complete and results in a transparent, delicately colored broth with balanced flavor and aroma. The non-brewed sauces take only two days to make and are often opaque with a harsh flavor and chemical aroma. In the current market, most branded soy sauce is often made from acid hydrolyzed soy protein instead of brewed with a traditional culture. When compared to brewed soy sauces, they have a longer shelf-life and are more commonly produced for this reason. They are sometimes called Chemical Soy Sauce by those who prefer brewed sauces, but despite this name are widely used due to greater availability and lower prices. Carcinogens have been identified in relatively recent times of Asian brands of Soy sauces. Some of these carcinogens may form during the manufacture of chemical sauce. Companies are obliged to remove these contaminants.

Chinese Soy Sauce types

Light or fresh soy sauce (生抽 shēngchōu ): It is the main soy sauce used for seasoning since it is saltier, less colourfully noticeable, and also adds a distinct flavour. The light soy sauce made from the first pressing of the soybeans is called tóuchōu (simplified Chinese: 头抽), which can be loosely translated as first soy sauce or referred to as premium light soy sauce. Touchōu is sold at a premium because, like extra virgin olive oil, the flavor of the first pressing is considered superior.

Dark and old soy sauce (老抽 lǎochōu), a darker and slightly thicker soy sauce, is aged longer and contains added molasses to give it its distinctive appearance. This variety is mainly used during cooking since its flavour develops during heating. It has a richer, slightly sweeter, and less salty flavour than light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is partly used to add color and flavour to a dish after cooking.

Another type, thick soy sauce (醬油膏 jiàngyóugāo), is a dark soy sauce that has been thickened with starch and sugar. It is occasionally flavored with MSG. This sauce is not usually used directly in cooking but more often as a dipping sauce or poured on food as a flavorful addition.

Qian Wanlong: The Best Soy Sauce

Know as a famous old brand of “handmade” naturally fermented Shanghai soy sauce, Qian Wanlong. Qian was the owner in 1880 and wanlong means booming or prosperous. In 2008, the Qian Wanlong soy sauce-making process was listed as one of China’s Intangible Cultural Heritages – the only one in the industry. It is believed to be one of the few companies in China that still make soy sauce the traditional, old-fashioned way.

  •     Only Use non-GMO Soybeans
  •         12 Procedures in Production
  •     No Additives and Preservatives
  •     No Artificial Colours, No MSG

Black Sesame Tang Yuan

The first month of the Chinese calendar is called yuan month, and in ancient times people called night xiao, therefore, the day is called Yuanxiao Festival in China. As the fifteenth day, it is also the last day of Chinese New Year.

Same as most people in China, today I rushed home after work and had Tang Yuan with family for dinner. Traditionally, Tang Yuan is served specially today, the pronunciation is similar to the word Tuan Yuan, which has the meaning of reunion and happiness. It comes many regional variations and many flavors ranging from bean paste filled to pork meat filled. My all time favorite are the ones with black sesame filings.

You need to eat Tang Yuan when it is warm – or better when it is HOT. The right way to eat it is picking up one soft and juicy tang yuan using a spoon. Take a tiny bit on the doughy skin. You can watch the sesame fillings rush out as the steam escapes from the inside at the same time. Use the tip your tongue carefully test out the fillings to make sure it won’t burn you alive. Once you are ready, go ahead and take a BIG bite or swallow the whole thing. Let the creamy juicy sesame fillings explode in your mouth as you chow down the chewy dough. Don’t stop here, reach out for the next one before I take it from you….

And yes, I had 10 of these for dinner today and felt really full…

Historically, a number of different names were used to refer to tangyuan. During the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty, the name was officially settled as yuanxiao (derived from the Yuanxiao Festival), which is used in northern China. This name literally means “first evening”, being the first full moon after Chinese New Year.

In southern China, however, they are called tangyuan or tangtuan. Legend has it that during Yuan Shikai’s rule from 1912 to 1916, he disliked the name yuanxiao (元宵) because it sounded identical to “remove Yuan” (袁消), and so he gave orders to changed the name to tangyuan. This new moniker literally means “round balls in soup”.

When I was young, it was really fun make the Tang Yuan – to make the balls, take enough dough and roll into a ball, press it down with your palm, put a ball of sesame paste into the centre, gather the sides and pinch away access dough. Roll it to a ball. It is like making a toy and eat it later, so I always have to promise my mother that I won’t be naughty and play with the food.

The best place in Shanghai to taste Tang Yuan or buy the take aways is in Wang Jia Sha at West Nanjing Road, they are famous for it but keep in mind that the line is really long.

Learn Chinese Cooking – Fried Rice

“Have you eaten already?” is a popular greeting among the Chinese. Although it may sound awkward to westerners, when you meet local Chinese, it is one of the unavoidable first greetings. You might think, “Why do you ask me if I have eaten or not?” Perhaps you are wondering if Chinese people want to treat you for a dinner. Well, this sentence is just a polite way to start a conversation – the same thing as saying, “Hi or Hello” in English.

China is a country that pays great attention to courtesy, and the Chinese food culture is deeply rooted in its history. Confucius (551-479 B.C.) said, “The path to your friend’s heart and soul begins from your cooking.” Even now in modern days, dining is still a major “marketing event” to Chinese families, as it is a time when all the family members get together, share feelings and exchange information. Since meals are an important part of life in China, many important business deals are also done at the dinner table.   

Difference between Chinese & Western food

Cuisine in China is a harmonious integration of color, taste and presentation. The Chinese believe the following characteristics outline the basic differences between Chinese and Western food:

·         Several dishes in a meal

·         Diverse and sophisticated

·         Nutritionally balanced

·         Healthy and tasteful

How to cook

Cooking Chinese food is not difficult. The two most important tools in Chinese cooking are a hot stove and a sharp knife. Following the basic cooking rules below, you can master Chinese cooking and surprise your friends.

·         Balance the meat and vegetables in a dish, so that there are an interesting variety of flavors, textures, and colors.

·         Drain tofu before using, so it can absorb the other flavors in the dish.

·         Cut the meat into uniform pieces so that it will cook more evenly.

·         When adding oil for stir-frying, drizzle the oil down sides of the wok.

·         When deep-frying, determine if the oil is hot enough by simply putting a chopstick in the wok. When the oil sizzles around it, you can begin adding the food.

·         When a recipe says to add soya sauce, always use light soy sauce, not the dark one. Dark soya sauce is usually for cooking meat.

·         If preparing stir-fried meat and vegetables, stir-fry the meat first and set it aside. Normally, you will return it to the wok with a sauce during the final stages of cooking.

·         When stir-frying vegetables, cook the toughest and thickest vegetables for a longer period than the softer, leafy vegetables.

·         Always use fresh ginger, not powdered.

·         Use sugar as a substitute for MSG (Monosodium Glutamate).

Start with Fried Rice

Whenever I travel to visit friends, the simplest dish to prepare is Fried Rice – a dish that is always well appreciated. You can’t go wrong with the recipe and everyone can make it work! The following is a basic recipe for fried rice that you can alter to suit your taste.

Ingredients:

1 – 2 green onions, as desired

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

4 tablespoons oil for stir-frying, or as needed

4 cups cold cooked rice, or you can reduce the amount as needed

1 – 2 tablespoons light soy sauce or oyster sauce, as desired

Preparation:

Wash and chop the green onion. Lightly beat the eggs with the salt and pepper.

Heat a wok or frying pan and add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggs. Cook the eggs by stirring until they are lightly scrambled, but not too dry. Remove the eggs and clean out the pan.

Add 2 tablespoons oil. Add the rice. Stir-fry for a few minutes, using chopsticks or a wooden spoon to break it apart. Stir in the soy sauce or oyster sauce as desired.

When the rice is heated through, add the scrambled egg back into the pan. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the green onion. Serve hot.

Tips:

If you like, feel free to add different vegetables such as tomatoes or potatoes. Remember to cut them into small bite-sized pieces, stir-frying the vegetables first, and setting aside for later mixing.

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