Category Archives: Food

Places to eat: Xi Bei

Now that I’m leaving Shanghai in a few days it’s time to spill the beans on places we recommend to eat. First cab off the rank is Xi Bei (West North) – some of the freshest cuisine from the north-west area of China you’ll ever have.

Delicious, fresh, and cheap are the three things you only need to know about Xi Bei. With a menu as thick as a bible there’s enough dishes to keep even the less adventurous eaters happy at this place. Filled with locals who line up in busy times to get into this place (this should be a good indicator for any restaurant) it’s not often visited by white folks – or ginger folks for that matter.

One of the unique things about this restaurant is that the kitchen and preparation area is out in the open. Customers are encouraged to see how the food is being made. In the case of the photo below, dumplings made with oat.

On our visit we tasted the oat-flavoured dumplings, lamb off the bone, tofu covered in toffee (tastes better than it sounds – pictured), and a mix of vegetable dishes. Instead of raving more about the food I took some food porn pictures and video which may better give an idea of why you need to eat there.

Now I can’t find the address in English anywhere but I did get their card to print out if you don’t read Chinese.

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Shanghai tip: Don’t show fear to the monkey

Ahh Friday’s. What would they be without a good monkey story?

About a month ago I was sipping, as elegantly as one can at 10pm, on a margarita at Cantina Agave on Fumin Lu (which is the best Mexican in town by the way) when a monkey came up on the bench and started begging. It’s fairly common to see people beg around western restaurants and bars in town but we were surprised by the monkey. It was the first monkey we’d seen in China, let alone Shanghai.

Unfortunately, the monkey was on a leash and was trained to beg – not far behind the monkey was a toothless character thinking we’d give him some money for his show of animal cruelty. When we said no, the monkey shot off and went to go to the next table. Instead of begging the monkey went straight for a loose handbag on the table. Luckily the woman who owned the bag was firm and shooed off the monkey like an old hand the owner disappeared fast after one of the women who worked there started chasing him down Changle Lu.

What did I do? Not spill one drop of the margarita, of course.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post: Don’t show fear to the monkey. According to a report in the London Metro we were extremely lucky the monkey in Shanghai didn’t get loco on us like one did recently in Chengdu:

A 60-year-old woman,Zhou Juchang, was pushed off a cliff by a monkey. She made the claim after winding up at the bottom of a seven-metre rockface, fracturing her hip and breaking three ribs.

Now she’s suing her travel agent, who organised her trip into China’s Chengdu Wildlife Park.

The monkey allegedly flew into a rage when the woman refused to hand over the bag of monkey food which her tour guide recommended she buy.

A spokesman for the park said the woman’s mistake was showing fear.

Anyway, if you are after Mexican in Shanghai I do highly recommend Cantina Agave. Relatively cheap Mexican food, good tequila, nice owners, and expensive jugs of margaritas. It’s located in the French Concession at 291 Fumin Lu, near Changle Lu.

The best Indian curry in Shanghai?

Last weekend we headed over to what is being hyped as the next cool area of Shanghai: Cool Docks. Located at the southern end of the bund at 479 Zhongshan Nan Road, near Fuxing Road, one could easily drive past and not really notice the new area – its right next to a whole heap of construction next to the Expo site.

While the area itself seems to be still under development it had a rather empty feel to it when we went late on Sunday afternoon. Hardly anybody was around, the restaurants had nobody in them, and none of the shops were anything to write home about. Maybe this is a night spot? I guess what really ticked me off was the fake graffiti wall with an Avril “Hey, hey, you, you I can be your girlfriend” Lavigne logo on it.(see picture below)

Anyway, given that we were hungry and it didn’t seem like much else was around so we stepped into the Indian restaurant, Kebabs on the Grille, which had a 140RMB buffet special. We didn’t go out searching for Indian, because we’ve been sorely disappointed by anything resembling butter chicken in Shanghai so far, but this was by far the best we’ve had in town.

While the place could do with a once over the food was great. They offer northern Indian fare with curries, salads, and desert all part of the buffet menu. It also included a glass of wine and bottomless drinks. The staff were super friendly and had a family-run restaurant feel to it, which is always a good sign.

During our stay I noticed a driver from Mealbay picked up a delivery so it seems like they offer home delivery through that service. I’m not sure if we’ll be trekking back to Cool Docks anytime soon – it kinda sucked – but if we get the taste for Indian again we’ll definitely be back.

What: Kebabs on the Grille
Where: The Cool Docks,
479 Zhongshan Nan Lu,
near Fuxing Dong Lu
中山南路479号,
近复兴东路
Phone: 6152 6567

Avril Lavigne graffiti logo at Cool Docks, Shanghai

Avril Lavigne graffiti logo at Cool Docks, Shanghai

Eat the yangmei, eat the yangmei, eat the yangmei

Well, it’s yangmei season once again in Shanghai. Known as the Chinese Strawberry, yangmei can be found in the fruit stalls and street vendors all over town this time of year. The furry-looking fruit looks similar to a lychee at first glace but is dark red in colour. Tasting somewhere between a strawberry and a raspberry the yangmei is sweet with a touch of tang. Saying I think they’re hao chi (delicious) is an understatement – my local dealer’s face lights up everytime he sees me…

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What: Yangmei (Chinese: 杨梅; pinyin: yángméi) Also known as waxberry, Chinese Bayberry, Japanese Bayberry, Red Bayberry, Chinese Strawberry
Where: Fruit stores, grocery stores, street vendors
How much: I’ve been paying around 10RMB for 1 Jin (almost half a kilo I think)

Update: Thanks to Dingle Speaks for his notable warnings about the yangmei I speak highly of. Used to speak highly of….

While the berry could easily be substituted for a raspberry or strawberry in recipes I’m keen to find out if the yangmei would work in cocktails:

Yangmei Mojito
- Fresh Yangmei (instead of Lime)
- Mint
- White Rum
- Sugar
- Soda Water
Mixed with Ice and served

Shanghai Manhattan
- Yangmei flavoured Baijiu
- Whiskey
- Bitters
- Garnished with a Yangmei
All shaken and strained

Yangmei Martini
- Yangmei juice or yangmei flavored Baijiu (depending on personal taste)
- Cointreau
- Vodka
Shaken and strained

Shanghai Sea Breeze
- Vodka
- Fresh yanmei juice
- Cranberry juice
- Dash of lime cordial (if wanted)
- Lime
Mixed with ice

Learn to read Chinese characters

Some days I think I’ve come so far in talking and getting around in Shanghai and China. And then sometimes, things turn out like this recent cooking event:

Jenni: Can you pick up sweet potato?

Me: Sure. Beer/Wine?

Jenni: Not tonight.

Me: Me too. I could murder one. I’ll grab a couple.

[Meanwhile...back at the house]

Jenni: Err is that Sweet Potato?

Me: Sure it is, it looks like it. It’s covered in dirt, right?

Jenni: Riiighht. But it looks different inside.

Me: Pfft what are you talking about. It’s fine, you just need to cook it.

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Shanghai Shots: Qibao Town

“I could eat the arse out of a low flying duck”, a visiting friend said before we jumped a 15 minute cab ride to Qibao Ancient Town in Shanghai’s Minhang District.

Neither of us knew we’d actually be squaring off more peculiar dishes than low flying duck arses for lunch.

This was actually back in January when I ran into an old friend at the airport who was doing a quick flyby trip through China. After seeing much of Shanghai’s main ‘Lonely Planet’ trail he wanted to get a more authentic feel of China outside the metropolis of Shanghai.

With only a few hours to spare I recommended the area of Qibao Ancient Town. Qibao was originally built in the Northern Song Dynasty between 960 and 1126 and grew over the years with the Qibao Temple at the centre of shaping the area. Recently, the temple has been reconstructed and contains ancient artifacts from its beginnings, including the original bronze bell with script from the era.

Along with the cultural significance is the popularity of the area’s rather unique snack streets. Local Shanghainese dishes are available along with exotic snacks such as toad, pig snout, baby birds on sticks, among others I couldn’t quite make out.

Sure, you can visit more authentic, less touristy water-type towns further away from Shanghai, but if you’re short on time Qibao Town will satisfy.

What: Qibao Ancient Town
In Chinese: 七宝古镇 Pinyin: Qībǎo gǔ zhèn
Where: Shanghai’s Minhang District. You can get there via Shanghai Metro Line 9 to Qibao station or it’s about a 40-50RMB taxi ride from downtown Shanghai.
How much: Free, snacks are relatively cheap. Haggle for cheesy touristy gifts.

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Should China eat Kangaroo?


While the world press fixates itself on the future of China in the world economy there’s been a bit of a stir back home that’s hit the front page news: China eating our Kangaroos.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: poor old skippy, one minute he’s jumping around the countryside, having a great time reproducing at a rate that the environment can’t sustain, and the next minute he’s $4.95/kg in the supermarket.

Well this storm in a teacup started when Australia’s Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, recently visited China to encourage locals to nibble on some Kangaroo. Australia has been exporting Kangaroo meat and products since the 1950s to places like France and Germany – who seem to love the taste – why not China? In fact, the back of the roo currently contributes around 200 million Aussie dollars to the economy.

The promotion caused offense to Australia’s Animal Liberation, a left wing group which exposes animal cruelty, like eating kangaroos. So much so that Mark Pearson, the executive director of Animal Liberation, is to visit China and give them a report which backs his arguments that kangaroos shouldn’t be eaten.

Who Pearson is going to give the report to in Beijing or who will actually care is unclear. Mr Pearson claims the report, called “A Shot in the Dark”, written by kangaroo ecologist Dror Ben-Ami, deals not only with animal welfare but hygiene and sustainability issues with harvesting kangaroos. No doubt Pearson will play the fear factor to whoever listens to him in China – what if, be careful, wild game, and so on.

Personally, I find kangaroo delicious – a bit gamey – but quite tender. I recently bought some kangaroo jerky back to China and gave it to our Ayi. She thought it was ‘hao chi’ (good food).

My tastes aside kangaroo meat is low in fat, high in protein, and quite healthy. Even those hippies from Greenpeace endorse eating kangaroo. The group recently released a report which claims Aussies can dramatically reduce their carbon footprint by eating less beef and more of the local wildlife.

It seems kangaroos, well, fart less which causes less greenhouse emissions. They also do less damage to the topsoil, require less food, and are better suited to Australia’s drought-prone outback. And while kangaroos are rather cute there are simply too many of them in certain areas for the local wildlife and bush to sustain their numbers.

On the food streets in Shanghai and the wet markets its easy to see that almost anything goes. I say, why not a kanga banga on the barbie?

Top ten bottles of red under 100RMB


One of the constant grumblings of lush expats in Shanghai (guys like me, I’m a guy like me) is the lack of decent ‘drink now’ red wines available for a reasonable cost. The casual bottle you can regularly buy and pour a cheeky glass or three for dinner, or, swill with a visiting neighbour. Unfortunately, most of the good stuff – imported wine – carries a hefty import tax which makes a casual glass of plonk more expensive than a regular illicit drug habit in many western countries.

Such are market forces.

However, it’s well worth the plug to link to the fine folks at Grape Wall of China who undertook the laborious task of uncovering, drinking, and judging 10 top wines under 100RMB. Excuse my gratuitous plagerisphere quoting but red wine bandits in China should definitely link and bookmark this site. From the site:

On March 13, a dozen expert and consumer judges met in Beijing for the Grape Wall Challenge and tasted 23 red wines that retail for less than RMB100 in China (see gallery). The experts rated each out of 20 points, while the consumers had four choices – “love it“, “like it“, “dislike it” or “hate it“. The wines were from France (6), Chile (5), Argentina (4), South Africa (3), Australia (2), the United States (1), Spain (1), and Italy (1). Cedar Creek Shiraz (Australia), distributed by Top Cellar, took top honors.

EXPERT PANEL: Top 10 Red Wines

1.Cedar Creek (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon) 2008, Australia / Top Cellar, RMB92
2. Callia Alta (Shiraz, Malbec) 2007, Argentina / Torres, RMB72
3. Santa Carolina (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2007, Chile / Aussino, RMB98
4. Las Condes (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2008, Chile / EMW, RMB86
5. (tie)
Leopard’s Leap: The Lookout (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cinsault) 2006, South Africa / Aussino, RMB95 AND
Concha y Toro Frontera (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2008, Chile / Summergate, RMB79
7. Michel Torino (Malbec) 2007, Argentina / Palette, RMB98
8. Domaine du Landeyran AOC St. Chinian (Grenache, Syrah) 2005, France / BJ Winestore, RMB85
9. Foot of Africa (Pinotage) 2006, South Africa / Torres, RMB99
10. Catena “Retamo” (Bonarda, Malbec) 2007, Argentina / Summergate, RMB89

Victorian bushfire appeal in Shanghai

In the last week bushfires (forest fires for the yanks) have ripped through the state of Victoria in Australia. It’s been the worst natural disaster the country has faces in over 100 years and so far has claimed the lives of more than 180 people with many more injured.

The fires have destroyed over a 1,000 homes leaving many homeless or seeking refuge. Many towns have been completely destroyed. The fire has had a devastating impact on the environment with over 1 million animals estimated to be dead and millions of hectares of bush wiped out. While a financial sum can’t bring back what has been destroyed the bill for rebuilding is going to run into the billions.

So, if you’re in Shanghai and would like to donate (and drink) AustCham Shanghai together with sponsors Just Beer, Kakadu, and Elders are donating all proceeds from beer and raffle ticket sales at Aussie Drinks this Friday to the Australian Red Cross bushfire efforts.

Entry is only 30RMB for non-members and Australian beers will cost between 20-30RMB, and Australian wine between 35-45RMB. With those bargain basement prices for imported drinks I don’t think many could afford not to help out.

The raffle will cost only 10RMB with the following prizes up for grabs:
* Voucher for 2000RMB to redeem on a pair of ECCO shoes
* 4 cases of VB home delivered, valued at 1008RMB sponsored by Just Beer
* Dinner for 6 at the Kommune Great “Ozzie BBQ” on Wednesdays, valued at 888RMB
* 400RMB voucher for home delievery plus a bottle of Hugh Hamilton “The Rascal” Shiraz valued at 298 RMB per bottle, Sponsored by Elders.
* Donut King Party voucher valued at 680RMB sponsored by Donut King
* Box of 25 gourmet meat pies valued at 600RMB sponsored by Allied Pickfords
* Travel package for two people to Zhou Zhuang valued at 600RMB sponsored by Sunrise Travel
* 600RMB travel voucher to be redeemed on flights, tours etc. sponsored by Classic Travel

What: AustCham Friday Drinks (Bushfire appeal)
When: Friday 13th February 2009
Where: Kakadu, No. 8 Jianguo Zhong Lu nr Chongqing Lu
Address in Chinese:
建国中路8号卡卡图澳大利亚餐厅, 近重庆南路 (往重庆路开到底在建国路口下车)

For more information visit the Austcham Shanghai Website.

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Homes Shanghainese Restaurant

Homes was the first Shanghainese restaurant I visited when arriving off the boat. After eating their delicious local food, especially the pork in brown sauce, I was hooked. The sad truth was that at the time I had no idea what side of the city I was in or where Homes was located.

By good fortune we accidently rediscovered Homes (right near where we live) on Julu Lu near Fumin Lu. The delicious pork was just as good as I remembered. Here’s a visual taste of what to expect:

Pork dish from Homes

Pork for Homes

What: Homes Shanghainese restaurant
Where: Julu Lu near Fumin Lu in the Former French Concession
Eat:Pork, Shrimp, and Hairy Crabs are a specialty.
How Much: 20-60RMB per dish. More for out of season ingredients and rare ingredients you probably shouldn’t eat.

Eat the pomelo, eat the pomelo, eat the pomelo

You say pommelo, I say pomelo – is the sweeter father of the grapefruit and now in season around China. I was first introduced to the giant of citrus about a month ago and keep going back to the fruit shop weekly, sometimes twice a week, to grab one. It’s certainly healthier than the dumpling addiction and rich in vitamin C to ward off the loogies during the cold winter in Shanghai.

While the grapefruit is bitter, the trick to eating a pomelo is to get rid of as much of the membrane as possible. Inside will be a sweet, almost honey flavored citrus flesh.

What: Pomelo or yòuzi (柚子) in Chinese
How much: Seen them between 3RMB and 40RMB. Buying them from local fruit shops is much, much cheaper than western supermarkets.
Where:Best bought at fruit shops or street vendors
How to pick a good one:I’ve been told to pick pomelos that are round with no or little flat edges and heavy for their size.