mercredi, mars 21, 2012

The Locals' "Side" of Jinqiao

My pretty fresh noodle seller

The sun finally came out this morning. After weeks of rain. Rain morning, rain afternoon, rain night. Where in the world did they manage to find so much rain to pour on us?

Problem was I had nothing on my agenda today. Some paperwork to deal with, a failed soy bean curd experiment (I shouldn't have stirred it), then nada.

I decided to call the spa and arrange for a body scrub and hot stone massage. The stones I felt like a (fat) chicken with grains of rough salt rubbed all over, oiled and then roasted. There was even aroma thrown in, it smelled of lemongrass in the room.

It felt wrong to go home and/or stay indoors on a day like this. But I didn't want to go all the way to Puxi just to walk outside. Told the driver to drop me off at the other side of Jinqiao (our nearest neighbourhood), in his words, "the poor people's side of Jinqiao".

Jinqiao - or our part of Jinqiao - doesn't look that much like what you have in mind of China. It is clean, with wide streets, lots of new condominiums, townhouses and villas. There is a Carrefour and a supermarket selling mainly imported products, lots of restaurants that cater mainly to expats and many white and S.E Asian people walking about. Cars with drivers line the streets and there are no shops selling anything that any body earning less than 10000 rmb a month would be able to afford.

Where the locals live in Jinqiao

Some time ago I asked the driver where he went for his lunch breaks (excluding Food Republic in Carrefour) since most of the restaurants in the area were so expensive. "The other side of Jinqiao" was his answer and since then I've always wanted to cross over to the other side for a visit.

Small wet market

A local primary school - quite nice from the outside

This area is really just a block or 2 away from Carrefour. It's more densely populated with lots of flats both high and low and especially lots of shops both small and big. When I told my driver that I would like to walk around, he looked at me like I was crazy, "What's there to see there?"


Anyway he dumped me at a busy intersection and I started to walk around. At one point I saw an alley where there were small shops and stalls selling cooked food, woollen sweaters (you actually see an old woman knitting away at the entrance), clothes, sundry goods, fruit and vegetables...I find it hard to imagine eating anything there though as there was a strong smell in the air, probably due to this stall selling buckets of duck blood, or maybe to refuse pilling up in a corner.

Food and shopping alley

Street bazaar

In a street just opposite a primary school there were make-shift stalls selling all sorts of things including wooden shelves and buckets, and there were also permanent shops selling cooked food, household goods...and fresh noodles. I love carbo and found myself attracted to the white floury stuff on display. Though I had no intention of making dumplings or soup noodles, I found myself buying a stack of wonton wrappers (they were thicker than the ones I normally use) and a few fistfuls of fresh flat wheat noodles. All for 3,50 rmb - I didn't know before that one could buy anything for that amount here in Shanghai.

Wonder how many dumplings this client would be making with that

All that for 3.50 rmb!

I also passed by my favourite Shanghainese bakery Ruby which makes very yummy sponge cakes filled with fresh cream. In fact I bought a few cups of...fresh cream for my afternoon tea. The Babies are crazy about their cream too and ever since I gave some to the driver's little girl I've helped Ruby gain yet another (chubby) fan.

They are often found at the entrances of a residential complex

Local snacks

We finished the visit with a trip to the neighbourhood retoucherie - a mobile stall that repairs/changes your buttons, zips, alters your pants etc. 10 yuan to change the zip (versus the 100 that the shop near my villa wanted to charge me) and I let my driver do the negotiation because I was told that once they see my face prices will go up. I probably look gullible or just very foreign.

Left = repair and alterations, right = cobbler?

She didn't bother to find a green zip to go with the green dragon costume. I guess I shouldn't complain for the price, but still I thought that she could have made an effort.

lundi, mars 19, 2012

Lunch at Table N°1 by Jason Atherton

Squid ink risotto @ Table N°1

When you are an expat in Shanghai, you usually look forward to picking up a copy of the free magazine Cityweekend filled with restaurant listings and reviews, the latest concerts and exhibitions etc.

For a year now I've been wanting to try Table N°1 by Jason Atherton since reviews have generally been positive and the menu seemed interesting and reasonably priced. The chef is famous (and has worked at El Bulli as well as won numerous awards) and I liked the idea of modern European cuisine, gastro-pub concept etc. That "N°1" was mentioned somewhere in the name of the restaurant probably contributed to said desire, you know how the psychology works for some of us.

I digress, restaurant opposite was making offering to the gods, burning paper money etc

I convinced Hub to join me there for lunch (he usually prefers French or Italian restaurants if he had to consume calories) one afternoon in February and we found the South Bund area where the restaurant was pretty cool. We were seated in a bright dining room decorated simply with modern fittings and I was quite intrigued by the fact that the kitchen was situated in the next building. It's like watching your neighbours cook, one of those thoughts that crossed my mind.

Salmon cakes with quail eggs

The lunch menu was simple and looked delicious on paper. But I must say that while the food was quite nice, we didn't find it exciting and couldn't find the incentive to return. Plus the portions were small.

Calf liver

We had salmon cakes with quail eggs, squid ink risotto, calf liver (for Hub)...They were cooked properly, the colours and presentation were lovely, but we just felt that there could be more to it. The risotto wasn't anywhere as good as the ones I've eaten in Italy, and the dessert while nice couldn't be compared to what I usually get in France.

Was it just a bad day? Maybe I should give the private chef dining a try? But Hub wouldn't have any of it.

Table N°1 by Jason Atherton
The Waterhouse Hotel, Cool Docks
1号 Maojiayuan Road,
Tel : 021 60802918

海底捞 Steamboat with Service

Yin yang pot

I've never been hot about steamboat (火锅/hotpot/fondue) until Fei brought us to lunch at 海底捞 (Sichuan Haidilao). Ever since that, I started looking forward to my next steamboat meal and realising that I wasn't alone, we lunched there again this afternoon.

What's so special about this steamboat restaurant? Without hesitation I'll tell you that it's the service. Yes, it's possible to have service in China. This restaurant positively sizzles with it. Though of course it comes with a price. I've brought my driver to lunch there on another occasion and according to him a meal at Haidilao costs at least 50% more than a similar one (with less service, of course) that he and his family would go for.

From the moment you step out of your car and walk towards the building housing the eating place, there would be someone waiting, "Do you happen to want to lunch at Haidilao?" Reply in the positive and you would be ushered to the private lift that would bring you directly to the restaurant and be greeted by a hostess.

At your table you would get a hot towel (that would be changed any time you want a new one), an apron, a cover for your jacket and bag, an elastic band for your hair (if you don't have one)...You order your food, your drinks (free-flow and served), specify if you want someone to cook for you, and you would always be checked on to see if you needed anything else, if the heat was too strong or not enough etc.

There would be a station filled with cold appetisers and a wide choice of sauces that you could mix yourself (and it's cleaned all the time by the staff), noodles would be prepared and pulled right in front of you, plates changed throughout the meal...The menu is quite varied and the prices reasonable. I love their special beef (that remains tender even after a long time in the pot), prawn balls and fried bean curd sticks.

Spoilt for choice

Cleaning and refilling the sauce station

You need to go to the toilet? It's very clean for a Chinese restaurant because there is someone cleaning it all the time. Need a sanitary napkin? Just ask. There may even be staff waiting to turn on the tap for you, provide you with a towel, hand cream, tooth pick, chewing gum etc etc.

Chillies and oil!

Their 麻辣 soup base was one of the best I've tried, so strong and hot Fei had to eat pop corn (courtesy of the house, of course) to quench the fire. Feel that maybe the meal may be too hot for your system? They would make flower tea for you to balance things up.

Division of labour is the way this restaurant works. There is someone for every task. There are currently 10 restaurants in Shanghai but we usually go to the one in Pudong. You can order steamboat to be delivered to your house, by the way. Or buy one of their soup bases online. On 淘宝, of course.

Tel : 021 38713936

Red - Jay Chou Portrait with Coffee Cup Stains

Red strikes again! Before I had time to recover my breath from her last piece of amazing art work, she has come out with another fabulous portrait of a famous person (e.g. Jay Chou) using a medium that could be associated with him.

This time it stains! To think that I was screaming at Hub the other morning when he stained my white kitchen work surface with coffee from the bottom of his cup.

Do you think, that is if I managed to come out with a piece of art using a coffee cup, that my kitchen work top would look nice decorated with coffee stains? Would the management of my residence like it?

Guess not.

Enjoy Red's new masterpiece. I'm tempted to ask her for a signature before she becomes even more famous. But on what support?

vendredi, mars 16, 2012

Pork Rib Potato Carrot Celery Corn and Tomato Soup

Pork Rib Potato Carrot Celery Corn and Tomato Soup

Mum really liked cooking this Pork Rib Potato Carrot Celery Corn and Tomato Soup for us when we were kids. Sometimes she used chicken instead of pork, but either way the soup turned out sweet and tasty and we would spoon it generously over our rice. I have to ask her some day if it was as I've remembered her telling us, that she learnt how to make this soup when she was a demonstrator for Hagemeyer-National Panasonic back in the 1970s.

I've not eaten it for a long time, for when you use the same ingredients (minus the meat and corn and eventually adding other vegetables like cabbage or leek) in a French family, you always end up mixing up everything with a hand mixer and eating the soup as a soupe aux légumes.

But I thought quite a bit about it some time back and felt like having it again. So I made some when Hub was away and fed the kids and myself with it as part of dinner for a few evenings. Part of it (soup only) also went into making rice porridge. It was a nice trip back to the past for me.

Pork Rib Potato Carrot Celery Corn and Tomato Soup :

1 kg pork ribs
1 potato (cubed largely)
2 carrots (cubed largely)
2 stalks celery (peeled and quartered)
1 stalk corn (chopped into 3)
6 cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
fresh coriander leaves to garnish with

Bring half a pot of water to the boil and add in the ribs. Bring to the boil again then let it simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the water, rinse the ribs under running water and fill the pot with water again.

When the water comes to the boil, return the ribs to the pot, add in the corn, cover and simmer for 35 minutes.

Add in the potatoes, carrots and celery. Cover the pot and simmer again for another 30 minutes.

15 minutes before serving add in the cherry tomatoes. Remove the skin from the tomatoes when you can do so easily.

Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Making a Mosaic Tray for the First Time

My first mosaic tray

I have always wanted to make something with mosaics and had thought when we were living in Italy that I would get to do it there. Unfortunately I've not come across any classes in Modena and the city of mosaics aka Ravenna was too far away for me to commute to for any lessons.

After lesson N°1

Then I arrived in Shanghai and saw that the residence next door had a community centre that offered mosaic classes. I wanted to sign up last year but it happened to clash with the cooking lessons offered by my own residence so I had to give the former up. This year I found 2 neighbours who also wanted to do the same thing so we signed up for and attended the 5 classes together.

After lesson N°2

We were clueless on our first day, not even knowing what we wanted or what we could make. Then we got started and would change our minds from time to time, pulling out what we've already done and starting all over each time new inspiration hit as we were working. It was a time-consuming and back-breaking hobby and I've even managed to tear some skin off my fingers, bleeding on the mosaics as I worked.

After lesson N°3

If I had known better I would have kept my design simple. But I wanted to follow a picture I saw in our teacher's book and started on a journey of no return that produced a horribly colourful and confusing piece of work. I was pulling my hair out at one point and almost wanted to pull everything out, but I was running out of time and remembered Macbeth saying once about how going back would be as difficult as moving forward.

After lesson N°4

So I resigned myself to the result and just finished the tray, telling myself that I'll do better the next time. We plan to start on a new, smaller project soon and will hunt for mosaic tiles next week. This time I'm going to decorate a lazy susan. I know for sure now that I've no artistic fibre in me, but I enjoy working with my hands sometimes so I'll just go ahead and do it.

My tray after grouting during lesson N°5 - I've chosen white

Below are some of my fellow course mates' production. Some of them have already joined a few of the earlier mosaic classes so it wasn't their first project :

My favourite tray. This was her 3rd project, I think.

A lazy susan, also not her first project.

Judy's first project

Fei's first project

A Finnish lady's icy project

First project by the only guy in our class

The only vase

jeudi, mars 15, 2012

2012 Violin Concert at the Babies' School

Excerpt of violin concert (Year 3s - could be hard on the ears)

So where do I start? I repeat myself if I say I've been busy, for have I not already mentioned it yesterday? But I have been occupied true enough, much as I have nothing much to show for my business (so that was how it came about!) except panda eyes and empty boxes leftover from express deliveries (my favourite Chinese word at the moment : 快递).

MIL reads my blog and while Hub doesn't, he has friends who do. I should really emphasise the hard work I've put in to be a (good) wife and mother, but one thing that attracted me to Hub in the first place was his intelligence so I guess that he wouldn't buy that.

I might as well admit my recent addiction to Taobao (淘宝). Limited only by my lack of Chinese money (note - not Chinese, it's amazing how much Chinese I can suddenly read when it comes to Taobao). But I've also been doing the usual grocery shopping (and I'm checking out online organic supermarkets as well), running around the kids' schools, meeting a few friends, attending meetings about Global Child Day, dining out during Shanghai Restaurant Week, preparing for Baby Boy's birthday, attending charity galas, making a mosaic tray with the neighbours, learning Chinese calligraphy, psyching myself up for the dinners we will throw come spring...

I do not have much time to do heavy housework nowadays and can only hope that the once-weekly help I've been getting for the past 3 weeks suffices. But I find not having my own ayi liberating. 小朱 works for 2-3 families in the residence and only helps out at my place on her only off-day in the week. She does a bit of ironing (Hub said she ironed badly - but better her than me), vacuums, mops and cleans the toilets. I make sure that the kitchen is clean and the whole house tidy when she comes. She told me this morning that she was surprised that my house was this clean and tidy though I have 3 kids and only have her come in once a week. I told her I was secretly a sorcerer with a magic broom (unfortunately not made in Germany).

Anyway we'll see how long I'll last. If I am sick of doing most of the housework myself, I can always hire a daily ayi again. It's hiring one and having to manage or fire her that's the tough part I prefer to live without.

stage was empty except for the violins

So let's start with the 2012 Violin Concert at the school. All Years 1 to 3 kids in the school have to learn how to play the violin. It's supposed to help them learn Chinese better. And they display what they've learnt annually at the Violin Concert. This was Baby Boy's last concert and he stops learning the violin at school after that. But he'll continue with his violin lessons at home with his own teacher.

Stage filled up with the young players (282 of them)

Like last year, the sounds were quite horrible coming from the bows pulled by small children. But I was really touched seeing such young children valiantly pulling their instruments and displaying no signs of nervousness. I really like this school with its moral education, own curriculum, mixed population and humble facilities (compared to some of the larger international schools here). If the canteen food could be better, if they could provide a bus service after ASAs and if they could offer French - it would have been perfect.

teacher warning them that they were about to start

Baby Boy's private violin teacher said that the pieces he was playing at the concert were actually too difficult for a child who has only been learning the instrument for a few months. Most of his comrades have been playing the violin for a few years. But the school's violin teacher felt that he was good enough to play with the normal group and the boy himself thought so too. I still haven't figured out how one could make music with 4 strings, so anything goes by me.

the Year 3 kids playing

Next year I'll put Baby Girl back on the piano whether she wants to or not. There may still be time to cultivate a small ensemble in our household.

My little star waiting for the concert to start

mercredi, mars 14, 2012

Red - Painting Yao Ming with a Basketball

I have been meaning to post the above video for a while but never got round to it. Have been so busy in the past month I lack sleep and walk around nowadays with panda eyes.

But just in case you happen to miss this fabulous short video currently doing its round around the world, I thought I could bring it to you. Yi currently lives and works in Shanghai and is a very pretty and talented young lady. I first saw this video on her mother (a fabulous cook)'s blog and then caught an article about her in City Weekend published here in Shanghai and largely read by the expat community trying to keep abreast of everything happening in the city.

Yi, to me, represents creativity, enthusiasm, joy of life and beauty. She is also a kind of bridge between Shanghai where we live and S.E Asia where we come from. And in between, like myself, she has lived in Europe - yet another culture. But I've not even 1% of the young lady's talent, needless to say I envy her mother.

Yi drew a portrait of Yao Ming (the basketball star) with red paint and a basketball. She's amazing. See it for yourself - if you haven't already.