The excitement of my aunt and uncle was so endearing to me. The minute we arrived at their house they busily buzzed around, making sure we were taken care of -- "Would you guys like some hot tea? Do you need more hangers? We have fruit, apples, pears, oranges -- here we'll cut you some to eat while you unpack." Why would I ever want to stay at a 5-star hotel when I get treatment like this? It just comes to show that nothing is better than family. Granted I've only met them a total of three times, their love and hospitality instantly made me feel at home. Jiu Ma surprised me with my favorite breakfast in the morning - Sheng Jian Bao.
I think one of the most incredible culinary treasures of Shanghai would have to be the Sheng Jian Bao. Don't get me wrong, I love Xiao Long Bao but these are just absolutely ridiculous. Every time I come to Shanghai, this is the first place I stop. I still remember the first time I tasted one -- my dad woke me up bright and early and said "Hey wake up! Let's go get some breakfast". Bundled in our winter coats, we marched out into the cold in search of the perfect breakfast. Thankfully it was right down the street! At the intersection of Tian Ping Lu and Guang Yuan Lu, every morning you will find a line of vendors selling all different kinds of traditional Chinese breakfast items. But the best spot is obvious from the long line that eventually leads to a gigantic cast iron skillet, where the little bao zis are sizzling away.
In each dumpling is a glorious combination of pork filling and gelatin, the outside skin is made of semi-leaven dough so the texture is dense yet light at the same time. The opening of the bun is placed face down on the hot oiled skillet so it creates a crispy crust opposed to a soggy one from the melted gelatin. Water is sprayed on top of the buns to steam the outside as the bottom sizzles to a crunchy perfection. It is then finished off with sesame seeds and chopped green onion. With the wondrous combination of the savory soup from the melted gelatin and meat paired with the golden brown crust, it makes this a breakfast for champions. I always feel like I am ready to take on the world every time I scarf down a couple ...or four orders of these bad boys. Collin's favorite was Shanghai's version of the breakfast burrito - a green Scallion Pancakes with a fresh egg on top smothered in sweet bean paste and hot chili sauce, and to kick it up a notch you can have a "You Tiao" or Chinese styled donut wrapped in the middle.
After breakfast Collin and I decided to go for a stroll at the neighborhood park - Xu Jia Hui Park before all the DIM SUM MADNESS. One of the many things I love about Shanghai are all of the beautiful parks nestled throughout the city. We loved all the different types of trees and plants they had growing all around the park, it was truly impressive. The parks here serve as a peaceful place for people to relax, a solace from the busy city commotions -- a fresh breath of air to center yourself and take the time to appreciate the beauties of life.
Many of the elderly come to the park early in the morning to perform "Qi Gong" which is a common meditative practice in China that employs controlled breathing techniques along with slow movements to move the "qi" or air in your body. It is believed that these exercises promotoes proper circulation to your body and helps maintain your overall health.
Today my grandmother was inviting Collin and I for dimsum at Jing Jiang Fan Dian (Maoming Nan Lu 59, 1 block north of Huaihai Zhong Lu, Luwan District)-- which is situated inside the Jing Jiang hotel on the 5th floor. This restaurant offered a variety of traditional Chinese Dim Sum, many dishes they have here are not made in the states so I was extremely excited about this culinary adventure.
Does this look familiar? Apparently all the women in my family are very serious when it comes to food. Since both my mother and Jiu ma have proper ordering glasses, maybe I should invest in a pair too :). I have always enjoyed the culture of Chinese meals -- it is always family style and there is always MORE than enough food. A typical meal here usually lasts at least an hour and a half and sometimes over two! You just become lost in good conversation, delicious food and the overall joyous tone that spread throughout the table.
Please note, I didn't even take a picture of the complete spread of what Jiu Ma ordered, but let me assure you that we ran out of room on the "Lazy Susan". I could see Collin panicking -- "How many more dishes are there Joy? I don't think I can eat anymore." Let's rewind. Before leaving for dimsum, I told Collin "Hey dude. Be sure you eat A LOT because for some reason Chinese people really like it when someone new to our culture has a 'healthy' appetite so bring your A game." I couldn't help but snicker as I watched little beads of sweat collect above his brow as my Jiu Ma enthusiastically shoved more food on his plate "COLLIN EAT" as she pointed to the two new dishes that arrived to the table, "EAT EAT EAT!!".
Isn't my grandmother beautiful by the way? Despite her age, I think she really keeps it hip with her shades, granted she wears them because her eyes have become sensitive to the light, I think she is fabulous to the max :) Now, onto the food. My top favorites were the Soy Braised Chicken Feet -- okay I know half of you are running towards the toilet dry heaving but I'm telling you people, don't let the name fool you, this stuff is GOOD. The combination of textures -- the soft gelatinous skin with the denseness of the tendons, slowly braised in some kind of magical soy reduction, it instantly brings comfort to my heart (stomach).
Plenty of Xia Jiaos were consumed -- shrimp dumplings wrapped in rice flour but I was not a fan of the Shanghainese version of Shu Mai. They made theirs with a glutinous rice also braised in soy and I don't remember it having any meat...WHERE'S THE MEAT? Some of the more unconventional dimsums included mini durian pastries, which were excellent (I was weary because I find the taste and smell of durian really off putting), Xue Mei Yang -- which were little mochi balls filled with whipped cream and a sweet mango center, and puffed scallion pancakes that I personally liked better than the traditional flat pancake which is more dense in texture.
During the meal, I served as the translator between Collin and my family -- it is much harder than I expected. I found the wheels in my head turning a little rusty as I struggled to find the correct English words for the Chinese phrases and vice versa. I tried to remember to translate as often as possible, Collin was a good sport about it the entire time. He actually tried to pick up as many words as possible and sometimes could guess to what subjects we were talking about at the table. By the time the food stopped coming and each of us ate to our maximum capacities, I had to put my camera down because I was truly having trouble breathing through my immense "fullness".
This is my Jiu-Ma -- she was pretty much my second mother during this entire trip. She served as our tour guide and took us to all the eateries, tagged along on all the adventures in Wu Xi and Shu Zhou and made sure that our time in Shanghai was the best she could offer. You will see her several times throughout my posts on Shanghai. In her early 60s, she walked, looked and acted like she was in her mid 30s. She really became an inspiration to me in the sense of her adventurous spirit, fearless attitude and her eagerness to learn new things and stay with the trends. She called me and Collin "old hags" because many times throughout our trip we had trouble keeping up with her, but in my defense, this lady can speedwalk like NO OTHER.
Here is another picture of my (mom's) family (not pictured is my First Aunt and Uncle). Jiu Ma and Jiu Jiu are on the left along with my grandma -- Collin and I are standing between Xuxu Ayi and Gufu who are long time family friends. They are kind souls and it was really nice to see them doing so well and in good health. The next post will be a long one (mostly pictures) -- it will chronicle my adventures to WuXi and ShuZhou (where I bought my wedding dress!!).