A Mooncake in Shanghai

I realized the other day that I don’t blog about food nearly as often as I used to on our poor neglected sister blog, so, starting today I’m going to change that. From now on, if I eat or drink something cool or unusual in my travels, you’re going to read about it. Or at the very least, have to skip over it and wait for my next post on how not to fall asleep while playing Barbies with your daughter.

Either way, expect to read a lot more about food from now on. And to get things started I’ll tell you about the best food I had on my recent trip to Shanghai, China. Yes, believe it or not, I was invited to China to moderate a panel on the Rise of Asian Cinema inflight offerings at the first ever APEX/Asia Educational Event. That’s right, they asked me to moderate too. Crazy, huh?

Shanghai (Nov. 2013) by Tomás N. Romero

Shanghai (Nov. 2013) by Tomás N. Romero

Anyway, the event was awesome, the people on the panel — who included an old film school buddy of mine from AFI! — we’re amazing and, even with the a smog, Shanghai was gorgeous and everything I had expected it to be. Big, fun, exciting, seedy (I’ll save my back alley fake purse shopping adventures for another post) the city had a vibe that was just kind of electrifying. Everything was just happening, like, all the time. It was awesome.

The food, however, was a totally different experience. I read somewhere recently that calling the food in China “Chinese food” was like lumping all the countries in Europe together and calling it “European food”. China is just too big for there to be any sort of cohesiveness to the culinary offerings. I mean, sure, dumplings and rice and all that are pretty standard, but as far as the main dishes go, the skies the limit, with almost every region of the country having their own specialties.

And though I sort of knew that going in, and did go so far as to put a Shanghai delicacy called “hairy crab” on my plate at the buffet line at the hotel. The hair on the crab was just too damn much for me — seriously, it looked like a mustache peeking out from under the shell! — and I didn’t eat it.

Shanghai (Nov. 2013) by Tomás N. Romero

Shanghai (Nov. 2013) by Tomás N. Romero

And unfortunately everything else I tried was terrible, or, I should say, not what I expected. The biggest problem I had was texture. The dumplings and wontons were either too gooey and soft or strangely tough to bite through. I know it sounds gross, but there was a stringy, bandage-like texture to the worst wontons I tried and even the ones that were mildly palatable were filled with very odd tasting meats and chicken.

In fact, almost all of the meat and chicken I had in Shanghai was questionable, at best. Someone advised me to stick with the pork offerings and it was the best advice I got all trip. It’s pretty hard to ruin pork and you can always tell what part of the pig you’re, eating especially with bacon! So, pork was the order of the day.

That said, the one food item I ate that truly rocked my world was a tasty little Chinese Mooncake I bought for like, a quarter, at a farmers market-y kind of place near my hotel.

Shanghai (Nov. 2013) by Tomás N. Romero

Shanghai (Nov. 2013) by Tomás N. Romero

Shanghai (Nov. 2013) by Tomás N. Romero

Located at the northern end of Shanghai’s bustling Nanjing Road shopping district, the place sold all kinds of fancy teas and candy and stuff and up near the front sat a bored looking girl lording over a steaming little oven of freshly made Mooncakes. I don’t know what was in them (I’m pretty sure it was pork) but, they smelled like a dream and tasted even better. In fact, if I hadn’t just dumped $40 USD on tea inside the shop, I might have bought more than one. But, what can I say, I’m cheap.

And though the combination of flaky pastry and super yummy pork filling was delicious, I never went back and got more. I guess I just kept thinking I’d find something better. But, the sad truth is, apart from the excellent Indian curry dishes at the hotel, I never did. So, that honey of a Mooncake remains the best thing I ate in Shanghai, bar none. And, wow…what a treat it was!

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