Hangzhou Ghost Story

When I hopped on a Hangzhou bound train with my dad and a friend one balmy May evening last year, I thought I would spend the next two days discovering the mist shrouded beauty of West Lake, where poets and scholars of centuries past gazed from its banks and murmured a few words of prose as they raised a cup of tea to their lips.  Little did I know that the city would extend to me a welcome of the most unearthly kind.

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Xie Xie Starbucks

Say what you will about patronizing U.S. chains when traveling to other countries, but there’s something to be said about comfort and familiarity. Not to mention a clean, Western style bathroom.  I wasn’t the only one who sought respite at a Starbucks on Nanjing Rd bordering the outer edge of People’s Park one rainy afternoon. I saw expat businessmen, European tourists, students from the U of Georgia, and local university students using the place for work, rest, and play.

This particular location is very nice and I imagine on clearer days, the upstairs terrace probably affords a lovely view of the park.  I spent the better part of an hour reposing on a comfortable armchair in self-reflection and curious observation, accompanied by a cup of tea and my journal.  No one hurried me on my way.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of home when you’re thousands of miles away. Thanks Starbucks! (No, this is not a shameless plug.)

Starbucks @ People's Park in Shanghai

Starbucks – Nanjing Rd, at People’s Park in Shanghai.  There are two entrances, one inside the park and one from Nanjing Rd.  Outdoor patio on floor level as well as a terrace upstairs.

Shanghai Showdown: Battle Hsiao Lung Bao

While doing research prior to my Shanghai visit in June, I found that there was a dearth of information about local cuisine.  The common refrain is that Shanghainese cuisine does not exist. Not very helpful there.  Also, due to the city’s status as an economic and trading hub, its food culture borrows heavily from other parts of China and of course, the world. However, unlike Singapore or Taiwan where this kind of culinary traffic jam evolved into a distinctive local cuisine, I couldn’t find a similar story with food in Shanghai.  Regionalism is so firmly entrenched that Hunanese cuisine in Shanghai remained Hunanese,  Xinjiang food stayed true to Xinjiang, and so on.

Fortunately, there was one dish that people seemed to associate with Shanghai and that would be hsiao lung bao, the bite sized soup dumplings familiar to many a dim sum eater.  Since my time and stomach space was limited, I only wanted to try the best that Shanghai could offer. It seemed that identifying the best would be no easy task.  The food forums definitely had opinions as to which hsiao lung bao (XLB) joints were the best, and the three that kept coming up were Jia Jia Tang Bao, Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, and Ding Tai Fung. With no clear cut winner crowned as of yet, I took it upon myself as an expert dumpling eater to try all three places and decide once and for all — Whose dumplings reign supreme?

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