Monday, August 20, 2007

Food

Lots of folks have asked about the food situation around here so I thought I would add some larger thoughts. Basically my food consumption here falls into three categories:

Americanized: Obviously Shanghai is a big, international city. There are lots of Americans, Canadians, Europeans and other Western folks living and visiting here. We like westernized food and Shanghai has plenty of restaurants to suit out needs.

Many chains exist in Shanghai. I have seen McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, KFC and Starbucks. There are also a number of American-like non-chains. Every Tuesday we go to a little hamburger diner that gives teachers half off deals. Just down the road is a little sandwich shop that has very American like food.

Chinese: Of course there are tons of little Chinese places to eat too. I'd like to compare them to American Chinese restaurants, but as I rarely ate in those I can only say they seem very similar. One major thing different from normal American restaurants is that they don't really do combos or an all encompassing meals. You order each food product separately and it comes in a big plate or bowl.

So if you order the sweet and sour pork, you get a big plate full of nothing but sweet and sour pork. Same with noodles and vegetables. All of this makes it better to each with lots of people so that you order a whole bunch of plates and then communally eat it. That's the other thing, these restaurants are set up so that everybody shares out of a communal plate. They don't really provide smaller plates for you to put your sample of food either, you just have to take it out of the communal bowl and eat.

Most of the places are pretty cheap, though it does add up when you start ordering lots of plates. This again makes it better to have more people as you divide the bill evenly. Strangely most of these places don't offer drinks other than some sort of flavored hot water. If you want a Coke, you buy a can from the local market.

Noodles: We've only gone to Muslim noodle joints, though presumably there are non-Muslim ones. Noodle joints are like Chinese fast food. They are fast and cheap and not particularly healthy. Basically you order noodles or rice that are mixed with various meats and vegetables.

Once again it is best to go with a group and order lots of bowls. We've eaten full meals there for less than 30 Yuan, which amounts to about three American dollars.

I suspect there are other options as well, but that's basically what I have eaten so far.

Grocery stores: Within walking distance we have two small markets. They are set up like the small markets you might find in an American city. They are a little pricey and don't have a lot of things, but they are convenient. Unfortunately some of the convenience is lost on me as most of it is geared towards local Chinese and not crazy Americans. You can't find basic things like bread or sandwich meat. There are lots of strange packages of noodles and things but as I don't read Chinese I am never really sure what is in them.

The bigger grocery store is Carefour and it is a taxi ride away. I'll get into taxis later, but lets just say if you want to go anywhere you've got to ride a cab. Carefour is like a super Wal-mart with groceries and various house hold goods. It is also super busy all the time. Imagine Wal-mart at its busiest, then multiply by about ten.

I don't know what it is about the culture, but people walk and drive and ride bikes in the most sporadic way. Basically you go wherever you want, whenever you want traveling the speed that you want, or if you prefer stopping at the strangest of places. It is just the way it is. So in the store people are everywhere doing whatever they want. Driving a cart you have to weave and wove and turn on a dime, stopping quickly then backtracking and moving around. It is nuts!

Carefour has good American like products, but also lots of weird stuff too. At their little broiler station they had a couple of plucked chickens hanging - head, feet, wings and all. There was also something that resembled a headless Dachshund, but for now I am pretending it was a fox or some other small animal.

In the cold section it isn't unusual to see duck heads and chicken feet. What meat there is to eat on those, I don't know, but there they are.

The sea food is where it gets really weird. They have big aquariums full of all sorts of live things. From fish to eels to bull frogs and turtles they all just sit there, ready to be picked up and eaten. You know I'm not really that squeemish, and I realize people eat these sorts of things and I've even had fried turtle, but it is very strange to see them still alive sitting there looking at you.

I've yet to eat from a street vendor though they are all over the place. Usually they serve meat on a stick, and as that doesn't' seem all that sanitary I'm waiting on somebody to point me to one that they know to be ok, before I dive in.

1 comment:

Jamison said...

there is a Korean resturant in town that does meals like you describe. They EXPECT you to order a bunch of plates with your friends and share it. In fact, rarely have I gone and saw another white person there. All Korean folks... so we know it is authentic.

FYI, there is a new comedy coming out... the plot: a man and his french speaking girlfriend who spent some time in France in the past go to France to visit. The man speaks no french and his GF speraks it fluently. she encounters many of her ex boyfriends and they talk alot, none of which is understood by the current boyfriend...

Someone stole what could have been an idea you could have come up with. Coulda shoulda woulda