October 5, 2015
Omar Reyes

I cannot leave Shanghai without writing something about this mega city’s cuisine. The Shanghai cuisine is the youngest among the major cuisines in China. Shanghai, being a relatively new city in China, does not really have a cuisine of its own, but successfully refines all the historical cookery of the surrounding provinces such as Zhejiang and Jiangsu. The food is full of color, aromas and strong flavors. They use a lot of oil, soy sauce and red spices; so be careful when asking for something spicy when visiting, you might regret it. I decided to take several cooking classes to learn about this interesting cuisine and share my experience with you ...

The first class included a visit  to the wet market to buy all the ingredients to craft our plates. The first floor was for meats, poultry, fish and other proteins I didn’t know we could eat. It’s sad that I didn’t take a picture of my son’s eyes when he saw all kind of live animals including chickens, fish, frogs, eels, within others I cannot remember their names, ready for butchery. After those images, I am so glad we didn’t pick sautéed frog legs or stir-fried eel from the list of recipes we could cook. I have to confess that watching the process of preparation of some of these animals was quite shocking.

The second floor of the wet market was also impressive. We got to buy all the vegetables and spices for our dishes. They sold all the vegetables and fruits that you can imagine and those you don’t; from the largest pumpkins I’ve ever seen, to chicken eggs covered in mud and salt called Pidan. I asked why the eggs were covered that way and they told me that’s the way they keep them good without refrigeration … interesting.

After the shopping spree, the chef was waiting for us in a small apartment with a Chinese-style dining room and a couple of cooking stations. We cooked Shao fan (or fried rice), Chow fun (or Cantonese fried noodles) and Jiaozi (also known as dumplings). I couldn’t believe how something as simple as closing a dumpling was so difficult. However, the chef was very patient and helped us until we closed one by ourselves; but of course never as pretty as the ones he made. It was really cool because the chef allowed us to do everything in the class. When we finished cooking all the recipes, they served all the plates in the dining room and the sous-chef sat with us to talk about Shanghai culture, specially its cuisine.

Several weeks later, I took another class and I cooked La-mian (or finger pulled noodles) and Baozi (or steamed filled bread). You can find these two light course meals on every corner of Shanghai. People here eat this filled bread for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as quick snack. I’ve seen more than 20 people in line just to buy a Baozi. They are filled with pork, shrimp, vegetables, chicken and other local ingredients. They taste really good and only cost 1.5 Yuan or 25 cents each. Like with the dumplings, closing the Baozi was a challenge, but I was able to keep the meat inside this time.

I have to say that my cooking experience in Shanghai was an excellent cultural experience. It’s amazing how the use of so many different ingredients, cooking techniques and flavors are happening at the same time in the same place. Most of the best dishes are made with simple techniques and inexpensive ingredients. The magic relies on the selection of the right ingredients and the skills, an art really, to prepare these local plates. The final result is good food and accessible to everyone and that's GREAT!

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Posted in All Markets
Tagged architecture, Xchange

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