We begin our Shanghai art adventure on a decidedly un –artistic note!
While we didn’t have alot of time to explore on our own (this was an official school trip), we managed to find a few cool things to do in the pockets of free time between looking at art galleries and exhibitions. Here’s a quick look at what we got up to, if you’d like to see.
First up – food.
You basically can’t say that you’ve been to Shanghai if you haven’t had any xiaolongbaos. These amazing pork dumplings are served piping hot, in a bamboo steamer. The little balls of salty pork meat sit in a hot bath of luscious broth, and are wrapped up in a soft doughy package of goodness.
There are so many ways to eat these – (i) you could jam the whole thing in your mouth and wait for the umami explosion of soup and meat to happen in one heart-stopping (yet wonderful) go; or (ii) you could discreetly bite the top off the dumpling, allowing the insides to cool while preserving the use of the dumpling skin as a receptacle for the soup; or (iii) you could just bite into it as you would a regular piece of dimsum.
(We’d recommend method (ii) unless you fancy burning your tastebuds and rendering them useless for the rest of the day, or losing half the soup to your bamboo steamer).
Enough technical talk, let’s get down to business.
And Jia Jia is the business, as far as xiaolongbaos are concerned.
See how its ranked here . We would recommend the Huanghe Lu branch, it’s a short walk from the People’s Square subway station. We braved the morning rush hour (terrifying but manageable if you approach the crowds with equal amounts of aggression), to hit the restaurant at 8am sharp. The queues were minimal at that time. If travelling with a big party, break up into smaller groups of 3 or 4, and you will get seated faster. We were told that the basic pork dumplings were the best, and not to waste time with the fancier ones.
If you’re moderately hungry, one bamboo steamer per person is exactly the right order, without causing too much wastage, or having everything descend into a race for the last dumpling.
How does this compare to Din Tai Fung? The skin is a little thicker, but the pork meat is more flavourful. It’s honestly a different taste, a bit like comparing a Burger King Whopper with a McDonald’s Big Mac – similar, but to an extent dependent on what you personally prefer. The price point is also quite different, so if gorging on dumplings is the aim, Jia Jia may be the one for you.
If you do have to queue at Jia Jia, dispatch one of your group to pop in across the road and take away some Yang’s pan-fried dumplings. The flavours are similar, but these dumplings have a wonderful crusty base that beautifully sets off the chewy dumpling skin and soupy filling.
On the way to and from the train station from Jia Jia, you may see crowds outside the Park Hotel bakery – keep an eagle eye out for when these crowds abate, and then swoop into the bakery immediately to get yourself some buttery “Angel Wing” (or “Butterfly”) biscuits. They are delish. They come in 2 sizes, but we’d recommend the smaller variety as their sugar to pastry ratio is higher. Buy some to keep in your bag when the munchies hit while gallery-hopping.
That’s breakfast taken care of – let’s move on to evening entertainment, once the art galleries have closed for the day.
We had some excellent massages at Congen, also on People’s Square (next to a Macdonald’s). Online reviews seem mixed, but we thought it was very decent. Body massages were pretty good, but the foot reflexology was at another level altogether. Masseurs are rated (and priced) at the “3-star” or “5-star” level and my “5-star” foot reflexologist was tremendous. She managed to find that exquisite sweet spot between pleasure and pain, and I left feeling incredibly rejuvenated after hours of walking and standing.
You may want to take note that you’ll need to change into a pair of pyjamas, and at the end of the session, your therapist gives you his or her number so that you can tip at the front desk, while settling up. If you want a private room, or a therapist of a particular gender, you’ll need to specify that at the get-go. That being said, our female friends had no problems with their male body and foot masseurs.
It was pretty hard to track down the Congen locations online, so here are shots of the physical brochure from the outlet we visited :
If you need a bite after the massage, this cheap and cheerful noodle house round the corner, hits the spot. It’s open late and the noodle sets are filling, tasty and satisfying :
And if you’re still not done for the evening, and it’s your first time in Shanghai, have a wander down to the legendary Peace Hotel on the Bund. It’s a slightly touristy thing to do, but the hotel is full of Art Deco loveliness and everyone in the bar is just happy and thrilled to be in such an iconic location. Admittedly, it has all gotten alot more commercial, with a minimum spend of 200 yuan per head and a 100 – yuan charge if you’d like to make a song request. (The Sichuan chilli – flavoured nuts however, are a definite plus!)
Finally, it wouldn’t be an evening out in Shanghai without a visit to a secret bar. We were lucky enough to have been taken to People 7 which was spectacularly cool. It’s a slight headache to navigate, but if you call ahead, ask for directions and the password, that will go some way in alleviating the difficulty.
Up next, the art!