So let me preface my description of Shanghai with this… Everything you eat will have MSG in it. They don’t use it in “pinches,” they use it by the teaspoon and tablespoon in each and every dish. It’s as normal to them as soy sauce, or salt to us. It’s just the way they live. So eat with caution and drink a lot of water if you travel there.
Now, with that said, my husband and I had a dandy old time in Shanghai. The area is so developed, so metropolitan, it’s scary. I was there just 12 years ago, and its now infamous skyline didn’t exist back then. Yes, that famous skyline has come to fruition in the span of only 10+ years. Amazing and frightening at the same time.
There is a lot of rich cultural history in Shanghai. Hong Kong is much like New York in that it’s so bustling, crowded, and metropolitan. But Shanghai at times can be like New York on steroids. You can’t get into the hottest (and truly tasty) restaurants without a reservation at least two weeks in advance. And unlike Hong Kong, this town has an artistic side. Hong Kong can be a bit too trendy and vapid.
There was a lot of French colonial influence in Shanghai during the 1920’s and 30’s. The classic dresses that women wore called qipao or cheongsam were standard fare during this time. And that French influence was the reason for the riverside area called “The Bund.” All it’s buildings are very European and old (and now houses a bunch of high end bars, clubs, hotels and restaurants).
And because of the French influence during that time, Shanghai has a strong sense of European art and culture. It’s the reason why I love the city. A combination of dirty old China (still very rough around the edges) and European sophistication.
Besides The Bund, here are some districts to visit:
TAI KANG LU –
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was in a little neighborhood somewhere in Paris. It’s a maze of narrow alleyways and a bit hard to get to. But it’s totally worth it. Great spot to enjoy yourself at a cafe and shop for art, teas, jewelry, housewares, and magnificent photography. We loved this area immensely. It’s so charming.
XING TI DI –
This is the hot spot for the young and trendy. If Paris Hilton were to visit Shanghai, she’d come here. There are some cute little boutiques, but it’s the place to be for coffee, a drink at the hottest bar or club, or dinner at some of the trendiest restaurants in town. It’s worth a visit, but if you enjoy going to bed before midnight, no need to spend too much time here.
YU YUAN GARDENS –
This place is a dizzying maze of little Chinese shops and food galore. It’s a little like an organized flea market, but more like a crowded bazaar. There’s also some classic Chinese buildings (with their distinctive curved and pointed roofs), gardens and ponds. If you want gifts for the folks back home (pearls, other jewelry, accessories, and knick knacks), this is the place to get them. And stop by the many food stands that serve stinky fried tofu, xiao long bao, and other classic food-stand delicacies. Yum!
Nice segway into the food discussion… But that’ll have to wait until next week. 🙂