Today is our last day in mainland China. Tomorrow, we’ll be headed to Hong Kong for a few days before we fly back to the good ol’ US of A early Wednesday morning. Two weeks ago, however, Spenser and I decided to embark on one last trip around China before we leave the country for good. Our first stop on our tour was another very large Chinese city, Shanghai.
Our first impression of Shanghai was that is was very, hmmm, how do you say…polluted. Spenser and I are no slouches when it comes to dealing with pollution, but just getting off the plane in Shanghai felt grimy. Yes, it was slightly drizzly when we visited, but mostly it was “hazy” and we both developed a small cough because of it. In turn, we decided to hit up the aquarium (you already know how much we enjoy aquariums) to breathe some indoor air for awhile.
We both really liked the Shanghai aquarium. Most of the exhibits were small but it allowed you to get right up close and see cute, tiny fish. It wasn’t a spectacular aquarium, but it was a nice way to spend an afternoon. For lunch, we stopped by a nearby dumpling restaurant.
Ok, now here’s something we must discuss–Shanghai Soup Dumplings (aka xiaolongbao). Philly has cheese steaks. New Orleans has…well, everything. Beijing has Peking Duck. Shanghai has Shanghai-style soup dumplings: dumplings filled with meat and soup that are the temperature of lava and squirt everywhere whenever you bite into them. This is the price you pay to get to the deliciousness inside. Now, let me just tell you, there are soup dumplings and there are soup dumplings. During our Shanghai stay, I went into hunter-mode for the best Shanghai soup dumplings. I googled for many minutes. The ones we had for this lunch, by the aquarium, were very okay. Dumplings with too thick of skin and too bland of soup. Not ideal. The search continued…
Somehow, later that day we ended up at the Museum of Urban Planning! Sounds exciting, right? What we thought was the art museum was actually a surprisingly enjoyable amble through the Urban Planning Museum of Shanghai. It only cost five bucks, hardly anyone was there, and we had a very good time running through each exhibit. Plus, there was a huge model of the city of Shanghai to walk around. Seriously, for getting stuck in a random museum, it was actually pretty cool. Check it out:
We found the art museum the next day and it was acceptable. At this point, Spenser and I have been through quite a few art museums in and around China and, after awhile, it all starts to look similar. As a person who loves art, I hate to say this, but there’s only so much calligraphy in a language you can’t read you can look at before getting bored. The traditional clothes and masks from different parts of China were gorgeous, scary, and awesome and I’m currently planning on getting some papier-mache and making some of our own this Halloween. I need me some masks.
That day was also a dumpling bummer (bland, soupy wantons, yawn), so I won’t even bother you with that endeavor. Regardless, we spent our time walking all over the city through parks, Catholic churches, and vacant lots. We walked a lot, I had some popcorn, and just enjoyed out time.
We even found a little park to stop and take our shoes off for a bit. It was mid-afternoon and everyone was playing around on the one patch of grass within this city that you can actually walk on. So many parks in China consist of cement walkways with no grassy places to walk barefoot so, for us, this was a real treat.
We stayed up late that night to watch the world cup and, after a late start, I finally found a place with worthy dumplings (thanks internet). Fu Chun restaurant (metro line 11, Jiangsu Rd. stop, exit 2) was my beacon. The internet, particularly this article from CNN.com, led me to this restaurant by convincing me that they had the most authentic Shanghai xiaolongbao in the city. I was smitten from the moment we walked in. The place was packed even though it was around 1:45 in the afternoon. People were standing near tables ready to steal seats as soon as the current diners stood up. The restaurant smelled heavenly and there wasn’t a single foreigner in the place. Bingo. Spenser, using his super awesome Chinese speaking skills, ordered us two orders of soup dumplings while I stole us seats. And then we waited with anticipation.
At last, the dumplings arrived.
Soft. Delicate. Savory. These were the perfect xiaolongbao. The wrapping was incredibly thin but withstood the grip of the chopsticks. The pork inside was tender and flavorful while the broth, oh the broth! The actual soup was amazing. Imagine the best tasting cup of French onion soup you’ve ever had, make it more delicate, and then stick it into a dumpling. Now you’re close to just how good this little packet of heaven was. Even the temperature was perfect. You could eat the whole thing in one bite without hurting yourself (which is an amazing feat for any dumpling, as they’re usually the temperature of molten lava).
For the first time in a very long time (at least a year), I was in food heaven. We both ate our fill and I remember feeling completely satisfied. Completely happy and content with what I had just eaten. This is a rarity because most of the food here (still) doesn’t sit well with me but these dumplings were, in my opinion, perfect. I’d go back to Shanghai just for them. I miss you already, my little dumplings.
After this most perfect lunch, we really had nothing else to do. Seriously, we Shanghai-ed it pretty hard (as you can tell from just how LONG this blog post is). So we went to a fancy movie theater, saw Maleficent (boring), then we went to another movie theater and saw Godzilla (monster-ific!) before calling it quits. Spenser and I had a lovely time in Shanghai but we both felt like we’ve done something similar to it before. After living and traveling though China’s other big cities, Shanghai just felt like another piece of the puzzle; it fits in but it’s not necessarily all that different from, say, Guangzhou, Beijing, Macau, or Shenzhen. Yes, the dumplings were worth it, but we’ve done the big cities. We know what it’s like. In turn, was finally time to say goodbye to Shanghai and go to a ridiculously old Chinese city, Xi’an, home of the terracotta warriors.
I can’t wait to tell you all about it but, that’s another blog post. Wait and see.