On a visit to Shanghai, business editor Dene Mackenzie
thought he would try some of the local cuisine, and was
Giggling assistants at a Shanghai fried dumpling restaurant
pushed chilli and vinegar towards me as we got down to the
business of having breakfast at a street food stall in
The trick with fried dumplings is to lift them on to the
provided spoon with your chopsticks, bite the top and suck
out the delicious pork juice before adding the chilli and
Unbeknown to the assistants who came into the tiny restaurant
adjacent to where the dumplings are cooked, I can handle
quite hot food. So, after making a bit of a fuss about asking
about the chilli and how hot it was, I dumped a load of the
red paste on to my first dumpling and munched away.
It was hot, not so much from the chilli but the meat was
scorching hot. I should have listened to Untour guide and
chief eating officer Jamie Barys, who did warn us all about
the heat of the dumplings.
Five New Zealanders were hosted by Air New Zealand on a food
and sightseeing tour of Shanghai and Beijing in the middle of
Temperatures soared and the humidity was high but there was
always a place for food. Uncharacteristically, I had to
decline the last two portions as we strolled around the city.
Awaking early on the second morning of our trip, I went
walking and soon found myself in front of a wet market -
where food, alive, raw and very fresh was displayed on the
pavement. Pushing my way through the mainly elderly
purchasers, I soon realised I was heading the wrong way,
against the traffic. Turning to go with the flow was not much
better as people bent over to choose fresh crab, shellfish,
fish, vegetables and fruit. Sunday morning shopping never
seemed such fun before.
By 6am, hunger pains set in as the smell of steamed buns
wafted along a food street. By some pointing and waving of
money, an early morning snack was obtained.
Jamie (25) is from small-town United States but knew at an
early age that she needed to get away. She spent time at
school and university studying Mandarin and then undertook an
immersion course in China where English was not allowed to be
used. If you could not ask for food in Mandarin, you starved,
Asked why she set up a food tour, she recalled it was her
first ''horrible'' dinner in China that inspired the
''Drunken shrimp'' did not impress her, but once she started
tasting the fried dumplings, she found her gateway to Chinese
The group set off hungry and somewhat anxious at 8am.
Because she is such a regular at food shops, basically
hole-in-the-wall shops where food is prepared, cooked and
served, Jamie was greeted warmly by the owners.
Being fluent in Mandarin meant she could order freshly for us
as we joined other Shanghaiese in ordering our breakfasts.
Among the things we did not try were the tea eggs, which are
hard-boiled eggs. The shells are cracked and they continue to
simmer in a brown liquid flavoured with cinnamon and other
spices. They did look interesting.
But we did get to have Beijing pizza (even in Shanghai),
pancakes with an egg dropped into the middle as they sizzled
in hot oil, and pulled noodles.
The pulled noodles, while spectacular to watch being made,
were a little tasteless after the magnificent flat pancake
enclosing a mixture of scallions, cilantro, fried wonton
sheets and spices.
Nothing really prepared us for the evening food tour in a
market dedicated to seafood. It was the height of the scampi
season and nearly every shop on Shouning Lu was promoting its
various versions of the delicacy. In the middle of the
street, overflowing rubbish bins were surrounded by scampi
shells as restaurant owners tipped their rubbish out in a
generally tidy but rapidly expanding pile of shells and other
We clambered to the third floor of BBQ and Crawfish to eat
the scampi, grilled bread with condensed milk, grilled
bananas, garlic scallops, amd cauliflower. An intriguing
display of meat, mushrooms and leeks on skewers also caught
the eye. The trick with eating scampi is to drop the shells
in the middle of the table, which is covered in white
newsprint-type paper and plastic. The coverings are rolled up
and put in the rubbish.
For pudding, we moved next door to try a selection of chilled
fruit, tapioca, and coconut milk-based desserts.
If you can ignore the beggar with his monkey, the growing
piles of rubbish and the smell of the outdoor barbecues,
Shouning Lu is a place for seafood fanatics. Just eat
Last call on a day of food was at Fanbang Lu, Old Town, near
the Yu Gardens. Hand-sliced noodles, fried dumplings and,
surprisingly, a cold salad, were on offer. We had been warned
off salads in the markets but Jamie assured all that this one
was safe to eat.
Earlier in the day, a quiet moment away from the bustle of
the Din Tai Fung antique markets was spent in the Old
Shanghai Tea House. Six distinct, and very different teas,
were selected and sipped while listening to live and
traditional Chinese music.
• Dene Mackenzie travelled to China with the assistance
of Air New Zealand.