How to sum up a week in China? In photos? In strings of words? Maybe both. I started and stopped writing this post on the eleven hour plane ride home about sixteen times. Ultimately I decided to show you some of my favorite photos, give you links to some of my favorite spots, and let you run on over to flickr to check out more of my photos if you’d like. In total, my dad and sisters and I were in Shanghai about four days and Hong Kong for two days. Too short, but we managed to pack it in. So off we go. You ready?
There were oddly-printed tee shirts, jade, rickshaws, fake watches, cameras, and temples:
There was coconut juice, a new obsession for bean paste sweets and local candy:
There were vistas and peaks and skylines (Hong Kong)…
THE WORLD EXPO, SHANGHAI:
We spent the first day at the World Expo in Shanghai. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know much about the World Expo before we departed, but it’s pretty awesome. Essentially, numerous countries come together and, with one theme (this year it was green living), create an exhibit that encapsulates their country’s way of life. My favorite exhibit was the UK (you can see it above in the very center of the photo and read more about it here if you’d like). The centerpiece of their pavilion is the seed cathedral, a six story high cube-like structure made from long slim acrylic rods which draw in daylight in order to illuminate the interior (see bottom right photo). Each of those little rods had a seed at the very end (see bottom right photo)–its the largest collection of wild plant seeds in the world. It’s awe-inspiring, truly. It was worth the sweaty, pushy, cranky wait in line.
In Shanghai, some of my favorite shops were: Spin Ceramics (above) for beautiful modern ceramics designed in Shanghai but created in Jing De Zhen, China’s ceramics capital. They specialize in dinnerware and decorative objects, and most pieces come in a sweet wooden box. Urban Tribe for tastefully-chosen silver jewelry, breezy skirts and tops, black and white photography and a variety of local ceramics and teas. Nest is also great for locally-based brands showcasing eco-designed bags, papers, and housewares. The Lomography Store is very cool for those into hipster, vintage cameras. They stock a wide variety of Holga and Diana cameras. For Chinese tea and candies, the stalls around Yuyuan Gardens are fun albeit touristy and crowded. And I.T. in the Xintiandi quarter is great for interesting, cutting edge fashion.
In Hong Kong, we visited Lane Crawford, the infamous Chinese department store that’s been around since 185o. Today, it’s pretty high end, but it’s a must-see for historic value, if nothing else. We also popped into many of the shops and galleries along Taikang Road (see “Neighborhoods” below), and bought sweet little jade necklaces on “Jade Row,” specifically at Che Fai Jades Company which came recommended to us.
In Shanghai in particular, there are interesting, distinct neighborhoods that you really shouldn’t miss. We meandered around The French Concession with its leafy wide streets, street food, and sweet independent shops. The area itself is spread out, so bring your walking shoes and a bit of patience (or just hail a $2 cab). The Xintiandi area is where you’ll find higher end dining, more mainstream shops, and some chains you’ll recognize. It’s also where you can get an hour massage for $15 at Green Massage (book ahead-it’s busy). Also, check out Taikang Road, what was once considered the artistic underbelly of Shanghai but has now certainly caught on with the tourists. However, the tight winding streets are still charming, the shops are sweet, and there are more cafes and wine bars per square footage than I saw in any one area in China (eat lunch at Kommune. It rocks). Makes for a nice afternoon. In the evening, stroll The Bund. Have a drink at The Glamour Bar inside M on the Bund.
In Hong Kong:
Because we were only in Hong Kong for two days, we packed in the tourist sights much more than we meandered neighborhoods. That being said, we got a feel for the layout of the city and what’s what. A few sights we loved: The Peak is a bit of a drive (about 30 minutes from downtown), but offers stunning, almost panoramic views of the city. I heard it’s incredible at night. We visited the Chi Lin Nunnery and Buddhist Halls and the Lotus Gardens. As it was described to me, this isn’t a tourist attraction (and literally, there was no one there). It was recently designed as a fully functioning prayer hall and garden sanctuary. With gongs going off in the background, quiet shuffles, and cameras prohibited, there was a very special sense of calm here.
I also loved the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, a place where many Chinese and Japanese folks come to worship and pray for a particular wish or blessing. They light incense and place it by the temple as an offering. If their wish comes true, they return to the temple to donate a token of thanks (generally money which keeps the temple running). It’s hazy with incense smoke, it’s colorful and loud and crowded, and filled with a sense of hope and thanks and belief. That was palpable.
Then there was the best massage I’ve ever had at in the basement of the San Diego hotel. It’s serious, traditional, not for the faint of heart Chinese massage. And just for the experience, we checked out the Temple Street night market. I bought a fake Cartier watch that I kind of love and scored some young coconut juice. But those are really the only high points: it’s crowded, dirty, and seedy. But see it anyway.
In Shanghai: Don’t miss M on the Bund for a beautiful glittering patio overlooking the waterfront and Shanghai skyline. A special occasion spot. I fell in love with pavlova here. Kommune for lunch on the best outdoor patio in Shanghai amidst the bustling international Taikang Lu. For dumplings, Din Tai Fung has the best xaio long bao or soup dumplings in town. Ignore the rather sterile shopping mall location and dive right in. For a true taste of the local lunch scene, hit up Wang Jia Sha (805 Nanjing Road)–it’s like a locals food court with dumpling and noodle stalls and stands to take away sweet dumplings and breads.
In Hong Kong: For breakfast, you can’t beat the buffet at The Intercontinental Hotel. This is coming from someone who loathes buffets, but it’s a thing of beauty. Really. Five different kinds of honey, seven kinds of jams, a pastry bar, yogurts from around the world, fresh juices, local exotic fruits, eggs to order along with Chinese and Japanese fare. It was honestly my favorite part of our first day in Hong Kong. For lunch, Heichinrou is a solid bet for dim sum with a huge crowd of locals. Delicious shrimp dumplings, pork fried rice, and beautiful Chinese vegetables. And for my sister’s birthday, we went to Zuma; it’s certainly worthy of such an occasion. They do contemporary, family-style Japanese food and nice strong cocktails. The spicy fried tofu, dragon roll, and banana and green tea cake should not be missed. Neither should the outdoor terrace with fire pit, glowing lights, and views of downtown.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Shanghai and Hong Kong. Both are truly unlike any place I’ve ever been and I’m taking little bits back home with me that will, eventually, turn into softer edged memories . As is the case with most things, I suppose. Thanks so much to those of you who sent in suggestions and recommendations–the spots I didn’t get to are on the list for the next go-around.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.