Hello Shanghai! (let’s talk about eels)

Ah, Shanghai!

What can I possibly say about Shanghai? It’s certainly big, but that’s hardly unique in China.  It’s remarkably cool. The old and new architecture is equally gorgeous, though I am partial to the 1930s feel of the old commercial buildings.

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Now add the Poirot theme music

Shanghai has loads of style, and like a very small handful of cities, really feels like the center of the world. I first came here 20 years ago, when I was teaching English in Jinan, which at the time was still small enough that if I saw another foreigner on the street, I would stop and ask what the hell they were doing in my city. The first thing I noticed in Shanghai was all the tall, blonde Europeans, the sight of whom quite genuinely freaked me out.

Although I’ve been here a week, I haven’t even started my work in the archives. Among much else, I have been finishing a paper about the beef trade, which means that I spend half of my work time thinking about dinner. Luckily I am next to a great little food street, and one restaurant in particular that makes really nice noodles with river fish and xue cai (mustard greens).

I have been there a few times now, and the one dish I really wanted to try was their river eels (鱔魚). These aren’t big meaty guys like unagi, but rather little pencil sized fillets that can be remarkably tasty. The first time I had them was in Shandong, where they served them stir fried with a heavy brown sauce and (of course) a giant pile of garlic. The garlic was served raw on top of the stir fried dish, and right before serving, they would pour a layer of hot oil on top, the same way you would with 水煮魚. The result was delicious once, in the same way that a deep fried Mars bar is (probably) delicious once.

Here in Shanghai I expected rather some more sophistication, and I was not disappointed. The eels were still stir fried with bamboo shoots in a lighter sauce, with rice wine to cut the fishy taste. No garlic, and only a little ginger. The stir fried eels were then served right on top of the noodles.

I’m working with not great wifi at the moment, but will add pictures when I can!