Week 2 in China: Seeing the Sights

Hello everyone! Here’s my post on my second week in China, and this time, I went exploring with my friends to different restaurants and new parts of the city that I hadn’t seen before.

Exploring Puxi

This week, my friends and I took to Puxi (浦西 – Pŭxī), which is the area located to the west of the 黃浦江 (Huángpŭ Jiāng), the Huangpu River. You can either take Line 2 on the metro for about 6-10 RMB each way, or take a taxi for 40-60 RMB, depending on how far you’re going.

We first visited the fake market at AP Xinyang Market, also known as AP Plaza, which is located inside the train station underneath the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. A “fake market” is a massive marketplace of imitation goods of popular brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, as well as silk items and various souvenirs. A lot of the items here are of potentially dubious quality, such as leather goods not being real leather, but you do find very good imitations of luxury brands, which are often more durable than the real thing. If you’re OK with not having the genuine article, this is the place for you.

AP Plaza Fake Market

If you’re not into clothing, there’s plenty of other items to buy, like mahjong sets (~200 RMB), calligraphy items, decorative chopsticks, tea sets, and even jewelry. The Yada Pearl Market does boast genuine pearls, but they may not be of the best quality, especially considering that you can haggle with the shopkeepers. Tip from my friends: never settle for more than 30-40% of the original price. That said, there is at least one stall that sells calligraphy display pieces, which are mass produced ink prints made by a real artist, and the shopkeeper will write a name in Chinese for you. This is probably the only “real” shop in the entire market!

Beware that the calligraphy items like name stamps are not durable, and will scuff and break fairly easily (I was forced to buy one because the edge of my raincoat knocked it off the shelf)! They’re often made from low-quality stones, unlike the genuine carved stamps, which are often made of jade or marble. That said, they work just as well, so long as you take care not to damage them.

We then moved on to the People’s Square, and then Nanjing Walking Street, which is just beyond the square (which is pretty small, and is essentially just the entrance to the metro station).

人民广场/人民廣場 (Rénmín Guăngchăng) – People’s Square (during the day)

There’s a lot to see here, since it’s lined with all sorts of shops, ranging from Chinese sweets shops that sell 蛋挞/蛋撻 (dàn tă), or egg tarts, which are flaky pastries with egg custard brought by the Portuguese to Macau and Hong Kong, and now popular all over China, especially in southern China. I didn’t get an egg tart there yet, but I did buy a yogurt drink called 酸奶 (suān năi), which is essentially just yogurt. It comes cold, but apparently can be heated on request. I personally didn’t think it was anything special; it’s tart and a little sweet, and if I wasn’t told, I would have said it’s just sweet lassi, a similar drink made from buttermilk from the Punjab in India.

Visiting Lujiazui

On Thursday, my friend and I went to 陆家嘴/陸家嘴 (Lùjiāzuĭ – Lujiazui), a part of  town just near the river, and across from the Bund. I saw the Pearl Tower from up close during the day, which is pretty cool. 

Lujiazui is on Line 2 as well, and very accessible via the Century Avenue station. The IFC Mall is also located near the Lujiazui Station, a massive luxury mall with brands such as Dior, Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo, and many more (it’s a ridiculously huge mall). I didn’t think to take pictures, mostly because my friend and I needed to go to the Muji that’s also in the mall to get some stationery, which seems to not be the focus of this particular location. The Muji in New York, just off Astor Place, is primarily stocked with stationery, and I didn’t know there was a significant home goods and clothing line until I went here.

A temple amidst consumerism

On Saturday, my friends and I continued to explore Puxi, going to 静安寺/靜安寺 (Jīng Ān Sì – Jing’an Temple), the most famous Buddhist temple in Shanghai. It’s difficult to miss, with golden roofs and massive lions at its doors. There is a train station (named Jing’an Temple) located right next to the temple, also on Line 2!  Entry is 50 RMB per person, so keep that in mind when you go.

静安寺/靜安寺 (Jīng Ān Sì) – Temple of Peace and Tranquility

The temple is beautiful, and there’s incense you can light for free (although they ask that you donate 5 yuan to the temple). There are four shrines, one with the Golden Buddha and another with a camphor wood statue of saint-goddess Guanyin, a unique feature of Chinese Buddhism. She is revered as a deity of mercy, and she is said to have guided Xuanzang, the monk who recovered copies of the Buddhist scripture to translate into Chinese, to India. Being a fairly observant Hindu, I made my own obeisances and many people do come from all over to offer their prayers to the Buddha.

It was nice to see that there were still monuments and places dedicated to Buddhism in Shanghai, and in such pristine condition. The temple was turned into a plastic factory during the Cultural Revolution, but now is a tourist attraction and a holy place for Chinese Buddhists. The temple, truthfully, is nestled in an odd place, being surrounded by high-end restaurants and clothing brands (there’s an Armani Exchange next door!). It seems to be a symbol of the cultural institutions that survived the Cultural Revolution. China changed thereafter, and continues to be in a state of flux with its current period of economic prosperity and booming consumer class. The temple truly is a space of tranquility in the middle the chaos of markets and consumer culture.

This week’s tips on food

This time on my travels as a vegetarian, I found Indian and Thai food! Along with Indian food, Thai food is one of the most reliable cuisines for vegetarians traveling in Asia, with a rich tradition of Buddhist cooking that continues today. I ordered a yellow curry, papaya salad (not pictured), and a dish called “crispy ear silk”. I know that this doesn’t sound vegetarian, and I didn’t think it was until I asked the waiter. He checked with the kitchen, and it is indeed a vegetable (if I go back at some point, I will update this article with the Chinese name).

Crispy “ear silk” and yellow vegetable curry at Hantai Restaurant on 4F 8座 (Block 8) of Jinqiao LifeHub

I also visited a very popular Indian restaurant in Shanghai, known as Bollywood, which has an interior decorated with many pictures of Bollywood stars. The restaurant is big, has performances every so often, and plays classic Bollywood music videos on a screen on the side of the restaurant. Indian food is literally a godsend for me, since it’s reliably vegetarian, and reminds me of home. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the food, so you’ll have to settle for a picture of the entrance. The restaurant is located on Hongfeng Road, just past Biyun Road. The food is flavorful, but I suggest asking for the food to be spicy if you want it, since they may have toned down the food for my non-Indian suite mates. The vegetarian dishes I ordered were the Veg Jalfrezi, Kadhai Paneer, and Daal Makhani. The vegetarian dishes were very popular with my non-vegetarian suite mates, so that should say something about the quality of the restaurant! It was also quite nice when they told us that NYU students get 15% off, so I will definitely be back again while I’m here.

A little bit of home so far away from it

A tip for vegetarians (particularly those learning Mandarin) when perusing a Chinese menu (even if there’s English), you should look for the character for “meat”, 肉 (ròu) so as to avoid it.

However, this is more true of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese dishes, since there are foreign dishes, such as spaghetti bolognese, that have meat, but may not necessarily include the character for “meat” in its Chinese name. The best thing to do is to determine what kind of dish it is based on pictures, look it up on a dictionary (such as Pleco, my preferred choice), or if your Mandarin is good enough, ask. Asking is quick and the waiter or waitress almost always knows. It’s not like the US where the waiters don’t know what it’s the food, and keep you waiting an extra 10-15 minutes while they go ask.

Handy tip: If it does have meat, the answer is often 有(肉)的 (yŏu [ròu] de), and if not, the answer is 沒有(肉) (méi yŏu [ròu]). The sounds very obvious, but it wasn’t when I first came to China, and I couldn’t understand what the answer was until I listened closely.

I also had Vietnamese food at Saigon Mama, a small Vietnamese cafe near the Portman Ritz Carlton, not far from Jing’an Temple. There are exactly two vegetarian things here, one of which is an appetizer (a tofu vegetable roll), and the other is a vegetarian bún (pictured below). At 55 RMB, this is a little pricier than usual, but given the size of the meal, I thought it was worth it. I also got a pretty little drink, called the Orange Ocean, at a bar near my dorm. My friends really wanted to get alcohol, but since I don’t drink, I was pretty pleased to see that this place made tasty non-alcoholic drinks. They’re technically for brunch and breakfast, but the staff (who are all very nice) were willing to make it for me.

I know that this post was really long, but they probably will be this long, given that I’m covering a whole week. I hope that you all enjoy these updates, and I look forward to writing next week’s post!

Week 1 in China: Food

Hello all! My first week in China is over, and I have a few pictures and stories to tell. This post will be about my vegetarian food findings, since I have a lot to share, and I’ll probably make another post later. Because I’m vegetarian, I will be talking exclusively about vegetarianism, and I can’t really vouch for the availability of vegan options (Sorry!). With that, here we go!

Number One: Knowing Mandarin makes your life infinitely easier in China.

I don’t care what other travel bloggers have said, but knowing Mandarin is strongly recommended if you go to China. This is mandatory if you’re a vegetarian, since there are only a handful of restaurants and eateries that are truly vegetarian. Knowing the following few phrases will help you if you’re vegetarian:

我吃素/斋(齋)*。- Wŏ chī sù/zhāi. – I am vegetarian
我不吃肉。- Wŏ bù chī ròu. – I don’t eat meat.
海鲜(鮮)不可以。- Hăixiān bū kĕyĭ. – Seafood is not okay/I can’t eat seafood.
請你別放肉。- Qĭng nĭ bié fàng ròu. – Please don’t put meat.
請問,這個有肉嗎?- Qĭng wèn, does this have meat? – Excuse me, does this meat?

*I haven’t used 我吃斋(齋) yet, but I’ve been told that it’s less vague than 我吃素, since it specifically relates to a Taoist/Chinese Buddhist vegetarian diet, which excludes eggs, milk, and many other animal derivatives that are not always considered meat in India.

萝卜糕和芋头糕/蘿蔔糕和芋頭糕 (Luóbo gāo hé yùtóu gāo) Fried radish and turnip cakes 

Being vegetarian in China is 100% possible and not very difficult, so long as you have a grasp of Mandarin and are willing to put a little more effort into find places beforehand, not to mention asking questions. Always, always ask. As someone who’s been vegetarian since birth, I can attest to the fact that you should never take anything for granted when it comes to food, and always ask the waiter or food providers if there are meat products in the food. If it means being that person at the table, so be it.

There are plenty of options at many restaurants; you need only ask or simply leaf through the menu. A lot traditional Chinese restaurants will have vegetable dishes with tofu or seitan (a gluten-based meat substitute), and you can order rice as well. For Western-style restaurants, such as Pizza Hut or Italian restaurants, it’s pretty hit and miss, and it is not uncommon for food items (including vegetarian ones) to actually sell out at relatively lower scale eateries. You can also find one or two things to eat at ramen restaurants, like this mushroom and vegetable ramen from Ajisen Ramen in Jinqiao Lifehub:

Generally speaking, food is pretty cheap in China right now, with 100 RMB going for about $15 USD. Items in upscale restaurants can be close to 100 RMB, which means that most items in other places are much less. This means a full bowl  bibimbap for around 25 RMB or a nice pasta dish for 60 RMB.

One of my favorite things in Shanghai so far is 蛋饼/蛋餅 (dàn bīng). . A 蛋饼/蛋餅 is kind of like a burrito, except that the filling is usually meat, vegetables, and sauce. For 7-8 RMB, it can serve as breakfast or a quick bite. The outer crepe part is similar to an Indian paratha, and I always get mine with an egg, ketchup, lettuce, and cheese. Because it’s on-the-go, I can go get my order from across the street, come back to my dorm room, and add stuff I have in my fridge (like fried mushrooms or Sriracha hot sauce).

After: with a little Sriracha sauce on top!
Before: a simple 蛋餅 with one egg, lettuce, cheese, and ketchup

The one downside (depending on how you look at it), is that you might be left a little hungry between meals since vegetables do have fewer calories. However, sweets are always vegetarian, and you can get ice cream, pastries, bubble tea, or other things that can satisfy a sweet tooth.

That’s all for this week, and I’ll hopefully have other interesting things to share with you all! Feel free to share this blog with your vegetarian friends who are thinking about a trip to China!