Tag Archives: biking

Will pedal for (good) food

Today was grey and drizzly but I still managed to get about an hour of biking in (5th day in a row, yay!) in a quest for yummy edibles.

I set out first to find some 枣糕, a cake made with dates whose moist, spongy texture, at once fluffy and dense, makes it a winning substitute for even-harder-to-find banana bread. Not to mention it also tastes healthier coz of the dates, heh. I’d fallen in love with it about a year ago but hadn’t had it in months, since the shop at the intersection of Yuyuan and Zhenping (super convenient as it’s on my bike route 90% of the time) was transformed into yet another duck neck shop, 绝味, a couple weeks ago.

I still haven’t figured out why duck neck is soooo popular here, maybe coz I’ve never managed to muster up the appetite for it, but REALLY?! The date cake shop (a chain called 枣糕王) always had a line of people waiting for the next freshly baked batch: they couldn’t even make ’em fast enough. How could’ve they have lost out to this stupid duck neck chain??

Needless to say, I’d been devastated, especially as this closure came with a slew of other ones: my go-to shaved ice cafe, go-to massage place, go-to cheap delivery (Lanzhou Lamian—it’s under renovation now so hopefully it’ll be reincarnated as the exact same thing. Not gonna bet on it though). So today I finally looked online (dianping.com) for other shops in the chain. I scribbled down the two closest addresses and off I pedaled.

There was no sign of date cakes anywhere along the street of the first one. Disappointed and hungry (it was lunchtime), I set off on my second quest of the day, planning to hit up the other address on my way home.

Destination number two was Tsui Wah, the Hong Kong chain that’d made its way up to Shanghai. I’d come here a few weeks ago with some friends and bought a pineapple bun for the ride home, and have been craving it ever since. I suspect anyone growing up in HK or in a HK family will have developed a certain snottiness as regards their borlor and other baos, and will prob agree that Shanghai is hugely lacking in that department. The one at Tsui Wah, though, is good. Really good.

The bun was warm, mildly sweet, chewy, and bouncy, and the sweet crust had the requisite crunch, which is where—along with over-dryness or -oiliness—most wannabes fail.

I also got a cocktail bun, which was decent except for a bit of a cardboard texture on the bun’s outer edges. Either way, miles ahead of Shanghai buns, although maybe it’s just that we favour what we’re used to :)

My third mission was to find the Avocado Lady at on Wulumuqi Road, widely known among and loved by expats in the city for selling a variety of “western” products both packaged and fresh—including avocados!—at lower-than-supermarket prices. I’d read lots about her shop but since it’s a bit out of the way on my usual shopping route, never ventured over til today.

What began as a vegetable shop has become the destination for westerners looking for quality, reasonably priced ingredients from home. I won’t say much about it since many others have (just google “avocado lady”), except that it was especially heart-warming to see piles of yellow and green squash and fresh herbs. Although the prices weren’t displayed, both salesladies were friendly and helpful, and I left the shop 75 RMB lighter but carrying a heavy bag of goodies for my black bean chili and tomato/mozzarella/basil (just for the hell of it) tonight.

Which is when I saw… a DATE CAKE SHOP. Right next to the Avocado Lady. Well, technically it called itself a 老婆饼 (“wife cake”) shop—which is probably why I didn’t see it online—but the date cake was all I cared about. This place didn’t seem half as popular as the one on Yuyuan, since there was almost a full sheet just sitting there, but that was just fine with me.

10 RMB got me one 斤 (basically a pound) in a plastic baggy.

Ten seconds in the microwave will bring back its freshly baked warmth and bounce, and it goes down fantastically with a cup of tea.




Where to find…

  • Hong Kong buns: Tsui Wah, 291 Fumin Lu (富民路291号) near Changle Lu, 6 RMB and up
  • Avocado Lady: 274 Wulumuqi Lu (乌鲁木齐路274号) near Wuyuan Lu
  • Date cake: right next to the Avocado Lady, 9.8 RMB/jin. Other shops scattered around SH.
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    Order amid chaos


    The B'twin Elops.

    I got a bike at the beginning of January. That’s it up there, chillin on its first day home, brand new shiny racecar-red and complete with a basket that, due to the delightful oversight of a cashier, came for free. I hadn’t seriously considered getting a bike before the new year, having witnessed the incomprehensible mess is that Shanghai traffic, but the decision came about rather suddenly from a combination of several events: 1) me experiencing my first payday since March 2009; 2) Sean offering to subsidize half the cost of a bike; and 3) me staring at my thighs and deciding that something must be done about them, pronto.

    Oh, and I guess 4) discovering this beauty at Decathlon (a French-owned sports “megastore”), carrying a sign that read “ready to ride”. How could one resist?

    Since a lot of people here bike (although cars and motorbikes really dominate now), this purchase should have brought me one step closer to fitting into Chinese society. However, because my bike is neither squeaky nor rusted, and because I’m part of the 0.001% of cyclists who wear a helmet, my foreignness is made all the more apparent while I am cycling.

    But that is of little consequence. I realized soon after buying the bike that this meant I’d have to overcome my fear of the streets, which are heart-stopping and prayer/profanity-inducing enough when traversing a sidewalk on my own two feet. How would I, an inexperienced city cyclist, survive on an actual road on wheels that don’t balance when stationary and can’t reverse at will (e.g. to avoid getting hit by a bus)? While I’ve heard that the Chinese street isn’t even that bad compared with somewhere like Ho Chi Minh city, it is still a seemingly lawless realm where taxis will make u-turns on a highway or suddenly go into reverse on a big road (while assuring you there’s no traffic behind), cars will make both left and right turns on a red light, and motorbikes spout forth from all angles like rabid beasts regardless of right of way or direction of traffic. If you get hit as a pedestrian, you could be cursed at for not checking for traffic coming from a direction that traffic shouldn’t be coming from.

    While Sean is convinced that biking is actually less scary than walking around, my first three rides with him suggested otherwise. Sharing a space with honking motorcyclists is one thing, brushing shoulders with cement mixers and trucks with rocks tumbling out (no joke) is another. At various points during these rides, I found myself dropping the f-bomb every few meters– but at least I had Sean with me to make judgments of when it was okay to cross and how far out to veer into the car lane, and I knew that if I followed him and said a prayer at the intersection, I would probably end up in one piece on the other side.

    Today marked my first ride out by myself: an hour-long round-trip to & from my student’s house, and a shorter trip out to Sean’s school to meet him on his Sunday afternoon break. I began a little nervous, but it turned out to be fun, liberating. I know I’m making this more dramatic than it needs to be, and you might be thinking “what’s the big deal?”, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that that was exactly what I realized. It’s not such a terrifying thing, once you get used to it.

    As a pedestrian, you’re at the bottom of the food chain: you’re slow, small, a little scared. The guys on wheels won’t think twice about passing you, intercepting you, coming within centimeters of your soft, harmless body. Going about on foot, all I can think about is how insane these things on wheels are and that the sole reason for their existence must surely be to maim and kill. But on a bike, you’re a little higher up: faster, larger, more visible. Sure, you’re still likely prey for the bigger beasts, but if you’re travelling as one within a pack (and there are almost always other cyclists around), you’re probably safe. On a bike, it becomes clearer that there exists some order amid the chaos, an almost miraculous interaction between the hundreds of self-centered, manic vehicles coming together at any given intersection. It an unspoken system albeit not bound by law or common courtesy.

    And this system cannot but exist, because the reality is that the design of many of Shanghai’s streets is such that it is simply impossible, unwise, or inefficient to follow such laws as:

  • if you’re a (motor)cyclist, not veering off the bike lane into a car lane–because the bike lane is non-existent or occupied by a parked car;
  • if you’re a motorist, not driving in a lane designed for opposing traffic–because motorbikes and bikes are taking up the only car lane going in your direction;
  • if you’re a pedestrian, not crossing the road on a red light–because at some intersections, a green or red light offers the same probability of being hit by a moving vehicle.
  • It all seems to work–except, I guess, when it doesn’t. But, knock on wood, I’ve seen fewer traffic accidents than I would expect to see in a place like this…

    All this is to say, I am very happy that I got a bike. While I can’t see myself doing long, adventurous bike trips anytime soon, I do see myself little by little, street by street, taking advantage and control of this new way to see and experience the city. It looks nice, rides smooth, it’s good for the environment and good for my thighs. What more can one ask for, really?

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