Tag Archive: Tianzifang shops Shanghai


China 022 Shanghai French Concession Tianzifang 2015-03-30

Market entrance

I’m always drawn to local food markets.  The Foodie in me is always intrigued by foods I’ve never before seen, and there’s no better way to get a candid look at everyday people than in a market.

 

The Taikang Food Market in the French Concession satisfies on both counts.

 

Chinese for breakfast.

Chinese for breakfast.

 

While I’m no stranger to Chinese food, this market is chock full of never-before-seen produce and seafood.

It doesn’t hurt that on the day of this visit it’s also mercifully devoid of tourists.

 

Ready-to-eat.

Ready-to-eat.

 

Just inside, a vendor behind a deli counter is selling ready-to eat foods, but beyond her most of the booths are dedicated to fresh foods.

 

Brightly-lit produce stands up to the closest inspection.

Brightly-lit produce stands up to the closest inspection.

The floors and tiled walls of the Taikang Market are well-worn and the market itself is dimly-lit, but the food stalls are immaculate.

 

 

The produce is eye-popping.

The produce is eye-popping.

 

Carefully manicured fresh produce is vibrant beneath pools of low-hanging lights.  This place would be the envy of the Stateside Whole Foods Market.

 

Most of the vendors are middle-aged or older, and there’s a sense that they and their families have been working their booth for a lifetime, if not for generations.

 

Like many Chinese their age, they’re emphatically camera-shy.

 

 

Nothing goes to waste here.

Nothing goes to waste here.

 

 

The Chinese put great emphasis on freshness, so it’s not all that surprising to see seafood still alive and kicking in watery bins.

 

I do a double-take, though, at what looks like sea kelp and snakes writhing in side-by-side bins.

 

 

Rice noodles, rice cakes, and rice wine are only a few ways that rice is consumed.

Rice noodles, rice cakes, and rice wine are only a few ways that rice is consumed.

 

In this nation with so many mouths to feed, there’s little waste.  Poultry is sliced open end-to-end to display innards, and both head and feet are still attached.

 

Yes, they're still alive!

Yes, they’re still alive!

 

Chicken feet are considered a delicacy in China, so much so that they can actually cost more per kilo than chicken breasts.

 

China 025 Shanghai French Concession Tianzifang 2015-03-30

Not all of the produce is familiar

Demand for feet is so high that China now imports them from the U.S.

 

Chicken feet are no more about meat than are buffalo wings.

 

The appeal is in the preparation, which includes deep-frying or steaming them until they turn almost to gelatin, and simmering them in flavorful sauces.

 

More chicken feet than breasts!

More chicken feet than breasts!

 

There are Chinese eggplants well over a foot long and “long bean” string beans even longer.

 

There are squashes and tropical fruits in exotic shapes and colors, and dragon fruit soon becomes one of my breakfast staples.

 

 

The produce is a feast for the eyes.

The produce is a feast for the eyes.

 

One booth displays freshly made rice noodles as varied in size and shape as Italian pasta.

 

Rice is the primary staple grain in southern China.  In the drier and more temperate north, it’s wheat.

 

There's plenty of more traditional seafood here, too.

There’s plenty of more traditional seafood here, too.

 

Further on, the seafood become more familiar.  Shanghai cuisine is known for its generous use of seafood.

 

 

Chinese eggplant and "long beans" dwarf their Western cousins.

Chinese eggplant and “long beans” dwarf their Western cousins.

 

Although China is the world’s largest pork producer, red meat is conspicuous here largely due to its absence.  Soybean curd is an important source of protein here.

 

China 021 Shanghai French Concession Tianzifang 2015-03-30

Taikank market at Tianzifang

 

The Taikang Market is often omitted from Tianzifang tours, but it’s a great from-the-ground-up introduction to Chinese cuisine.

 

And the eye candy of this market is at least as satisfying as the neighboring bistros and galleries.

This is the real deal.

Shanghai’s French Concession

First glimpse of Tianzifang.

First glimpse of Tianzifang.

Motorbike drivers in plastic ponchos squint through a morning shower and a bright mosaic of umbrellas hovers like a cloud above sidewalk pedestrians.

 

A block away, the tiled roofs, dormers, and upstairs terraces of the Tianzifang neighborhood seem to be huddled together against the rain.

 

Visitors undeterred by rain.

Visitors undeterred by rain.

 

Beneath them is a squat collection of buildings separated only by occasional entrances to narrow lanes.  These are among the few authentic remains of Shanghai’s former French Concession.

 

It was established seven years after the British first arrived in 1842, and occupied a strip of land between the British Concession and Old Shanghai.  It was later expanded to stretch further inland.

 

Store signage among maze of power lines.

Store signage among maze of power lines.

The French at first joined the merger of British and American interests that became the International Settlement, but soon withdrew from the consortium.  One result is that the French Concession developed its own unique style.

 

Silk art shop.

Silk art shop.

 

Beginning in the 1920s, resident British and American merchants began to build more spacious houses in the newer part of the French Concession.

 

Already the center of Catholicism in Shanghai, the area soon developed into the city’s premier residential and retail district.

 

 

Lemon grass farm.

Lemon grass farm.

 

It also began to attract residents of other nationalities, among which Russians were among the most prominent.

 

The first émigrés arrived in the wake of Russia’s 1917 revolution and another wave followed the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931.

 

The Russians presence in Shanghai was large enough that two of their Orthodox churches remain standing.

 

 

China 009 Shanghai French Concession Tianzifang 2015-03-30

There are many artisan galleries, including this work in stained glass.

 

Invading Japanese forces at first declined to occupy the foreign settlements, and nearly a million Chinese fled to the protection of the French Concession.  Their refuge was short-lived.

 

In 1943, the Vichy French signed the territory over to the Japanese puppet government in Nanking, a transfer reaffirmed by France’s post-war government in 1946.

 

Street food assembly line.

Street food assembly line.

 

The Concession remained largely unchanged during the early decades of Communist rule, but unregulated redevelopment in the late 1980s and early 1990s tore many of its old neighborhoods apart.

 

Narrow lanes and eclectic cuisine.

Narrow lanes and eclectic cuisine.

 

The former French Club and its gardens were gutted to make room for the high-rise Okura Garden Hotel.  It was not until early in this millennium that the government began to enforce more stringent development and planning controls.

 

English-style tea shop.

English-style tea shop.

 

Today, fewer than ten per cent of the Concession’s original structures remain.  That the Tianzifang neighborhood has survived at all is due to efforts of local business owners, residents, and artisans to block demolition plans.

 

China 011 Shanghai French Concession Tianzifang 2015-03-30

Tianzifang is a smorgasbord of foreign cuisine.

 

This part of the Concession was built in the 1930s as a residential district in an architectural style called Shikumen that originated in Shanghai.

 

It’s crisscrossed by intimate lanes that are today lined with art galleries, craft stores, and design studios.

 

China 013 Shanghai French Concession Tianzifang

The British legacy survives.

Despite the trendy foreign goods displayed many of their shelves, this place retains much of its original look and feel.  There’s an eclectic collection of cafés, tea houses, bars, and restaurants which serve almost every Asian cuisine, as well as European and American foods.

 

Hookah bar.

Hookah bar.

 

Wandering this maze is like taking a walk through the Kasbah.   There are no through walkways and every lane seems to end in yet another.  It’s hard to get lost, though, because nothing is more than a few blocks from a main street.

 

Faceless cooks and fast food.

Faceless cooks and fast food Chinese style.

Just when it seems that there’s nothing more to see, the entrance to the local farmers’ market appears and even from the street it begs to be explored… but that’s for the next post.

 

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