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Baro’s Rooftop Patio Launches in Toronto, Canada

Greetings from Baro Toronto, Canada

Even though it’s been an unbearably long winter in Toronto, an early visit to Baro Restaurant for the launch of their new rooftop patio offered a sneak peek of good things to come this summer. Perched behind King Street West, steps from start-up offices and the advertising creatives, Baro’s rooftop patio will definitely be one of the hottest destination rooftop patios in Toronto for the summer of 2019.

Baro’s rooftop bar’s freshly hulled coconut mojito

The signature feature of the gorgeously decorated, lush green 4th story rooftop is a glassed in terrace. The solarium at Baro is perfect for sunning yourself with a Coconut Mojito (Bacardi Superior, Lime, and mint with coconut water) on a Monday after work, or cozying up under a blanket with a date and downing a Drunk in Love (Vodka, watermelon, cucumber, fresh lime & mint).

A hip crowd stays warm under the solarium on Baro’s rooftop

The kitchen is putting out an inspired selection of Latin American BBQ snacks, under the jovial helm of Steve Gonzalez, all cooked over a behemoth stainless steel open-fire oven, custom built and featuring a grill and spit. Gonzalez’s Grilled Ceviche Mixto offers a plethora of tasty seafood treats (octopus, scallop, white shrimp & salmon), all infused with the wood smoke and adding a depth of flavour to the usually simple, tart and citrus flavours of the dish.

Baro rooftop menu’s Grilled Ceviche Mixto

But the crowd pleaser is definitely going to be the Big Mac empanada, a fun spin around with the Mickey-d’s take offs that have been popping up on hip eatery menus around the world for the last decade or so.

Tromba Margarita & Grande Mac Empanada

My favourite dish was the pollo a la brasa, simple grilled chicken wings, with the fat perfectly rendered and the succulent meat balanced by the smooth, sultry taste of charred hard wood. The wings were so good that the overly sweet barbecue sauce almost seemed like an afterthought.

Either way, the star of Baro’s new rooftop patio is always going to be the space itself. As the sun slipped into the cracks of Toronto’s west end, and the downtown windows lit up, Baro’s rooftop came alive with that magical glow, and you felt in the moment that something special was about to happen. By the time you read this, you should be heading over there for a cocktail and barbecue.

Baro may have Toronto’s most beautiful rooftop at sunset in Toronto for 2019

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The 5 Best Street Foods in Mexico City

The key to understanding street food in Mexico City is to understand that a taco is a loose concept, like a pizza or a sandwich, with infinite variations, that resemble each other no more than long lost cousins.

Tacos Al Pastor at ‘El Tizoncito’
Late night Tacos al pastor
  1. Tacos Al Pastor

The undeniable king of street food in the nation’s capitol is the taco al pastor. A beautiful confluence of immigrants abutting in a a huge diverse city, the al pastor takes the best parts of a taco (small, biteable, corn tortillas and epic salsas) and the best part of a donair, juicy marinated pork meat (marinated with pineapple) cooked on the ingenious Arabic invention, the vertical frame-broiled spit. Hand’s down the best, you can find these juicy treats all over the city, but my fave is in Centro Historico at the Take out window of El Huequito. I also love the stands on the corner of Insurgentes Sur and Avenida Alvaro Obregon in Roma, after a late night of mezcal and beer chasers.

Tacos dorados

2. Tacos Dorados

This deep-fried tube of delicious is the forebearer to 7-11’s taquitos, one of the tastiest and most gut-curdling snacks in America. In Mexico, the original taco dorado (hard) is perfectly crunchy cigar of corn. If cooked properly, a taco dorado is as satisfying to bite into as a crunchy nacho, and it’s stuffed with juicy, tender meat, then topped with acidic lime and fiery salsa and cooling, fatty crema (like a sour cream, or breakfast cream). Usually served in 3s, tacos dorados are probably best eaten at a taqueria with seats because these will get messy.

Tamale llena de guisados

3. Tamales Oaxaquenos

A tamale is the classic example of ugly delicious, a prepackaged lump of corn masa hand-pressed around a guisado (stewed-meat/sauce and protein combo). The whole tamale is folded in a leaf and steamed, and anyone who has spent time in Mexico City will recognize the famous calls of the street vendors, who peddle around the streets first thing in the morning, hollering “Tahhh-mal-eeeees….Wa-ha-cane-yoooooos…Tahhh-mal-eeeees….Wa-ha-cane-yoooooos” as everyone gets prepped for work. Solid breakfast to go, not to be missed before a big day of walking and wandering the enormous monstruo that is CDMX (Ciudad Mexico).

Ricas Tortas Calientes “Tasty Hot Sandwiches”
Tortas

4. Tortas

A torta is the Mexican sandwich. Stuffed with rotisseries chicken and avocado. Filled with meatballs and drenched in spicy tomato sauce (Tortas ahogados i.e. drowned sandwiches of Guadalajara). Pork cracklings layered with tomato, lettuce, onion salsa and a shot of lime (Guacamayas from Leon, GTO). There are variations for every city and every state in Mexico. These are a favoured street food in CDMX, for locals and foreigners alike, and often offer the best bang for your buck and a huge satisfying meal on a crispy, white bun. I love Ricas Tortas Calientes “Tasty Hot Sandwiches” near the Glorieta Insrugentes, and Metro Insurgentes, at the corner of Puebla & Orizaba in Roma Norte.

A ‘slice’ of Tlayuda con chapulines

5. Tlayudas

A tlayuda is an indigenous Oaxacan dish, akin to a pizza, a huge circular bread, almost like a paper-thin, crunchy cracker with a ‘sauce’ of refried beans and stringy Oaxacan cheese, then topped with a variety of bite-sized bits and pieces. Usually there is some avocado, meat, or tomato slices, and traditionally there are citrus-flavoured chapulines, crisped grasshoppers. It’s a fun dish to share, and can also be set in the middle of a group of friends and picked at while they enjoy drinks and chatting.

Bonus: Hamburguesas

I’m not going to lie to you and say I never touch “American” food when I’m living or travelling in Mexico. In fact, I’d argue that some of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life were south of the border. There is a long tradition of hamburgers from street vendors in the capital city, and the classic is a patty off a sizzling flattop (a la parilla), served with a slice of tomato, crispy lettuce, and a squirt of mustard and ketchup or mayo (you can’t do moth, that’s disgusting). My favourite spot for burgers in Mexico City is ‘Hamburguesas a la Parrilla’, Morelia 85, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico.

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My 10 favorite things to do in Roma, Mexico City

  1. Stroll through the early 20th century art deco architecture
Art Deco Balustrade, Roma, Mexico City

Roma is one of my favorite spots in Mexico City, a washed up art deco neighbourhood, once covered in graffiti, twice rocked by earthquakes, and now half-gentrified and made famous by a Hollywood movie that portrayed the colourful streets in monotone. Though Alfonso Cuaron’s historical/personal narrative of eponymous name was a great Mexico City movie, it speaks to a place (his Roma) that no longer exists in 2019. Today’s Roma is chill, flooded with ex-pats and rich kids, those privileged enough to live a laid back lifestyle in Mexico’s Capital.

2. Have an espresso at one of the cafes in Roma, CDMX

Cardinal, Roma, Mexico City
Cafe Toscana, Roma, Mexico City

3. Check out the street art, murals and graffiti

Mural across from Forever Vegano, Roma, Mexico City

I’m pretty sure there are outfits that give street art tours, which you could search up if organized tour are your kind of thing. There’s also dedicated instagram accounts for CDMX street artists, that will tell you where to find murals in Roma, Mexico City.

4. Lunch, Brunch, Lounge on a sidewalk patio

Molletes, an open-faced breakfast sandwich

There are a bunch of beautiful little spots to eat in Roma. The more tourists and ex-pats and money that arrive, the more cafes and restaurants open. I like to imagine it has that run of the century Paris feel, when everyone was an artist living in the eye of the storm between the two world wars.

And lest you forget, for most of the years I was living in Mexico during the 00s and early 10s, it was the most violent country in the world. More people were getting killed every year here, than in Iraq. And if you’re under the impression that it’s gotten less violent, you are mistaken. It’s just fairly safe if you’re a foreigner, or a tourist, only staying for a while and hanging out in a posh part of town.

5. Maxim Bistrot

Agua Mineral & Cocktail, Maxim Bistrot, Mexico City

Maxim Bistrot in Roma, Mexico City is one of my favorite restaurants. Chef Lalo, also, has a brunch spot across the street, aptly named Lalo. Eat at both. Go back for seconds.

6. Visit one of the galleries spattered around Roma

Mosaic of Aztec Gods

There are a ton of little galleries around Roma, niche places selling art to the uber wealthy socialites and consignment places, where artists are trying to make a buck shelling the work from their studios.

7. Mercado Roma

Rooftop Patio, Beerhall at Mercado Roma

Mercado Roma is both everything that is ridiculous and wrong with a gentrifying neighbourhood, if gentrification is the kind of thing that bugs you, or you’re into resisting, and yet surprisingly lovely. A wonderful spot to tuck into an overpriced afternoon beer or salt-rimmed cocktail.

8. Street food: puestas, taquerias, pan, enchiladas, quesadillas

Guacamole con chapulines y tostados
Panederia, Roma, Mexico City

As in the rest of the city, the street food in Roma is often better than the food in the restaurants. People setup stalls for a specific number of hours or days of the week, so you might not find your favourite taco from Saturday when you go back Monday, but the food is hot, fresh and delicious when it’s being cranked out. Your best bet is to walk down Avenida Alvaro Obregon, then turn off one of the side streets, Calle Frontera, or Calle Merida or on the weekend head to Jardin Pushkin and Calle Morelia, where there is actually an amazing Hamburger stand. There are also some good stands farther north, near Glorieta de los Insurgentes, by the corner of calles Puebla and Orizaba.

9. Get out your camera, your sketchbook, or just open your eyes

Volskwagen Camper Vans, Roma, Mexico City

The Roma that I love and lived in for a while, when I had nothing to do, no distractions and no bills to pay, had just graduated from school and was wandering around looking for love, is not going to last forever. Nothing ever does. So you better just go down there and take it all in before it gets swallowed up by earthquake-proofed condos, or a terremoto swallows the whole city.

10. La Bodeguito del Medio, Mojitos & Salsa (the dancing kind)

Selfies at La Bodeguito del Medio, El Mejor Mojito del Mundo

This Cuban spot, a spin off of the place made famous in Havana, has been visited by anyone and everyone, and lasted through several reincarnations of Roma and Condesa and the whole surrounding area. It’s walls are covered in vintage photos and handwritten love notes, and I was heres… it’s the right kind of sentimental, and I used to live in the alleyway behind the restaurant, so I could hear the sound of salsa music and cocineros smoking cigarettes drifting up and into my bedroom window. Don’t blink.

As always, contact me to purchase a print of any of my artwork.

Ricas Tortas Calientes, ‘Tasty Hot Sanwiches” at the corner of Puebla & Orizaba, Roma Norte
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El Balcon de Zocalo Restaurant – Centro Historico, Mexico City

When I first moved to Mexico, I was broke. Not like, I was only eating tacos and drinking six packs of beer and staying in hostel dorm rooms, I mean literally, I had no money. I was young, in my twenties, and I had saved a few hundred dollars in cash doing odd jobs after winning a scholarship to write a book, which I never finished. I decided to go by train south from Canada to Mexico, mostly because I was going through my first really bad breakup and, also, because I didn’t respect myself enough to care what happened.

My heroes were the poets of the beat generation, Kerouac, Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and their crew. I knew that they had all at various times escaped the realities of America by heading south. I was enamored by the Infrarealists of Mexico City, who roamed the streets of Distrito Federal at night, slept all day, then wrote poems at the cafes every evening. I would do the same. My first stop was El Paso, Texas. I decided not to cross over to Juarez direct from the train station because the lineup of Mexican labourers on day visas returning home was too long. It was nearly sundown, the light low over that famous bridge to Juarez, which was more dangerous and violent than Iraq at the time.

I met some homeless, punk girls from Kentucky, and we had a few beers at a truck stop bar, then went to a parkette across from a Bank of America that was being gutted, post-2008 crash, and drank from the gallon of honeyshine they’d brought from home. Some local meth heads came by to smoke and started a scrap with us after trying to steal a knapsack. I ended up in a rundown flop house, sleeping with my cash rolled up in my fist and my clothes on. If I hadn’t heard about the ‘Couchsurfing‘ website, from a young drifter who’d been crashing on a boat in San Francisco, I have no idea what I would’ve have ended up doing. My first few months in Mexico, I was blessed with free beds and I subsisted entirely on bananas and instant coffee, both of which cost pennies.

The point is, I spent years in Mexico, eventually learning the language, living in a house full of college students and artists it was hard not to become fluent with a little patience. I fell in love, got a job teaching English at a small college, and later, much later, became comfortable enough that I could afford to do the expensive, touristy things that most travelers do everyday on their holidays. It’s hard for me to say if El Balcon de Zocalo is actually as good as I feel, but I love it. It’s a sentimental spot for me. It’s on a rooftop, at the height of excess, it’s full of “rich” people, and foreigners. But it does, without a doubt, have my favourite view of the Cathedral and Zocalo looking through a porthole. And it’s one of those places, where the Chef has clearly decided that every plating has to be equally as beautiful as the environment, which speaks to me as an aesthete. I’m a sucker for beauty, and the food here is beautiful.

Whether it’s dressed up octopus tacos, tacos de pulpo, or breakfast, avena y semillas con frutas, or one of their many gorgeous salads, this restaurant aims to make the guest feel luxurious. It serves cocktails on wood blocks, and tacos on marble slates. It’s one of those places that was instagrammable before photo apps were a thing. So, if that’s your thing, and you’re a selfie shark, then you should at least stop by for a light lunch.

On my first visit, I was with a rich friend from Vancouver, whose parents have oil & industry money. He treated me to guacamole peppered with grasshoppers, and overpriced Coronas, while we watch a youth soccer match. I was being spoiled, and I enjoyed it. Since then, I have returned many times over the years, my girlfriend once got violently ill after ordering raw tuna here, but in general, it’s a bad look to order raw fish in a landlocked Southern city.

In a sentence, if you want a nice setup for your photo collection, and you want to be pampered a little, El Balcon de Zocalo is your spot. But skip the fish, there’s two coasts in Mexico, and the city ain’t on either. Unless, you can get a reservation at Contramar.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

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Tim Ho Wan: In search of an authentic (barbecue pork bun) experience in the margins of Hong Kong.

It is 3:42 pm, when you arrive at the Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po, and you haven’t eaten a morsel of food. A morning coffee and OJ slosh around your empty stomach. You moved hotels from Hong Kong Island this morning, and are staying in a shit hole of the lowest common denominator, a place reminiscent of the Chungking Mansions (not that kind of mansion), so you could walk here. You are already a little peevish before you get sat at a two top, in part because you’re hungry and have low blood sugar, and partially because you could have just gone to a Tim Ho Wan location in Manhattan, or Waikiki, or even Las Vegas.

Tim Ho Wan is famously the “world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant”, a rapidly expanding global chain of dim sum restaurants founded by an enterprising chef, Mr.Mak who left a three Michelin-starred restaurant, Lung King Heen, to start his business. In other words, you could have tasted Tim Ho Wan pork buns without leaving home, could’ve just UberEats’d it to your apartment door. But no, you came to Hong Kong because you are in search of the “authentic”, whatever that means in the context of what is really just a much-hyped international fast food chain.

Worse, you may have lost your appetite on the walk over. You see, you are a foreigner, a stranger in Hong Kong, clueless about the city and the context, other than passing knowledge of its colonial past as a British outpost. But on the walk through Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong’s poorest district, you became progressively more disturbed by what you saw. You passed by thousands of Malaysian, Philippine and Indonesian women lying on cardboard boxes, an endless congregation of young women in pyjamas, socks and hijabs. Your first thought was that there must have been a refugee crisis, which you didn’t hear about. Was a boat lost at sea? Were these women survivors of another tragedy buried in the liner notes of the news?

maids-day-off

You ask around and find out these women are not homeless. They are in permanent flux, marginalized like a remainder in a bookkeeper’s equation. Once a week, domestic workers in Hong Kong are given a break from their slavish labour, but they are required to leave their employer’s homes, which also happen to be their (permanent) temporary homes. Known as ‘Maids Day Off’, every Sunday these women lay out cardboard boxes, and picnic blankets, and cell phones and cards and snacks are brought, and they take off their shoes and stretch out their feet and rest in the streets and overpasses and parks. They chat and laugh and enjoy themselves in spite of the miserable working conditions.

The normalization of this local abberation is unmistakably a bellwether for the decline of a democratic civilization, a hangover from Hong Kong’s colonial past before Beijing took control. These women, who cook and clean and care for the wealthy families of bankers and lawyers, have been pushed out into a lawless frontier. And, like Hong Kong itself, the rising tide of progress threatens to brush aside their story into the forgotten annals of history.  

Back to Tim Ho Wan’s barbecue pork buns. They are brown-bottomed, buttery crispy flaky dough that shreds as you tear it in half and litters your plate with detritus, like a perfect homemade pie crust. Wispy, senescent tails of steam slip from their hot, gooey center, which spills out a sweet and savoury ‘char siu’ barbecue pork that has the unmistakable shine of maltose, and tastes so exquisite that you must lick the saucy dribble off your thumb. Make no mistake, Tim Ho Wan’s barbecue pork buns are delicious. When crumbs fall off, you’re tempted to lick the Tim Ho Wan branded paper placemat. They’re so good, you eat all three in quick succession.

dim-sum-tim-ho-wan

When more dishes arrive, you have forgotten about Hong Kong and the outside world. The flavour combinations and gentle textures of each bite work their magic and let you slip out of body into a trance of tastes and aromas. The spicy wonton is so subtle, just a breath of Sichuan pepper’s mouth-numbing ma spice, and a throat tickle of fresh chilli’s la spice. It’s a gorgeous dish to look at, bright with the painted red and green of chillies and scallions contrasted against inky sauce and translucent wrapper. The experience is finished with a wonderful black vinegar nip and fresh ginger click that brings your mouth alive with tingling pleasure.

The turnip cakes are soft, falling apart with a fish flakiness and salty, freshwater crab flavour lanced with a garlicky chili dip. Shrimp har gow, a dim sum classic, is restrained in seasoning and beautifully folded, letting the sweet shrimp flavour stand alone. The steamed chiu chow style dumplings are a garden medley of water rich radish and nutty crunch; a fertile soil sweetness, and a refreshing bit of cilantro green and earthiness among so much shrimp and pork meat. But Tim Ho Wan’s barbecue pork buns are the beginning and end, they take center stage, the only star of this show. 

It turns out that eating one of Tim Ho Wan’s baked barbecue pork buns is actually one of those transcendent food experiences, once you get all that other shit out of the way. You smile and nod at all the other tourists and bloggers craning and stooping and angling their Iphones over their small, white trays of buns, and it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, knowing you’re all about to location tag the same instant, right here, right now. IT makes you think: Oh yeah, this is why I flew fourteen hours and however many thousand kilometers over the melting Arctic ice caps and down across the Russian steppes and over the grasslands of Mongolia, to ingest (and Instagram) this bun in to this body at this exact moment. For now, deep down in that cliche drowned heart of yours, you’re still a romantic, a poet like Byron. You’re in love (with a pork bun) and where thoughts serenely sweet express, how pure, how dear their dwelling-place (like this pork bun) in your belly comes to rest.

In fact, the pork buns are so good, there is a limit of four orders per guest, which limits (sort of) lead you back to the question of haves and have nots in Hong Kong, and “free” time, and the culture of food blogging, and in a tertiary way to you, strolling by all of those working women with your camera and its CANON strap around your neck, like a great big TOURIST sign, and your countless number of privileges, and your ridiculous quest for an authentic pork bun, instead of just ordering delivery to your couch. If right about now you’re getting annoyed with me, and you’re thinking, why don’t I just drop the second-person facade and admit that you are, in fact, me . . .

cook-in-kitchen.jpg

Well, you’d be missing the point entirely. Because there’s thousands of us, and we’re all lined up for tables, every day in every city in the world, waiting to get our teeth into the perfect pork bun (ramen, burger, paleo, brunch, vegan, whatever), so we can snap a photo and upload it to our stories, before we eat. You see, the old MFK Fisher maxim: First we eat, then we do everything else, no longer applies. First we snap a pic, then we hashtag the fuck out of it, then we share it online, then we eat, and only then, maybe, we do everything else, like live.

In this world of fingertip interconnectedness, this local practice of kicking domestic workers out of the house for a day, of creating a brief but regular weekly wave of homelessness, becomes part of the context of a meal in Sham Sui Po on a Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong. You see, food, trade and labour markets, specifically unpaid or underpaid workers, derogatorily called ‘coolies’, were the backbone of colonialism. There would be no Hong Kong without this ongoing history of oppressed labour. And so, there is history in each bite, a backstory, notes in the margins and secrets between the lines, and in telling these unheard stories, they also become truths. 

So you do a little more research because you can’t resist a good Google deep dive, and something just doesn’t sit right after lunch. It’s not quite food poisoning, just a little bout of acid reflux, probably it was the acidity of your coffee and orange juice and an empty stomach, not the overly sweet filling of the pork buns, and definitely not the lingering undercurrent of racism.

What you find out, way off in the margins, is that Mr. Mak, the founder of Tim Ho Wan, actually has his own history with Malaysia. You see, he opened a Tim Ho wan there to capitalize on all the Hong Kong Malays who knew about his brand. But he failed, spectacularly. Local reports suggested “the price of Tim Ho Wan’s is too high, the food is so and so, and service is poor”. And when the ship went down, rather than accept his losses, Mr. Mak blamed Muslim practices and cultural differences, for the shortcomings of his pork buns.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

Note:  If you’re curious to learn more about domestic workers in Hong Kong, check out ‘The Helper’, (2017) a documentary by Joanna Bowers.

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Lost in Translation at Jia Jia Tang Bao

Many people online, in person, at the hotels and hostels around the city, will tell you that Jia Jia Tang Bao are the purveyors of the best Shanghai soup dumplings. And, if you are anything like me, you are in Shanghai in search of the famous Shanghai soup dumplings.  You will, of course, have heard of Din Tai Fung. The Taiwanese chain received a Michelin star, made quick work of global expansion, and according to many, is the reason why ‘xiao long bao’ results in over 35 million hits on Google.

jia-jia-street-van

The xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung are petite dumplings with an incredibly thin yet impressively durable skin, housing an explosive bite of meat and gelatin, which renders and melts during steaming to create an unforgettable one bite experience. They are, undoubtably, heaven sent. They have been called one of the great culinary wonders of the world.

If you do a deep dive, you’ll find that in 1996, long before the Din Tai Fung craze went global, the legendary food critic of the New York Times, Ruth Reichl, said the xiao long bao at Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown, Manhattan were “the best thing in the whole world.” For those of you yet to try xiao long bao, now might be a good time for a snack break.

But, in a culinary world obsessed with authenticity, the Jia Jia Tang Bao versus Din Tai Fung debate over soup dumpling supremacy raises a few eyebrows. First of all, there is the question of what exactly is a dumpling?

jia-jia-foodie

There is, certainly, no all encompassing character in Mandarin, for the simple concept. Similar to ravioli and tortellini in Italy, each regional variation of stuffing in wrapper is considered a unique specimen. There are bao, bao zi, hun tun or won ton, and jiao or gauu (think, dim sum), and the list goes on ad infinitum. All of which is to say, don’t be shocked when you find out that Jia Jia Tang Bao, does not serve xiao long bao. They only offer their eponymous namesake tang bao.

The characters for xiao long bao, 小籠包, translate to small-basket-bun. The character for tang, 湯, on the other hand (or tongue) means boiling water, or soup. So, tang bao are, literally, soup dumplings. Guan tang bao, a larger variation often served with a spoon or straw, are found all across mainland China, and are, as a matter of fact, not Shanghainese specific.

So, it is with some trepidation, and certainly a mind lost in translation, that you will first taste the slightly saccharine, yet subtly savoury soup dumplings at Jia Jia Tang Bao. After you have waited patiently in the line that forms in front of the humble shop, and ordered pork and crab tang bao, pure crab tang bao, and a side of ginger, from the woman presiding like a general at the counter, and passed by a squad of women in the open kitchen folding the dumplings to order with military precision, you will take your seat on a plastic stool, at a table that is being bussed and wiped as the last customer leaves with the smugly, drunken look of satiated post-coital bliss. You are prepared for oral nirvana.

jiA-jia-diners

The first bite of the pork and crab bao at Jia Jia Tang Bao will confirm what you had felt, intuitively, the moment you saw the restaurant’s unassuming facade, with rental bikes tilted against the wall, laundry hung out to dry on the balcony upstairs, and two very hungry young men in a delivery van demolishing an order each on a work break: there is no way to recreate the real thing. That it is October, and Shanghai’s famous crab comes into season right now, for a fleeting few months; that the portions are made one off, each steaming basket of a dozen dumplings folded, steamed and served before your eyes; that the restaurant closes when they run out; that the ginger is fresh and stings your palate; that the vinegar is gentle and almost palatable as a dry wine, and the pork fat and gelatin oozes out in a single mouthful of soupy delight, nearly hot enough to scald, as your teeth pierce the impossibly tender hand-rolled skin; that even now, a month later, your stomach groans impatiently at the thought of returning to Shanghai, because this morsel of food, whatever its name, is dancing with perfection. Jia Jia Tang Bao are inimitable. If you don’t believe me, you’ll have to try one for yourself, but hurry to Shanghai because they say a good thing never lasts.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

Jia Jia Tang Bao, 90 Huanghe Rd, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200000

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The 5 Best Street Foods in Shanghai

East Nanjing Road

 

Shanghai is mainland China’s most cosmopolitan city, brimming with culinary diversity. Shanghai rests like a hungry baby, at mouth of the Yangtze River, waiting to be fed. Its culinary traditions shaped by the meeting of south and north China, Jiangsu and Zhejiang province, and the 19th century Western concessions that occupied the port city. Today, most popular Shanghai street foods are flatbreads, ‘bing’, and dumplings, ‘bao’.

1. Cong You Bing – Scallion Pancakes

These savoury scallion pancakes are found on street corners across Shanghai. A crunchy first bite and fresh green onion bite keep them simple and delicious. Unlike Western pancakes, Shanghai scallion pancakes are made from a dough wrapped around scallions, pounded flat, then fried.

2. Jian Bing – Breakfast Crepes

Showing off the influence of the French concession, Jian Bing are popular Shanghai crepes. Served at breakfast, street vendors skillfully spread the thin batter atop a hot, circular griddle, crack open an egg, then wrap up a combination of cilantro, chilis, hoisin sauce, and a crunchy deep-fried wonton cracker to add texture to each bite. These are a personal fave, the Shanghai equivalent of a California burrito.

juicy-shanghai-dumplings

3. Sheng Jian Bao – Pan-fried Pork Dumplings

Less well known than Shanghai ‘xiao long bao’ soup dumplings, the heartier sheng jian bao, have all the juicy gelatinous burst of Shanghai’s most famous soup dumplings, plus an incredible caramelized bottom created by pan frying their breadier dough. They used to be served in the mornings outside factories, and workers bought these hearty dumplings because they would last until lunch.  Today, they are ubiquitous on Shanghai’s streets, and you’ll see people chomping into sheng jian bao from Shanghai’s street food vendors, fast food chains and Michelin recommended restaurants.

4. Da Bing – Big Flatbread

Da bing, literally big flatbread, is one of the big four traditional breakfasts in Shanghai, Suzhou and Jiangsu province, along with warm soy milk and fried pastries. Da bing is perhaps the simplest Shanghai street food; it’s a large flatbread topped with sesame, seasoned with sugar, scallion of spices to produce sweet and savoury variations. It is cut to order, and often weighed on a scale. Simply tell the vendor how much you want to pay and your slice is portioned accordingly.

5. Xiao Long Bao – Shanghai Soup Dumplings

The golden child of Shanghai street food xiao long bao soup dumplings are world famous for the thin skin and explosively juicy filling. You’re just as likely to find them in a chain restaurant, or at home in Los Angeles or Toronto, as you are on a street corner in Shanghai. But no street food tour of Shanghai would be complete without a taste of the native xiao long bao. If you can, try the subtle crab version dipped in vinegar at Jia Jia Tang Bao. The mom and pop joint only does one thing, xiao long bao, but their tender rendition of the Shanghai soup dumplings are as close to perfection as I can bare.

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Xiao Long Bao at Jia Jia Tang Bao
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