uniquely asian: the potato chip saga

A while back I had remarked about the weird flavors of potato chips on offer in Shanghai. Well, I thought I’d take things a step further. So here’s my review of Wasabi Shrimp and Spicy Green Peppercorn Fish. Ah Lay’s, I know you’re trying to cater to the very-lucrative Asian market, but … slow your roll.

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First of all, I have to admit that I’ve never liked wasabi. The worst thing that could happen to me when eating sushi would be that the fish or roll would run into that glob of green nastiness. So in a way that potato chip flavor was successful, because the wasabi taste was definitely present – but I had to chuck the bag because I couldn’t get beyond three chips. I could taste a hint of the shrimp, but it was pretty much all wasabi to me. Spicy Green Peppercorn Fish, on the other hand, I finished. It was reminiscent of the dish – all pepper and not fishy – but not too spicy or numbing, so my palate could cope. It wasn’t particularly great and definitely won’t make my list of favorites or go-tos, but it was interesting in an entirely tolerable sort of way.

Verdict: Avoid Wasabi Shrimp (unless you happen to really like wasabi) but give Spicy Green Peppercorn Fish a try … it’s definitely Chinese-y.

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a dream i dreamed in the park

Today is March 29th, which means that tomorrow, MoCA’s exhibition will close. So of course I’m just now getting around to posting about the exhibition. ‘Cause I’m on top of things like that. The exhibition A Dream I Dreamed is a solo show by the really famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. And it was good. Lots of dots. Very playful. Though the 50 RMB ticket price seemed a bit steep and the waits were crazy, I definitely enjoyed myself … though would’ve had a better experience if there was more time and fewer people.

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With All My Love for the Tulips, I Pray Forever

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Narcissus Garden

The roof/top floor balcony of the museum was a nice spot for a break from the hustle of the floors below and Narcissus Garden worked well up there. Since MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) is located in People’s Park, there was a great view of the hazy Shanghai skyline and the surrounding park. This was easily one of my favorite moments of the exhibition because I love it when art interacts with architecture and the city, when there’s that sense of context and space. Plus, the stainless steel spheres are much more in line with my personal aesthetic.

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Obliteration Room

This room was like a nightmare for me. The exhibition started in December with Obliteration Room as a white space with white furnishings. Upon entering, you’re handed a sheet of stickers, which you can place anywhere. I like the interactive aspect of it, but I HATE STICKERS. Or rather I HATE (pressure-sensitive) ADHESIVE. If they’re firmly adhered and there’s no possibility that they would have to be removed later on or they’re loosely adhered to be easily removed (like drafting tape or price tags) – that’s fine. Stickers in that gray area of semi-permanence, that eventually start to peel up and leave that icky residue … ew ew ew.

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My Eternal Soul series

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Love Forever series

I felt that her flat works were much less successful. Strong use of color and line, but nowhere near as evocative as her more spatial works. These were just kind of eh and easily forgettable.

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Infinity Mirrored Room – Love Forever

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Dots Obsession

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Infinity Mirrored Room – Gleaming Lights of the Souls

Where Yayoi Kusama shines is in her installations. Color, light, and mirrors, oh my! Amazing. Very well thought out and constructed. My only complaint was having to queue up for so long for such a brief glimpse! It would be nice to go back and see some parts of the exhibition again (especially the Infinity Mirrored Rooms!), but the last days of an exhibition are always the worst and I really have no patience for some of these Chinese crowds. Factor in the cost and time as well, and I think I’ll have to pass. It was a very cool exhibition though, so if you haven’t had a chance to see it … make haste! I didn’t find it profound or awe-inspiring or anything lofty like that, it was just … fun. And sometimes that’s enough.

Kusama Yayoi: A Dream I Dreamed
December 15th, 2013 – March 30th, 2014

MOCA Shanghai
mocashanghai.org
People’s Park, 231 Nanjing West Road, Shanghai
Sunday to Thursday, 10 AM – 6 PM
Friday to Saturday, 9 AM – 7 PM

fortune cookie, the restaurant

Simply to-die-for amazing. One bite in and I was back in New York in my pajamas, foot propping open the door while awkward signing the credit card slip on my wall, itching to grab the plastic bag filled with takeout cartons. Ah, good times. Oh, and they give those fried crispy noodly things with the super sweet dipping sauce as an appetizer! Yay!

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American Chinese food. In China. GENIUS. The restaurant is located in a heavily foreign food-laden area, but its location on the fourth floor made it a bit difficult to find. The interior was nicely done and you can definitely tell a lot of thought went into designing the place, even down to the menu. I went with a local friend, and whereas she usually does the ordering at Chinese restaurants, I totally took the reigns here … and gleefully over-ordered.

The egg roll, moo shu pork, General Tsao’s beef, and tofu chop suey were all fantastic. Just the way they should be in proper American Chinese style: the egg roll had a thick chewy/crispy skin, the moo shu pork was served with the thin pancakes and hoisin sauce (to wrap ’em like burritos), the General Tsao’s was the perfect sweetness with just the right amount of batter, and the chop suey had a good thick sauce as well.

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In short: Fortune Cookie is fantastic. It’s been getting quite a lot of press recently, and for very good reason. With how many expats there are in Shanghai, an American Chinese restaurant makes complete sense. Back in the States I’d joke that American Chinese food is ‘fake Chinese’, but they’re truly two entirely separate cuisines and should be evaluated on their own merits rather than be compared to what’s ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’. Authenticity is overrated anyhow. In today’s age of merging cultures, dismissing innovation in an attempt to protect the sanctity of past culture is simply naïve.

Perhaps it would be better accepted if we called American Chinese food ‘fusion’ instead … perhaps then the Chinese people will stop yakking on about how we’re butchering their dishes and using way too much sugar. But in a way, saying American implies fusion, because that is the American way.

Fortune Cookie
fortunecookieshanghai.com
4/F, 83 Changshu Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai
Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 AM – 10 PM
Friday to Saturday, 11:30 AM – 11 PM

why is this cookie yellow? butter chips ahoy

Butter Chips Ahoy (趣多多黄油味). Never again. When it comes to chocolate chip cookies (especially the packaged kind), I’m generally a purist. Chewy? Not a fan. Rainbow M&M? Maybe on occasion. Butter? WHAT ON EARTH!? For the sake of experimentation and living in the moment, I tried them. *shudder*

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I can just imagine the conversation that must’ve occurred in the Chips Ahoy R&D department somewhere.

1: Hey, we’re going to enter the China market.
2: Cool. But do Chinese people eat chocolate chip cookies?
1: Not much. But those tins of Danish butter cookies sell pretty well.
2: We could diversify into butter cookies.
1: But we only know how to do chocolate chip cookies.
1 and 2: BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES!

Sigh. Good idea, bad execution. Deplorably bad execution. I’m a big fan of butter cookies and I’m a big fan of chocolate chip cookies. Putting them together sounds intriguing, but I will happily eat them separately. Because, ew. The cookies look pretty much like normal chocolate chip cookies except they’re yellow-y. First bite is fine, almost nice, but then you taste it – the artificial butter flavor. Retch. I don’t like the Chewy Chips Ahoy because you can practically taste the oil, but that’s nothing compared to this ‘butter’. GAG. I’m all for the fake butter on popcorn, but this isn’t just fake butter, it’s chemical-taste with a hint of butter.

Verdict: Avoid. Stay away.

pineapple cakes (from taiwan)

Pineapple cakes (鳳梨酥/凤梨酥 in traditional/simplified Chinese) are delicious. As in: absolutely mind-boggling delicious. It’s the delicate, refined kind of delicious that you savor, and never have more than one of at a time. Ah, so good. I’ve certainly had pineapple cakes before, but I humbly admit that while those cakes were good, the ones actually from Taiwan are absolute heaven.

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Taiwan is known for their pineapple cakes – it’s one of their specialties, and probably the single thing that people expect someone who travels to Taiwan to buy. So good. Crumbly at the touch, so soft and gooey with just enough denseness. The right amounts of moistness and sweetness, perfect balance of pastry and jam, oh my! Note to self: must travel to Taiwan.

white valentine’s day

Today is White Valentine’s Day! Uh … what? Since coming to China, I’ve discovered a whole host of new holidays, and my holiday calendar is positively chock full with all the US, Jewish, Christian, Chinese, and nonsense holidays (like Pi Day, which is also today!). Last Saturday was Women’s Day, which I had written off as yet another crazy Chinese holiday, but turns out it’s International Women’s Day. Er … apparently the United States didn’t get that ‘international’ memo.

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White Valentine’s Day (otherwise known as White Day) is yet another manufactured holiday to push sales, but it’s pretty localized around  Japan … and for good reason. It’s celebrated on March 14th, one month after Valentine’s Day, as a reverse Valentine’s Day. And there’s the rub. In the West, Valentine’s Day is celebrated with boys giving girls chocolate. In Japan, where White Day originated, girls give boys chocolate on Valentine’s Day and the reverse occurs on White Day, making their White Day the equivalent of everyone else’s Valentine’s Day. Confusing, right?

So what does that mean for China? Well here, where there’s always a random holiday around the corner and other cultures’ holidays are gleefully appropriated (for marketing purposes, of course), it looks like the guys are supposed to shill out for both Valentine’s Day and White Valentine’s Day. Huh. That sucks. But it hasn’t really taken ahold, so there’s no pressure on the gents. Even Valentine’s Day isn’t that big of a deal, which was a letdown … I miss those day after Valentine’s Day deals on chocolate!

adding it to the list: pho real

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One evening I was walking around French Concession (Xuhui District), which isn’t somewhere I frequent, and out of the corner of my eye I see this restaurant: Pho Real. Ha! Love it.

I can’t speak for the food because I haven’t had the chance to go back and try it, but with a name like that, it’s gotta be awesome, right? I developed a taste for Vietnamese food in college because there was a pho place on the southern part of the Drag in Austin that was a short walk from our architecture studio. But my love affair really got serious in New York. There were two places in Chinatown we ventured to way too often (Pho Bang and Pho Grand), and it’s there where I discovered that pho with spring rolls is (as my NoCal friend would say) the bomb, and summer rolls and peanut sauce are delish as well.

One of Shanghai’s advantages that most foreigners mention is the variety of food options available, especially in the expat-heavy French Concession area. The reviews of Pho Real seem decent enough so I’ll definitely have to try it sometime. It’s a chain with three locations in Shanghai, but they’re all called Pho Real. If I was in charge, there’d be Pho Real, Pho Sho, and Pho Shizzle.

old navy, meet china. shanghai, play nice.

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As I mentioned yesterday, Old Navy has opened in China! March 1st was the grand opening, and since it’s located near the Jing’an Temple subway station (at the corner of West Nanjing Road and Wanhangdu/Huashan Road), I stopped by after work. There’s some promotional material out there hyping it as being on the “famous West Nanjing Road,” which is technically true … but it’s a bit of a trek from the main shopping area. I suspect they were afraid it wouldn’t be able to compete with the Uniqlo, H&M, et cetera that’re over there. It was weird seeing such hoopla over Old Navy considering it’s a very basic place in my mind, but since it’s their first store in China, it is a pretty big deal.

The prices, quality, and styles seemed on par with in the States (id est, so-so on all counts), but it did seem as though the focus was more on dressier casual, like floral blouses and graphic prints rather than plain t-shirts. I guess if a Chinese person wanted a plain t-shirt, he/she would probably opt for Uniqlo, which is a Japanese brand that already has an established presence in China and offers decidedly better quality than Old Navy. I find many of Uniqlo’s cuts to be annoyingly conservative, like suffocating high necklines, awkwardly-long skirts, and sweaters that make everyone look square, so I was really excited for Old Navy and the familiarity of its stuff. I went hoping to pick up some simple spaghetti-strap tank tops, but THEY WERE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. Huh? So not the Old Navy I’m used to. Also, no sale section (which is where I usually found the best deals), but I’m sure one will materialize as time goes on.

The store was nicely done, which is understandable given it’s the first adventure into the China market, but I found the layout unintuitive. Separated into three levels, the space was partitioned oddly, to the point that I got turned around a few times, had my path blocked by a display table, and almost walked into a mirror! Old Navy’s flagship in New York was also multiple levels, but far easier to navigate. It was quite crowded, so perhaps that was partially to blame, but the simple/open layout of most stateside Old Navy stores is nowhere to be found. The one thing that really struck me was: Old Navy is from San Francisco? Really? Of course I knew Old Navy was an American brand, but seeing the giant Old Navy sign with “San Francisco, California” underneath was like hm … I guess being American is a real selling point in China. And if you didn’t guess it was an American store by the sign out front, all the logo t-shirts, bags, et cetera with “San Francisco” or “New York” scrawled across ’em would surely clue you in.

Old Navy
1728 West Nanjing Road, Jing’an District, Shanghai

my annoyances of the week

It’s been a bad week. Here goes:

  1. Design Shanghai 2014 was running from February 27th through today, March 2nd, but I wasn’t allowed in because I didn’t have a ticket. Can I buy a ticket? No. You must already have a ticket. What?! It’s the last day of the event and the first day I’ve had off. Argh. I was really interested in seeing it, but now I’m just annoyed.
  2. Old Navy has come to Shanghai, but there was a crush of people and I couldn’t find normal spaghetti-strap tank tops. At Old Navy. Aren’t plain t-shirts and tank tops the core of their business?
  3. Wagas delivery goes off-line when it rains, because a bit of rain is simply insurmountable. Oh sure, they’ll still deliver – if you pay CAB FARE for the delivery guy. I’m sorry, but I’m already paying your extravagant prices for a sandwich … and it’s just rain.
  4. On the weekend I occasionally tutor a woman in oral English. Usually we meet for two hours, but today she only wanted to meet for one hour. As it is I’m tutoring her for peanuts (way below my normal hourly rate) and it takes me 40 minutes round-trip, which makes that ‘tutoring session’ a complete waste of time.
  5. My fridge is basically empty. The grocery store nearest to my apartment closes at 9 PM and I normally get home around 8 PM, but Wednesday I got home at 9 and Thursday at 11. This week I’ve had McDonald’s twice, KFC once, and ramen noodles twice. Ugh.

But you know what makes everything better? Flowers. Mental health flowers. In front of my apartment building there is a flower lady with a little cart of flowers that I’ve passed by many times before, but this afternoon I stopped and bought some. 25 kuai (about 4 USD) for two small bundles; I didn’t bother haggling. Ah, best investment ever. They make me smile.

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don’t even care that the photo is out of focus. Well, maybe just a little.