Shanghai notes

by on May 13, 2014 at 6:24 am in Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

Very good dumplings and noodle soups can be had on the streets in small restaurants for a dollar or two.  When you look further afield I can recommend Yi Long Court, a very fine Cantonese restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel.  Lost Heaven is a very good Yunnanese restaurant, get the Ti dishes, I enjoyed both branches of this place.  For Shanghai dishes, go to Jesse.

The more developed parts of Shanghai feel much more like the United States than any part of Beijing does, yet many traditional neighborhoods remain and there is plenty of good architecture from the early 20th century.  If not for the air pollution, this would be one of the best cities in the world.  It’s not that cheap, though, once you get past food and taxis.

The long, tree-lined alleys of Chinese neighborhoods have led to a superior reconceptualization of the outdoor shopping mall.

There are policemen who seem to be there to teach drivers how to back into spots using parallel parking.

For eleven years I’ve been writing about “Markets in Everything,” but here in Shanghai I transacted in one of those markets for the first time.  I went to “More Than Toilet,” a cafe/restaurant with a toilets theme.   Your chair is designed to look like a potty, and I was served my watermelon juice in a model of a urinal, with an elaborate straw, $6 for the experience.  (Who knows what I will try next?)  The food that was passing by looked horrible, like Chinese Denny’s on steroids.  I had blogged the original Taiwan branch of the place some time ago.

The luxury malls do not seem to have benches to sit down on and check your email.  But since hardly anyone is shopping in most of those malls, perhaps that doesn’t matter very much.

1 dearieme May 13, 2014 at 6:38 am

“hardly anyone is shopping in most of those malls”: is this economics news?

2 Just Another MR Commentor May 13, 2014 at 7:12 am

Nope I was there almost four years ago and can report the same.

Unlike here in the US where the economy is constantly booming.

3 Andrew M May 13, 2014 at 7:46 am

Empty doesn’t mean unprofitable.

In a society with high income inequality, shops depend on a small number of high-margin purchases by wealthy customers. For example, central London is home to hundreds of art galleries which rarely see a customer. The margins on art are so high that they only need a handful of sales to cover their overheads.

Tyler mentions these are “luxury malls”, which lends credence to this explanation.

4 Just Another MR Commentor May 13, 2014 at 8:34 am

Exactly what I meant when I replied to dearieme – as in the empty malls do not herald any sort of economic news (as I suspect he meant the empty malls were a sign of a coming downturn in China). You might have been confused by my second comment but that was just an obligatory troll comment tacked onto the end.

5 Dylan May 14, 2014 at 2:07 am

A lot of the large luxury retail spaces exist just as much for brand building and marketing purposes as they do for actually selling products. Big brands use upscale shopping areas essentially as advertising. China is a big place, Shanghai is relatively small. These brands are making money from consumers all over the country that pay for the brand image and reputation. They need these luxury spaces as part of that image, even if they lose money on that particular retail space.

6 Alex ... May 13, 2014 at 7:56 am

The Lost Heaven is indeed a great place to eat, for it having an incredibly broad selection of regional quisines to choose from. It’s akward though, that because of the gazillions of foreign expats dining there, you as a Westerner in the middle of Shanghai will feel propably most at home in an “asian” restaurant.

Markets in everything: I would have payed cash money to that guy keeping these hordes of “street vendors” of my back. They are are a constant plague, trying to sell me their neon-light garbage, hook me up with their hookers or trying to lure me into their “tea-houses”. And extra nerve-racking point: They don’t even leave when you tell them to shut the **** up, pushing them away or just wielding the middle finger in their face. Until that service-guy shows up, I’ll use the cab to get from door to door in that place.

7 jm77 May 13, 2014 at 10:28 am

Alex…i just got back from Shanghai/Beijing a few weeks ago….i thought panhandling much more prevalent in Beijing than Shanghai. Shanghai more “scams/rackets”…great food everywhere…i was in both cities about 3 weeks(1 week Shanghai/2 weeks Beijing)…i thought i was pretty tolerant/deferential BUT the last 36 hrs in Beijing i sort of lost it—everyone sees a flashing $ sign on your forehead and you are a constant target. It’s next to impossible to say “i’m just looking” without relentless sales. Re store traffic maybe they’re all using Alibaba ??

8 jonathan May 13, 2014 at 11:32 am

Basically, the poorer the city is, the worse the panhandling gets (of course there are exceptions, but the overall relationship is strong). In rural areas that are home to tourist attractions (and even in some that aren’t) you’ll be lucky not to face a barrage of people trying to sell you stuff in a more aggressive manner than in big cities (more touching and yelling).

9 Widmerpool May 13, 2014 at 8:50 pm

I’ve travelled around China a few times and I can’t say I’ve been panhandled anywhere, even the most tourist places. Shanghai definitely has the most beggars though.

10 PWT May 13, 2014 at 12:35 pm

If only Luis Bunuel had started a franchise operation for the “More than Toilet” concept… (See the dinner scene in Phantom of Liberty.)

11 EL May 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm

The malls are most important (to me) as a reliable source of clean bathrooms.

12 CM May 13, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Umm . . . your specific recommendations include a cantonese restaurant located in the Peninsula Hotel (the Shanghai branch of HK’s finest hotel has good Cantonese food, call me shocked) and two restaurants recommended by lonely planet ( which have also been written up by Frank Bruni in the NY Times ( and CNN ( These are not exactly cutting edge recommendations that only a sophisticated consumer of ethnic cuisine could ferret out.

Your statement that very good dumplings and noodle soups “can be had on the streets in small restaurants for a dollar or two” is just weird. Although your sentence states the banal proposition that it is possible to find such restaurants somewhere in the city of Shanghai, I presume you meant to communicate that you actually patronized such restaurants and based on your experience believe that such fare is readily available in Shanghai. If so, it would be useful to your readers (and to those restaurants which assuredly would appreciate an influx of tourists) if you could name these restaurants or describe where you found them. Moreover, it would be more accurate to report your experience without adding unsubstantiated generalizations. Shanghai is a city of 24 million people spread out over 2,400 square miles. According to a quick google search, there are roughly 20,000 restaurants (for comparison sake, NYC has about 4,200). Even if you ate dumplings and noodles 10 times a day from a different restaurant each time (and loved each and every one of them), you still would not have sufficient information to make any kind of reliable generalization about restaurants in Shanghai.

13 Mitchell May 13, 2014 at 2:45 pm

COT DAMN, Tyler Cowen is DONE HERE.

14 Adolfo Laurenti May 13, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Don’t miss the Shanghai Flower, Bird, Fish & Insect Market (off metro line 8 and 10 at Laoximen stop.). To my surprise not very touristy when I visited a couple of weeks ago. Forget about flowers, fishes and birds — the real interest is in the insects; and not much in the insects themselves, but in the crowd of conoisseurs who hang around the place buying, selling, and especially discussing the many qualities and marvels of these little (and not so little) bugs. Unfortunately I do not speak Chinese, so I was precluded to fully understand the passionate conversations that took place among the stands. But still, great market to visit for people watching, and for brushing up your entomology.

15 James McCammon May 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Haha, I love “More than a Toilet.” Several years ago I had the same idea. It was called “The Outhouse” and the restaurant was toilet themed while the bathroom would be designed to look like the inside of a restaurant.

16 Stephane JN May 14, 2014 at 5:19 am

In Shanghai, I recommend you to try Yangchun Noodles, Fried Chop Rice Cakes, Cream Spiced Beans…something different from Sichuan cuisine.

17 marc May 15, 2014 at 2:50 am

Its interesting that you picked up on the seating problem. At least by US expectations there is far too little seating pretty much everywhere. I think this is major reason for the success of Starbucks in China. For only the price of a cup of coffee, there is a comfortable place to sit for as long as one likes. Although most times I go to Starbucks here there is at least one person who’s arrived to fiddle with his phone or sleep for 1-2 hours but has no intention of buying a coffee.
The other thing I think you will be able to verify about seating is that any seat you find, that you might want to sit in already has someone sitting in it. After all there are a lot of Chinese and, unlike yourself, many may not be particularly busy and or culturally conditioned against being idle for long periods of time.
So …. the malls have am image that they want to project. If you need seating look for it near the bathrooms. And even if the malls have bothered with that much, you wont be able to sit down anyways because someone else will already be there;)

18 msmd May 18, 2014 at 5:21 am

Hotels in Shanghai definately cheaper than the US.

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