Shanghai Pt. 2 – Introduction to the Family

The excitement of my aunt and uncle was so endearing to me.  The minute we arrived at their house they busily buzzed around, making sure we were taken care of — “Would you guys like some hot tea? Do you need more hangers?  We have fruit, apples, pears, oranges — here we’ll cut you some to eat while you unpack.”  Why would I ever want to stay at a 5-star hotel when I get treatment like this?  It just comes to show that nothing is better than family. Granted I’ve only met them a total of three times, their love and hospitality instantly made me feel at home.  Jiu Ma surprised me with my favorite breakfast in the morning – Sheng Jian Bao.

I think one of the most incredible culinary treasures of Shanghai would have to be the Sheng Jian Bao.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Xiao Long Bao but these are just absolutely ridiculous.  Every time I come to Shanghai, this is the first place I stop.  I still remember the first time I tasted one — my dad woke me up bright and early and said “Hey wake up! Let’s go get some breakfast”.  Bundled in our winter coats, we marched out into the cold in search of the perfect breakfast.  Thankfully it was right down the street! At the intersection of Tian Ping Lu and Guang Yuan Lu, every morning you will find a line of vendors selling all different kinds of traditional Chinese breakfast items.  But the best spot is obvious from the long line that eventually leads to a gigantic cast iron skillet, where the little bao zis are sizzling away.

In each dumpling is a glorious combination of pork filling and gelatin, the outside skin is made of semi-leaven dough so the texture is dense yet light at the same time.  The opening of the bun is placed face down on the hot oiled skillet so it creates a crispy crust opposed to a soggy one from the melted gelatin.  Water is sprayed on top of the buns to steam the outside as the bottom sizzles to a crunchy perfection.  It is then finished off with sesame seeds and chopped green onion.  With the wondrous combination of the savory soup from the melted gelatin and meat paired with the golden brown crust, it makes this a breakfast for champions.  I always feel like I am ready to take on the world every time I scarf down a couple …or four orders of these bad boys.  Collin’s favorite was Shanghai’s version of the breakfast burrito – a green Scallion Pancakes with a fresh egg on top smothered in sweet bean paste and hot chili sauce, and to kick it up a notch you can have a “You Tiao” or Chinese styled donut wrapped in the middle.

After breakfast Collin and I decided to go for a stroll at the neighborhood park – Xu Jia Hui Park before all the DIM SUM MADNESS.  One of the many things I love about Shanghai are all of the beautiful parks nestled throughout the city.  We loved all the different types of trees and plants they had growing all around the park, it was truly impressive.  The parks here serve as a peaceful place for people to relax, a solace from the busy city commotions — a fresh breath of air to center yourself and take the time to appreciate the beauties of life.

Many of the elderly come to the park early in the morning to perform “Qi Gong” which is a common meditative practice in China that employs controlled breathing techniques along with slow movements to move the “qi” or air in your body.  It is believed that  these exercises promotoes proper circulation to your body and helps maintain your overall health.

Today my grandmother was inviting Collin and I for dimsum at Jing Jiang Fan Dian (Maoming Nan Lu 59, 1 block north of Huaihai Zhong Lu, Luwan District)– which is situated inside the Jing Jiang hotel on the 5th floor.  This restaurant offered a variety of traditional Chinese Dim Sum, many dishes they have here are not made in the states so I was extremely excited about this culinary adventure.

Does this look familiar?  Apparently all the women in my family are very serious when it comes to food.  Since both my mother and Jiu ma have proper ordering glasses, maybe I should invest in a pair too :) .  I have always enjoyed the culture of Chinese meals — it is always family style and there is always MORE than enough food.  A typical meal here usually lasts at least an hour and a half and sometimes over two!  You just become lost in good conversation, delicious food and the overall joyous tone that spread throughout the table.

Please note, I didn’t even take a picture of the complete spread of what Jiu Ma ordered, but let me assure you that we ran out of room on the “Lazy Susan”.  I could see Collin panicking — “How many more dishes are there Joy?  I don’t think I can eat anymore.”  Let’s rewind.  Before leaving for dimsum, I told Collin “Hey dude.  Be sure you eat A LOT because for some reason Chinese people really like it when someone new to our culture has a ‘healthy’ appetite so bring your A game.”  I couldn’t help but snicker as I watched little beads of sweat collect above his brow as my Jiu Ma enthusiastically shoved more food on his plate “COLLIN EAT” as she pointed to the two new dishes that arrived to the table, “EAT EAT EAT!!”.

Isn’t my grandmother beautiful by the way?  Despite her age, I think she really keeps it hip with her shades, granted she wears them because her eyes have become sensitive to the light, I think she is fabulous to the max :)   Now, onto the food.  My top favorites were the Soy Braised Chicken Feet — okay I know half of you are running towards the toilet dry heaving but I’m telling you people, don’t let the name fool you, this stuff is GOOD.  The combination of textures — the soft gelatinous skin with the denseness of the tendons, slowly braised in some kind of magical soy reduction, it instantly brings comfort to my heart (stomach).

Plenty of Xia Jiaos were consumed — shrimp dumplings wrapped in rice flour but I was not a fan of the Shanghainese version of Shu Mai.  They made theirs with a glutinous rice also braised in soy and I don’t remember it having any meat…WHERE’S THE MEAT? Some of the more unconventional dimsums included mini durian pastries, which were excellent (I was weary because I find the taste and smell of durian really off putting), Xue Mei Yang — which were little mochi balls filled with whipped cream and a sweet mango center, and puffed scallion pancakes that I personally liked better than the traditional flat pancake which is more dense in texture.

During the meal, I served as the translator between Collin and my family — it is much harder than I expected.  I found the wheels in my head turning a little rusty as I struggled to find the correct English words for the Chinese phrases and vice versa.  I tried to remember to translate as often as possible, Collin was a good sport about it the entire time.  He actually tried to pick up as many words as possible and sometimes could guess to what subjects we were talking about at the table.  By the time the food stopped coming and each of us ate to our maximum capacities, I had to put my camera down because I was truly having trouble breathing through my immense “fullness”.

This is my Jiu-Ma — she was pretty much my second mother during this entire trip.  She served as our tour guide and took us to all the eateries, tagged along on all the adventures in Wu Xi and Shu Zhou and made sure that our time in Shanghai was the best she could offer.  You will see her several times throughout my posts on Shanghai.  In her early 60s, she walked, looked and acted like she was in her mid 30s.  She really became an inspiration to me in the sense of her adventurous spirit, fearless attitude and her eagerness to learn new things and stay with the trends.  She called me and Collin “old hags” because many times throughout our trip we had trouble keeping up with her, but in my defense, this lady can speedwalk like NO OTHER.

Here is another picture of my (mom’s) family (not pictured is my First Aunt and Uncle).  Jiu Ma and Jiu Jiu are on the left along with my grandma — Collin and I are standing between Xuxu Ayi and Gufu who are long time family friends.  They are kind souls and it was really nice to see them doing so well and in good health.  The next post will be a long one (mostly pictures) — it will chronicle my adventures to WuXi and ShuZhou (where I bought my wedding dress!!).


  1. Karol
    Posted 11 Apr ’10 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    2 thumbs up my love! =)

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Thank you!!! You’re the best Karolina!

  2. Posted 11 Apr ’10 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Aww, I love seeing you so happy with your family. :) And of course with yummy food too!

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Kristan — I had a really good time seeing them, i was sad to leave :( and the food was absolutely deeeelicious!!!!

  3. Posted 11 Apr ’10 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    OMG, Joy, your granny looks unbelieveable! Can’t even see much wrinkles on her face. I definitely agreed with you.. she’s a hot granny ever. haha…. And your jiu ma looks STUNNING in that photo! I was totally attracted to her! You & Collin look so happy and pleased. Beautiful family photo! You should enlarge & frame it up! Besides of that, those food look tremendously good. Glad that you enjoy every moment of it.
    Blessings, Kristy

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Kristy hahaha you are by far one of my favorite commenters, I think most of the time I laugh out loud you are quite the comedian hahahaha — I will be sure to tell my Jiu Ma she is stunningly beautiful it will surely make her day :) Thank you for your kind words!

  4. Posted 11 Apr ’10 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Incredible. Looking at all these photos makes me want to go back to China for another visit. It is so amazing.

    And you have a beautiful family :)

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Penny you are so kind, thank you for that!!

  5. Posted 12 Apr ’10 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    Beautiful pictures, Joy!

  6. Posted 12 Apr ’10 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Are fluent in Mandarin? Good for you if you are because I’m not. :) It’s nice that Collin was able to meet your grandmother. What an honor. And I really miss a good dimsum and this one is never ending array of really good authentic good. Great shots Joy.

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Yes I am fluent in Mandarin but I can’t write it at all and can read very little — my family makes fun of me for this. Thank you for your kind words Divina — I was very happy when Collin met my grandmother, she loves him so much.

  7. Posted 12 Apr ’10 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    Joy, thanks very much for sharing with us so much about your family in Shanghai. And all those food that you enjoyed….my goodness…….it’s torturing to me! Love all the photos. You looks gorgeous!!! :D

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Mary Moh you always say the nicest things :) Thank you very much, consider the torture as payback for all the mornings your food has made my tummy rumble!! hee hee xoxo!

  8. Posted 12 Apr ’10 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Hi Joy, These are beautiful pictures and you looks stunning.

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      Anncoo thank you so much!! you are alwayso sweet :)

  9. Posted 12 Apr ’10 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Joy you have a great looking family. I can’t wait until the next post. A 5 part series… that is killer.

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Hahaha Bao I guess taking over 1000 pictures wasnt a good idea AT ALL. Thank you for the kind words!!

  10. Posted 13 Apr ’10 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    First off let me tell you how much I love your outfit.. yep I love the whole ensemble! LOL! What a great trip you had… and Collin’s immersion to your family and culture is PRICELESS!

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      HAHA Malou you’re the best :) It didn’t take long for Collin to fall in love with my family and the culture, what can I say the boy loves to eat and I think he’s found a new love for shopping :)

  11. Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Lovely post, looks like a fab trip! Your family sounds so hospitable and very endearing!

    • Posted 15 Apr ’10 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Nadia!!! I am very lucky to have such a wonderful family :)

  12. Posted 16 Apr ’10 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    Must be such a wonderful trip to reconnect with your grandma and your family. Your grandma looks very hip with the sunglasses.

    I do enjoy Sheng Jian Bao – a lot. More interplay of textures – other than the juicy moist fillings, we have that charred bao bottom and the rest of the bao skin needs to be soft(of course not silky like XLB but not too hard) .

    Ha, I do hear you about long meals. I was invited to a friend’s house in Shanghai before and our friend cooked for us. The way he did was: prepare a few cold appetizers, we eat, chat; then he heads to the kitchen again, prepare something else – like 2 more hot dishes, then we eat, chat; and this continues about 4-5 times. And it really took more than 2 hours to finish everything. :O

    • Posted 26 Apr ’10 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      It really was wonderful to reconnect with my family, I felt like I learned a lot about not only my culture but myself. It made me miss my family a lot since coming home, I often wish I could see them more often than once every 5 years. I seriously like Sheng Jian Bao a little more than XLB, that crunchy bottom just really does it for me hahaha.

      Your friend sounds like the typical Shanghainese — loves to cook, loves to converse, and loves to have people over :)

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