Today was our busiest day so far. Louise put her take on it at: http://www.runawaysquirrels.com/blogblog/?p=1270
We started out by heading over to Jing'An temple (very near where we're staying) to get some vegetarian noodles at a little restaurant inside for breakfast. The temple was super busy, because Buddhists are supposed to go to the temple and burn incense on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month.
The incense rising up from the temple was very striking in the morning sunlight:
The noodle soup looked kind of boring, but tasted great. Not too bland, and not too heavy on the shitake mushroom taste. The noodles had the perfect amount of bite.
After a little rest, we headed over to Cheng Huang Miao, a very touristy area. There's a super famous place that claims to be the originator of Xiǎo Lóng Bāo, a famous type of Shanghaiese dumpling / bun. It's usually made with pork, crab, or shrimp, and there is a little piece of pork fat in it which turns into "soup" when the dumpling is cooked.
This particular place has 3 or 4 different levels, all of which are completely mobbed; the dumplings cost different amounts at each level (and supposedly have different filling materials depending on the cost). In any event, we didn't want to wait in line forever, and they offered us a seat in their super-duper expensive area, which has a 120 RMB minimum per person. We actually had to order extra food that we didn't even want just to make up the minimum. As Louise says in her blog entry, the price was worth it just for the tranquil (by Shanghai standards) environment.
I wasn't sure if they'd have anything for me to eat there; however, as it turns out, not only did they have the standard vegetarian dumplings and buns, but they also have vegetarian XLB. I knew that these existed in Taiwan (which is more vegetarian friendly than China, overall), but had been told I might not have as much luck getting any in China. The "soup" is made from a mushroom-y broth and agar, with a mushroom filling. The filling wasn't stuck together like in a pork or crab dumpling, so it was kind of difficult to eat, but it was fun just for the novelty factor. I think the regular green vegetable dumplings were a little better tasting, though.
Here's a picture of the vegetarian one, with the "soup" coming out:
Afterwards, we went to the huge wholesale market nearby, where Louise picked up some socks and other stuff for super cheap. Then we met her cousin and went to the wedding rental place to try on clothes for his upcoming wedding. I am going to be wearing a traditional Chinese shirt and one of those round hats (no fake ponytail in the back, at least).
Then we took the ferry across the Bund river, into the super developed and "new" area of Shanghai. This is us before we got on the ferry:
Louise's cousin then took us to this kind of fancy teahouse in the new section of town. It's the kind of place where people go to talk business; there's a buffet with a ton of food (which is free with your overpriced tea). The tea itself wasn't that exciting. We http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifhad to each order tea, which didn't really make sense since they gave us a little gong fu setup. I'm not sure if my taste buds have gone wacky again, if the tea was just bad, or if it was mostly just the water (I'm actually leaning towards the latter), but my Guan Yin Wang tasted very astringent, even when I brewed it with a quick pour. Louise's Rou Gui was better than the other two teas we tried, but still wasn't blowing me away.
As you can see, they used the exact same type of pot for each of the three teas:
They brewed the first round for us, leaving us with a thermos (not a kettle) of water to brew the rest ourself. They skipped letting us inspect / smell the leaves, but did use tasting cups, which I thought was a little odd. The thermos didn't pour very well, which was frustrating, and it kept the water a little TOO hot. Even after trying various tricks to cool down the water, I still wasn't very satisfied with the results. At the end, I even tried brewing one of Imen's high grade Dan Congs, which I brought with me in case of tea emergencies - even that wasn't tasting right. But I did notice that the water smelled kind of like burnt hair, so I'm thinking there was just something off about their water.
So far, we haven't had much luck paying when we do anything with Louise's relatives; apparently, since we're the guest, they are supposed to pay for everything. We managed to pay for dinner and tea, though, and her cousin put up with it without yelling.
Very caffeinated at this point, we headed out to Karaoke. Karaoke in China is huge, and most of the places are the private room sort, like Karaoke Fantasy in LA. The rooms here were super high tech and fancy. I didn't know that many of the English songs well enough to sing them, so "My Way" and "Dreams" were pretty much the only songs I managed to make it through.
I have some funny pictures from Karaoke, but I'm only going to put them up on my private photo gallery once we're back, so you'll have to wait til then to see them.