Monday, January 28, 2008

Shanghai sweets


That's what I have to say to those who claim Shanghainese like sweets (and I mean it to sting). While it is true that one can find things with more sugar in them than in other parts of China, Shanghai "sweetbread" is a bland mess, candy is decidedly unsweet, and the "cake" here is like cake in much the same way that cardboard is like cake. "Cheesecake" is usually frothy nonsense, and don't get me started on ice cream bars. If I want beans I'll eat beans; if I want ice cream, I won't eat beans.

That's why, when you do find real western goodies, they are inevitably aimed at expats, and thus on the pricy side. Still, on special occasions it is important to indulge.

I was therefore pleased to discover a delicious cake on sale at a bakery chain called "French Croissant" near my apartment. It is more or less a big strawberry shortcake, with yummy brownie and plenty of strawberries. The brownie was moist and choclatey, and the strawberries fresh and sweet. Now I know how Howard Carter must have felt when he discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The ice cream dilemma is not just limited to beans. The local supermarket does have two flavors of passable ice cream (vanilla and chocolate), but for true delectability, one must venture into the scary realm of Hagen-Dazs. Ice cream is supposed to be a sloppy treat obtained from an ambling ice cream truck, or while strolling on a summer evening. In Hagen-Dazs, it is a luxury. A single scoop costs a small fortune, and waiters, clearly trained to be polite to the foreigners, are alarmingly attentive.

Food, I think, is one of the biggest cultural obstacles. That is to say, it's easy to eat lots of things, even if just once. But when you're hungry, the first thing you think of are the things you grew up with. I now prefer to drink warm water over cold, I take showers at night, and I don't think twice about using chopsticks. But when the first thought to enter my mind when my sweet tooth is acting up is a nice, fat, luscious red bean popsickle, I'll know a small Indiana town can never be called home again.

1 comment:

Brian said...

I know my Girlfriend, who is a Shanghai girl, likes 'sweets, well choclate anyway.' I also know she doesn't consider much of anything in Shanghai to be a 'sweet'.

I confess to having liked her version of sweetbread made with salmon on top. (Smoked salmon sweetbreads) That has more to do with the Salmon than the bread mind.

If you eat strawberry shortcake as often as people around here do you soon get sick of it. Um well maybe not but you sure get used to it and it no longer becomes a treat.

Hagen-Dazs is expensive everywhere believe me. It costs a small fortune in Ireland as well.

We however have about 90 billion different ice cream treats. Far too many actually, choice is one thing but who needs 47 different vanilla ice cream brands?