Shanghai: Day-3, Day-4 and Day-5
The world is your oyster, literally. The current World Expo in Shanghai offers a great chance for all its visitors to taste the culinary splendours the world has to offer. For many of the local Chinese visitors, this is a rare and first chance to taste the world’s cuisines. Call it a Culinary EXPO-se if you must. Some pavilions have gone all out to try and hog the gastronomic spotlight. Spain’s bringing a parade of famous chef including (the) Ferran Adrià, the man behind elBulli, a three star Michelin restaurant widely regconised to be the world’s best. France is also putting on a big show by recruiting Jacques et Laurent Pourcel, formerly of Shanghai’s own Sens & Bund, to run the Pavilion’s fine dine restaurant, 6SENS. The twin Michelin starred chefs are cooking up French storm in the pavilion’s sensuous outdoor patio.
Not to be outdone, Belgium has recruited 12 different Michelin-starred chefs to work its Belgian Essence restaurant. Every two weeks a new chef will come in from a different part of the country to prepare a new lunch and dinner menus. Seafood lovers can tuck into a 4-course meal, including marinated scallops with dill and apple sauce, or pan-fried king crab, for less than 300yuan at the Norway Pavilion. Vying for a spot in the limelight is the Italian Pavilion, which is immaculately presented that even its staff are stylishly attired by Prada! The pavilion houses two restaurants, Caravaggio and Italiana.
With so much excitement in store I do not see why anyone should settle for a meal at the regular food halls or even bother queuing up at any of the fast food chains. Dining at these National Pavilions offers more than just a taste of their respective dishes, you’re also given good service and interaction from the team of international volunteers who’d give you a good insight into their culture and country. Who knows, you’d might make a couple of new friends from just dining here. However, the best thing for me is that most of these restaurants offer a backdoor pass into their respective national pavilions, allowing you to skip the horrendously long 2-3 hours queues.
Having said that, dining at these national pavilions restaurants can be an expensive affair, even by Shanghainese high-end standards and can cause a major dent in your wallet. However, looking around the packed restaurants and the waiting lines, you’d be forgiven to think otherwise. But it’s not all gloom and doom for those on a tight budget, most of these pavilions also offer a wonderful variety of snack/street food. Potato Chips that comes with heaps of mayonnaise comes courtesy from Holland’s pavilion, while Waffles and Premium Chocolate Ice Creams are represented at the Belgium pavilion, India offers its Chicken Briyani Rice and the Cambodian pavilion with their popular Mango Smoothie and Ice Cream. If that’s not enough to whet your discerning palate, how about trying Japan pavilion’s Soy Sauce Ice Cream. These cheap treats were my only relieve in between waiting in lines from one exhibition to the next. Oh, did I fail to mention that there are queues virtually everywhere here? There are even queues to get into a queue!
Anyway, here are some culinary highlights from the World Expo 2010:
Spain Pavilion: Most Entertaining Meal
Let’s start with the pavilion of the newly crowned champions of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. I was told that its ground floor restaurant and tapas bar serves a wide array of tapas, paellas and cooling sangrias. Initially, those were exactly what I wanted to order. But instead, I was distracted and found myself booked into a twice-nightly dinner cabaret show called, Pasión Española (Spanish Passion). Created by Pere Pinyol, currently the Director of Price Circus in Madrid, who has handpicked a total of more than 50 artists from 20 different companies to perform live every night for 6-months. The high point of the show was a 20-minutes flamenco dance by the young and passionate Agustin Barajas, whose deeply-spirited performance left the audience with a memorable summer night.
The experience was completed with a 3-course “tapas” degustation menu prepared by head chef Pedro Larumbe. I found the Shrimp Salad with Pine Nut Pesto and the Steamed Chocolate Pudding lacking in passion and impression compared to what was on stage. The Grilled Beef Steak with Red Wine and Natural Jus Sauce served as the mains, saved the evening from a complete culinary disaster. Although the beef was too cooked for my liking (it was done medium-well at the chef’s discretion), it was still very tender and juicy. Red wine was free flowing throughout the dinner.
The Spanish Passion dinner show is RMB298 (appx. RM150/USD44) for a 75-minute set; reserve 5pm or 7pm. Tickets can be purchased directly at the Spanish Pavilion’s Tapas bar or call +86 136 3660 7215 for advanced reservations.
Germany Pavilion: Most Hearty Meal
Food is an essential part of any German contribution to a World Fair, thus the German Pavilion has a huge restaurant on the ground floor, providing a taste of German cuisine – from fish dishes from Frisia to the Rhineland’s Sauerbraten right through to Bavaria’s Schweinshaxe – for roughly 450 guests at a time. Beer lovers can also enjoy specially brewed, and strong selection of German beers.
A friend told me to try the Pork Knuckles, but traveling alone can be a pain. There was no way I could finish one by myself. So, I opted for the excellent thick and creamy Kartoffelsuppe, a potato and bacon soup (which was huge enough to be a complete meal by itself) and a yummy German Platter which consisted of two variations of bratwursts, kassler ham, mashed potato and sauerkraut, while I watch the couple in the next table digging into their knuckle and chucking their beers.
Both items and a drink set me back about RMB210 (appx RM105/USD30).
Brazil Pavilion: Best Snacks
The pavilion of the the next host-country for 2014 FIFA World Cup is also scoring high points with its seared beef skewers cooked up by a celebrated chef from Sao Paulo, along with that is a slew of snacks which one can get from their bar area. For me, this was a nice shady breather while I enjoyed a cup of Pele’s (yes, the football legend) Ice Milked Coffee and tried local delicacies like Coxinha and Coconut Egg Tart for the first time. The first was rather interesting and tasty, it’s a breaded mashed potato ball roughly the size of a golf ball is stuffed with spicy minced chicken; while the latter is a really coconut cake that was too sweet for my liking.
Coffee starts from RMB20 (RM10/USD3.50) while snacks cost no more than RMB30 (appx. RM15/USD4.50) per serving. Not bad by Expo standards.
Mexico Pavilion: Most Satisfying Meal
One of the most colourful pavilions in the expo, and definitely one of the more clever ones conceptually. The mostly underground pavilion is purposely built to simulate how the country is right under China on the opposite end of the planet. Told you it was smart.
Its Restaurant Mi Tierra has also got to be one of the best kitchens here. I reckoned this was my most satisfying meal when it comes to the matter of taste. The manager was also really friendly and made a few good recommendations such as the Tacos Jamaiquinos which had a very delicate flavour from the hibiscus, the excellent and hearty Pork Carnitas Burritos (stuffed with refried beans, rice, pico de gallo & sour cream) and washed it all down with a glass of Fresh Jamaican flower-flavoured Water. You can also try a wide variety of tequila here too.
Tacos averaged about RMB28 (appx. RM14/USD4), Mains from RMB85 – RMB165 (appx. RM43-RM83/USD13 – USD25)and Desserts are about RMB45 (appx. RM22/USD6.50)
Pages from My Shanghai Diary So Far (shot in hi-contrast):
Day-8: An Unexpected Breakfast Loaf and Fuxing Park