Have Line, Will Eat: Enjoying Shanghai’s Treats

Who doesn’t like Chinese food? For most, it’s probably the first foreign cuisine one gets to try the very first time thanks to centuries of migration and the hundreds of Chinatowns all over the world. China is a culinary destination in itself. Set aside the stranger parts of the cuisine (but what culinary culture doesn’t have a strange side?) and you’re in for a truly tasty treat. On this second trip to Shanghai, I made it a point to revisit some of my favorites plus discover new ones. Top of mind was Yang’s Dumplings. The popular dumpling shop is now all over the city with stalls even at malls. The steamed dumplings are still meaty and juicy and the bottom perfectly toasted. I could have it everyday. Their 6 piece sampler pack which included the fish and the crab versions let’s you try the different fillings. The latter is especially flavorful.Like Yang’s, Nanxiang Steamed Bun has also expanded outside crowded Yu Yuan Gardens. At the 3rd floor of Shanghai First Food Hall, there’s no need to line-up. I ate twice and both times, I had the pork dumplings and noodles with dried shrimps. Perfect combo!Tip: Shanghai First Food Hall at the Nanjing Pedestrian Street has both Yang’s and Nanxiang on the same floor. Yang’s is at the food court while Nanxiang has its own place.

Tried this large crab dumpling at Lu Bo Lang at Yuyuan. They have a stall outside the resto so no need to dine inside. Unlike xiaolongbao, this one is all soup which you drink with a straw. Fresh off the bamboo steamer, the broth was scalding.Shin De Chao is a popular resto at the corner of my hotel at the Nanjing Pedestrian Street. The noodle soup with pork and pickled vegetables was filling but not worth its price.Much better was the noodles with spicy pork at the Shanghai Noodle House also at the 3rd floor of the Shanghai First Food Hall. The serving was huge and the broth flavorful. One of my discoveries in this trip was the food court at the mall by the Qibao Metro. There was a huge food court with a stall that had a long queue of people getting viands placed on bamboo steamers. The servings were huge and judging by the lines, probably affordable and good too.Just a few meters away was a restaurant where I had a combo rice topping of Hainanese chicken, barbecued pork, and suckling pig which were all very good, albeit quite expensive at 50 yuan. The crispiness of the suckling pig was so worth it, though.Another food court discovery is at the mall by the South Shaanxi Metro. The pork belly in a flaky pastry-like bun was delicious! Lines are everywhere where there is good food. This traditional sweets shop at the Nanjing Pedestrain Street near the corner of Chunshenjiang Hotel always has a crowd.

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Qibao Ancient Town

Not really ancient as everything seems to be a reconstruction of the old water town. Nevertheless, Qibao, the nearest river town to Shanghai, still made for a nice morning wandering. Upon exiting the subway, I was surprised with the enormous modern mall on the opposite side of the street. But like many ancient streets or towns in Chinese-speaking countries, Qibao is tucked somewhere amidst all the concrete. Indeed, after 10 minutes of following my google map, I espied the entrance and joined the crowds cramming the narrow streets.The river looked rural enough making me forget that about 500m away was the huge mall.I mostly made my way around eating and eating and eating. Qibao was small in sights but definitely big on food.

Beancurd skins with peanuts and a light savory sauce.

I don’t know what this is but it looks kinda scary.

All kinds of meat from pig trotters to pork leg and chicken parts.

Getting ThereFrom the Nanjing East Rd station, I took Line 2 to Jing’an Temple. Transferred to Line 7 for Zhaojiabang Rd then another transfer to Line 9 for Qibao station. From Exit 1 took a left turn, crosed the street, turned right until the end, then left. The entrance is on the right side.The entire subway ride took about an hour.FeesNo entrance fees! The town is entirely free to enter. You will need to pay to get into some small museums, though.TipCome hungry! Time your visit with the puppet show at 1pm.

Categories: China

Hi Shanghai!

So it seems it’s Re-visit China Year this year. After my Macau trip last July with a sidetrip to Hong Kong, it’s Shanghai this time. My first and only trip here was way back in 2010 when 3 of my sisters and I went to experience the World Expo. I really enjoyed that one especially since I arrived ahead of everyone else and went to Suzhou and Hanjou for a few days.I’m all alone this time and it was a conference on sound archiving at the venerable Shanghai Conservatory of Music that brought me here. Oh yes, they also paid for my airfare and the hotel during the course of the conference. Like all conferences, I arrived for a few days ahead for a little wandering around.I haven’t had much of a sleep since my China Eastern flight was at 4:55 this morning (pleasant flight by the way) and after finally making it to my hotel, it was almost 12 noon and I was hankering for some dimsum. I just dropped off my luggage and went to the Shanghai Food Hall along the Nanjing Pedestrian Street which I passed by going to the hotel. Got 4 pcs of pan-fried dumplings at Yang’s Dumplings at the 3rd floor foodcourt and wished I had gotten 8. It was soooo good!Still hungry, I went to what looked like a promising noodle restaurant on the same floor and ordered a noodle soup with spicy pork and a fried pork rib. It was cheap and very satisfying.Headed to the Shanghai Museum for some Chinese art and jostled my way with the tour groups to see some ancient ceramics and bronzes. I was expecting to see some rain drums among the bronze artefacts on display but there were none, unfortunately. At the top floor was the Chinese National Minorities Gallery that had impressive displays of traditional clothing and acessories. The museum wasn’t very big but at least it was for free.Spent the rest of the afternoon looking for a jacket at H&M at the pedestrian street then had dinner at Shen Da Cheng where I had a huge bowl of noodle soup with pork and pickled vegetables.

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Calauit Weekend

I’m in Coron town as I write this; at the nice Acacia Garden Inn on a quiet road parallel the noisy highway. It’s been 15 years since my last and only trip here and I barely recognize the place. The two nights I spent at Calauit with the team facilitating workshops with the Tagbanua were wonderful. I never ever did any research in Palawan so I quickly grabbed the opportunity to join the team. I never had a better field site with so much food. Never was a fan of seafood but the fish was so fresh and I never had local octopus before.

It was an experience hearing samples of tablay, a traditional Tagbanua song and the Cuyunon carol, “El Señor Tagbalay” which I only ever heard through recordings. I got all these data via an impromptu “Tagbanua Got Talent” contest.

There are still so much to learn from the locals and they promised to bring some music instruments next time.

After our delicious lunch 8f crabs, octopus, and lomi, we set-off for the other side. We took a bigger boat this time which managed to fit all of us plus our stuff back to the pier on the other side. It was still high tide thus we managed to dock at the concrete pier which had much better steps. Another 2 hour bus ride and we’re back in Coron town.

I will miss the water and the beautiful sunrise that greets me each time I get up.

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Beautiful Calauit

I arrived at the small rickety pier at Quezon, a small town at one end of Busuanga. It was a little past 3pm and the tide had gone out exposing the tangled roots of mangroves and the sand.

I was with a team of 4 people from the university, our contact from one of the NGOs based in Coron town, and a few Tagbanua from San Isidro who were joining a worskhop we were facilitating. They had all met us at the airport from where we took the 2-hour van ride to this little pier after lunch at the eatery just outside the Arrivals. I slept most of the way, oblivious to all the bumps and the curves. From across the pier, I could see the island of Calauit. Nope, not the part of the island made (in)famous by the crazy dream of a dictator to establish an African safari in the tropics. We were headed to the other side where gentle dugongs swam and feasted on sea grass.

The most challenging part of the trip was getting down the bamboo ladder with rungs that were so spaced far apart.

Because the water was so low, the boats had to be pushed by two men from the pier to deeper water. We probably could have walked all the way to the other side. A few pushes on the shallow sea bed with his long bamboo pole and the boat had enough depth to start its engines. It took a while before the engine sputtered to life. One of the boats had already gone ahead and we were in the middle of the calm sea. What if we drifted out to the open? But the engine roared to life and we were on our way.

We docked at the small pier and headed to the Dugong Research Center, a 2-storey wood and thatch house where we were to stay for the next couple of nights. Never mind the very basic amenities, I was thrilled to be sleeping with the sound of the sea.

There was nothing much to do for the rest of the day so three of us decided to take a walk around the village guided by Bornok, a Tagbanua from San Isidro who has been to Calauit a couple of times.

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Back in Jogya

Jogyakarta, Indonesia’s center of Javanese culture looks remarkably different from when I first came here more than 10 years ago. It’s much busier now and Malioboro Street is lined with a few malls and some swanky hotels like the Ibis. Nevertheless, it still retains its provincial feel with people having picnics on the sidewalk on a Saturday night and loads of bakso food carts. I arrived in this city late afternoon last Thursday after an epic 15 hour bus ride that started at 1am in Jakarta airport. It was a loong journey that included 2 toilet stops, a breakfast and late lunch stop and a tour of Borobodur.

With me are a few colleagues and a busload of student performers for the Southeast Asia Music Education Exchange (SEAMEX) at the Yogyakarta National Museum (which isn’t a museum at all but an events venue). The road trip wasn’t boring though as it was just like taking a tour of the Indonesian countryside with rice paddies and little kampung. Of course, the stop at Borobodur was the aaah moment of the day.

The magnificent 9thc temple was still a sight to behold. Even the students enjoyed themselves immensely.

Fortunately, there weren’t many people when we arrived as it was close to noon time.

It took another 2 hours to Jogyakarta where we were finally dropped at our hotel

The past few days have been spent between the SEAMEX events and walking around busy Malioboro which was bursting at its seams Saturday night.Bought some toy gamelan instruments at super crowded Hamza Batik which has a good collection of all the stuff you’ll ever want to purchase for souvenirs. For large-sized people like me, they have a rack of batik shirts that are besar enough.

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Eating in Macau

As I discovered during my time in Macau, there’s more than your usual Chinese food. The cuisine is varied and for people like me whose taste buds do most of the traveling, there are lots to discover.

Porkchop in a bun

While in Portugal, I never got to try those hefty sandwhiches filled with fried fillets of fish. I was always too full with the main meals and sweets to have room for any snacking. Apparently, these sandwiches made their way to the Macau but instead of fish, it had pork chop (which I think made it even better). Locally called zhu pa pao, a thick slice of fried chop is placed in a soft bun and they’re found everywhere. The internet recommended Sei Kee in Taipa.

The long lines were justified. The meat was thick and tasty and the bun crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Sei Kee is also famous for its clay-brewed coffee which is really good.

Porkchop with Tomato Sauce

Our go to place for something quick, cheap, and uncomplicated was this eatery along the main road that led to Senado Square. There was an English menu and the portions were hefty. I had this boneless pork chop with tomato sauce on rice. It tasted quirky but good nevertheless.


What’s a trip to a Chinese city without some good dimsum?

Though there are many nice restaurants with good dimsum, they can cost quite a bit. The ones above were at 25-38 pataca. Cheaper are the ones in a large eatery we stumbled on one morning. Dimsum was just at 15 pataca. The staff are glad to open the bamboo steamers so you can point out what you want.

Rice and Noodles

There’s more to fried rice than yang chow. Lei Hong Kei’s version was meaty and had none of the oiliness that one normally gets in Manila’s Chinese restos.

We also had the rice with roasted pork and poached egg.

There’s also fried rice with dried scallops which I had at a nice resto near our hotel. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture.

Roast Pork

One night, I was hankering for some good old roast pork and we stumbled on this small joint. It was cheap and good.

But the best one was at Lei Hong Kei. The pork was tender and had the right saltiness. This restaurant is one of the few that still serves old Cantonese cuisine. Judging by the number of families at the large round tables, it’s internet reputation seems justified. Indeed, the yang chow and the sweet and sour pork hit all the right points.

Sesame Soup

While having soup for dessert might sound strange, it is not so in Asian cuisine. I’m particularly fond of black sesame soup with its smoky flavor. Best eaten hot. Had this bowl at Tim Heong Yuen just across Lei Hong Kei.

While it can be quite initimidating to go in one of the many eateries with no English signs, throwing your cares away and just trying your luck in ordering can be deeply satistifying.

We simply chose any place we fancied, went in, and hoped for an English menu. Oftentimes, someone would notice us peering inside and would beckon us to come in. We were never disappointed. Service was always friendly and in the absence of any English menu, we simply pointed to pictures or to the dimsum on display. Smiles and hand gestures go a long long way.

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Making it Macau

I was utterly exhausted with the past weeks’ school activities by the time I boarded my Cebu Pacific flight for Macau along with a co-professor. We were attending the Asia Pacific Symposium on Music Education Research (APSMER) at the Macau Polytechnic Institute next week and were arriving a few days earlier for a much deserved R&R. This is only my second trip to this tiny Cantonese island and I was quite looking forward to it. The first one was more than thirty years ago with the family when I was still in elementary. It was a day trip from Hong Kong and the sea was quite rough which meant I spent the entire trip in the van, disembarking only at the Ruins of St. Paul and at Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s house. I had a really terrible time as I felt like puking all over the place.

Arriving in Macau is indeed, like being here the first time. I gazed in awe at the skyline as our taxi made its way across the bridge to the other side, away from the glitzy casinos. Our little hotel is in a quiet street just a few minutes walk to Senado Square which meant it is near everything but still far enough from the tourist crowds.

It was past 11 by the time we checked-in and the only dining place open was the Thai restaurant just a few feet away. It was khao kluk krapi (shrimp paste fried rice) rather than yang chow for the night. The servings were generous and the food tasted Thai enough.

We went to Taipa this morning for an old Macau feel, if it is at all possible with the massive tourist development and crowds of Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese on school break.

Walking around, I realized how much nicer Macau really is to Hong Kong with its narrow streets, alleyways, and shop houses.

The village of Taipei was particularly nice with its cobbled alleys.

After having just been to Portugal last April, the more I appreciated Macau’s architectural heritage.

The weather is really sticky though leaving me sweating and exhausted.

Revisited the Ruins of St. Paul but was put-off by the massive crowds.

It felt good though to be revisiting a place I had seen in childhood.

Went to Senado Square in the evening with its mosaic floors reminiscent of that of Praca de Commercio in Lisbon but the crowds and the humidity was just too much.

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Lake Sebu: Getting there and staying there

My fifth time in Lake Sebu and I still continue to love the place. Of course, I’m biased 🙂 because this continues to be my research area as an ethnomusicologist and I continue to work with its musicians and dancers. The last time I was here was in 2014 for the Helobung Festival in November and so much has changed. For one, it is so much easier to get to now for Manila-based travellers. For those who have not yet visited this wonderful gem of a place in the Soccksargen region, here’s my nifty little guide.

p.s. I only ever come to Lake Sebu from Manila so this is for folks coming from there. I know there are routes from Davao and other Mindanao hubs but I’d rather let those who have done those routes speak for them.

Getting There

GenSan Airport-Marbel-Lake Sebu

Arriving at the GenSan International Airport, the most direct route to Lake Sebu is to take the Yellow Bus from the airport to Marbel (also known as Koronadal). It only costs Php 150 and the ride is just a little over an hour. Look at their FB page for the scheds.

Artriving at the new and modern Koronadal Integrated Transport Terminal, head to the parked vans at the other end. There are blue signs hanging from the ceiling announcing the different destinations. Just look for the sign that says “Lake Sebu” and get a seat at the parked van. Take note that they pack the van to the brim with 4 people sharing a 3-seater row. Your luggage either goes under the seats or at the small space at the front row. If you have a large pack or bag with you, I suggest you pay for an extra seat. Of course the best spot is right in front with the driver.

Fare: Php 150 (GenSan Airport-Marbel)

Php 80 (Marbel-Lake Sebu)

Travel time: 1.5 hours (GenSanAirport-Marbel).

1 hour (Marbel-Lake Sebu)

Hours: All day. Leaves when full or (in my experience) at least when half full (in the case of the vans to Lake Sebu).

Surallah-Lake Sebu

With the Marbel-Lake Sebu van, there really is no reason to ride a bus from Marbel to Surallah (30 mins) just to take the van to Lake Sebu.

GenSan Bulaong Terminal-Lake Sebu

According to the conductor of the Lake Sebu-GenSan van I rode, the first trip out of GenSan is at 9am as the van originates from Lake Sebu. Honestly, I’d rather take the bus to Marbel as I wouldn’t want to be in a cramped van.

Fare: Php 150

Travel Time: 2 hours

Hours: All day starting at 9am

GenSan Bulaong Terminal-Marbel-Lake Sebu

I always take this route because I prefer buses over vans. You can take your pic of bus lines at the terminal–Yellow Bus Lines, Husky, and Mindanao Star. Preferably, ride the one that goes non-stop to Marbel. There are signs on the bus platforms and on the buses themselves. Alternatively, just ask any of the bus conductors and they’ll steer you to the right one. As always, the bus leaves when full.

Fare: Php 110

Travel Time: 1 hour

Hours: All day

The bus will drop you off at the Koronadal Integrated Transport Terminal where you take the van to Lake Sebu.

Arriving There

All vans whether coming from GenSan Bulaong Terminal, Koronadal Integrated Transport Terminal, or Surallah Terminal will drop you off at the new Lake Sebu Terminal which is located near the School of Living Traditions (more of that later) and not at the center of the poblacion (where the old terminal used to be). There are habal-habal (motorcyles) that can take you to your accomodations.

Leaving from There

Leaving Lake Sebu, the terminal you arrived at is where you’ll also ride the van back to either Surallah, Marbel or GenSan. Just turn up. The vans leave when full. The GenSan-bound van drops off passengers at the Surallah and Koronadal transport terminals and anywhere along the highway. It doesn’t wait to pick-up passengers, though which means that travel time is still 2 hours and from Koronadal to GenSan, the van will probably be nearly empty.

Transport to other places such as Tboli municipality (for Lake Holon) are also here.

Staying There

I cannot stop recommending the Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions and Homestay which is just a few meters (about a 5 minute walk) from the terminal. Yes, you can stay in one of the concrete resorts but that would be boring and so ordinary. The homestay is not only atmospheric but is an experience by itself. It’s basic and communal but you get to stay in a Tboli longhouse that’s really nice and clean. Besides, the interaction with Maria Todi, a Tboli cultural worker, and her family is priceless. This is where I always stay and I can totally guarantee how wonderful this place is. Check out the FB page of the homestay.

Tips While There

1. Be patient. Service at the local eateries are always not as quick as you want it to be.

2. Buy Tboli crafts and music instruments from the artisans themselves or at Tboli shops such as COWHED so your money goes directly to them.

3. Learn to play Tboli music instruments such as the gongs, learn to dance, or to make beads at the Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions.

4. Hire Tboli people as guides to tour you around.

5. Spread your money. Eat at different places. Shop at different shops.

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Sweet Lisbon

There’s more than pasteis de nata for a sweet snack or dessert in Lisbon. There are confeiterias everywhere with glass display cases brimming with sweetness overload.

At the Time Out Market are a number of dessert shops including Manteigra (which is a class of its own with its heavenly pasteis de nata) but my favorite was Nos e Mais Bos with its delicious cakes.

With so many cakes on array, choosing what to get without breaking my blood sugar limit was a challenge.

The slices were big and each bite made me swoon. It was worth going to the market just for this.

Another favorite sweets shop was Alcoa which we stumbled into while strolling at busy Rue de Garett after buying some books at Libreria Bertrand. We couldn’t resist the pastries on display at the large window so we stepped inside. Most of Alcoa’s pastries are egg yolk based which makes for a very rich taste and sumptuous texture. Think of smooth yema. Many have won numerous awards and rightly so.

They have a very clean, smooth, and elegant taste. Sweet but not sugary.

There are no tables and chairs, just a counter lining one side of the confeitaria’s walls.

The coffee is good and strong and the staff friendly which makes for a sweet stop after all that shopping.

I have a very sweet tooth and dessert comes at all hours of the day. Lisbon was such a pleasant surprise to me as all I ever expected was pasteis de nata but I got so much more.

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