Our last day in Shanghai was a busy one indeed. In fact, our China Spree guide Mr. Jim Mao positively ran us ragged beginning in the early morning until well into the night. The day began with a hurried breakfast followed by the Jade Buddhist Temple.
We then visited the Old Town and with it the City God Temple of Shanghai to view by daylight the decorations that would be in full, brightly illuminated display during our scheduled return much later that evening. That afternoon we hit the Shanghai Museum, had dinner, took a night lights river cruise (later blog), and then returned to the Old Town for the Lantern Festival at night (another upcoming blog topic).
But for now let’s talk about lunch. In the City God Temple area of Old Town is the Yuyuan Garden., and alongside the Yuyuan Garden is a very interesting restaurant indeed.
But first a little background on how we came upon this delightful hidden gem. Ursula and I discovered the wonders of Cantonese dim sum some twenty-six years ago on a trip to Hong Kong, and we’ve been craving it ever since. Indeed we have a brunch date coming up in June at our favorite Boston dim sum restaurant The Empire Garden, but that trip is for another blog series.
So, what is dim sum? Think of it as a meal consisting of a dizzying array of appetizers Cantonese-style — a Chinese version of Spanish tapas, as it were. It’s a fun and tasty way of grazing through myriad delectable treats one small bite at a time. That brings us to the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, a government-owned eatery so unique that it even has its own Wikipedia entry. And how popular is this place? Be prepared for a wait. A very long wait, as this young patron discovered:
When our little group broke up for lunch and a little “me” time in Old Town, Ursula and I asked Jim Mao if we could treat him to lunch. The stipulation was that he had to take us to the best dim sum restaurant in the area. Instead, he took us to what is probably the best dim sum restaurant in all of Shanghai, and it was within easy walking distance. But Nanxiang it turns out is not your usual dim sum restaurant. Unlike most dim sum restaurants — in which wait staff wheel carts about the one large dining room until flagged down by a hungry patron who then points to what has piqued their curiosity or awakened their taste buds — Nanxiang has several rooms that are stratified by price structure. Each room serves customers who pledge to spend a specified minimum amount per person. As such the wait lines are longer for the cheaper rooms, less so as you go up the economic food chain (sorry — just had to say that).
In Nanxiang you also order off a menu rather than await a traveling cart. Here’s just a small sampling of what’s available on the menu: