“Foodie” is thrown around a lot these days, be it in magazines, lifestyle blogs, or in a conversation with that particular friend who’s always trying to drag you to the newest café in town. But really, what is a foodie? And is this particular subculture beginning to gain a footing in China as well?
Paul Levy, who thinks that he may have coined the term back in the 80s, claims “foodie” started life as a derogatory term intended to mock! But it eventually took on a life of its own and become a descriptor for those with a genuine passion and interest in food.1
Now, a few years after foodie culture began to take off in places like the U.K. and U.S., it appears that China wants in on the action too. Not only have the last decade’s food scandals led to greater numbers of middle-class Chinese customers shelling out more for organic food, they are also spending more money on gourmet food than ever before. On top of that, they have also developed that typical foodie habit (sometimes derided in the West) of posting numerous pictures of their expensive high-end cuisine on social media networks.2 This increase is so pronounced, and the growing market so huge, that struggling countries with a bankable food culture are focusing heavily on the new export market; witness the potential “lifeline” provided to Greek exports via China’s growing taste for Mediterranean cuisine.3
Of course, this is all great news for non-native fellow foodies looking to indulge while they’re in Shanghai, though they may well want to do so in a different way. It’s pretty likely that younger travellers will want to sample the traditional food of the country they find themselves in. With this in mind, it is perhaps best to try and strike a balance between delicious, varied and centuries old traditional Chinese cuisine and joining the locals in their new found taste for finer international fare.
Thankfully, it isn’t too hard to find tips on how to do both. Younger travellers can give some thought to food when they plan their itineraries and try to go to as many of China’s “top foodie towns” as possible,4 (or just try out their specialties at a regionally focused Shanghai restaurant). These include:
Chengdu: Asia’s first UNESCO city of gastronomy known for its boisterously flavorful, chili and garlic laced dishes.
Lanzhou: the best place to get authentically hand-pulled beef noodles
Guangzhou: the energetic metropolis in the South known particularly for its excellent Dim Sum.
Turpan: a city in Xinjiang known for its Central Asian style of cooking and extensive use of well-cooked lamb.5
Those with more adventurous palates might want to try out dishes they would never find back home. Top choices include fried insects and seahorses6 which, if nothing else, will taste like nothing you’ve ever eaten before, and provide you with a decent dinner party story. It helps immensely that Shanghai attracts people from every corner of China, which means it’s tough to find a regional style or specialty that isn’t represented somewhere in the city.
There are also other, more surprising ways that you can cement your foodie status while you’re living over here. Popular magazine, The World of Chinese, published a list of Must-See Chinese Films for Foodies, movies with a focus on Chinese cuisine like Ang Lee’s “Eat Drink Man Woman”, Cantonese comedy “The God of Cookery”, and “Four Chefs and a Feast”, a film about a Shanghainese restaurant.7 Some foodies in China are even developing a social conscience. The group Nanjing Foodies began as a way to raise money to aid the victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Since then, it has organized fund-raising events based around high-quality meals and encouraged attendees to “indulge for a cause”.8
With the exploding culinary scene and the growing taste for gourmet food, there has probably never been a better time to be a “foodie” in Shanghai than right now. With all the esoteric street food, top-notch restaurants, and FIELDS bringing high quality natural produce straight to your door, it’s easier than ever to be an adventurous Shanghai foodie with a somewhat social conscience.
If you’re looking for some top-notch Chinese style food to pave the way from your dining room table to Shanghai foodie status, begin your journey here:
1. Paul Levy, “What is a foodie?”, The Guardian, June 14, 2007, accessed August 12, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2007/jun/14/whatisafoodie
2. “How the Chinese Middle Classes are Becoming Foodies and Culture Junkies”, South China Morning Post, January 2, 2013, accessed August 12, 2013, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1118350/how-chinese-middle-classes-are-becoming-foodies-and-culture-junkies
3. James Areddy, “Greek Exports Find a Lifeline in China’s Foodies”, The Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2013, accessed August 12, 2013, http://live.wsj.com/video/greek-exports-find-a-lifeline-in-chinas-foodies/04D630CC-0613-4B8A-9EA2-0823685C768B.html#!04D630CC-0613-4B8A-9EA2-0823685C768B
4. Fiona Reilly, “8 best foodie towns in China”, CNN Travel, November 6, 2012, accessed August 12, 2013, http://travel.cnn.com/china-food-cities-588206
6. “Weirdest Food in Beijing Night Markets”, Trails of China Column For Foodies, April 27, 2013, accessed August 12, 2013, http://www.trailsofchina.com/blog/column-for-foodies/3/
7. Weijing Zhu, “10 Chinese Cuisine Films For Foodies”, The World of Chinese, April 22, 2013, accessed August 12, 2013, http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2013/04/10-chinese-cuisine-films-for-foodies/
8. Indulge for a Cause; the Nanjing Foodies are Back!”, Hello Nanjing, May 26 2013, accessed August 12, 2013, http://www.hellonanjing.net/community-features/895-indulge-for-a-cause-the-nanjing-foodies-are-back