“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 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.
So what is the best way to indulge your foodie impulses in Shanghai? And where can you take your kids along for the ride to ensure that they develop the same passion for good food as you?
Thankfully, it isn’t too hard to find tips on how, as someone with a passion for good food, to most thoroughly enjoy the best of China’s legendary cuisine. 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 With a family, though, travelling can be difficult, and is probably not a priority. However, this is no serious problem; 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.
China’s top foodie towns include Chengdu,5 Asia’s first UNESCO city of gastronomy known for its boisterously flavorful, chili and garlic laced dishes, represented in Shanghai by Qimin Hot Pot, a family-friendly restaurant in the Jing’an area.6 Another well-known center of Chinese cuisine is Guangzhou,7 the energetic metropolis in the South known particularly for its excellent Dim Sum and sweet, sticky Cantonese food. This can be sampled in a kid-friendly environment in Shanghai at the Crystal Jade restaurant in Xintiandi.8
Also listed amongst the top culinary spots in China is Turpan, a city located in the Northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang and known for its Central Asian style of cooking and extensive use of well-cooked lamb and yogurt.9 If you feel like enjoying this wonderful cuisine as a family you can try Xibo, a Xinjiang restaurant in the Former French Concession that, along with the great food, supplies a lovely terrace and an extremely kid-friendly environment.10
There are also ways to further cement your family’s foodie status by doing more than sample as much regional cuisine as you can. 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, but has continued since, organizing fund-raising events based around high-quality meals and encouraging attendees to “indulge for a cause”.11
With the exploding culinary scene and the growing taste for gourmet food, there has never been a better time to be a “foodie” in Shanghai than right now. What with all the street food, top-notch restaurants, and FIELDS bringing high quality natural produce straight to your door, it’s easier than ever to get adventurous and find truly great, interesting food.
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
11. 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