Shanghai and the Wok Man

Shanghai alley

 

We certainly did not have enough time to explore all of Shanghai. It would take years. Our main mission was to find the Shanghai Wok Man and purchase some of the last-known handmade and hand-hammered woks.

Famous skyline of Shanghai

Famous skyline of Shanghai

Shanghai is now a city of over 24 million. This makes it the largest city in China as well as the largest city, in population, in the world. It covers an area of land of over 2,448 square miles. This status could change in the near future as China is on track to move 60% of it’s rural population into cities by 2020 according to the South China Morning Post article.

It is an international city, and it has a very nice vibe. Not as frantic in feel as other big cities in China like Beijing and Shenzhen. Surprisingly, we did not have a lot of trouble moving around the city by taxi.  Thankfully, we did not get caught in the hour’s long traffic tie-ups that are common.

I learned about the wok man from my friend, Grace Young, author of Stir-Fry to The Sky’s Edge, The Breath of a Wok and Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. She met him doing research, and in fact, the lovely photo of the Wok on the cover of Breath of a Wok is one of the Shanghai Wok Man’s. I decided to try to find him and add one of his beautiful woks to my growing collection.

In Shanghai, and really all of cities in China, the older neighborhoods are under assault. Development is fast and furious. The wok man’s neighborhood was rumored to be on the short list of redevelopment. So, it could be a bit iffy to find him. I had recent reports from another of Grace’s friends that visited in early 2014 that he was still working at the same location. Then I found this great post on Jamjnr, an expat blog, confirming that he was in the same neighborhood, and the post gave terrific directions to his place.

Shanghai neighborhood street.

Shanghai neighborhood street.

We drew a lot of attention walking down the street which was bustling with activity. Wet markets, dentists, hair cutting stations and hardware stores lined the alleys. The buildings were old, but you could see the charm in the old architecture.

Wok man outside 1

We had a little bit of a hard time finding the Shanghai Wok Man, Mr. Cen. It was a rainy day and he was not outside working, so we could not follow the sound of the hammering to find his place. Thanks to Steve, he noticed a rusty wok hanging outside. It was a sure sign. We polked our head inside and and found Mr. Cen’s associate. Westerners turing up must be common, he did not speak any English, but knew right away what we wanted.

You know how sometimes your life is made up of soundtracks? Well, my beautiful Shanghai Wok will always have a country feel to it because Slim Whitman was singing the Tennassee Waltz over an old AM/FM transistor radio as we selected, discussed prices and wrapped up the woks.

Woks and ladles

Woks and ladles. Note the hammer tell-tail hammer marks

with Mr. Cen and our purchurse

with Mr. Cen and our purchurse

If you go:

Cen Rong Gen’s woks
214 Baoyuan Lu, near Baotong Lu
宝源路214号, 近宝通路

The wok man's neighborhood in Shanghai

The wok man’s neighborhood in Shanghai

To Mr. Cen’s knowledge, he belived himself to be the last know artisan of hand-hammered woks.  However while we were expoloring other areas of Shanghai, we found a book a little book titled  Shanghai Housewares recently published. It lists another artisan, Little Tao’s Handmade Wrought Iron Woks. His location is listed as Zhoushan Road, Houngkou District. We discussed it with a coup le local Shanghai people and determined that there was not really a shop location listed and he was probably working on the street. We did not have a chance to visit this street and find his location. If anyone does, please let me know!

Wok Wednesdays – Stir-Fried Garlic Snow Pea Shoots with Crabmeat

This recipe comes from Stir-Fry to The Skys Edge page 156 by Grace Young and is part of the Wok Wednesday Project that can be found on Facebook

The finished dish. Stir-Fried Garlic Snow Pea Shoots with Crabmeat

The finished dish. Stir-Fried Garlic Snow Pea Shoots with Crabmeat

This fairly easy, really decadent dish was a cinch to make and was packed with a very rich flavor. Pea shoots are sweet and tender when young. It was an easy find in the wet markets of Hong Kong. Lump crabmeat was more of a difficult find, but in the more western-style groceries we did find them.

Fresh, tender pea shoots.

Fresh, tender pea shoots.

Crabmeat and egg white.

Crabmeat and egg white.

Crabmeat is mixed with chicken broth and egg whites are whisked to form the sauce.

The stir-fry of pea shoots and garlic

The stir-fry of pea shoots and garlic

The garlic and pea shoots are stir-fried to make the base for the delicious crab sauce.

The first time I had pea shoots was in a pasta dish made by my daughter, Kam. The recipe came from the NYTimes Mark Bittman and and included morel mushrooms. It is a really wonderful dish, and a a perinneal favorite when we are in Oregon in spring and have a weath of delightful morels. Like the crabmeat, the morals are rich and lovely with the sweet and tender pea shoots.

Not a photgenic dish, but it did not last too long.

a picture is worth a 1,000 words

a picture is worth a 1,000 words

Mahjong!

 

A Winng Hand

A Winng Hand

Two things that I decieded I would learn in Hong Kong is speaking Cantonese and learning to play mahjong. The Cantonese is not really going very well. But, I have become hooked on mahjong and can play fairly well.

The hand above is basically a “hole-in-one” for mahjong. I will probably never see this hand again in the rest of my life playing mahjong. It is called The Thirteen Orphans hand and one of the higheset scoring hands in the game. It consists of all for winds, a one and a nine of each common suit and one of each honor tile.

About 60% of the hand was drawn from the beginning. Because it was so odd to me, meaning there were no pairs and no strings of common suits, I consulted a book to see what I could do to make sense of the hand. I saw the Thirteen Orphans and decided to try. About six moves later I got the mahjong.

I sent this photo to Steve in the Shenzhen office and asked if he would check with some of the staff that play mahjong to help me score the hand. They said it was a great and of high scoring value, but it did not come out until a week or two later that they actually undrestood that I had won with the hand. A few jaws dropped in amazment. Victor said, ” I have been playing mahjong my whole life and have never seen that hand.”

After that win, all other hands seem mundane.Now, I am spoiled.

A winning hand

A winning hand

Did you feel the earth move a bit last week?

 

Mahjong Tiles

Mahjong Tiles

Last week in an international mahjong competition held in Toulouse France, the Chinese were given a “French Lesson” according to the South China Morning Post. French players won gold, silver and bronze prizes. Fourth, fifth and sixth place were taken by two Italians and a Dutch player. The closest Chinese player ranked seventh out of 108 players. Thirteen of them were Chinese. This is like an all-Chinese team from Beijing winning the World Series of Baseball.

I guess the Chinese did not see it coming. On Sina Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter), the news went viral. Most were in disbelief. There was even a comment that stated “we cannot let foreign devils beat us!” That comment surprised me. Although I could not beat many at mahjong, I guess I am a “foreign devil!”

Hundreds of years old, Mahjong is a game of tiles and is mostly a gambling game. To me, it reminds me a bit of rummy and dominos. It is addictive and after taking a class, I enjoy a game which can go on for hours.

Steve shared the news of the Chinese defeat at the office and they were in disbelief. Several people in the office are mahjong players, and one is reported to be very good. Excuses were made that the rules must be odd and allowances given. However the most interesting question/observation came when Steve was asked if he read this in “an expat newspaper.”

I’ll take the word of an “expat newspaper” any day while we are living here.

That is a whole other topic for a post.

Visitors II – Good Friends Make Shopping Kind of Special

Our great friend of many, many years, Andrea arrived in Hong Kong for fun, shopping, site seeing and a trip to Burma. She, just like Jim and Marcia, filled a grocery list of items to make our time here more like home. Thank you for that.

 Great time at Sugar located in the Hotel East. Hong Kong

Great time at Sugar located in the Hotel East. Hong Kong

 

We filled the two weeks with: Ten Thousand Buddhas, subway rides, plane rides, shopping, Macau, temples, Cat Street, Hong Kong Mailboxes, shopping, dinner at Feast, gin and tonics,hydro ferries, shopping, martinis, horse and buggy rides, wine, shopping, woks, photographing cats on the street,BLACK flag rain storms, lunch at Himalaya, vegetarian dim sum, Star Ferry, Big Rubber Ducky in the Harbor, shopping, a stroll on the Ave of the Stars, Orwell’s Burmese Days, Sham Shui Po, cyclones, Shanghai St., dinner at Fernando’s,thunder and lightening, Ruins of St. Paul, shopping, Long Wah Tea House, shopping, lunch at Chi Lin Nunnery, Hong Kong Park, parasols, scheming, Aung San Suu Kyi, lunch at the Tea House in HKG Park, a hike to The Peak, shopping, “one of the best meals of my life,” (X2 after Fernando’s), rubber shoes, Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace,lucky money, temples, shopping, palm readings, oh yeah….did I mention shopping! Mom would be proud!

 

On the Walk of Stars in Kowloon.

On the Walk of Stars in Kowloon.

What does this sign mean?

 

Sign in the window of a KFC in Shenzhen

Sign in the window of a KFC in Shenzhen

Recently in Shenzhen, Steve came across this sign in the window of a KFC. Of the American fast food restaurants in China, KFC is very popular; however, you would never recognize the menu choices as the American KFC we know.  It made a big statement, so Steve snapped a photo.

We wondered what it could possibly be saying.  A big and strong fist coming at you. Steve thought it was maybe “fist bump” advertising that they were hiring. “Come be part of our team.” All I could see in it was the old Soviet propaganda posters. The simple graphics and colors.

Back at the Shenzhen office, Steve showed the photo and asked for translation. What it says is:

Strictly choose rest-assured chicken.
Science of cultivation, Without hormones.

What it means is that the chicken is safe. In the wake of the H7N9 virus and worries, they want you to continue eating their chicken.

I never would have got that from a big fist. I can only guess that it was used to catch your attention. That it did and apparently the message spoke to the clientele, because the restaurant was very busy with people eating an Asian-style version of the Colonel’s recipe.