Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Shanghai, exploring the Ancient City

Chinese society and economy are developing so fast that even the population can barely catch up. One of the most evident symptoms is the way they cross the street: any foreigner will notice horrified that despite the hectic traffic, locals cross huge roads without even checking if cars are coming their way.

Drivers in Shanghai are busier trying to avoid running over reckless pedestrians rather than following traffic signs.

Chinese are very proud of their bike-tradition, they have always gone through the streets by bike and no matter what the traffic is like, they will keep going by bike, little respecting the red light, barely watching if cars are crossing from side streets, seemingly caring very little whether they'll actually be able to cross or they'll end up lying on the ground. 

As for me, the post-London re-adjusting to the left side of the road is happening quite fast, due to the massive amount of any sort of vehicles present in Shanghai's roads and sidelwalks.
Following this resilience to modernity that characterises Chinese people, I thought I would enjoy a walk through the Ancient City and its Yu Gardens. Lucky guess.

What is called the Ancient City is actually a cluster of shops selling all things traditional, from pearls and jade to silk, to tea sets. And of course many sit-in and take-away restaurants. They are pretty much tourist traps, but if you can bargain the price, the stuff you'll find there is quite of a good quality.
All shops inside the Ancient City are set on traditional-looking surroundings, but the real jewel are to be considered the Yu Gardens, an evocative model of classical Chinese gardening architecture. 

Built during the Ming dinasty in 1559 as the private garden of high-rank official of Sichuan Province, Pan Yunduan, they are a lovely collaboration of architecture and tradition.

The many halls are separated from each other by rare plants, small rivers, ponds and decorative rocks. Rocks are an important part of Chinese culture, as they are seen as a gift from Nature to men.

Visiting these cultural spots makes it evident how Chinese people love their own traditions, as most tourists are actually locals.

I'm discovering Shanghai little by little, and I hope my passion for old-fashioned things will lead me to unearth unusual spots, less glitzy than the tall skyscrapers but by all means with a richer past.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pasta Fresca, the best Italian food in Shanghai

I'm not the typical Italian because when I'm abroad I carefully avoid any Italian restaurant.

This for two main reasons: they are usually very far from reproducing the quality of the food you will eat in Italy, and I always prefer to try the local cuisine, wherever I am.

In Shanghai I made an exception, and this is because the Italian restaurants I found were worth breaking my personal rules.

They are part of a chain, Pasta Fresca, and the owner, Salvatore Carecci, comes from Lecce, Puglia, in Southern Italy. In his restaurants the quality of the food is the same, if not better, than in the best restaurants of the Belpaese.

So what's the trick? An Italian chef for every kitchen? Not quite.

Behind the dishes the Chinese waiters bring to the tables there is a whole Italian-style preparation: the pasta is freshly made (hence the name Pasta Fresca!), which means every single day each restaurant of the chain prepares the pasta they need.

The freshness is not limited to the pasta, of course.

The mozzarella is freshly made in loco, not in the restaurants' kitchens but in the big factory where machines were brought directly from Italy. Even the legendary Italian gelato, ice cream, is made by Pasta Fresca with Italian machines.
Only the main chef in each restaurant is Italian, the rest of the staff, from the chef's assistants to the waiters to the halls' supervisors are Chinese, or some from the Philippines.

The result of this ethnic mix and collaboration is impressive, I highly recommend a visit to one of Pasta Fresca restaurants to anyone who comes to Shanghai and is willing to try Italian food.
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