Dishes from the Melting Pot


When I first lived in China, a little more than a decade ago, cultural immersion was more or less obligatory. But in Shanghai these days, you can pick and choose just as you can in any global metropolis, at least when it comes to food. I started this week with an espresso in a cafe in the old French concession. For lunch, I had Shanghainese noodles in a rich broth tinted rust red by shrimps, topped with a few other shrimps that had been swiftly stir-fried, and accompanied by a plateful of cao tou, a local specialty green, cooked in a wok with a dash of rice wine. For dinner, some southern Italian cavatelli pasta in a sumptuous sugo of slow-cooked pork with tomato sauce, all prepared from scratch by my friend Nunzia, with a bottle of Italian red wine and a salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. All the ingredients were locally acquired except the fresh horseradish garnish, which the restaurant owner had brought back from a Christmas trip to Lucania. And to think that until recently in China, olive oil was sold in drug stores as a cosmetic product, the only red wine available in most major cities was Great Wall or Dynasty, and you might as well have dreamed of hitching a ride home in a flying saucer as scoring a decent espresso.

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