China Blogger Spotlight: Jake DeLois, adventurous eater and Shanghai Foodist

by Aimee Groom
Posted: April 18th, 2011 | Updated: July 25th, 2012 | Comments
Jake DeLois_Shanghai Foodist While some eat to live, others live to eat. Jake DeLois, the man behind Shanghai's favorite foodie blog, Shanghai Foodist, definitely falls into category number two. Sinking his teeth in to just about everything edible throughout Shanghai from glitzy fine-dining to humble street noodles, he's a man on a mission not just to savor the flavors, but to see what they say about life in the city. Here, he lets us in on some of his top tips for dining in Shanghai.  >>> China Travel: First up, tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be living in Shanghai. Jake: By day, I'm a full-time marketing communications executive living the dream in the Middle Kingdom. By night (and at least during every meal), I'm an adventurous eater of all things, and occasionally I snap a few pics and write a few blog posts about what I'm eating. Like most blogs, mine's a mere hobby, a way to unwind and be a little creative. And though for some reason some expat publications think otherwise, my blog isn't affiliated with anyone or any laowai magazine. It's just mine. And why I came to China? Well, my arrival here was a longtime coming actually. If you've ever seen Caddy Shack, you'll know the character, Mr. Wang the Chinese Jewish Businessman. And as a really little kid I identified with him for one reason or another, so I used to walk around saying that I was in fact Mr. Wang the Chinese Jewish Businessman (I'm Jewish, but not of Asian decent, mind you) with a backgammon set suitcase full of Monopoly money, trying to cut deals with everyone. I always offered the best prices. Growing up with that confused identity, I guess it was inevitable I would come here to straighten it all out. And once I arrived, I basically never left; I've just tweaked my byline a bit—Mr. DeLois the Jewish Businessman in China.  It works. China Travel: What do you do when you're not eating delicious food and blogging about it? Jake: I'm an Italian American Jew. There is no point during the day when I'm not thinking about food. When I'm not blogging about it, I'm usually drooling over the porn at foodgawker or the newly revamped Bon Appétit site. It also doesn't help that I work for a restaurant and catering management group… but seriously—my life is filled with pretty normal things: constantly meeting new people, Drunken Dragon bar crawls, blindly pointing to a neighborhood or place on a city map and exploring the area… China Travel: How many times a week do you eat out? Jake: More than I care to admit. Don't get me wrong, I love home cooked meals—a lot, actually. But food here—especially French Concession, which is constantly pumping out great spots. China Travel: What's your own home-cooked specialty? Jake: Whiskey on the rocks. And I schmear the hell out of a bagel with lox. Octopus Balls_Shanghai Foodist China Travel: What's the weirdest thing you've been served up in a restaurant in China? Jake: I'll eat anything—at least once. But I really haven't come across anything too weird or obscure. Maybe a deep-fried corn cake with rainbow sprinkles and a hoisin dipping sauce. That was pretty strange. Octopus balls with seaweed powder and mayo were also pretty peculiar, but not so strange. I'm traveling to Yunnan next week, so my answer is undoubtedly going to change… China Travel: Did you have the chance to do much traveling in China? Tell us about your best experience. Jake: Thus far, my first trip to Xi'an. I went there last year with some visiting relatives, and I really dug the old city, within the wall. I even liked the actual wall—you can climb up onto it and literally walk around the city. It was probably my most relaxing visit anywhere, too—we had no agenda, just walked all over the place, enjoying Xi'an in the spring. Behind the Drum Tower is where the real action is, though. There's this rich Uyghur Quarter. At night, all the twisting lanes in the Quarter transform into a ridiculously cool street food bazaar. I'm admittedly easy to satisfy, though. Give me a black beer and some chuar, and I'm good to go. China Travel: And your worst? Jake: Is actually from the same trip to Xi'an. Going back to Shanghai, my cousin and I purchased a ticket for a train we thought was going to get us back into the city at 3:00am. We were mistaken. Really mistaken. Turns out we got on that train at 3:00pm in Xi'an, and didn't get back to Shanghai until 3:00pm the next day. 24 hours in a six sleeper car right next to the bathroom—not so ideal. Muslim Market_Shanghai Foodist China Travel: What are your top 5 recommendations for a first time visitor to Shanghai and where they should eat nearby? Jake: Shanghai's dining scene is really evolving and it's pretty great to see it happening. There is a saying when describing some kind of non-Chinese restaurant: "This is good…for Shanghai." And it seems that recently I'm hearing that "for Shanghai" dropped more and more, which I think is a testament to the maturing of the restaurant scene here, and certainly a tribute to the city's chefs. But if I had to narrow a huge list of things to eat here down to five…
  • Shengjian bao. Everyone probably says "xiaolongbao," right? While I can't get enough of xiaolongbao, I have to admit I'm a sucker for fried food. I actually don't have a favorite place for these–Yang's is famed, of course, but I like mine off the street or in a market. They are hearty, and porky and fatty and soupy and fried and delicious. Good at 8:00am for breakfast, great at 4:00am after a night out. I'm too impatient for them to cool, though, so I usually burn my tongue. I never learn.
  • market at Tongchuan is like Shanghai's fisherman's wharf… just without an actual wharf. You can bargain over fresh seafood—think of something that lives in the sea, and it's there—and then bring it to a noodle-slinger or nearby restaurant, and they'll cook it any way you'd like. It's great and fish doesn't come much fresher.
  • Xinjiang specialties. Every Friday around 11:00am, before the weekly 1 o'clock Muslim prayer, Changde Lu up near Suzhou Creek is this great scene—Uyghurs and Muslims from all over China meeting to break naan and gather as a community before heading in for services. Best chuar, best lamb dumplings.
  • Pork belly—of all varieties. Shanghainese braised belly. Cantonese crispy belly. They're all good. The original Jesse on Tianping Lu braises a mean belly. I think their menu calls it "Grandmother's Pork in Brown Sauce," and it literally tastes like someone's grandma is out back preparing a comforting and tender vat of this stuff.
  • The complimentary bread at Mr. and Mrs. Bund. Hands down the best bread in all the Chinese land.  Everything there is good, actually—their gravlax, their steaks and their lemon tart, which is also probably the best dessert in the city. And with killer real estate on The Bund overlooking Pudong, this restaurant is one of the few places that really has their ish together. They're the whole package. But seriously, they need to open up a bakery to sell those loaves.
China Travel: Imagine it's your Last Supper—what are you eating, where are you and who are you with? [pullquote]I come from this mix of Italian and Jewish descent, so you can imagine that food is pretty much as important to us as family[/pullquote]Jake: Probably back in the States, in Maine (where I'm from) with my family. I come from this mix of Italian and Jewish descent, so you can imagine that food is pretty much as important to us as family. We used to have these huge family dinners with meatballs, and red sauce and eggplant parm, and salads and stuffed chickens, and fresh baked challah bread, and… you get the idea. We don't do them as much as we used to or should. It wouldn't even matter where we were, as long as the table was big enough. After one of these, I'd surely die happy. China Travel: What's the one thing you wish you'd known about China before going? Jake: Honestly nothing. Maybe that's a cop out of a real answer, but it's pretty true. I like jumping into these experiences with no expectations. So good, bad, or indifferent, everything is just this awesome surprise. China Travel: What did you miss most from home while you were there? Jake: It's so easy to get caught up in the precipitate pace of life in Shanghai, that missing particular things from home doesn't happen much. In terms of food—good buffalo wings with good blue cheese sauce.  Seriously. Some places have almost great wings, but not a good sauce, while some have a good sauce but measly wings. Someone needs to just open a wing joint already and invite me to test them. Everyday. Cold Street Noodles_Shanghai Foodist China Travel: What would you miss most about China if you had to leave tomorrow? Jake: Shanghai is saturated with dichotomies. Especially new and old, rich and poor. And for me lunch hour here is really the meeting of these two worlds. Businessmen working in skyscrapers converging and conversing with ayis and students while waiting in line at the same noodle vendors—it's a beautiful thing. There's no pretense in this daily ritual. Who cares how much money you have, if you drive a Bentley or a bicycle, people just want some good grub and know that the best bowl of noodles needn't be more than 5 kuai or in some polished restaurant. I'll really miss that landscape. China Travel: What three words sum up your experience of living in China? Jake: XIAO LONG BAO Thank you Jake! If that's got you drooling for more, then head over to Shanghai Foodist and join Jake on his foodie forays into Shanghai to discover the city's tastiest secrets. China Blogger Spotlight is a regular column highlighting great China blogs that we think you should know about. If you know of a blog that's got good things to share with other China travelers, be it your own or an RSS essential, let us know by emailing:
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