The com­fort­ing taste of one’s roots

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - In Shang­hai

xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

In the sub­ur­ban Shang­hai area of Pu­jiang, noo­dles are more than just a meal for the res­i­dents — it is also the only con­nec­tion these peo­ple have to the life they used to en­joy in the heart of the city about 20 kilo­me­ters away.

Pu­jiang town, sit­u­ated on the east bank of the Huangpu River, is the largest of the three satel­lite towns on the out­skirts of Shang­hai that is home to the mil­lions of peo­ple who have been re­lo­cated to make way for ur­ban projects in the city.

Zhang Pei­jun’s five-ta­ble noo­dle stall, lo­cated on a bustling two-lane street in one of the most pop­u­lated neigh­bor­hoods in this dis­trict, serves noth­ing but the most com­mon East China-style soup noo­dles — straight and slen­der white noo­dles pre­sented in what looks like a ball of yarn im­mersed in crim­son red soup and ac­com­pa­nied by chopped green onions and wok-fried top­pings that could in­clude a va­ri­ety of in­gre­di­ents.

“With this, I am still a coun­try­side Shang­hainese. With­out, I might just be an out­lander,” said a 63-year-old re­tired fac­tory worker sur­named Su, one of the shop’s most loyal cus­tomers.

Su com­pared his re­lo­ca­tion from the up­per cor­ner of the city to the “coun­try­side” where he is cur­rently in to an old tree be­ing up­rooted and trans­planted in a for­eign lo­ca­tion. He is one of the 27,600 res­i­dents who were re­lo­cated to Pu­jiang town in 2006, as their orig­i­nal homes were torn down to make way for the de­vel­op­ment of the 5.38-square-kilo­me­ter Shang­hai Expo Park.

How­ever, se­nior res­i­dents like Su only man­age to feel at home at Zhang’s tiny shop named “Old Shang­hainese Noo­dle Shop” that mea­sures less than 30 square me­ters.

“It tastes orig­i­nal,” said Su, while slurp­ing his noo­dles that were topped with wok-fried pigs’ in­testines. He showed lit­tle in­ten­tion of leav­ing af­ter fin­ish­ing his meal and looked con­tent to just re­lax in his seat at the en­trance of the shop.

“At first, they came to me for the noo­dles. But now, food is sec­ondary. Be­ing here with peo­ple like them­selves is the main rea­son,” said Zhang.

Zhang grad­u­ated from a lo­cal culi­nary vo­ca­tional school in the 1990s and was ap­pren­tic­ing in usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by so­cial­iz­ing, some­thing that is too over­whelm­ing for his phys­i­cal and men­tal health. An­other rea­son was to avoid the wrath of his wife, who al­most al­ways cooked rice at home.

“When you tell your wife you are din­ing out, she might be less some of the most tra­di­tional noo­dle houses in down­town Shang­hai till 2003, the time when many of these eater­ies fell prey to the wreck­ing ball.

Although he has al­ways been con­fi­dent of his skills in the kitchen, the 43-year-old Shang­hai na­tive found lit­tle luck in the busi­ness world un­til two years ago when a friend sensed a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity in Pu­jiang and urged him to move over.

As it turned out, this friend’s fore­sight was rather ac­cu­rate as busi­ness has seen steady growth since Zhang opened his stall. To­gether with his eight staff and two stoves, the eatery churns out be­tween 400 to 500 bowls of noo­dles ev­ery day, triple the amount sold when he first started.

An­other fac­tor be­hind the brisk busi­ness is the fact that there’s still lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion in the neigh­bor­hood. There are only a few small restau­rants lo­cated in this town and food chains like KFC or Star­bucks have yet to set up shop.

“Most of my reg­u­lars are old peo­ple. Some would come ev­ery day for two meals. The young peo­ple would also come and eat, but they have al­ter­na­tives,” said Zhang, in a stained white chef’s jacket that has the name of a Ja­panese restau­rant.

“It’s from my for­mer em­ployer. I’m us­ing it to save money,” he joked.

Zhang has about 12 loyal cus­tomers who would dine at his shop daily. They usu­ally show up be­fore or af­ter the peak meal hours as this means they get to hang around for a longer du­ra­tion. Zhang would of­ten of­fer them yel­low rice wine while they ex­change opin­ions about the rock­et­ing prop­erty prices in Shang­hai and how much the city has changed.

“Shang­hai has un­der­gone very rad­i­cal changes over the years. But my noo­dles don’t change,” Zhang said.

XU JUNQIAN / CHINA DAILY

Zhang Pei­jun's noo­dle stall is a fa­vorite hang­out among many of the el­derly peo­ple in Pu­jiang town.

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