Salads and superfoods are now surprisingly trendy in Shanghai
Has anyone else noticed the rapidly rising number of salad bars and plant-based restaurants that have been opening around Shanghai in recent years? Even older shops are getting into the salad game by offering more raw veggies with their staple dishes.
Via Stelle, a food platform that delivers meals created by star chefs across the globe, recently launched a pop-up at Jing An Kerry Centre to sell salads stuffed in mason jars (which customers get to keep). I tried to buy one for lunch the other day, but there was a long line of Chinese office workers curious to try this “exotic” foreign food.
Chinese are traditionally not keen on eating uncooked vegetables; their cuisine emphasizes the extreme boiling or sauteing in hot oil anything green in order to make it edible. Thus, salads (which were born from the belief that raw greens contain the most vitamins) have long been viewed by the Chinese as a sort of Western aberration.
One of my Chinese co-workers orders daily takeout box lunches from online food delivery apps. As I mentioned, a growing number of these local kitchens have been including complimentary salads in what otherwise would be a traditional Chinese meal of rice, meats and over-cooked veggies.
Yet this young lady literally gags at the sight of her free salad; she picks at the lettuce with a look on her face as if she was holding a cockroach and tosses it into the trash. I’ve seen similar responses in the past. Once, I invited my Chinese friend and her parents over for a home-cooked Western style dinner, which included a starter salad. They poked at it like it would suddenly spring to life, but declined to eat more than a single courtesy nibble.
Aside from the occasional comical reaction, it does seem that more and more Chinese are getting hip to salads and superfoods. I wrote in a previous article that local Shanghainese vendors such as the Avocado Lady on Wulumuqi Road can barely keep their avocados and kale in stock, with a large percentage of their customer base now being middle-class Chinese young adults.
Or swing by Shanghai-based healthfood chain Sproutworks during lunch hour and you’ll be lucky to find a table amid all the Chinese yuppies dining on expensive albeit delicious bowls of kale-quinoa-cabbage salad. MOKA Bros also specializes in superfoods, with most of their lunch menu being organic, uncooked and green.
There are so many new salad bars opening around Shanghai that, back in May, an expat blog wrote an entire article about it. Among these sumptuous selections are Taste & See’s all-you-can-eat salad buffet and Saucepan’s “power bowls” (couscous, fresh vegetables, cheese and dressing). That’s Shanghai magazine reported that Bund-side restaurant M Glam is now offering fully vegan brunches due to rising demand from local patrons.
But red might become the new green as beets also find their way into kitchens. According to Shanghai-based agricultural industry news platform Producereport.com, beets are extremely rare in Chinese restaurants, however “superfoods are becoming increasingly well-known here in China and we think beetroot will be a welcome addition to salads and fresh juices. Sports and being conscious about food has made people more interested in beetroot and its rich health benefits.”
China is a fast-rising market in the sports nutrition category, growing 40 percent over the last few years, according to an August article in Nutritionaloutlook.com, “a result of investment by international brands into the market, Chinese acquisitions and a government initiative called Healthy China 2030.”
You surely have also noticed how many bottled 100-percent juices and fresh-squeezed orange juice machines are now available at Shanghai convenience stores, malls and metro stations; five years ago this was unheard of. I remember when the closest thing I could find was “orange-flavored drink.”
What it comes down to is that urban Chinese are becoming more health-conscious about the foods they are ingesting. Carb-centric Chinese staples like rice and noodles, gluten-based breads or meals that have been boiled to death or saturated in oil are quickly falling out of favor (and flavor) as Chinese millennials become more concerned about their bodies and physical wellness.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.