The Market Part
Our tour guide Erica buying kale at the wet market
The tour started at 10am with a meet-up at Jiashan Road Station and a short walk to a wet market on Yixueyuan Lu. There were only three of us; myself, Erica Zhang (our guide), and Sol, a lovely woman from Chihuahua who's only in the city for a short while. This is pretty typical for a Cook in Shanghai tour. They keep them small (3-6, usually closer to 3).
We were asked to select a dish a few days in advance off a set menu—I picked a water kale side dish because it was the healthiest thing on there and I have a history of burning veggies (or just everything). Sol picked stir-fried noodles and since our group was small, Erica picked a third dish: hot and sour shredded potatoes.
"Is that your favorite dish?" I asked.
"No," she said, “I just like potatoes.”
This is how it worked: Erica gave us each a list of ingredients for our dish with its name and amount in English, Chinese characters, and an English phonetic breakdown so we could order for ourselves. Most of the wet market vendors giggled at us. Erica would often jump in, and always paid for us (the ingredients are included in the tour price).
Since we all picked vegetarian dishes, we spent most of our time on the second floor where the veggies, fruit, eggs, noodles, nuts, and tofu lived. There was a lot of, “what’s that?” and pointing. Erica had all the answers: “Lotus root, stinky tofu, a pickled egg.”
We picked things up we were curious about, even if they weren't our list, so we could try them back at the kitchen. Erica also had some connects in the market, so we could try things on the spot, like red dates. At one point Sol asked if she could buy cherries, because they looked real good. Erica communicated to the vendor for her.
"Thirty-eight, is that a good price?” Sol asked.
"Eh," Erica explained. Cherries are just generally kind of pricey.
The easiest thing to look at on the first floor
After we got everything we needed and Sol didn't buy cherries, we checked out the first floor—the meat floor. Which is really not for the faint of heart, but the fish looked super fresh. They also had beef, lamb, chicken, eels, and crawdads.
With all the ingredients in hand we walked back to 'the kitchen.'
The Cooking Part
Cook in Shanghai now has three venues. The one used for the Wet Market Tour is the one on Zhaojiabang Lu and doubles as the apartment of the co-founder of the organization. We entered the apartment through the kitchen, but we were told to chill in the living room, while the chef, one ‘Chef Daniel,’ did all the boring chopping stuff.
As we sat, Erica and Helen (co-founder of Cook in Shanghai, resident of the apartment) brought us tea and explained how to eat lotus root, which we picked up at the market. We also got to try the duck egg we picked up after Chef Daniel prepared it in the kitchen amidst the chopping.
Duck egg with soy sauce
Once all the materials were prepped, we were invited back to the kitchen. We were given aprons and incredibly silly-looking chef hats. Like something the Swedish chef might wear. Awesome. Even though we each picked a dish, we learned to cook (and eat) all three. We started with the hot and sour shredded potatoes. Chef Daniel showed us how to slice the potato extra thin; Sol did a good job. He had to help me recut mine. Erica was on standby, translating when necessary and writing everything down.
They let us use really big knives
Next up: the water kale, which, alright, I guess you put water in the pan and that's how things don't get burnt? Good to know. Never thought of that. It was a pretty simple process, but for the cooking challenged like myself, actually pretty helpful.
For stir-fried noodles, all the veggies were pre-cut, and the noodles were already cooked so we just threw it all in a wok and added oil. Then it was time to eat.
The Eating Part
The big reveal.
I made this!
With my hands!
Are you proud of me?!
Me and Sol against the world, we were left to eat together alone while Erica and Chef Daniel disappeared into Helen's bedroom.
We kept our chef hats on.
The dishes were good, but oily. Maybe not as healthy as I'd set my goal at, but for now, I'm happy to stay in a world where oily noodles and potatoes are a part of a healthy, balanced diet. What a wonderful world that is.
About 20 minutes later Sol and I geared up to leave, and Erica reemerged with 6 small boxes so we could take our leftovers with us. Sol then asked where she could get a grocery basket like Erica's. This led to a how-to-Taobao lesson.
I left midway through, never to see Chef Daniel or Helen again.
Thoughts and Feelings
Erica, Chef Daniel, and Sol
Cook in Shanghai: A Few Positives and Negatives
-The small group made for a casual environment. We got to try things we wanted, and I liked that our guide offered help in things outside of cooking.
-Learned something! They also send you a pdf with detailed recipes of the 3 dishes, so you can easily make them again.
-It was fun and communal. Make a new friend. Maybe plural "friends" if your group's a bit bigger.
-If you speak Chinese, or have a friend who speaks Chinese, and have access to the internet, you can do most of this tour on your own (but you MIGHT burn the veggies)
-The kitchen in the apartment part felt a little haphazard.
-350-400rmb for a tour feels a bit steep, even with the price of the ingredients included, especially because the vibe was so casual and towards the end the service kind of fell apart
How to Book a Tour
To book the 'Healthy Cooking Class and Wet Market Tour', or another class visit Cook in Shanghai's website. This tour costs 350rmb a person if you pay in advance and 400 if you pay the day of. Runs every Thursday and Saturday from 10am to 1.30pm.