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Photos: SmSh Photographers
This Legacy Food Brand Is Trying Really Hard to Be Relevant Again
By Apr 29, 2019 Dining

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Qiaojiashan (乔家栅) is a household name among Shanghainese. It's known for cheap Shanghai eats and glutinous rice desserts. First established in 1909 on Qiaojia Lu, Qiaojiashan was a small street food store known for tangyuan. It's been downhill ever since, until last year when both branches of the company (I'll explain) revamped and renovated in a desperate bid to be relevant again. Has it worked?

After the partners inevitably split up, one relocated the restaurant to Xiangyang Nan Lu in 1940 — the one that's still running today — and named it Qiaojiashan Restaurant (乔家栅食府). The restaurant is typical canteen-style Shanghainese: xiaolong, Shanghai-style noodles and local benbang dishes. Qiaojiashan has outlets across the city.

Shanghai"

The other went back to Nanshi in the Old Town a few years later and opened a Qiaojiashan factory, devoted to traditional Shanghainese desserts and launched songgao (sponge cake made of rice flour) sub-brand Mr. Qiao (乔老爷).

Qiaojiashan



Like many of the local legacy restaurants I've visited, Qiaojiashan Restaurant has seen better days. However, it remains popular among locals, mostly for nostalgia. Last year, the restaurant went through a makeover. And at the end of March, a few weeks after it reopened, it attracted a small line during lunch. While queuing, a few Shanghainese old ladies tried to peek inside: "Is this still the old Qiaojiashan?", they asked.

Shanghai"

Shanghai"

It's very much the same, but a little bit more ... delicate? Quick meals are served downstairs: various Shanghai-style noodles with a handful of toppings to choose from, xiaolong, shaomai, small wontons and so on. The second floor is much brighter and cleaner now, with a vague attempt to make it look retro. They couldn't do anything about the low ceilings or the noise, though. Prices are more expensive than both Bao Luo and Chun Zai, for comparison's sake.

Shanghai"

Shanghai"

Despite the nicer look, Qiaojiashan doesn't seem to be catering to a younger crowd so much as middle-aged nearby residents who want their dishes casual but also more presentable.

Shanghai"

Shanghai"

Mr. Qiao



Mr. Qiao in the old town wants to be Instagrammable, though. The shop also returned in March with a trendier look. Their songgao made a comeback with eight flavors. They look cute and are made with natural coloring and ingredients: sticky rice, black rice, sesame paste, purple sweet potato, ai cao (Chinese mugwort) and red bean paste and so on. They are mostly 10rmb.

Shanghai"

Shanghai"

The spongecakes are great. They are made-to-order so the softness, moisture, and texture are spot on. The fillings are sweet; fortunately they offer free pu'er tea. But would I come back to the old town for them? No. I would not.

Shanghai"

Shanghai"

So, prettier, cuter, and more expensive Qiaojiashan. I'm not sure whether that is a game-changing move. But I'm glad they're at least trying to progress, when many legacy brands are content to be further and further marginalized by younger customers.

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