Lunch and Hidden Treasures
My co-worker (former co-worker as of tomorrow when I will have officially taken over ALL of his classes) and friend Roger mentioned the other day this secret, awesome location he found – right on West Nanjing Road that is similar to Tianzifang but without the tourists. On Wednesday, after finishing my 汉语(Chinese) midterm and before I had to go teach for the evening, we decided to meet up for lunch so he could show me this newly discovered area of town.
As we were walking down West Nanjing, just a minute or two from the subway stop on a street filled with people, expensive shops, western brands and traffic; I had my doubts about finding someplace so unknown. However, when we turned to walk into the gates of this little Chinese community that seemed like any other residential area, I also had doubts about finding anything worth seeing. Forget things worth seeing, I was hungry – and I didn’t even think we could find street food in these deserted rows of houses.
We walked down the first little alley and my suspicions of Roger’s hidden treasure grew, “This is just a dead end” I claimed, stopping a few doors from the end of the alley… But was it really? Roger led me down to the very end – where behind the last gate you could peer into the house and see a little coffee shop with seats set up inside. Peering into another house, there was a barber shop inside – a woman sitting on the front step in the sun, reading a magazine with dye in her hair.
Down the next alley (pictured below) was an amazing shoe store –can you see it? The signs are frequently on the inside of doors, so when the doors are shut they can’t be seen. Other signs or plaques hanging on the brick walls outside are easily removed each night and brought inside.
They are just normal houses – with hidden treasures inside, a great opportunity to take a look inside the homes of Chinese people.
Still hungry, we wandered down another alley. There was a little coffee shop and Roger mentioned they might have food. As we were both ready for lunch, we figured it was worth checking out. Walking inside, I was transported back into Portland. A trendy, rich coffee cultured and comfortable environment, brightly painted walls, artwork, books, wine bottles and coffee equipment – sights and smells my senses weren’t accustom to in Shanghai.
I start looking at the shelves of coffee related products and knickknacks when I stumble upon locally roasted coffee – the name on the bag matching the name written in chalk on the gate to the house. I was astonished –could they possibly be roasting and selling their own coffee here??
I attempt to ask the question, but they didn’t understand. Instead, I was distracted by the beautiful, handwritten paper menu, tied together with yarn that was placed in front of me. Will Hutchens of Caffeinated PDX came to mind and I started snapping pictures of the espresso machine. I opted for an iced Americano and the “spaghetti with bacon, onions and cream.” Roger had the spaghetti Bolognese and a mango smoothie (made with milk and fresh mangos).
After a couple more photo opts, with my delicious and strong Americano in hand, we took our seats at the one table outside – patio seating. It was here I realized that yes – this coffee is roasted here – as I spotted the coffee roaster sitting in the corner behind Roger.
On a Chinese couple’s front patio, between the coffee roaster and their house/coffee shop, we had grape vines growing above us, the brick wall separating us from neighbors on one side and the kitchen where our food was being prepared on the other side.
In the doorway to the shop, someone sat and watched us – she was soon joined by her daughter.
Other than the people who lived in the house we were visiting and the cats, in the 45minutes or so Roger and I spent there we didn’t see a soul.
At one point, Roger asked – “Do you hear cars?” I listened intently. Birds, I hear birds – and the cats meowing. Wait…I listened some more. No, I don’t hear a single vehicle. We were in one of the busiest, metropolitan, westernized parts of the city and I heard birds chirping, the sounds of a kitchen, the water trickling behind me (Roger joked that it was a waterfall – but in reality it was the gutter) and our own voices. Paradise – a hidden treasure – in the middle of West Nanjing Road.
We looked at a couple more shops full of cutesy knickknacks and Chinese-inspired art and another amazing looking wine bar/restaurant that Roger had eaten at the night before, but then the wind started picking up, the rain clouds grew darker and with a roll of thunder in the distance we decided to head home. I had to get to work anyways! But I will be back – soon!!