Olivia Anne Halsall
Shanghai 上海has three campuses all within 1 km of each other. Right in the middle of this toddler triangle sits a small hole-in-the-wall eatery (小吃店 xiǎo chī diàn) serving Jiaozi (饺子 jiǎo zǐ) – boiled dumplings stuffed with meat, spices and herbs, along with exotic sides such as knots of dried kelp or duck’s neck. I first stumbled across “Authentic Shandong Specialty Jiaozi” (正宗山东特色水饺 zhèng zōng shān dōng tè sè shuǐ jiǎo) – the “Jiaozi Kingdom” for short, whilst walking home from my first day at work. It was a sticky mid-September afternoon and I hadn’t yet found time to eat; that afternoon I ended up staying in the “Jiaozi Kingdom” for 3 hours slowly chomping my way through 50+ dumplings.
P – a friendly man named Beef Peace (牛和平 niú hé píng) is originally from Linyi 临沂, Shandong Provinc山东 and can usually be found stirring Jiaozi from a large pot of boiling water precariously balanced between the eatery front and the street. Since moving to Shanghai, P’s family eatery has become a second home for me. In the evenings, his two children fill the room with laughter as customers come and go slurping, burping and chatting to one another.
Life at the “Jiaozi Kingdom” might sometimes feel monotonous stuffing, folding, pinching, stuffing, folding, pinching. Nothing changes, and the daily routine isn’t dissimilar. But like so many other holes-in-the-wall, the “Jiaozi Kingdom” not only provides the local community with a reliable, quick and cheap source of food, but it acts as a means of social inclusion, and it is this community that unearth Shanghai’s true character.
Can one empathise with Shanghai for striving for a modern, cosmopolitan and pristine city when the process of gentrification is stripping the city of its character and knocking the old out from under its feet? It’s impossible to say whether little holes-in-the-wall like the “Jiaozi Kingdom” are likely to be under threat any time soon, but as fish and chips is to Brits, Jiaozi are to the Chinese – and they are here to stay.