MANILA, MAY 5, 2007 (STAR) A TASTE OF LIFE By Heny Sison - Nothing beats being in Shanghai. Nothing compares to indulging in rich, delish Shanghainese cuisine than taking bites of steamed dim sum between sips of tea amid animated conversation with your dearest right in the heart of Shanghai itself. I am still high from my recent travel to the Paris of the East, as it was once fondly called. Situated on the banks of the Yangtze River Delta, Shanghai is Chinaís famous city, and a romantic one at that. The temperature was pleasingly cool it gave you good reason to huddle close to the person next to you.

This once sleepy fishing town rose to be one of the most important cities of the 20th century. According to Wikipedia, Shanghai once became the third largest financial center in the world, ranking after London and New York City. Thoroughly modern, yet sentimentally ancient is how I would describe it.

We finally managed to plan a trip to Shanghai with the whole family last Holy Week. We visited my husbandís brother Benedict and his wife Candy. The couple has been nagging us to visit them ever since they left the country. Since then, they have made their homes in various parts of the world from India to Canada. This time, it was now or never. It was also time I devote quality time with my girls, Denise and Carmela, who I consider my best gal pals. And let me tell you, our trip was a blast.

To say that Benedict and Candy were gracious and accommodating is an understatement. They were consummate hosts, who had a load of surprises up their sleeves from the day we arrived to our departure. They had the perfect itinerary laid out for us.

On our first night, they took us out to dinner at the famous South Beauty 88, a popular nightspot that serves spicy Szechuan and Cantonese cuisine. The food was great. My daughters particularly enjoyed their desserts, which were mango and guava sorbet served with the shells and skins intact. I found the guava sorbet delightfully tart with a touch of sweetness.

Before we retired for the night, we were surprised to find a huge shopping bag on our beds filled with authentic Oriental silk pajamas, which, though not enough to keep us warm, made us look and feel like Chinese royalty as we slept snugly under heaps of thick blankets.

The house of our hosts was in Shimao Riviera Garden, and served as our temporary home in Shanghai. It is situated next to the Huang Pu River and holds the Guinness Book of World of Records as the tallest river-view house in China. In my book, Iíd give it a seven-star rating.

From where we stayed, 43 floors above ground, we had a spectacular view of the Bund. Whether it is daytime or night, the postcard-like sights along the river were breathtaking.

Also called Zhongshan Road, the Bund is a famous waterfront regarded as the symbol of Shanghai for hundreds of years. Itís a blend of the old and new with great modern skyscrapers and characteristic buildings in different architectural styles from Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and Renaissance. At night, the city glows with youthful vitality as futuristic skyscrapers and flashy neon billboards light up the scene.

One fine, cool day, we had a family picture taken with the famed Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the backdrop. Soaring 468 meters high, it ranks as the third tallest TV tower in the world. It is situated on the other side of the river of the Bund. The Oriental Pearl Tower has been the new symbol of Shanghai. And when the night comes, it transforms into a visual spectacle, its slim and graceful demeanor making a presence under the reflection of multi-colored lamps.

The next morning, we woke up to the fragrant scent of steamed dim sum awaiting us at breakfast. " Pieces dear to my heart" is dim sumís literal translation, and thatís what my family most likely is to our hosts. A generous platter of various bite-sized Asian treasures, from freshly made steamed and fried dumplings to spring rolls, puffy pork barbecue buns, pot stickers served with faint sweet jasmine tea, and soymilk made the morning great.

The Shanghainese people are known to eat very little; hence the serving is quite small. They have popularized these satisfying treats, which are dear to the Filipinoís heart. Xiao long bao, which literally means small steamed buns, are what we popularly know as siopao. Once more, our hosts did not fail to delight us with a traditional Shanghai breakfast.

We brought the girls to the Shanghai International Hospitality Equipment and Supply Expo, which coincided with our trip. The girls had fun sampling the free food from coffee to gelato and checking out linens and china. I took this opportunity to source items, which I feel would have a market back home.

Next stop was the Oishi Bread Pan along Changli Road in Pudong District. Oishi Bread Pan is a successful chain of bakeshops owned by Oishi China, which is managed by brothers Carlson, Archie, and Larry Chan. They are also the brains behind the famous Oishi brand, which has Asians crunching and munching on snacks.

Jonathan Chua, Bread Pan general manager, gave us a tour of the bakeshop, and pointed out baked items that prove the Filipinoís love for sweets. They had their own take on sans rival and crema de fruta. Eric Lao and his wife Rinby, who later treated us to sumptuous dinner at Crystal Jade, arranged this bakeshop tour.

We capped the night drinking coffee at our very own Pinoy Figaro Cafť in Xintiandi. Xintiandi translates as "new haven and earth," and for most tourists, it was literally that, a consumer heaven. This area of plush restaurants, bars and high-end boutiques is prized because of its blend of old and new. My daughters and I enjoyed browsing through different goods as we went in and out of swanky boutiques. What I enjoyed best was the look and the feel of the place, a blend of European and Chinese architectural styles. While the area is small and often crowded, itís a must-see in Shanghai.

Also in this area, I visited French Visage Cafť Patisserie owned by celebrated pastry chef Eric Perez. Check out his big version of the French macaroon. If the original petite treats are delightful, the big ones spell sheer joy! I had the pleasure of working with Eric when he was in the country. We collaborated on creating recipes using dried fruits and nuts for USDA. It was an amazing experience.

Most notable moments of our Shanghai trip included a visit to the Little Venice of Shanghai: Zhu Jia Jiao

Here lies authentic old Shanghai. Willow trees shade an ancient water town where the unique old bridges still stand across bubbling streams and small rivers. Amid the hustle and bustle of the modern city lies a preserved town where living is easy and the atmosphere peaceful and tranquil.

We leisurely walked through a row of quaint restaurants along the river and were eager spectators as we witnessed a flurry of local activities unfold. We passed through stalls selling native delicacies and local candy and got a chance to do some shopping for pasalubong. It was fun watching the vendors create their wares to attract customers. One was pulling taffy or what we call tira-tira, which he would then fill with crushed peanuts. The neighboring stall was selling steamed chicken cooked in bamboo. We took samples from an assortment of caramelized fruits from apples to cherries inserted in the skewers. They were absolutely delicious. We watched a vendor tie a pork leg with bamboo leaves and rope in the process of cooking what we call pata tim, that melt-in-the-mouth pork delicacy. Old ladies can be seen wrapping Chinaís rice delicacy called machang the original way. I was so engrossed watching them as they did the wrapping that I even begged the lady to sell me some fresh bamboo leaves and the stalks, which they use in wrapping the machang, a good pasalubong for chef Kathy, the Chinese chef in our school.

Later on, we visited a museum with an awesome display of intricate potteries dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.

At the end of a busy day, we watched a skilled craftsman deftly create what is called a chop. It is actually a personalized Chinese seal used for stamping checks. We each had our own done as souvenirs of the trip.

Our hosts Benedict and Candy kept our stay in Shanghai worth every moment. I didnít even have to open my travel guidebook or ask around for directions, because they mapped out our itinerary and took us around in style. During our stay, I hardly missed home for my family was with me and that made the experience worth a lifetime of memories.

On the eve of our departure, they once more surprised us with a lavish traditional tea ceremony with the entire family dressed in traditional Chinese garb. It was fun to dress up and actually see everyone excited to play their parts. It was just like a scene from the movie Mano Po, and, of course, we gamely posed like actors for the camera. That was a high moment for me. Actually, there we no lows while we were in Shanghai.

I was Shanghai-ed but in a good way. And although I left with mixed emotions, I knew I would definitely be back, ready for more Shanghai surprises.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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