[Note: I have decided to let my Shanghaibites.com website and blog expire, and am reprising selected posts here in the @GarySoup Blog. This one was posted on August 5, 2007 in Shanghai Bites]
I was excited to hear that the latest installment of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" had him in Shanghai, sampling local small eats. When I caught the re-run, though, I found it to be a huge disappointment. Although the episode was identified as "Shanghai," there was a scant 10 minutes or so of an hour-long blitzkrieg Long March to Shangrila, and it was stock travelogue stuff. AB at the Nanxiang Steamed Dumpling Shop, proclaiming their xiaolong bao product to be "the best dumplings in the world." AB stopping by Xiao Yang's for some shengjian bao (a.k.a. "fried dumplings"). And finally, the really exciting and titillating blip of Anthony Bourdain buying "stinky tofu" from a street vendor and representing that it was something new to him. Then poof, off to cormorant fishing (another travelogue yawner).
The Nanxiang is certainly photogenic in its setting and activity (as in the above photo), and deserves a visit simply because it's a shrine to xiaolong bao. But it was galling to see Anthony Bourdain, as has been done with almost every video tour of Shanghai before, hunker down with the local tourism boosters and agree with them on the party line that the Nanxiang's XLB are the best anywhere. True, they once were, but if AB's team did their research, he would know that the Nanxiang's culinary glory has faded and there are probably mom-and-pop shops making tastier, nore delicate-skinned xiaolong bao in almost every Shanghai neighborhood today.
Shengjiang bao from Xiao Yang's establishment and even chou doufu from street vendors are also covered in almost any guide book a visitor is likely to bring with him. But I forget, Anthony Bourdain's show is on the Travel Channel, after all.