Tasting old Shanghai

Park Hotel Palmiers
Park Hotel Palmiers

Shanghai bakeries are opening in great number in the city center. As discussed in a previous post (see post: First Russian Bakery & Tkachenko), bakeries in old Shanghai were numerous in the French Concession and the International settlement, often coupled with cafes. (see post: Shanghai Coffee Culture). The other source for bread and cake supply were hotel bakeries. 5-stars hotels made their own bread and cake and sold them to outside customers, just as they do today. Surprisingly, at least one of the hotel backery has continued operating all along since the hotel opening. This is one of the little secrets for reviving old Shanghai that I am sharing with the readers.

Straight from the hotel bakery
Straight from the hotel bakery

Opened in 1934, Park Hotel was the Chinese answer to the Cathay Hotel on the Bund. The 5-star hotel built on the Shanghai racecourse obviously had its own bakery making bread and cakes fulfilling the need of the hotels guests. Park Hotel was famous for its pastry, in particular the palmiers (named after the French name of palm trees, as they look sort of the same).  This particular cake is name “Hu Die Su” or butterfly cookies in Chinese. Despite the change of management after 1949 liberation, those cookies continued being made along the years. My wife, Jiajia, fondly recalls her father going to the hotel specially in the 1980’s to buy her the cookies, that were the top of luxury available at that time. This products survived the years with a nearly untouched recipe and is still available today.

Tasting history
Tasting history

The secret passage is the Park Hotel bakery shop on the left side of the building. Although not advertised, there is clearly a faithful crowd willing to come and buy the delicacies coming directly from a distant past. Sunday afternoon is peak time, with people queuing outside the shop. The best seller is clearly the palmier, with old ladies buying a few bags at a time. Ordering in Shanghainese is nearly compulsory and the shop fills up with “Yi bo wu die su” (I want a bag of palmiers) being the magic words. Other cakes are also available including almond cookies, croissants, cream puffs.  I have to admit that they difficultly compete in term of taste with modern 5 star hotels or other bakeries such as “La Boulangerie”, but the hordes of customers do not seem to mind. Along with having lunch at Deda Cafe, eating the palmiers of Park hotel is experiencing Shanghai history by tasting it.

One thought on “Tasting old Shanghai”

  1. Are you suggesting that presence of bakeries and cafes even in interwar Shanghai gave it a
    similar character to contemporary Paris? I never had impression Shanghai then was conducive
    to flaneurs casually walking about Shanghai to stop at book stalls, bakeries, cafes instead of
    moving about in safety of ricksaws. What’s you and your wife’s experience? Also, for some
    reason, I thought Park Hotel was American- -owned or at least catered primarily to Americans
    in 1930s. You seem to be saying it was Chinese–owned. Thanks for listening, PC.

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