Vegs in a can

One of my recent post was focused on a market garden supplier to Park Hotel, Jardin Français. As mentioned in a comment, getting safe vegetables in Old Shanghai was not such an easy task. “Honey pots”, i.e. human defecation was collected all over Shanghai and used as fertilizer. The daily morning collection was still going on for years when I lived in the Former French Concession, until around 2010. The modern version of the collectors were riding bikes but I am sure the Old Shanghai version were just walking with a stick over the should supporting two buckets on each ends.

This recycling of human manure was causing vast hygiene issues including epidemics. One solution was to buy vegetables from a safe place, such as Jardin Français that is the topic of an earlier post. Another one was to eat imported canned vegetables.

The idea of cooking food in a seal container was invented by French man Nicolas Appert to feed troops for the Napelonic wars. It was massively used for preserving fishes with many factories located in Britany. Food was preserved in glass jars and later in metal boxes, but canned food remained a luxury items. The process of “double seams” lead to the creation of the modern tin in the beginning of the 20th Century and was largely used during World War I. After the war, canned food companies turn to the civilian market, expanding their range of products to satisfy new customers.

Canned food was available in Old Shanghai, as shown in ads below from the “Journal de Shanghai” 21st March 1928. Although Cassegrain is still famous today for it’s canned vegetables, the Nantes based company definitely had a much larger range then. Advertised products are mostly canned fish, as well as staple of French Cuisine including Tripes, Cassoulet and Choucroute. Cassegrain was available in China much earlier, as the company website shows Cassegrain canned food was used to supply Russian Troops during Port-Arthur siege in the Japano-Russian War in 1904-05 (Port-Arthur was located close to Dalian in Liaoning province of China).

Another famous French brand of canned food was Rödel from Bordeaux. The company still exists with its main factories also in Britany. This brand must have been of very high level, as below ad was found in Feb 1932 magazine of the Cathay Hotel. The list of canned products is mostly fish, French “Plats cuisinés” (ready made French dishes) and “patés & truffles” (I am sure this also meant fois gras). Vegetables were peas (still one of main canned vegetables) and “Autres légumes”, i.e. other vegetables.

Also much less mainstream as Cassegrain, Rödel still exists today focusing on high quality canned Sardines. None of the ads mentioned canned milk or dairy products that seem to have been the speciality of Dutch companies as well as Australia & New Zealand companies. This was the focused on an older article, “Milk and Butter“.

Jardin Français

A recent post on this blog was focused analyzing a day of Park Hotel accounting. One the pages in the booklet particularly attracted my attention, a receipt from “Jardin Français”.

As the subtitle states it, Jardin Français or French Farm, was a market garden in the West part of the French concession. It offered “sanitary own grown vegetables, asparagus, fruits and special lettuces at any seasons and times”. This actual voucher was for chicory salad, and another one was for eggs. This was probably a premium place to get quality western vegetables, serving the hotels and the high level residents, something like today’s organic farming.

19B Route de Say Zoong is now located on Changshu lu. Above map shows that 19 was just South from the Route Ratard / Route de Say Zoong corner, today Julu Lu / Changshu Lu. It is located on below map from 1939. This was definitely a shop, but not the garden itself, which was probably a few miles away, in the countryside.

After writing the original post on this topic, friends from MOFBA came with a advertising for Jardin Français at a different address, published in “The China Press” from 9th March 1934.

From “The China Press” from 9th March 1934

The earlier incarnation of Jardin Français was closer to the center, and probably moved West along with the development of the city, and maybe (just like today) rents increase. I like the “prices reasonable”, which sound to me like a literal translation of “Prix raisonnables” in French but sounds kind of funny in English.

This is the exact same corner, today Julu lu / Changshu lu. On my back it the other side of Julu, Changshu lu 17, i.e. 17 Route de Say Zoong. Numbers on that street have not been changed. The large building is numbered 55 but covers a large area, so it surely encompasses 19, and 19B. This was the location of the Jardin Français shop in 1938. The actual building was probably a 2 story long building with many shops, that is common in Shanghai even today.

Park Hotel accounting

Park Hotel was the most modern hotel of Old Shanghai. The iconic building from Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec, overlooked the race course on a prime location and was the closest competition to the Cathay Hotel (today Peace Hotel). I got a unique inside view of how the business worked through a rare find.

Employing a large number of people and keeping the operation running to please guests was, and still is, a massive task for hoteliers. Long before computers, hotels had to keep a daily clear and detailed accounting system, this is exactly what I found in an antic market. The stack of papers in above picture is the full account of Park Hotel activity for 22 Oct 1938.

1938 was a dark time in Old Shanghai, as the Japanese army had already landed in Shanghai in August 1937 and surrounded both the International Settlement and the French Concession. Crossing out was difficult and dangerous for most Chinese people. Business for the hotel, was probably much down, at least for short term accommodation as there was little visitors from abroad already and not so much travel in China. Still the accounting file gives out a lot of information.

Spending accounts for Park Hotel 22 Oct 1938 part 1
Spending accounts for Park Hotel 22 Oct 1938 part 2

First columns on both pages details the spending of the hotel in terms of food (vegetable, meat, eggs, poultry) on first page. Second page is dedicated to beverages (water, wine, beer), as well as other expenditure. Details of fresh products bought by the kitchen are displayed below.

Second column includes supplier names including a few famous brand like EWO Brewery (EWO is the Chinese name of Jardine & Matheson). Dairy farms include Laiterie Delicate, Scotch dairies and Standard milk Co. Bread supplier was Paul Tchakalian (one of the famous Russian bakery in Shanghai). The hotel also purchased items from the famous Sincere department store.

The above sheet details the purchase from the kitchen. When comparing with the above one, it is clear this is not by far the only purchase from the hotel. I would assume this one was cash purchase from markets or local vendors.

The Park Hotel shopping list was still large, with 29.5 lbs (more than 13 kgs) of beef fillet, 38.5 lbs (17 kgs) of veal leg, and 39 lbs of chicken (about 5 to 7 chickens). Sea fish consumption must have been high as the hotel also bought 45 lbs (20.5 kgs) of Sole fish and 42 lbs of Cod fish (19kgs).

Since I am not a specialist on hotels or F&B, comments and comparison with today’s hotel purchase are more than welcome.

Deda Cafe

Deda's interior
Deda’s interior

After being badly damaged by transformation, the facade of 473 Nanjing Xi Lu found back some of its old grandeur when Deda restaurant took this spot. Although operating in this location since only 2007, Deda is a Shanghai landmark. Originally opened in 1897 on 177 Tang Gu Lu in Hongkou district, the restaurant has survived through all the turmoils of Shanghai history.  The most well known one was surely the previous one on 359 SiChuan Bei lu, where the restaurant relocated in 1949.

The International Settlement and the French Concession had many restaurants, bakeries and coffee houses (See post ‘First Russian bakery and Tkachenko‘ ). Many of them were operated by foreigners, in particular Russians. As a matter of fact today’s Deda menu still has Borsch soup and potato salad coming with all set menus as well as a lot of deep fried dishes often found on the menu in Eastern Europe restaurants. The most amazing is not that the restaurant was opened such a long time ago, but that it has survived all the turmoils of Shanghai history since 1949. For generations of Shanghainese, Deda was a symbol of foreign culture and influence in the city. Although today’s menu does not compare with fancy new foreign restaurants, price is also much lower with lunch menus around 35 RMB.

Deda's first location
Deda’s first location

Today’s Deda main location on Nanjing Xi Lu is not an original old restaurant, but the renovation and design gives it a strong history feeling. Inspiration came more from early 1900 neo classic than 1930’s art deco but the whole atmosphere gets it right. Most patrons are Shanghainese regulars coming for nostalgia. Frozen through time Deda is like a re-interpretation of old Shanghai, on the Chinese side. There is a clear western influence but Chinese taste has also slipped through it, like the fried rice served with most dishes. The restaurant also includes a cake shop, another proof of survival of foreign cooking culture in Shanghai. The recipes have traveled through time, creating a mix of Central European sponge cakes and French tarts. Although quality is not on par with new stars of French patisserie like Paul price is also unbeatable with a slice of cake costing less than 5 RMB.

Seating in the coffee house by the window on Nanjing Xi Lu, I can also feel the vibrations of the metro line just below… just like similar vibrations of the tramway lines that used to run the same street in the 1930’s. Coffee drinking in Shanghai and coffee houses have a long tradition (see post ‘Shanghai Coffee Culture‘ on the topic) and sitting in Deda reminds me of coffee houses in Prague, Budapest or other cities in Central Europe. With its mix of Western influence and Shanghainese patrons Deda is just like a picture of Shanghai, a great mix of western and Chinese, modern and old at the same time, a true Shanghai institution.

First Russian Bakery & Tkachenko

Writing the last post about Paul bakery attracted my attention to bakeries in the old Shanghai. There was a lot of foreigners but not that many French (probably about 1200 in the French concession at most). Still, from the documents I read and knowledge about European culture, there must have been bakeries in Shanghai to satisfy foreign (and Chinese appetites). The best place to look was surely my 1938 version of the Shanghai Dollar diary (more about it in an upcoming post).
I looked into the “bakery” entry of this older version of the phone book and found out 15 entries. I remember reading that the bakery business in the 30’s was run by many Russians in Shanghai. By looking at the names of the shop, at least 5 of them were run by Russians. The most obvious was First Russian bakery, Tchakalian (more about in a further post) and Tkachenko.
First Russian bakery is pictured right (picture is from the website of the Shanghai municipal archives). Located on 234-236 Avenue du Roi Albert (This now Shanxi Nan Lu, the location was approximately opposite Parkson on the other side of Shanxi Nan Lu). This was the urban art of the French Concession where many small apartment buildings were built, not far from Cathay Apartments, Brooklyn Court and the Cercle Sportif Francais. I will have to check, but if the building still exist, it’s probably a cloths shop nowadays.
Tkachenko bakery was also pictured on the same website.
As you can see, they were located in a large mansion of early Shanghai style. This is surely a much earlier building than the one of First Russian Bakery, but it was located only about 15 minutes walk away from it. 640-642 Avenue Joffre is today HuaiZhong lu, north side about half way between Yan Dang Lu and Sinan Lu. It’s approximately opposite the current Sephora shop. The original building was torn down since, probably in the 1990’s. This Avenue Joffre location was a bakery but also a Cafe and Restaurant (as seen on the picture). it would have been the ideal place to stop after shopping on Avenue Joffre (just like Paul today). It was typical of this part of the French Concession that attracted a lot of the White Russians and took the nickname of little Russia. Tkachenko also had factory and confectionery on Nearby Route des Soeurs (today RuiJin Er Lu), just after the corner with Nanchang lu.
This setup of having a shop on a prime location with a factory and confectionery in different location is very similar to today’s Visage chocolate shop and bakery (with its shop in XianTianDi and bakery and confectionery at the cross of HongQiao Lu and HuaiHai lu). The nearest thing to today’s Paul was probably the Tchakalian bakery, but this will the topic on another post.