Welcome to Shanghai!

Are you new to Shanghai and struggling to find anything healthy you are used to? Then look no further! I have compiled a little guide to my favorite places to shop and eat. It’s part of the tips I give to any new person I meet in Shanghai, so I thought I may as well write it up as a blog post :-)

Use your Shanghai time to go back to the basics

First of all, think of moving to Shanghai as a time to learning the basics again. At home, we often rely on convenience products - mostly processed ones - to get us through the week of cooking and feeding ourselves and our families. When coming to Shanghai, you realize that there are many products simply not available here or are so expensive that it hurts you to pay at the cashier after a quick shopping stroll. Use your time in Shanghai wisely to learn the basics of some pantry staples and to get creative in the kitchen. If you hardly ever cooked before, then congratulations, this is your time to step up to the chopping board and lose all inhibitions in the kitchen.

Some of the things you may want to learn to make from scratch here:

  • broth

  • nut butters and milks

  • batch cooking for frozen meals

  • hummus and other dips with veggie sticks

  • granola

  • energy bars or balls

  • salad dressings

  • your own bread or baked goods

Getting started

To get started in your kitchen, there are just a few essentials you may want to get to make your home preparation life easier. Amongst these essentials are:

  • a good, sharp kitchen knife

  • 2 chopping boards

  • food processor and/or blender

  • small, medium, and large pots and pans

  • 2 strainers (metal or plastic): one with smaller and one with bigger holes

Drinking water quality

To take your mind off some of the obvious things in China, let’s talk water pollution right away. Yes, the water we get in Shanghai from the tap is not the healthiest. Tap water in Shanghai comes from the Huangpu and Yangtze rivers. Since China has some of the most contaminated natural water resources in the world, that is not very reassuring. The water is then treated in filtration centers before ending up in your faucet.

The main contaminants in tap water:

  • Old lead pipes in some of the buildings leave heavy metal and rust residue in your water. Lead is extremely poisonous as it causes organ dysfunctions and blood disorders. Other heavy metals in tap water include mercury, chromium, copper, and aluminium.

  • Chlorine and some of its byproducts (like trihalomethanes) can be found in extreme dosages in Shanghai water. These are known carcinogens when ingested. And don’t forget that it can also dry out your skin, hair, and cause aging of your skin. Inhaling too much of it can cause asthma.

  • Nitrates are washed into the rivers from the farming industry where an excess of pesticides and herbicides is used. While our bodies can withstand quite a severe amount, if we are exposed to it longterm (as in living with it daily), headaches, dizziness, and difficulty breathing can be the first symptoms.

  • Different kinds of bacteria and virus strains often contaminate the water at the filtration centers. You will have probably already experienced your first “food poisoning” or gastro infection here - that is exactly where it comes from.

If you are going to be cooking a lot, you may want to think about reducing your exposure to these contaminants. There are several store bought water options or filtration systems you can use:

  • Drink and cook only with bottled water: you may not be keen on buying so much bottled water for the environment and also do consider the leaking of the plastic and its softeners into the water.

  • Big bottles with water dispenser: these are the most common ones you will find in China, and are often in all apartments when you first move in. However, be aware that these big water bottles can often just be filled with tap water, there is no way to check.

  • Brita filter: this is the easiest water filter, since it’s not a big investment. The amount of water you can filter (around 1 - 2 liters) is not a lot, but enough to get by. Just make sure you change the filters regularly enough. Available at City Super and World Health Store (see below).

  • Bigger filtration systems: Aquasana, Canature filters, and Greenwave all need to be installed in your kitchen either directly to your tap or with an extra tap. The filter needs to be changed regularly as well, but most of the companies provide a service to come and change it or you can get refill cartridges yourself. For big amounts of water, these are the way to go, plus they really get out all the nasties. You can even get some to install to your main water supply in order to filter all your water - meaning also bathroom taps. This is great, since the contaminants do soak in through the skin as well.