That last post was kind of negative, so I wanted to tell you about a very positive part of living in Shenyang. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but China is not exactly a great place to go for baked goods. Not Western-style anyway. There are Chinese-style baked stuff here and there, but it doesn’t seem to be a big part of the cuisine here. And there are bakeries here, but their products are mediocre at best. I think the local bakers learned their craft by finding pictures of bread, cakes, etc and then they tried to duplicate them, without knowing what they’re supposed to taste like.
So, I would either need to buy cookies online and have them shipped here, or make my own. And if you’re familiar with the name of this blog, store-bought cookies aren’t my style. Most basic baking ingredients can be found in the local grocery stores: AP flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk, etc. But oftentimes they’re a little “off”. Sugar here is either clumpy or large-crystals. Milk is UHT. Butter is all imported, and therefore expensive. All other imported goods are expensive. And, of course, lots of ingredients just don’t exist in normal grocery stores.
This is where my months of Shenyang-related research paid off. I had read every Shenyang blog ahead of time, and made a map of all the places I wanted to visit. One of those places was the “baking street” not far from our apartment. Google maps was not helpful at all, all the business names were lost in translation, assuming they were on the map. I can’t read Chinese, so Baidu’s maps are limited in their utility. So a week after we arrived in town, I walked down to this supposed baking street to see for myself.
I found the “baking street”, no problem, it’s “Nansi Malu”, meaning 4th Street South (OK, I can read a little Chinese). The businesses were pretty normal, mostly restaurants and nondescript general goods stores. However, just as I was starting to lose hope, I found it! Not a baking street with multiple shops, but one baking shop. And in this case, one is enough. It’s called “JNLY 1992” or “Jinliang Food Materials” (it’s not clear) and it’s my favorite shop in Shenyang. Here it is.
It’s not a big place, my living room is bigger. But they have all kinds of ingredients that I can’t find anywhere else. Baking powder! Lard! Cream cheese! Gelatin! The list goes on and on. They have “normal” (American-style) sugar, vanilla extract, lemon juice, lots of different flours. And I found cream of tartar, so of course I made snickerdoodles a few days later (now who’s the cookie pusher?). They have butter, which isn’t special, but it’s like half the price of the grocery stores!
The staff that works there are very helpful and cheery. They always let me browse on my own, but are quick to show me where something is (provided I can explain in Chinese) and hand me a shopping basket. One time I came here and forgot my money, which was embarrassing, but they were able to get my local debit card to work eventually. Oftentimes, they’ll have some bread dough rising on a table somewhere, or have some kind of cake baking in the back. It’s a wonderful contrast to most shops here with their blaring loudspeakers and unsettling odors.
Needless to say, I’ve gone back there many times in the last few months. Our consumables shipment arrived last week, and I’ve ordered some ingredients from Amazon,so I don’t need as much as I used to, but I still go back for perishables, especially butter. And it’s nice to check back in from time to time: their stock changes periodically so it’s fun to see what’s new.
Everybody has their own way to make a new place feel like a home, and my way is baking. I suggest that if you’re moving someplace far away, research the heck out of it, and figure out how to make yourself happy there.