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Going Deep



As the calendar year turns over, we’ve grown accustomed to the barrage of lists telling us where to travel during the next 12 months. Oftentimes these places are a country or even a whole region – you could spend an entire year exploring just one of the locations listed and still barely make a dent.

We like to travel on a smaller scale. Forget countries and cities, for us the neighborhood is the ideal unit of exploration. Celebrating neighborhood life and businesses is, of course, essential to what we do as Culinary Backstreets. Since our founding in 2012, we’ve been dedicated to publishing the stories of unsung local culinary heroes and visiting them on our food walks, particularly in neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.

But this year we are planning to dive even deeper into the cities we work in. Getting off the beaten path leads to fresh experiences, but more importantly, it’s a way for us to contribute to the economies of neighborhoods otherwise neglected by the tourism industry. Tourism is an important economic force in many cities, as it should be, but if it is not dispersed responsibly, it can devastate the urban ecosystem, one that’s based on the sound health of all of a city’s neighborhoods.

With that in mind, we are happy to declare 2018 as “The Year of the Neighborhood,” one in which our focus will be on lesser-visited neighborhoods and the people and places that keep them going. To get things started, below is a compilation of the less-visited areas that our correspondents are planning to explore this year:

Shanghai: Changning

Just west of the Former French Concession, Changning district’s eastern half has all the same trappings of its more famous neighbor: The quiet streets are canopied in London Plane trees and populated with trendy restaurants and bars housed in the art deco buildings that Roaring Twenties expats, like novelist JG Ballard, used to call home. At the western edge of Changning – a full 10km away in this sprawling district – is the Hongqiao Transportation Hub, which was built for the 2010 Expo and brought in the type of investment real estate developers love. So along came the shiny malls with their food courts (which is a good thing in this part of Asia). In between the two is Koreatown and Little Tokyo, districts filled with East Asian expats who frequent local omakase sushi houses, giant gogi-gui restaurants and K-Pop karaoke halls.

The big difference between Changning and the neighboring former French Concession? Cheaper rent, of course. Thanks to lower overhead, affordable restaurants popular with QR-scanning millennial Chinese diners are a dime a dozen, like Taiwanese breakfast shop Taoyuan Village and Sichuan noodle house Liu Dao Men. But you can still find cultural mainstays in the area who have survived the modernization of eating in China. Just pop into Wu Guan Tang, a Buddhist vegetarian institution whose clientele often include saffron-robed monks, or A Shan, one of Shanghai’s first privately owned restaurants that traded favors for rationing coupons in the years after Reform & Opening. When it comes to Changning, there’s nothing but room to explore. – Jamie Barys

Click here to read the full neighborhood guide.

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