Qibao, an Ancient Water Town near Shanghai

Qibao (七宝) Ancient Water Town is one of the closest water towns near Shanghai. It has a long history dating back to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Prosperous in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Qibao is an ancient water town of a thousand years.

Qibao in Chinese means ‘seven treasures’. There are two popular theories about how the name is derived. The common one says that the name originates from the Qibao Temple, famed for its good reputation. Because of the temple, the previously unknown town gained financial and cultural growth. Another theory among the local people is a folktale about seven treasures. However, only four of these seven treasures are verified, and only two have survived to this day.

I have visited Qibao (七宝) Ancient Water Town many times because of its famous food street, the Qibao Old Street (七宝老街, Qi Bao Lao Jie). It is also fun to walk through a few lanes lined up shops and see tourists crowd out locals. Take time to walk under the eaves of the roof, and you could see how the old street scene shows the glorious past.

Qibao Temple, Shanghai China

The unique places of interest

The Qibao Temple is a famous Buddhist temple in the area. It is at the entrance of the town.

Three stone bridges cross the PuHui River, Kangle Bridge, Puhui River Bridge, and Anping Bridge.

Other attractions and museums include the Cricket House, Shadowgraph Museum, Cotton Textile Mill, Old Trades Museum, Museum of the Artist Zhang Chongren, and the Pawn Shop Museum.

Qibao Old Street (七宝老街, Qi Bao Lao Jie) has two parts, the North Street (北大街) and South Street (南大街). The North Street has many shops sell arts, crafts, calligraphy, and souvenirs. The South Street shops specialize in local food.

What the Qibao Ancient Water Town famous for is its variety of delicious local food among Shanghainese. If you want to taste some of the traditional snacks or food in Shanghai, you can find them in the Qibao Ancient Water Town.

Tea House Building

Local foods you could try

There are too many traditional foods and snacks sold by local shops.  Some of them are such as Fried Stinky Tou Fu (油炸臭豆腐, You Zha Chou Dou Fu), Slices of Lamb Meat(白切羊肉, Bai Qie Yang Rou) or Braised Pork(酱猪蹄, Jiang Zhu Ti). Most shops are small, and their kitchens are open to the public. I could see the cooking teams preparing foods freshly, a scene I enjoy so much.

Some of the popular food and snacks among the locals are:

  • Glutinous Rice Ball) (老街汤圆, Lao Jie Tang Yuan)
  • Salt Baked Quail Eggs (盐焗鹌鹑蛋, Yan Ju An Chun Dan)
  • Beggar’s Chicken (叫化鸡, Jiao Hua Ji)
  • Sugar-coated haws (糖葫芦, Tanghulu

Glutinous Rice Ball (老街汤圆, Lao Jie Tang Yuan)

The glutinous rice ball is the love of Shanghainese. The filling of glutinous rice balls can be, such as sesame paste, peanut paste, or minced meat.

One needs the skill to make Tang Yuan. Sometimes visitors can see how the staffs make Tangyuan. First, they flat one piece of dough and pinch it in the middle. Then, they place sesame fillings in the middle of the dough. Afterward, they close the opening gently until the filling is entirely inside the dough. The last step is to gently shape the balls as round as possible by rolling them between the hands.

The pastry of  Tang Yuan is soft and chewy. When you eat, you should take a small bite of it.  The rich sesame flavour mixed with the aroma of the lard would then roll over your tongue. Then, the sweetness of the filling suddenly hits the cells of your tongue. Be careful of the liquid fat, since it melts and thus is very hot. Otherwise, you will get your tongue burnt.

If you visit Yu Garden in Shanghai, you can also find glutinous rice balls in the traditional restaurants near Yu Garden.

Salt Baked Quail Eggs (盐焗鹌鹑蛋, Yan Ju An Chun Dan)

You can see some stalls selling salt-baked quail eggs. Each of them has a small nest made of salt and gypsum. Inside the nest, the salt heap is full of quail eggs. A few Chinese yuan will buy a whole box. And you can eat without any cooking.

salt baked quail eggs

Beggar’s Chicken (叫化鸡, Jiao Hua Ji)

The process of making a Beggar’s Chicken is cumbersome. There are different versions of stories about Beggar’s Chicken. According to a legend long ago, a beggar from  a village in Changshu County, Jiangsu Province, caught a chicken and wanted to cook it for his meal. But, he had neither cooking utensils nor any seasoning for the cooking.

Being frustrated, he slaughtered the chicken and coated it with mud after removing internal organs. Then, the beggar piled up some dried leaves and set fire to roast the chicken. Until the clay dried, the chicken was also ready to eat. The beggar crashed the mud shell and removed the chicken feather. He was overjoyed when he smelt the aroma of the chicken and devoured the chicken in lightening speed. And the locals have kept the recipe ever since.

Sugar-coated haws (糖葫芦, Tanghulu)

Tanghulu, also called Bingtanghulu, is a traditional Chinese snack made of candied fruit. It typically has a hardened sugar coating that comes from dipping the skewer in sugar syrup. Traditionally, the fruits are Chinese hawthorn, but in recent times vendors also use other fruits, such as strawberries, pineapples, kiwifruit, or bananas.

Sugar-coated haws

Travel Tips

Where to stay

Two up-level hotels are within walking distance from Metro Line 9:

Metro Line 9 goes to many sites in the city centre. Therefore, Qibao is also a pretty good place to stay when traveling to Shanghai.

How to get to Qibao ancient water town

By metro: Take Shanghai metro line 9 and get off at Qibao (七宝) station. The station is in a modern shopping mall. Take exit 2 to get out of the mall, and it takes about 5 to 10 minutes to walk to Qibao Ancient Water Town.
By bus: Take bus 87, 91, 92, 186, 189, 196, 198, 709, 735, 748, 803, Hongqiao Hub Line 4 (虹桥枢纽4路), Husong Line (沪松线) or Minhang Line 33 (闵行线33) and get off at Qibao Station.

Once you are out from the Qibao Subway Station of Line 9, walk along Minzhu Road (民主路)to the south direction. At the T-junction, you turn left and walk along Qingnian Road (青年路) in the east. Soon you will see the entrance, an archway with the bell tower behind it.

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