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Dear Culinary Backstreets,
I just moved to Shanghai, and while I’m looking forward to investigating all the
street food options, I’d love to be able to make dinner at home too and would like to get into Chinese cooking. Where’s the best place to stock up my new kitchen?

Amateurs and professionals alike can be found browsing the aisles at the Putuo district’s Hotel Equipment Center. HEC is essentially an Ikea for restaurateurs: it doesn’t matter if you’re buying one wok or ten industrial-sized pots – the prices are unbeatable, and the range of products is truly staggering.

Hotel Equipment Center's woks, photo by UnTour ShanghaiCovering three warehouse-sized floors, HEC has everything you would need to open a restaurant, including aisles of plates and tablecloths and napkins. If you’re cooking Chinese, you’ve got chopsticks in bulk, bamboo steamer baskets in every size and woks and pots big enough to feed a small army. If you’re more of a baker, there are silicone baking pans, spatulas and whisks as big as an arm. A wide selection of meat slicers, juicers of every size and barbecue grills await the serious chefs.

The most pleasantly surprising fact about the hidden gem (beyond its central location) is the reasonable prices. Medium-sized woks are 30 RMB, ladles are 20 RMB, large plates under 30 RMB and single-burner portable gas stoves can be found for less than 200 RMB. The prices are the same even if you just need a few of each item, making it a great option for home chefs (though you can get a VIP card if you spend more than 4,000 RMB, which is good for 5 to 10 percent off all purchases).

We never seem to make a trip to HEC without a stop at our favorite Shanxi noodle restaurant Zhu Que Men, which opened a second branch less than a block away from the shopping center. Getting a fresh Xi’an hamburger (肉夹摸, ròu jiā mō) is the perfect way to get fueled up for a few hours of shopping. The bread is cooked in-house and upon ordering, heated up on a coal-fired griddle, then stuffed with fatty bits of stewed pork.

Spin, photo by UnTour ShanghaiFor more decorative and unique pieces that have a definite wow-factor, Spin Ceramics is also in the area. The store features modern pieces all designed by their Shanghai creative team, which are then sent to Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China, for production. The pieces are minimalist yet eye-catching and manage to weave a bit of traditional culture into entirely modern forms. They make perfect tea sets, vases and dinnerware for family and friends, and the staff pack carefully and can help you ship to just about anywhere.

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