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January 5, 2012

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Serving up song, dance and culture

MOST Chinese culinary competitions award points not only for flavor and aroma but also for color, shape, decoration, concept and presentation. In other words, a winner should also be a feast for the eyes and tempt the imagination.

Similarly, a satisfying dining experiences is not only a feast for the palate, but also for the eyes - and the ears - in the form of entertainment.

It's well known that food reflects culture and many regions, especially ethnic areas, have distinctive food culture reflecting the larger culture. In many restaurants featuring regional cuisine it's common to present entertainment, music, dance and drama, that helps guests get the bigger picture and have more fun.

For example, many people are delighted that some of the Pyongyang restaurants in Shanghai have resumed their famous singing and dancing shows by well-trained Korean waitresses, after a few weeks of mourning for the death of Kim Jong Il.

Besides Korean restaurants, in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai there's no shortage of international cuisines and cultural performances of all kinds.

Shiraz Iranian Restaurant is one of the few places where one can recline on a low silk lounge bed and enjoy delicious Persian barbecue and sinuous belly dance. The venue is decorated like a simplified Persian palace, highlighted with an old-fashioned lounge bed lighted by a colorful chandelier directly above.

Visitors see the luxurious lounge and take in the intricate Persian miniatures, inhale the fragrance of incense and aroma of food and hear the music of traditional instruments, such as the ud, tambur and setar. It's already a feast for the senses. Then come the belly dancers who perform nightly from 7:30pm, except for Mondays and Saturdays. And the famous barbecue.

Most dishes are around 50 yuan (US$8) and a good dinner for two usually costs around 200 yuan. Water pipes, or hookah, are available in various flavors.

A Thousand and One Nights Restaurant on Hengshan Road is another famous venue offering delicious food, exotic dances, pleasing decor and water pipes. Various belly dances and Indian dances are performed nightly from 7:30pm.

While the Middle Eastern dances are famous for their grace, femininity and sensuality, Tibetan singing and dancing are more vigorous and masculine, reflecting the rugged environment of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

One of the few Tibetan restaurants offering entertainment is the Tashi Dawa Tibetan Entertainment Restaurant where shows reflect the harmony between man and nature and the exotic Tibetan culture.

Wait staff all wear ethnic Tibetan costumes and welcome guests at the door offering the white hada, a narrow silk scarf representing purity, hospitality and good fortune.

Living on the rarefied air of the Tibetan Plateau develops lung capacity and singers are known for their powerful voices, both very deep and very high in pitch. Songs are often about the spectacular landscape.

The shows are among the most vivid in Shanghai and there is a wide variety of song and dance, including imitation horse race dances and a push-pull game that is common in Tibetan festivals.

The menu features lamb, mutton and beef, Tibetan wild vegetable, Tibetan butter (and other) tea and yogurt. A dinner for two costs around 200 yuan.

Ba Guo Bu Yi, a Sichuan cuisine chain restaurant, is famous for its mask-changing performances, known as bian lian, or face changing typical of Sichuan Opera. The changing is performed with lightning speed and almost magical transformation.

In Peking Opera, performers wear heavy makeup in different styles to represent different characters.

In Sichuan Opera, performers wear colorful masks that reflect characters' emotions. Performers are required to change masks on stage within seconds. Because of its magical effects on stage, face-changing has become a popular independent performing art in recent years.

Performers typically wear black robes, in contrast with their colorful masks, and change a dozen masks in minutes.

The shows are presented in all three branches of Ba Guo Bu Yi daily, both at noon and in the evenings. Guests are seated close to the stage and performers often walk off the stage and change faces right next to the guests in an intimate and striking show.

? Shiraz Iranian Restaurant
Address: 8, Hongmei Leisure St, 2, Lane 3338, Hongmei Rd
Tel: 6465-9993
Performance: Belly dance from 7:30pm, no shows Mondays and Saturdays

? A Thousand and One Nights Restaurant
Address: 4 Hengshan Rd
Tel: 6473-1178, 6473-8289
Performance: Exotic dance shows from 7:30pm

? Tashi Dawa Tibetan Entertainment Restaurant
Address: near 5th ladder of Shanghai Stadium, 666, Tianyaoqiao Rd
Tel: 6426-5576
Performance: Tibetan ethnic singing and dance from 7:30pm

? Ba Guo Bu Yi
Performance: Face-changing show, 12:30pm and 7pm
Three locations:
Address: 3F, 738, Dongfang Rd
Tel: 5820-9866
Address: 1018, Dingxi Rd
Tel: 5239-7779
Address: 3F, 1665, Hongqiao Rd
Tel: 6270-6669


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