Michael Zee is the mastermind behind the popular Instagram account (@SymmetryBreakfast) documenting gorgeous (and identical) morning meals to share with his husband. Since moving to Shanghai in 2017, Zee continued running the account while exploring his new city with gusto. Talk to him now about his favorite haunts and you’ll swear he’s lived here forever. Clearly Bloomsbury Publishing agrees because they’ve enlisted him as head writer on Eat Like a Local: Shanghai.
First off, what did you have for breakfast today?
Well, Mark and I went to Mexico for three weeks last year and ate sopes (fried masa with pinched sides, see photo below), and I chose them because we are going to New Zealand soon. I needed something that only takes 15 minutes to prepare while being delicious and healthy.
Image via @SymmetryBreakfast
How much work goes into Symmetry Breakfast?
There’s a lot of things that people don’t see on Instagram: planning, shopping, budgeting and thinking about waste. I have to consider how it fits into regular life. I think the biggest reason for the success of symmetry breakfast is that it’s part of my normal life – I eat breakfast and I like taking pictures of food
Image by Simon Huang/That's
How have things changed since you moved to Shanghai?
It was a big experiment to leave home and come to a country where I didn’t speak the language and people can’t access Instagram. Beyond that, I quickly realized that I had to have real-world engagement with books and more pieces in magazines to build up a name in other ways because Instagram could very easily go the way of Myspace taking my livelihood along with it.
"Some people believe that you need to go really far off the beaten track to find 'real Shanghai,' but it is actually everywhere"
That brings us to the new book, can you tell us about it?
I have the Shanghai book coming out, which is part of the Eat Like a Local series. I was the lead writer on the Shanghai one along with 10 other contributors. Think of it as a guide for someone that has three days in Shanghai, so it isn’t definitive. Where is the best place near them for a coffee or xiaolongbao? We aren’t going to send them for the best coffee somewhere out in Yangpu down a back alleyway, where it takes two hours to get there. No one is going to dispute our choices, but they might ask why some things are missing.
Image by Simon Huang/That's
Can you tell us some of your favorite places without giving too much of the book away?
Cha’s is so reliable and the jianbing (breakfast crepes) lady on Xiangyang and Yongkang is amazing. I love Homeslice pizza so much, and Shanghailander coffee shop on Wulumuqi Lu. On Fengyang Lu, Huaihai International Plaza has a huge food court on the second floor that is so good. There’s a Cordon Bleu guy that was trained in Australia who does salads, another guy that does mala xiang guo (spicy dry pot), and a woman that makes wonderful peanut sauce dumplings. There’s just so much to try, it’s really a hidden gem. Some people believe that you need to go really far off the beaten track to find ‘real Shanghai,’ but it is actually everywhere. I didn’t write this guide for people to experience authentic Shanghai, I want them to experience delicious Shanghai.
[Cover photo by Simon Huang/That's]