Shanghai, a melting pot of various cultures and customs, has attracted many different flavors of exotic foods since its colonial period.
Walking on downtown streets, travelers from all over the world can easily find their favorite French, Italian, Indian and Japanese dishes.
The competition is fierce and sometime these restaurants resort to using toy trains and other devices to attract customers.
"These sophisticated devices remind me of one restaurant, established in the 1940s, which was full of mechanical apparatus," said Jin Taikang, a senior citizen of the city.
The restaurant once stood at the crossroad of the present Yan'an Zhong Lu and Weihai Lu opposite the Shanghai Exhibition Center. It mainly served Western food.
"Coffee and afternoon tea biscuits were their specialties," Jin recalled.
The restaurant was decorated like a cabin of a real train. Two rows of seats were arranged on both sides of the restaurant divided into different compartments. The aisle was in the middle between the rows.
The striking part of the restaurant was the opening in the wall next to each dining table, which led to a dumbwaiter. Customers would place their order on the dumbwaiter to be taken down to the chef; their food would be delivered the same way.
Every time an order was sent up from the kitchen, a bell on the table would ring.
The clients could talk to the people in the kitchen through a speaker on the wall next to the seat.
Such devices, Jin said, were not innovative at that time - many American movies shown at that time in Shanghai depicted such devices.
However, the devices in the restaurant were not as good as those shown on the screen. They often malfunctioned.
Their booming sounds disturbed the customers from time to time. Sometimes they would simply stop working, leaving the food trapped in the dumbwaiter.
The restaurant's business turned sour when clients' curiosity faded.
"Today's gadgets are far better than those in the old days. However, the restaurant is still an interesting memory for many old timers who had visited it," Jin said.
(Shanghai Star 05/18/2001)