Posted on | January 1, 2009 | No Comments
A warm New Year’s Day greeting to all readers!
I recently chose to spend about a week in Shanghai over Christmas, to chill out, catch up with friends working there, and to basically pig out on Shanghainese food that I’m so very fond of.
I’ve been a fan of Shanghainese Cuisine since my previous work stint in Shanghai, so I made an effort to try a couple of new places that have opened since I left Shanghai, and to re-visit a few of my favourite haunts.
The first notable place I lunched at was Cheng Cheng’s Art Salon & Restaurant on No. 30 Donghu Road near Huaihai Road.
Cheng Cheng’s is an interesting sort of place, a hybrid between an Art Salon, and a Restaurant. The place is decorated with an eclectic mix of retro furniture, crystal chandeliers, classy porcelain china and somewhat kitsch artwork, giving the whole place a somewhat quirky yet artistic ambience. Interestingly, almost everything, including the furniture, was available for sale…
The main highlights, however, were the exquisitely prepared dishes, which so blew me away, that I agreed to have lunch there again a few days later, with a different group of friends.
We managed to sample quite a number of dishes, and those that stood out on the first lunch included Cold Tofu with Century Eggs, Green Bean Paste with Salted Egg Yolks, Duck Soup, Luffa Gourd with Tomatoes and Fried Gluten and most memorably, Chilled Garlic Eggplant.
Though all the dishes were incredible, the eggplant stood out as being absolutely fabulous. Since I especially like eggplant, I found myself digging into the chilled, slightly sweet, slightly spicy (garlicky), and totally delicious dish.
Unfortunately, I was too engrossed with catching up with my friends, and with the food, that I forgot to take any pictures of the food.
The second time I had lunch at Cheng Cheng’s a few days later, we had a somewhat different set of dishes, including; a Lion’s Head Meatball, stir-fried Kale with Smoked Duck Breast, a Yellow Croaker Fish with Sweet Vinegar Sauce, a Clear Chicken Soup, and, the Luffa Gourd with Tomatoes and Fried Gluten again.
The dish that really stood out this time, was an outstanding “Red Cooked” (Braised) Lamb, which didn’t have the typically lamb flavour, but was instead, quite tender and tasty, with an intense sauce made with red dates, bean curd skin, and what must have been a very high quality dark soya sauce. We couldn’t resist chomping up every bit of meat, bean curd skin and all the red dates, eventually even finishing up the exquisite sauce, leaving the dish quite clean by the time we were done with lunch.
Another restaurant which I really liked, is LYNN Modern Shanghai Cuisine (琳怡中餐厅) located at No. 99 Xi Kang Road, near Nanjing Road West (this road sits in between Plaza 66 and the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel).
Décor wise, this place is sleekly chic, with Art Deco elements melded together with lots of glass, black leather covered seats and white-clothed tables.
We had a selection of cold dishes including; a very fine Soya Braised Wheat Gluten with Bamboo Shoots (different from the one at Cheng Cheng’s which had Edamame Beans), a refreshing Potpourri of 18 Vegetables, and a very tasty Marinated Cold Pork Terrine.
Hot dishes included; LYNN’s Special Fried Rice, which was nicely peppery and quite fluffy, a very tasty LYNN’s Special Roast Duck, and the most memorable, Fish Slices in Wine and Vinegar Sauce, which were tender, succulent slices of white fish coated with egg whites and quickly blanched to perfection, served with lightly crunchy black woods-ear fungus and an exquisitely balanced sauce that was sweet, savoury, lightly vinegared and aromatic with both Baijiu and Yellow wine, all at the same time…
Other than Shanghainese Restaurants, I also managed to visit one of my old favourites when it comes to Hunan Cuisine. Di Shui Dong (滴水洞饭店) located at No. 56 Mao Ming Road, near Changle Road, is a restaurant that I never fail to visit at least once whenever I’m in Shanghai.
This is where I have my fix of searingly hot and aromatic Hunan dishes, which can be so comforting on cold winter evenings.
One of my favourite dishes here at Di Shui Dong includes Hunan’s famous “Red Cooked” (Braised) Pork, which is also reputed to be Charman Mao’s favourite dish.
Whilst “Red Cooking” is a common cooking method used throughout China, each province has it’s own variation of ingredients that would give their “Red Cooked” dishes it’s distinctive provincial flavour.
As an example, the Shanghai “Red Cooked” Lamb at Cheng Cheng’s would use a high quality Shanghainese soya sauce, rock sugar, Shaoxing Wine, ginger and red dates to give it it’s distinctive rich and sweet flavours, whilst the Hunan “Red Cooked” Pork, would use a combination of soya sauce, chilli bean paste, garlic, chilli peppers, star anise and rice wine amongst other ingredients to give it a totally different character.
My absolute favourite dish, however, is not quite searing with heat, but, the aromatic Pork Spare Ribs with Cumin, a satisfyingly meaty dish with rich spicy flavours of cumin, enhanced with garlic and spring onions, and just that little touch of chilli fire to make it just right. I recommend using your hands rather than chopsticks, for a finger licking good experience!
I also love the more basic foods that can be found in Shanghai. Here are a couple of favourites that I managed to get around to this trip:
Lai Lai Yong He Dou Jiang (来来永和豆浆) at the corner of Sichuan Road and Fuzhou Road (just a block behind the Bund buildings) used to be one of my favourite places for breakfast and cheap local lunches when I used to work in Shanghai. Now, whenever I’m back in Shanghai, I try to make it there for a breakfast of a couple Youtiao (油條) and Dou Jiang (豆浆).
The super-sized (more than a foot in length) Youtiao is served freshly fried, and golden, rather than the usual brown, and comes with a sauce dish of a slightly sweet and salty fermented soya bean paste sauce, whilst the Dou Jiang (served in a bowl with a Chinese spoon) is warm, sweet, and quite a bit richer than most commercially available ones. Not quite the traditional Christmas breakfast, but absolutely heavenly, nonetheless.
Wujiang Road Food Street is another one of my favourite eating places in Shanghai. As it is conveniently located off Nanjing Road West, and was about 10 minutes walk from where I used to live in Shanghai, I ended up on this food street very often.
My absolute favourite food on this street can be found at Xiao Yang Shen Jian Dian (小杨生煎), which has two shops on the same street (No. 54 and No. 60) to cater to the long queues that tend to build up outside, no matter what the weather.
The Shen Jian Bao (生煎) from these stores are freshly assembled and cooked in batches that are sold out as soon as they are cooked, and, can best be described as oozing with tasty goodness.
After you have taken a bite of the somewhat firm sesame and scallion topped skin that encases the meat and “soup” filling, you will understand what I mean. These are best eaten whilst still hot, to enjoy the juicy goodness of the filling.
Sadly, there have been reports in the expatriate press, that Wujiang Road will soon (early 2009) be redeveloped into an upscale shopping street and luxury apartments.
Will I ever get to taste my favourite Xiao Yang Shen Jian (小杨生煎) ever again?
Let’s see what happens when I next return to Shanghai…Copyright © MM - MMXII Daniel CHIA. All rights reserved.