>> Tuesday, May 31, 2011
In my previous China posts, I've gone over the largely generic tour food as well as perhaps the best meal of the entire China trip. In this next installment I cover Shanghai, which I consider to have the best overall food that I ate in the trip generally. I say this even though I did visit Hong Kong, so yes I am saying I thought the food in Shanghai was better than the food in Hong Kong (commence controversy and flaming).
Shanghai is mainly known for it's Xiao Long Bao (XLB abbreviated), and that was certainly on my list of places to try.
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai Old Street Location)
Δ food could have had more flavor
|the restaurant contains a window where you can see all the people wrapping the XLB|
|photo of outside the restaurant|
|"9 star congee"|
The first thing we ordered was the 9 star congee, as it was one of those "must try" Chinese delicacies. I'll go ahead and say this was a bad one, but this still wasn't my favorite thing in the world. The 9 different flavors get muddled together and I can't say that I liked the combination either. I think this dish is supposed to be more about the different textures while still remaining a little sweet to give that sweet start to the morning.
|pork and crab xiao long bao|
|view from Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao|
Old Shanghai Teahouse
Xi Jia Hua Yuan (Xi's Garden) (Julu Lu location)
+ trendy atmosphere
+ good szechwan flavors
|glass of hot water|
Before the food arrived, I was thinking this was exactly the type of restaurant I would never go to myself as pretty much all of the clientele was female. I also didn't have very high hopes for the food...
|fish cake with scallops, mushrooms, bacon, and snap peas|
|szechwan lamb boiled cabbage|
|Date rice cake|
|sesame "tang yuan"|
Yang's Fry Dumpling (Nanjing Dong Lu)
+ Bourdain was definitely right about this place
+ Great rich broth in the dumpling
Δ Soups could have stood up to the dumpling more
If there was any doubt to this restaurant, the line quashed all of those as the place was this crowded at around 2pm local time. Yang's Fry Dumpling serves Shen Jian Bao (or basically friend XLB but a little larger)
|tofu puff with beef soup|
I fished the meat out of one of the dumplings just to show how much soup was in each dumpling. These dumplings were an amazing burst of pork flavored bliss while the skin of the dumplings has both the softness of the XLB and the burnt crunchy goodness. Even after having lunch at the aforementioned restaurant, I felt like I could pack away as many of these dumplings as they could throw at me.
As a side note, this location of Yang's Fry Dumpling sits on top of 85C bakery, which is an excellent place to get your dessert fill after eating. However, since we have 85C close by in Irvine, we went to eat a local Shanghai dessert instead....
I don't remember the bakery or the name of these cakes, but they came highly recommended by the tour guide. Supposedly these cakes are special because of the type of milk used to make them (but again I don't remember what type of milk they were). What I do remember about these cakes is they were extremely light and airy (and dirt cheap). They weren't overly sweet, and the cream was also extremely light, airy, and not overpowering.
Shanghai Savish (Jing'an Branch)
+ Good fusion of Chinese food with French techniques
+ Chinese dishes in ways I've never seen before
Δ Service could have been friendlier
|Local Shrimp with tea|
The dish is also served with tea that pairs with the shrimp. What was interesting with the tea was that the cups were magnetized and the pot dispenses tea when the cup is placed in the reception area and the magnet activates.
Personally I didn't really see how the tea paired with the shrimp, but the tea leaves in the shrimp really enhanced the fresh shrimp flavor. The shrimps were extremely tender and fresh and were cooked perfectly.
|1000 year egg dessert|
Restaurant in Suzhou
+ Great broths/Sauces
Δ Could have had less salt in the dishes
Note: I never got a name for this restaurant as we parked in a private lot in the back and were ushered into a private dining room. Based on the layout of the restaurant it seemed like the back was actually the front of the restaurant and there was just no sign for a name. This restaurant was in the city of Suzhou as the tour took us there for a day.
Part of the Suzhou cuisine is that the food tends to be sweet; even savory courses contain sugar in some form. The tour guide explained that this was caused by the fact that the city wanted to differentiate itself from other cities even though it didn't have its own cuisine. Additionally, Suzhou is the most naturally fertile land in China, and there is a saying that even when there is famine in China, there is still rice to eat in Suzhou. The sweetness of the food was a method for Suzhou cuisine to show it's agricultural superiority.
|Stewed Pork Belly|
|Egg Dumplings with Bamboo|
|Sweet and Sour Fish|
|Pork Belly Noodles|
Jia Jia Tang Bao (Huanghe Lu location)
+ Great flavor in XLB
+ Good creativity of ingredients for XLB
Δ No Tang Bao
Δ Other non XLB dishes could have been more interesting
Δ Menu Selection
So despite the fact that there are a ton of deltas to this place, it was actually really good, and contained the best XLB that I had in China. The debate to best XLB in Shanghai rages between Jia Jia Tang Bao and Din Tai Fung. However, since there is a Din Tai Fung in Los Angeles, I decided that I would try Jia Jia Tang Bao in Shanghai.
|pork and crab dumpling|
The actual XLB were very well seasoned and had plenty of good tasting soup. The skins were hand and freshly made, which really enhanced the flavor. Additionally, the thickness of the skin was as thin as it could be while still holding the soup, which is always a bonus. These XLB packed a huge flavor punch thanks to the crab and I really enjoyed them.
We also ordered some sort of random filler soup that was pretty horrible and tasted as bad (or probably worse) than it looks.
Since we were at Huanghe Lu, that left the the door open for....
a repeat visit to Yang's Fry Dumpling!
At this location of Yang's the kitchen is open and visible from the dining room, so I took the opportunity to take a lot of photos of the process of making Shen Jian Bao.
There are large cast iron pans that are filled with the dumplings and a healthy dose of sesame oil, which the chef rotated around the pan to fry all the dumplings.
The dumplings are then covered to let steam. When they are completed they are brought out to a serving area where they can be served.
I was extremely happy with the food in Shanghai and would recommend others to go there. I also only scratched the surface of restaurants in Shanghai and didn't get to hit all the food spots, so I'd definitely like to return there in the future for more culinary adventures.