In the old French Concession quarter of Shanghai, Neil Perry discovers a world of bona-fide local Chinese cuisine.
There are some fine Chinese and Western restaurants in Shanghai, but on my last visit I decided to eat in simple regional and local restaurants that would display authentic rustic dishes – the real taste of China. As well as diving into great Sichuan and Hunan food, I was determined to seek out some great local Shanghainese meals.
41 Tianping Lu, near Huaihai Lu. +86 21 6282 9260.
This little restaurant is affectionately known as “old Jesse”, because it has spawned a chain of new Jesse restaurants around Shanghai. This is the original and still the best. The pickled radish is dark and malty with a sweet soy taste, delivering a wonderful balance and crunch with the firm flesh of the drunken chicken. The peanut relish, too, is a treat and I tried it with all the dishes. Their version of cold tofu with preserved eggs and pickled mustard greens is cooling and the dressing has just the right balance of flavours. Many versions of this dish are heavily laced with chillies and they don’t skimp on them here. This is a great starter along with the other cold dishes.
Next, the strangely named “house chilli sauce”, a combination of pressed tofu, bacon or pork and peanuts in a rich brown sauce with a touch of chilli oil, is sweet, deep, rich, chewy and crunchy – all at the same time.
The red-braised pork with cuttlefish is dark and mysterious, the pork cooked to perfection, the meat tender and the fat has the texture of jelly. The cuttlefish dish is dense and meaty, the balance between salt and sweet a triumph; it is impossible to imagine it any more perfect. Another standout is the Shanghainese classic, crab with crab roe and silken tofu. The texture of the tofu swimming in crab meat and the yellow sauce of the roe, just slightly thickened, is magic. Soy-steamed river fish, and river shrimp gently poached, showcase the natural flavour of the ingredients.
Several tofu skins, a coriander salad and some red dates later, I was totally spent – all for about $150 for four people.
47 Taojiang Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu. +86 21 6437 9361.
A terrific Sichuan restaurant. This was my second visit and the food is really authentic. Go with the classics: the ma po is hot and numbing, and the “strange flavour” chicken equally so. Kung Pao chicken is hot and really lovely, with nutty cashews throwing in relief from the heat.
A crushingly hot beef stir-fry with dried chillies is extraordinary. The mandarin fish drowned in chillies and peppercorns is hot but delicate and green Sichuan peppercorns give the dish a wonderful fragrance and taste.
Not to be missed is the beef in riverstone oil. This dish comes to your table with sliced raw beef, vegetables and a pot of boiling oil – step back, serious OH&S issues here! The oil has riverstones in it to keep it hot, the peppercorns, chillies and tomato are added, then the beef and some vegetables. You would think floating in a litre of oil would make a dish taste greasy, but no, it is so clean. Sublime! The cost is around $40 a head for a meal.
89 Fumin Lu, near Julu Lu. +86 21 6249 5628.
This lovely restaurant serves classic, peasant-style Hunan dishes with plenty of spice. Chilli is the hallmark of Hunan cooking and they use it in abundance here. The restaurant is simple, staff reasonably attentive and the photo menu helps, as little English is spoken.
For the perfect start there is a chicken, chilli and coriander salad with a hint of black vinegar dressing. It’s light and well-balanced. Stir-fried lotus root cut into chunks is amazingly crunchy – I’m a fiend for those crisp textures. Cumin-fragrant lamb cutlets, crisp and caramelised with chilli, fennel seeds and sesame seeds, are to be adored. The clams with chilli are succulent; pig’s trotters with masses of garlic and chilli are a sticky, gelatinous dish to love; and a stir-fry of pork, green peppers and garlic is delicious. With tea and beer, this meal was about $30 a head.
Jia Jia Tang Bao
90 Huanghe Lu, by Fengyang Lu. +86 21 6327 6878.
There are two local dumpling places great for breakfast, or morning or afternoon tea. They are right across the street from each other. At Jia you just point at a list written in English to order. We had pork, and pork and crab xilong baos (make sure you get the ginger sauce, as well). Do as the locals do: when it’s cool enough, bite a hole near the top and slurp the juices out, then dip in the ginger or take a little red vinegar and eat the dumpling. Amazing!
At Yang’s Fried Dumplings (97 Huanghe Lu, by Fengyang Lu; +86 21 5375 1793) order a plate of fried dumplings, which are coarse and delicious. But don’t pass up the soups: the hot and sour with noodles and beef is a killer and the wonton soup soft and fragrant – this is some tasty stock. Ridiculously cheap; only $5 a head at both of these dumpling places.
Source Qantas The Australian Way December 2010