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A Shanghai & Beijing Eat-ologue For Mike & Katie

22 Feb

Two of my good friends from Columbus, Mike and Katie, are going to China in a couple months to celebrate a wedding and I wanted to compile a list of places that I love to eat at, for their reference.

Starting in Shanghai:

I blogged about crispy panfried buns when I came back from my trip and I still think about them. They are really heavy so your best bet is to pair an order (4 buns) with a clear brothy soup, like rice vermicelli and tofu skin. There may be some baby shrimp used to flavor the broth too. The best place for these babies is Little Yang’s. There is another location, on the second floor of the Number One Food Stuff Department Store pictured below (it’s in a food court and they use styrofoam & paper).

This is NanJing Road which is all pedestrian with the exception of those teeny trolleys. There are tons of snack shops where most items are measured in bulk like a candy store. The pictures along the right is just a random corner snack shop with a line a dozen deep waiting for these piping hot meat mooncakes. Flaky and pretty freaking delicious. My main recommendation for this street is the three level Number One Food Stuff Department Store. It’s got dried sea cucumbers that sell for USD1000 for half a kilogram, a huge dried meats section, and tons of season appropriate food gifts. There is also a food court upstairs with a huge prepared foods section, a dumpling joint (not so recommended), and panfried buns!

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Shanghai 2010: New Obsession, Crispy Pan Fried Buns (生煎饱)

14 Oct


Ceramic Wall Decoration in the Forbidden City


A couple days ago, while strolling through Hocking Hills, Kyle asked me what my favorite meal was in China. It’s hard to say… there are so many styles and so many types of food to eat. Two years ago, without hesitation, I would have said that my number one was soup dumplings (小笼包). But I think I had so many during that one trip that the flavor is burned upon my palate and I no longer crave it as much as I used to. More recently, I’ve become obsessed with a close cousin of the soup dumpling, pan fried buns (生煎饱, literally, raw fried buns).

Much like a soup dumpling, pork, pork tallow, and pork fat are wrapped in a thin dough and sealed shut with a twist. Unlike a soup dumpling, these babies are lined up in a huge cast iron pan, covered, and fried with the seal side down. You can see the upside down dumpling twist on the left in the pic above. I didn’t get a good pic of the big cast iron pan, but you can find one here, from the exact same purveyor I visited (Lil’ Yang’s Crispy Pan Fried Buns): Flickr pic of 小扬生煎饱.

My goals for successfully eating these crispy pan fried buns are the same for soup dumplings: don’t spill the meat juice, add finely julienne ginger and red vinegar to each bite, and don’t burn my tongue or palate! My technique is the same: nibble a hole at the top of the bun, stuff ginger in said hole and spoon in some vinegar, allow to cool for 15 seconds (if I can wait that long), and then it’s a one bite deal from there. There’s no better feeling than having a mouth full of juicy pork, crispy dough from underside, and ginger&vinegar to cut the richness of the pork fat. This is the new number one eats on my list for my next Shanghai trip.

Mutton Pao Mo (羊泡馍)

12 Oct

When I left Columbus in late August, it was hot and a touch muggy. But it was no match for the humidity that greeted me when I landed in Shanghai: we’re talking so incredibly humid that air-conditioned buildings regularly “sweat” (condensation from the air builds on walls and windows) much like how a cold beverage “sweats” on a hot summer day. A welcomed respite from Shanghai’s weather came in the form of a three day trip to Beijing. It was cooler, drier, and I couldn’t have asked for better weather. It hasn’t been that long since I’ve been in Beijing (a little less than two years) but since my bro hasn’t been since he was young, we crammed in several obligatory tourist sites. We spent a half day in the Olympic Park (Water Cube: 水立方; Bird’s Nest: 鸟巢), a couple hours on the grounds of the Summer Palace (颐和园), many hours wandering the hutongs (胡同) in Beihai (北海公园), a couple hours inside the Forbidden City (故宫), and my favorite, sunset at the Temple of Heaven (天坛).

The single number one item on my list of foods to eat in Beijing is pao mo (泡馍). It is a regional specialty from Shan Xi (陝西) province whose largest city is home to the Terracotta Warriors (兵马俑), in Xi’An (西安). Traditionally, travelers would pack a couple of these unleavened flour discs because they kept well. These things are about as round and hard as a hockey puck. Since we had a late breakfast and my brother hadn’t had pao mo before, we decided to share one puck. We saw some folks put down two and three of these pucks in one bowl!

Once arriving at their hosts’, travelers would break apart these pucks into pieces about the size of a chocolate chip. We spent about five minutes breaking apart this puck. It’s kind of a pain in the nards, but if you have bigger pieces, it’s so dry and hard that it’s impossible to eat.

Once that’s done, the host pours steaming stock or soup over the bread pieces. In our case, the restaurant (we went to 西安饭庄, there’s a painted portrait of Mao Zedong’s visit on the wall!) took our bowl back to the kitchen and added a rich mutton soup with chunks of tender mutton, a couple pieces of leafy greens, and just a touch of rice vermicelli for textural interest. Unlike Western/European stocks, Chinese stock is almost a pure meat and bone broth (no aromatics or mirepoix). The bread pieces soak up the broth and end up with a surprising al dente texture, moist and with a little chewiness. In general, Chinese folk feel the same way about lamb and cheese: either you grow up on it (halal restaurants are common in Northern and Western regions) or like my aunt, wrinkles her nose, covers her mouth to hold down the nausea, and runs the other way as fast as she can. For the non-mutton eaters, there’s also beef broth. My brother and I both love lamb/mutton/game so this was a hit and we almost wish we would have ordered a portion for each of us.

As accompaniments, we had a plate of pickled cabbage and carrots (泡菜), sugar fermented whole cloves of garlic (糖蒜), fresh cucumbers, and hot sauce and cilantro to garnish the bowl of soup.  Warm, meaty, gamey, chewy, soupy, this is my type of comfort food. I really hope I don’t have to wait another two years to have this meal again…

Shanghai: Dim Sum

22 Sep

Water lilies!

Preface: In the slideshow below, I have added pictures of roasted pigeon. If you have an aversion to meat and its associations, you may want to look away.

Shanghai, like Hong Kong, is an eating town. In the past 16 years that my family has lived in Shanghai, we’ve seen moderately sized restaurants (200 seaters) grow to multiple locations with each location having multiple floors (600 seaters). Restaurants are filled to capacity on even the most humdrum weeknight. There are even small snack joints that have grown to multiple hole in the wall locations without street signage. Contrary to U.S. practice, any restaurant worth eating at will have at least one location.

Tang Palace (唐宫海鲜舫) is sort of a giant in Cantonese (Hong Kong style) dining in China: they have five locations in Shanghai, seven in Beijing, five near Guangzhou, one in Hangzhou, and yet another in Suzhou. This is THE place to go for live seafood, hairy crab (when in season), shark’s fin, roasted meats, and Hong Kong’s most beloved export, dim sum (点心, dian3 xin1 in Mandarin). They serve dim sum from a menu (not push carts) seven days a week, beginning at 7am, and a reservation is highly recommended. It’s *that* popular.

Between the four of us (my mom, dad, bro, and I), we ordered something like 14 dishes. We were fortifying ourselves for a long day at the World Expo and boy, were we stuffed. Since it’s kind of long to post all the pics one by one, I’m going to try out this slideshow function.

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I’m Back! (And Five Pounds Heavier!)

14 Sep

This is Shanghai on a surprisingly clear day. Most days during the summer are oppressively muggy, hot (in the low 30C, low 90F range), overcast, with 90% humidity.  Actually, it’s wet and gray year round, the London of the East. Blech. In the foreground, the circular building is the Shanghai Museum which sits right in the heart of the City, People’s Square. Along the perimeter are municipal buildings, the city government, the Grand Theater, and there is a massive underground mall with hundreds of small shops ranging from three chair salons to snack vendors to clothing shops. To the left, you can kind of see the Pearl TV Tower which is the pink globe on the needle, which is located across the HuangPu Jiang (黄浦江, Yellow River) in PuDong (浦东, River East). The two tallest buildings in the background are also in PuDong and at different times, held the honor of being the tallest building in the world. The one of the left is the Grand Hyatt with it’s hotel lobby on the 61st floor. I have very fond memories of celebrating my 19th birthday up there, but can’t recall for the life of me what I ate; to say the least, the view is a bit distracting, ha. There’s also a couple stories about the building on the right, about having been funded by Japanese developers and another about the “white space” being wide enough to fit a Boeing 777. If you’re interested, comment, and I’ll reply. Cuz as much as I love talking about Shanghai, I really LOVE talking about what I ate. ONWARDS!

So I thought I’d start off my travel posts with one of my favorite restaurants in Shanghai. It’s the place my brother and I go as soon as we step off the plane and also the last meal we have before we get back on the plane to come back to the U.S. And it’s actually considered a Taiwanese joint. AND it’s a chain. GASP! It’s homestyled food, nothing fancy, but what they do, they do incredibly well. And they do many of the Pan-Chinese dishes extraordinarily well. It’s called 千秋膳房 (qian1 qiu1 shan4 fang2, thousand autumns something house) and gets good scores on the Chinese Yelp (DianPing) and on Shanghaiist. Of the seventeen meals I had in China, I had three of them at 千秋膳房.

The star of the show is always this pancake roll-up (牛肉大饼卷) filled with sliced brisket, cucumber, scallions, and a house hoisin spread. The texture of the pancake is very much like a thin scallion pancake, crisp in spots and chewy in others. My brother and I bring one of these on our flight so we don’t go hungry between the meager two meals on the thirteen hour fight. It’s like a Chinese burrito! Also in this pic, sour&hot soup (酸辣汤), millet congee (小米粥) with pickled veggies, and a small plate of diced pickled green beans.

A close up of the sour&hot soup: you can see chunks of tofu, pig/chicken blood, egg drop, julienne carrot, julienne wood ear mushroom, julienne bamboo, and cilantro. Not terribly different from the sour&hot soup we find at the American Chinese restaurants in the U.S, but worlds more delicious. The lack of unnecessary fillers (like julienne pickled veggies) and cornstarch (to thicken up the already hearty broth) makes a big difference.

We also get at least one bamboo steamer (蒸笼) of soup dumplings (小龙饱). Soup dumplings are considered a Shanghainese specialty but the Taiwanese execution is exceptionally reknown, more on this in a later post!

And when I’m just in the mood to slurp down a bowl of noodles, this red-braised beef noodle soup (红烧牛肉面) is the best. I wish I had it around on call for wicked hangovers, colds/flus, or anytime because it’s the best cure-all. The beef is braised with a little liquid, chili oil, and tomatoes for hours on end, and the sauce ends up being the base for the soup broth. The noodles are hand made to order and at once chewy and tender. As always, there’s ample fresh cilantro and scallions to scent the soup, and some simply blanched greens thrown in for good measure. Pure umami goodness.

This restaurant also has great homemade soymilk. They bring it either unsweetened, steaming hot, in a soup bowl with ultra light brown sugar on the side or sweetened and cold in a cup. I’m going to miss this place, but the promise of those beef roll-ups makes the long haul flight and two layovers worth it. I seriously can’t wait to go back, already!