The Food Nomad – Razzle Dazzle Shanghai
Revered as the Pearl of the Orient, Shanghai has radiated its glow as a major trading hub and global financial centre for more than a century. As China’s biggest city by population, and the home of the national stock exchange, this great port city has been the epicenter where East meets West even before the Treaty of Nanking. Times may have changed, but the relics remain. Colonial shikumens in the leafy tree-lined French Concession and stately Art Deco granite buildings on the Bund now compete with futuristic Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower to redefine the new Shanghai. This ancient, yet vibrant city is constantly reinventing itself, and on the lookout for the next big idea. This openness and hunger for innovation are precisely why we picked Shanghai as this month’s Food Nomad feature. Come along, and let Shanghai dazzle you.
小楊生煎 (小杨生煎, xiǎo yáng shēng jiān)
This decades-old institution is no stranger to long queues. A bevy of hungry diners can be found at the famous franchise any time of the day, all eagerly awaiting that blissful bite into crispy pan-fried baos filled with piping hot broth. That first bite is somewhat riddled with danger, since the wrong move could result in a nasty burn that is anything but tasty. The trick is to bite a tiny hole first, to allow the steam from the hot broth to escape, before taking the plunge. That euphoric first bite has the perfect balance of crispy dough, juicy pork mince and collagen-packed broth. The secret behind 小楊生煎’s success lies in the combination of half-risen dough, which differs from the fully risen variety commonly used for pan-fried buns (生煎包), and the generously portioned mince filling, as compared to the traditionally more meagre fillings. In recent years, new varieties of fillings ranging from vegetarian to shrimp have appeared on the menu, but our vote is still for the original pork mince for its unbeatable juiciness. 小楊生煎 has become a franchise and can be found all over town, but we recommend the above location for its close proximity to other local delicacies.
佳家湯包 (佳家汤包, jiā jiā tāng bāo)
Xiao long bao 小龍包 (bamboo steamer bun) or tang bao 湯包 (soupy bun) have become a culinary ambassador for Shanghainese cuisine. But in the metropolis famous for this iconic delicacy, which restaurant’s rendition reigns supreme? To many locals as well as visitors, 佳家湯包 is the home to the best xiao long bao in town. Hand-crafted right in front of customers, and steamed to order, each basket comes filled with tiny baos with skins so thin that they are almost translucent, yet are so packed with hot soup and flavourful mince that they burst instantly in the mouth. The original pork mince variety wins the most praise, with the crab meat version coming in at a close second. A recently added flavour of pork mince mixed with egg yolk has also become wildly popular. Conveniently located across Huanghe street (黄河路) from 佳家湯包, avid foodies can sample both Shanghai specialities within steps of each other. We did just that on our trip this month, and ended up eating several breakfasts, all in the span of a hour!
小白樺酒家 (小白桦酒家, xiǎo báihuà jiǔjiā)
What we love most about 小白樺酒家 is its heart-warming, home-style cooking. Nestled in a quiet alley in the midst of Shanghai’s quickly disappearing nongtang districts, 小白樺酒家 is all about simple, straight-forward home cooking. Several specialities, such as the salted egg yolk pumpkin, drunken shrimp, home-style ribs, and garlic razor clams, have become must-orders for visitors. We also love the braised large meatballs (lion head), which are ever so succulent and velvety. Stop by for a satisfying meal, that is also easy on the wallet, and bask in the gracious hospitality of the very personable restaurant owner. A must visit for any Shanghainese food aficionado.
成成屋裡香 (成成屋里香, chéng chéng wū lǐ xiāng)
Is it an art gallery, or a restaurant? This seems to be the most frequently asked question as diners enter 成成屋裡香. Walking into the restaurant feels like going into someone’s private residence, with the walls covered in art by local artists. The owner himself, is both a lover of fine food and art, and created the restaurant to echo his ethos of inviting guests into his home. Traditionally, Shanghainese like to entertain good friends in the comforts of their bedrooms, as it usually is the biggest rooms in a home. Hence, the restaurant feels almost like walking into a home’s private quarters. The food is distinctly Shanghainese, but with modern twists. We were dazzled by the crispy beef, that arrived at the table in a cloud of dry ice.
Lynn is to Shanghainese cuisine what Da Dong is to Beijing cuisine – a fancy rendition that gives foreign palates a taste of local flavours in a comfortable, refined setting without going overboard into the often grittier side of authenticity. This rather sophisticated restaurant is a favourite amongst the expatriate crowd, and has a comprehensive menu full of Shanghainese specialties glossed over with ingredients such as caviar and foie gras. We did enjoy the smoked eggs, although we couldn’t quite tell if the gooey egg yolks were enhanced at all by the smudges of caviar. The wild mushroom stir-fry was deliciously caramelised and the briny 醃篤鮮, a representative Shanghainese soup, was soothing and flavourful, a perfect balance between salted pork and tender bamboo shoots.
ULTRAVIOLET BY PAUL PAIRET
If being blindfolded and driven to a secret location for a mind-altering culinary sensory experience is what excites you, and you happen to have upwards of RMB$6,000 to spend, then Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet is your calling. This single table for 10 serves up an Avant-Garde 20-course set menu where food is elevated through sensory play. Six thousand dollars never tasted so good.
The Nest has been buzzing since its opening more than a year ago. A collaboration between Bacardi and Muse Group, this relatively laid-back venue is both restaurant and lounge. Rather unpretentious for its prestigious Bund-side address, The Nest pumps out innovative libations against a background of sleek, eclectic soundtrack. Raw bar and seafood are the prime focus on the dining menu. A fantastic venue to chill with friends and watch the beautiful people.
M ON THE BUND
A classic Bund institution, and the oldest Western restaurant on the block, M on the Bund saw the glitzy future of Shanghai and capitalised on it before anyone else entered the race. The restaurant that sparked the Bund’s Renaissance, M is still going strong today despite the endless onslaught of fashionable competitors. We love dining on the rooftop, overlooking the Huangpu River and Pudong. Once, we were seated at a table next to Halle Berry, Clive Owen and Peter Fonda. Needless to say, there were lots of discreet, secret photo-taking that night!
MR & MRS BUND
Snapping up the 28th place on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants this year, Mr. And Mrs. Bund features modern French cuisine with a notoriously long menu comprising of more than 200 dishes! A less pricier option to taste Chef Paul Pairet’s creations without forking out a fortune at Ultraviolet, Mr. And Mrs. Bund impresses guests with its house favourites, including the “long short beef ribs’ and a “lemon tart” served within a whole lemon. It’s the perfect spot for late night dining, where prices start from RMB$250 upwards.
Celebrated Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten helped bring this historic address back to life with Mercato, a rustic chic Italian eatery with a menu inspired by his much-loved ABC Kitchen back in New York. The relaxed venue is dominated by a central Italian brick wood-fired oven, making pizza a must when dining at this restaurant. The house-made ricotta, topped with strawberry compote and accompanied by sourdough bread soldiers, is also a must-order.
淮海中路1028号, 嘉華房2/F (近東湖路)
Just walking into this industrial chic space and seeing the neon “Tap That” sign behind the bar will give you an inkling of the good times to come. Liquid Laundry is a restaurant, lounge and fully-functioning brewery, pulling out creative brews such as the “Miami Weiss”. Dressed up bar food dominates the menu, with the rotisserie chicken being one of the highlights. DJs pump out hip hop and house during the weekends, although this is more of a lounge place so no club kids please!