Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Food of Shanghai

One of my set goals upon arriving in Shanghai was to adventurously experience the city through its cuisine.

Shanghai does not disappoint!  It is such a melting pot of cultures, that one can find any type of food from any region in the world.  I avoided the ubiquitous KFC's and McDonalds, and opted for the local fare when possible.

In no particular order, here is my culinary adventure of China.

This first restaurant offered lunchbox-style dinners.  I started with a fruited herbal green tea, along with my stewed beef box with seaweed, braised bok choy and white rice.

On one particular afternoon, I enjoyed a lovely pumpkin soup and tonic water as a light lunchtime snack.

Dinner at Lost Heaven was exquisite.  This dish, heavily sauced prawns, was really tasty.  Other dishes include steamed dumplings, eggplant with tomato sauce (my favorite!), and whole fish with Sezchuan peppercorns and black beans.

In old town, we enjoyed Shanghainese food at Xinjishi.  The beer was excellent, with a tart crisp character unlike any I've had recently.  Dinner was served family style, with just a small plate in front of each of us.

We started with some sautéed mushrooms and tiny shrimps.

Next was a crab dish with all the juicy innards of the crab on top of a white cheese.

Then we had tofu and egg drop soup as a mid-course soup.

The sautéed green vegetables were amazing!  These were something like Swiss chard with mushrooms.

These green beans were in fact not green beans.  They were hot green peppers, and after eating one pod, I finished the rest of my beer.  Yeouch!

I'm a sucker for duck, and this duck did not disappoint!

Fried chicken and prawns with scallions and red peppers.  And just as at home, don't eat the red peppers!

The last dish of the night was the orange sauce prawns, which were as big as lobsters in the USA.  Amazingly delicious, folks loved the sauce so much that when the prawns were gone, they sopped up the sauce with their scallion fritters.

And here are the aforementioned scallion fritters.  These resembled American hushpuppies.

A solo prawn, looking rather phallic.

These dumplings were filled with soup!  They squished in your mouth when you ate them.

The piece-d-resistance was the fatty pork.  Each cube of meat was half pork, half fat, covered in a thick smoky barbecue sauce.  The cubes were SO delicious, but so rich that we could only eat one bite.

Thin stringy rice noodles with crab came after the fatty pork, but I was so full I couldn't eat a single one.

For my first Shanghai breakfast, I tried the local fare: noodles, dumplings, and fresh fruit.  Delicious!  And of course, yogurt for a happy tummy, and coffee to keep me awake.

One night, we had Spanish tapas at El Willy's.  The tapas were excellent, and the wine was incredible. Not particularly Chinese, but it does show what a cosmopolitan city Shanghai is, and this restaurant was voted one of the best in the city.  The chef even came out to visit our table and welcome us while we ate.

After a few days of adventurous eating, I opted for the Full English Breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  Sometimes, comfort food is just what is needed.

In Suzhou, we ate at a very local, non-tourist restaurant.  This is their cold chicken dish.

This is a shredded mushroom salad.

Again, the cooked vegetables were delicious.  These greens were something like bok choy or chard.

At this restaurant, my favorite dish was the peppers and octopus: garlic, onion, peppers, and fried whole octopus.  Yum!

And a 20 ounce Tsingtao to wash it all down.  The lady in this photo is Mai, our guide for the trip.

The last dish of the lunch was a delicious wonton soup.

In Suzhou, we happened upon a lady selling fruit from her bicycle.  I don't know what the fruits were, but I bought a small bag of each as a mid-afternoon snack.  The yellow fruit tasted exactly like a fully ripe mango (only a tiny portion of the size), and the purple fruit was like a large seedless grape.  (But it wasn't a grape, or a plum.  I think it was some kind of berry.)

On my last day, I wandered into a German restaurant and had my favorite schnitzel with beer and mushroom soup.  The veal was a little tough, but otherwise, the meal was perfectly authentic.

At the airport, as we were leaving, we had some extra money to spend.  This rack of treats caught our eyes. From right to left, they are pickled duck tongue, spicy duck tongue, and (dare I say it?) pig scrotum with balls.  Yes, with balls.  Only the best here!

You can see why I kept returning to the English breakfast each morning.

In the markets, there were many vendors selling fried animals on a stick.  What isn't made better by frying and putting it on a stick?  Here we have whole fish and whole squids.

The most favorite snack of our guide were these whole sparrows.  Actual sparrows, they are defeathered, placed on a stick and fried whole.  One crunches them down bones and all.  They tasted a bit like a chewy chicken wing.  Not bad, really.

What had us wondering was this skull.  It was resting in the big kettle of soup, and we wondered why one would put it there?  To ward off evil spirits?  To flavor the broth?  I have no idea, but it was really COOL.

The fried crabs looked tasty, but we didn't try them.

These were whole pigeons.

More of those sparrows I was telling you about.

And more pigeons, having a little dance.

In the Yu garden, we sampled through the various teas.

And we finally worked up our courage to eat the little sparrows.  They tasted pretty good with the seasoning sprinkled on them.

Near the Bund, we ate at another local restaurant recommended by our guide.  This fish soup was the best damn fish soup I have ever eaten.  I would not have ordered it myself, but Mai said it was her favorite.  The fish was so tender and juicy, and the green peppery broth was complemented with a citrusy flavor and red peppers that made it unlike anything I have ever tried before.

My favorite dish of the day was this:  the wok bullfrog.  The bullfrog was prepared in a Kung Pao fashion, with spicy chili, green and red peppers, and onions.  The bullfrog meat had tiny little bones that you had to watch out for, but it was tasty, like something between fish and chicken. The fried peppers and green beans were also a nice side dish.  Both delicious!

Yes, my favorite way to experience a culture... through my stomach.  I was not disappointed with this trip, and happy to say that the Imodium® got to stay unused in my medicine kit.

No problem!

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