Eating real Chinese food
After my visit to Japan, I went onward to Shanghai for three days to visit some good friends and see a city I’ve wanted to see for ages. Shanghai is amazing and I had a fantastic time there, due in very large part to my incredibly generous friends who showed me all the best places to eat and drink. We had two nights of big meals – and I mean big. Each meal had eight or so people dining which meant we were able to indulge in the best way possible – order lots of family style dishes, which really is what Chinese food is all about. The first night we ate at a casual but extremely popular place known for its specific Shanghaiese cuisine. The restaurant was fairly small and all the waiters seemed really angry (though I was informed that this is actually just how Chinese people speak to you). I was delighted to be able to sit back, have my friends order everything in Chinese, and then experience a huge range of dishes that came to our table.
Fried stuff with chilis! I must say that most Chinese food does not appear to be incredibly healthy. At least when you compare it with Japanese or Vietnamese food…nevertheless, this was delicious – pieces of fried chicken and whole fried prawns. Definitely had to indulge in a few.
This soup-y dish looked sort of scary but I actually loved it – it was tofu and crab in a thick broth. But of course I love the texture of tofu so I wasn’t surprised that I liked it. Some people might not be such a fan.
I found the size of these meatballs alarming, but cut one in thirds and have it with some of the broth and the veggies and it was delicious. No, I do not know exactly what was inside the meatball, but I did eat it and thoroughly enjoy it, so I really hope there were not animals in there that I would be upset to eat…
So, desserts in China are kind of interesting. They mostly involve glutinous things. These are boiled chestnuts with a glutinous rice filling. I was not entirely sure what to think but I didn’t actively dislike it.
This was the biggest surprise dish of the night for me though. I looked at it and honestly recoiled – I mean, it doesn’t look appetising right? And weird dessert soup? But this was DELICIOUS. Like, I ate an entire little bowl of it and loved it. They are little glutinous rice balls with black bean paste inside them floating in a broth that I believe had some kind of sweet wine base to it. I was really shocked at how much enjoyed it.
The next day, after a big night, I got these for lunch: Yang’s fried dumplings. I think 4 of them cost less than 1 USD, and they are like soup dumplings but in fried form. They must be absolutely packed with cholesterol and oil and all sorts of junk, but MAN were they good. These were some of the best dumplings I’ve ever had, hands down. I love that they came from a totally casual fast food chain equivalent. They had a tendency to squirt hot oil when you bit into one so they were definitely messy, but wow – so worth it.
The next night for dinner we went to Da Dong, a restaurant originally established in Beijing that has recently opened up a Shanghai branch and is incredibly famous for their duck. This was a very upscale restaurant and I was really surprised by just how fancy the food looked and how beautifully it was presented. I assume it’s on the expensive side for Shanghai, but definitely makes sense given how beautiful everything was. The presentation in some cases was probably even better than the actual food. The duck itself was amazing but some of the other dishes fell a bit flat. With eight people dining, we were able to order a huge variety of things again – and by we I mean the fluent Chinese speakers ordered everything and I just got to sit back and watch in delight again as a plethora of dishes appeared before me.
These little mounds are mashed potatoes. They must have had some sort of butter or cheese mixed in there too – the ratio was a bit off and it didn’t really taste like mashed potatoes to me. Nice try, but better presentation than taste for sure.
Oh, these pork buns. As a mostly vegetarian let me just say that I adore pork buns, and these were some of the best I’ve ever had. Great soft bread and perfect amount of filling and not too messy at all. YUM.
More pork (or maybe it was short ribs?), with roasted chestnuts and little roasted potatoes. Aside from the duck, this was definitely my favourite meat dish. The meat was really tender and I have never had roasted whole chestnuts before so I thought they were a great accompaniment – and the sauce was delicious too.
And this was my fave vegetable dish by far. They were these lightly fried bamboo shoots and really crispy green leaves (maybe it was kale? or some sort of Asian green). It was probably so good because it was all lightly fried but man I have never tasted bamboo shoots like that and it was amazing.
Behold: addictive little buns that were hollow in the middle and perfect for splitting open and putting duck or other meat or vegetable dishes into. I may have eaten most of this basket. (and later experienced a food coma)
Dessert was not my thing unfortunately. At the end of the meal they make some sort of broth from the duck carcass, which is on the right, and you are supposed to sip on that, and then have your dessert soup thing, which is on the left – some sort of red been paste. I just couldn’t do either. Obviously I was not lacking for food and was completely full by that point anyway.
What I did love was the huge platter of fresh watermelon at the end that was served over dry ice so it was all mysterious and glamorous looking. Definitely the best way I have ever seen a platter of watermelon served!
These two huge meals really exemplified Chinese cuisine for me – from typical casual Shanghai-style food to the more upscale side. I think I covered many aspects, from dumplings and pork and duck to the rather interesting desserts. It was absolutely fascinating to see Chinese food in China and not some Americanised version of it – they could not be more different. And I was incredibly grateful to have friends there to take me to the best places and order everything in Chinese for me. This was definitely the best possible way to be introduced to Chinese food, and it was an amazing experience!