Monthly Archives: June 2011

Counting Carbs

Recently I’ve been trying to reduce my carb intake in the hope of losing a few pounds before summer really gets going. This has involved avoiding grains (bread/noodle/rice) every few meals, and trying to control myself when the meal does involve them.

It’s HARD — harder than cutting out meat, for sure. Our bodies just looove carbs. Other than subbing sweet potato for rice/noodles/bread, I haven’t found another way to get full in their absence. And when I do try to go without for a meal, I often end up scrounging around for sweets or biscuits afterwards. Bleh. I think moderation, rather than elimination, is the key.

So in that spirit, here are my top eat-in carb picks for Shanghai that I would be sad to give up entirely (especially since it took me a while to discover some of these):

Made by MediterraneaN Bakery and sold at City Shop as well as the bakery’s restaurant location, this stuff is soft and thick and pillowy and always made and sold on the same day (according to the label…). Perfect fresh with hummus or bean dip or falafel or plain tomato/cucumber/egg drizzled with olive oil, and great toasted the next morning with some honey & Trader Joe’s almond butter (while it still existed in our fridge… anyone planning a visit from the States? :D).

The pitas come in three sizes, ranging from 11-12 RMB/pack for the white and 13-15 RMB/pack for the rye. So, not cheap, but a definite tall step up from the thin, stale 99c deals I lived on during my internship summer in NYC. It’s affordable maybe once a week, and my love will persist only until winter anyway, when dips and raw foods lose their appeal.

City Shop, multiple locations. Haya’s Mediterranean Cuisine, No. 415 Dagu Road

Sean has spent the last few years trying to convert me to brown rice. I’d had one foot in the door for a long while, compromising with 1:1 ratios in the rice cooker, but I think at this point I’m pretrty much done with white rice at home. We still have a bit left from our last purchase, which I’m going to save for fried rice (the ultimate Chinese comfort food really requires soft and fluffy nutrient-free white rice, I’m sorry), but other than that, we’re gonna stick with our recent excellent brown rice discovery.

I know I’d whined about making rice in a previous post, but we just opened this bag and it’s really good. The 2.5kg bag—about 30 servings—goes for a shockingly reasonable 45.9 RMB at City Shop. Compared with the crap we used to get from the bulk section of Carrefour and Trust-Mart at something like 15 RMB/500g, this larger bag not only makes more economic sense, but has a superior texture (think chewy rather than tough) doesn’t stick as much to the bottom of the pot, and is organic to boot. (Their organic white rice sells for the same, if you haven’t made the switch.)

City Shop, multiple locations

I’d never had nang, the Xinjiang flatbread, before coming to Shanghai, but boy am I glad we crossed paths here. This frisbee-shaped white-flour bread deserves love not for its nutritional properties but for its versatility and overall pleasurability (if that’s a word). Typically eaten at Xinjiang restaurants with cumin-coated lamb skewers, it also works terrifically with stir-fries (both soy sauce- and tomato sauce-based), dipped in olive oil Italian-style, with falafel, curry, anything cumin-y, or even just on its own, when it’s fresh and still hot.

Sadly, not all nang are created equal. You can get Xinjiang food all over town but I’ve only found one spot that does it right. Luckily for me and Sean it’s only a block away from his workplace, and the dudes out in the front know him well. Their 3 RMB savoury nang is loaded with sesame seeds on top and fragrant with scallion baked into the bread; on more days than not, its outer crust is soft and springy and the middle of the disc is thin and crunchy and the whole thing will make a plastic bag moist with condensation. A million miles ahead of others’ perpetually cold, hard, bland offerings.

新疆风味 (Xinjiang Fengwei), 51 Maotai Road (btwn Zunyi Road and Loushanguan Road)

Oh, pasta. You live to keep me fat, but I love you anyway. At least you try to console me with an affordable whole wheat variety, even though I suspect you’re not wholly whole wheat coz you taste so damn good, i.e. like regular pasta. (I remember whole wheat pasta in the States being awful!)

Also unlike in the States, where pasta is any broke college kid’s go-to for a home-cooked meal, pasta is a bit of an indulgence over here. Depending on where you shop, a box of this particular brand costs 18-20 RMB, and the cheapest can of pasta sauce will set you back ~20RMB. I’ve been trying to go without pasta sauce for quite a few weeks now…

City Shop, Carrefour, Trust-Mart, multiple locations

This is the daily bread that I trust to be the most healthful supermarket option, being 100% whole wheat and high in dietary fiber. (The “whole wheat bread” from Carrefour’s in-store bakery is pretty good, though nowhere near 100% ww, if at all). When you get this within one or two days of its production date, the bread is soft and supple, though best when toasted.

At 6.8 RMB/pack of six slices, it’s a little pricey compared with other store-bought loaves, but at least I feel like I’m eating something that’s relatively good for me. And yes, it’s Mankattan with a K.

Carrefour, Trust-Mart, multiple locations

My new obsession. Since sweet potatoes began to act as a substitute for the above (as well as other carbs including potatoes), I’ve been trying out new ways to prepare it beyond boiling it whole and eating with honey, which had been our embarrassingly uninspired method back in winter 2009 until we quickly got sick of it (oh, and got scared off by purple sweet potatoes “bleeding” into the water).

We’ve been willing to overlook their homely appearance and being a pain to wash and peel, knowing that sweet, orange flesh awaits just beneath the surface. They’re cheap, they keep, and are also versatile, perfectly happy to lean either way (sweet or savoury) and star in multiple forms (as fries with aioli, mashed with butter and paprika, fried up in a hash with some cumin… mmm).

Veggie markets and supermarkets

What’s your favourite carb (or six) you can’t live without?


Filed under buying

Eating in, revisited

As much as I’m all for making my own meals as much as possible, I have to confess it’s been hard to stop myself from eating out while Sean’s been away these past two weeks: 8 out of my last 15 dinners were had outside the house. Granted, I had family visiting (though we did squeeze in a lunch at my apartment that weekend), but it’s still more than I’m used to, and more than I would like to average on a regular basis. They’ve all been nice social occasions, many of them were great food-wise, and I didn’t even pay for half of them, but a few have not been quite as friendly to the stomach/palate/wallet.

Last week, in an effort to get back on the health track after 5 straight days of dining out, I cooked five evening meals at home — and not just eggs on toast or instant noodles: whole, if simple, meals with fresh vegetables and eggs or tofu or beans. It felt great, especially knowing I wouldn’t have to fret about lunch the next day. One meal I shared with a coworker who came over for dinner and a DVD — I introduced her to spaghetti with fried eggs (with tomato, onion, and cucumber) and mashed sweet potatoes, and she loved it, if her second and third helpings were any indication.

What has been hard about living alone has been keeping the kitchen stocked with ingredients for dinner. Sean’s been our resident produce-shopper since I started my full-time job in March, and I’d come to take it for granted that I could come home, pull some things out of the fridge, whip up a meal — and enjoy some fruit afterwards, which I’ve really been missing — and not even have to wash my own dishes (yes, he’s a darling). Coming home from work on my bike, I’m rarely in the mood to stop and pick up food which I’d then have to cook.

Thank goodness, then, for City Shop, sitting conveniently in the basement of my office building. A lot of their food isn’t exactly wallet-friendly, but a few of their vegetables sell for just a tad more than their veggie market counterparts. After last night’s soulless veggie burger, I needed to reconnect with — to feel loved again by — my food. I hopped down to grab some tomatoes and cucumbers during my afternoon break, and with what I had already sitting in my fridge, spent half an hour creating a refreshing tri-topping rice plate packed with complementary textures and flavours (and nutrients!).

And there was love in every spoonful.

As with many things in life, simplicity is key to maintaining a habit of cooking by and for oneself. Tonight I wanted a bit of variety as I’d spent lunchtime dunking white rice in vegetable soup from City Shop, so I combined three very basic but tasty “dishes”:

Scrambled eggs with tomato and onion: Sauté half an onion (chopped) in olive oil til beginning to brown, add 1 tomato (chopped) and a bit of salt and sugar, cook until not watery and move to outer edges of pan. Whisk 2 eggs and pour into middle of pan. Let cook for a minute, then mix everything together until egg is fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

Rice-loving tofu: Sauté half an onion and a few cloves of garlic (chopped) in olive oil. Open a pack of soft tofu (~350g) and slice into bite-sized cubes before dumping into pan (I usually scoop the whole thing out with my spatula to maximize intactness). Let fry undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, then add oyster sauce (2 tbsp?) watered down with a bit of water. Sprinkle black sesame seeds on top.

Chopped tomato and cucumber (inspired by my lil sis): Wash thoroughly and dice 1 firm tomato and 2 small, peeled cucumbers. Put on a plate, drizzle with pure sesame oil and sprinkle with salt.

Scoop these over a plate of brown rice (holla at the dip tau fan) to feed two moderately hungry people (in my case, me and tomorrow’s me). If need be, increase number of eggs, throw some canned kidney beans in the “salad”, and/or make more rice. Be creative!

Eat-in V$ Eat-out: To figure out whether it’s as economical to eat in in Shanghai as I’ve claimed, I occasionally calculate how much I spend on a meal at home. Here’s the tally for today:

3/4 cup brown rice: 3 RMB
1 package soft tofu: 2.3 RMB
2 large tomatoes: 4.6 RMB
2 short cucumbers: 3 RMB
2 eggs: 2.4 RMB
1 onion & 4 cloves garlic: 2 RMB
oil & condiments: 1 RMB

= 18.3 RMB, for two meals.

9 RMB is pricier than a bowl of soup noodles delivered from Lanzhou Lamian downstairs, but 1 RMB cheaper than the home-style tofu on rice I would normally order from there. Factor in environmental costs (disposable containers become garbage) and health costs (swill oil, toxic food baggies), and the difference becomes a little clearer.

City Shop (Jing’an Branch)
1376 Nanjing West Rd., Shanghai Centre (basement)


Filed under eating in

Veggie Burger quest III: Malone’s

Monday screams burger special!!! here in Shanghai (or is that everywhere in the world?*): Malone’s, Blue Frog, Gourmet Cafe, and others make sure there’s at least one day in the week you can grab a burger without forking over American-sized dough.

My coworkers and I decided last week it was about time we partook in one of these burger specials, and with our office situated in expat-heavy Jing’an, we had two obvious choices: Malone’s, which offers a burger & a beer for 50 RMB, and Gourmet Cafe, which does a buy-one-get-one-free deal on Mondays. We went with Malone’s today.

I’d been here a couple times last year for the 50 RMB meal, which is quite a steal considering their giant selection of burgers ranges from 75 to 105 RMB (drink excluded). But then I’d been eating meat. Tonight I had but one choice: their veggie burger (normally 75 RMB) with a patty made from mushrooms, onions, and grains, which sounded alright on paper.

The first thing I noticed when our food came was how pitifully FLAT my burger was compared to everyone else’s. Sure, the patty was different, but did they have to skimp on everything else? A peek under the bun revealed two slices of tomato, some lettuce, and plain mayo. The “low-fat cheese” could barely be seen. No pickles, no creative sauce, no apparent effort put in at all to ensure that their vegetarian patrons feel taken care of amid a sea of meat burgers decked out with all sorts of interesting toppings. It felt almost as if they were making fun of the idea of vegetarians eating burgers — “you probably don’t know how to enjoy food anyway, so we’ll give you the bare minimum.” Maybe they were, but ouch.

Oh well, perhaps they designed the patty to hold its own in the face of scarce resources… or something like that? A couple careful bites dispelled that last hope: the mushroom taste was overpowering, and despite the “grains”, the whole thing was mushy and began to break apart as I made my way through the burger. The lettuce and overripe tomato didn’t help things, and I ended up spooning some crunchy coleslaw in just to add some depth of texture.

Granted, I didn’t go into it with high hopes, so it wasn’t the biggest disappointment ever. At least I’ve got one more crossed off the list in my slow-moving quest for the best (read: least shameful) veggie burger in Shanghai. And had a chance to unwind with coworkers after a long day (yes, it’s only Monday, but it really feels like it should be Friday already). And get to keep feeling smug about my homemade version. So it’s all good.

One of these coming Mondays: Gourmet Cafe. I’ve been there for lunch before and had a delicious — albeit distastefully named — “Bun Laden” (essentially falafel in pita… yeah, they really need to find a new name now), but they also have a bean-based burger. Stay tuned!

Malone’s American Cafe
255 Tongren Rd. near Nanjing West Rd.
(21) 6247-2400 (reservations not accepted on Mondays)

*Google search results suggest that, at least in the English-speaking world, “Wednesday burger special”s are the most common, with Monday being the second most economical day to satisfy your burger cravings. Don’t bother looking for a burger deal on Saturdays.


Filed under eating out, restaurants - non-vegetarian

Detox at Vegetarian Lifestyle (枣子树)

My Dragon Boat Festival weekend wrapped up on Monday with a meal back on familiar ground: the popular Vegetarian Lifestyle restaurant. At first I was hesitant about bringing my mom and grandma here, but after a heavy, meat-centric few days we all welcomed the prospect of a light(er) meal. Plus, I wanted to ease their doubts about my recent meatless lifestyle and show them vegetarian food isn’t all bland and boring or limited in choice. My mom, for her part, has tried out quite a few vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong, but has been unimpressed by most of them.

Thankfully, my grandma, an avid meat eater usually dismissive of vegetables, was a good sport about the whole idea, partly because we promised her we’d stop by Xiaoyang’s on Wujiang Lu after lunch for another round of the fried dumplings they’d first tried on Friday.

Vegetarian Lifestyle markets itself as a restaurant committed to “low-carbon living”, incorporating organic ingredients and a no-meat (or egg, I think), no-MSG, no-alcohol, no-smoking policy — all very rare in these parts. While their dishes can sometimes be hit or miss (think bland or oily), what I love about this restaurant is the opportunity to try lots of new and different foods and creative ingredient combinations — it showcases all the wonderful possibilities within meatless cooking/dining, while their clever mock-meat creations provide new vegetarians — and their omnivorous dining companions — with their “meat” fix. It’s a bold concept, but obviously works, as there are now multiple locations in Shanghai and the Jing’an one seems to always be packed.

After being dropped off at the wrong intersection and walking 10 minutes in the rain, we got seated almost right away in their clean, comfortable, well-lit dining area and got to work flipping through their giant menu. As it was a public holiday, the set lunch was unavailable, though that worked out for the better as we had a full range of options and were in no rush.

While we waited for our food to arrive, we were served some fruit and a delicious barley tea that was refilled throughout the meal.

The first dish that came was a cold one, mung bean noodle strips with shredded carrot & cucumber (麻酱三丝). The simple ingredients were brought to life a very fragrant, flavourful sesame paste.

Other dishes we ordered:

Amaranth (苋菜) in broth. The greens were tender and not overcooked, and while the unusual ingredients — red bell pepper, ginger slivers, orange rind — perched on top shocked the taste buds at first, I quickly got used to it and actually found it a refreshing alternative to the typical garlic pairing.

The wild rice stem, or water bamboo, came dressed in mock meat crumbles (素末茭白). I don’t think I’d ever had this before — while a bit bland on its own, the vegetable had a pleasant texture. The mock meat didn’t add much to the dish.

The “eight treasures in hot sauce” (八宝辣酱), which wasn’t actually spicy, was spectacular. This is what we were able to pick out: doufu gan (dried bean curd), mushroom, peanut, green pea, vegetarian shrimp, something that tasted exactly like preserved ham (腊肉), and maybe bamboo shoot? This sweet-and-savoury dish was an addictive explosion of flavour and texture that was perfect company for rice, and I plan to order this every time I come here from now on.

The matsutake with XO sauce (XO酱焗松茸), one of the priciest dishes on the menu, was sadly one I couldn’t appreciate. I liked its size and texture, but there was a rather strange — almost foul — taste (or smell?) which the sauce did not cover up, though apparently that is what this rare and expensive “pine mushroom” is prized for. This was also the only dish my grandma complained about.

In acknowledgement of Dragon Boat Festival, the restaurant was giving out mini osmanthus & red bean zongzi (rice dumplings), which was a nice surprise. Full from all the food, we just split one and I took one home (and reheated for breakfast the next morning).

It was still raining when we left, so we caught a cab to nearby Wujiang Lu food street for the much-awaited fried dumplings. But to my mom’s and my surprise, as we neared our destination, my grandma suddenly announced she was actually quite full, and would probably be fine without it (which was almost music to our ears as we’ve been trying to encourage her to eat less meat for her health). So we said our farewells in the taxi and parted ways, ending our multi-generation food-filled weekend in Shanghai.

Other great dishes I’ve tried:
Black pepper “beef” (黑椒素牛排)
Sweet-and-sour deep-fried crispy mushroom (酥香脆菇)
Wuxi “spareribs” (无锡酱排)
Lettuce wrap (乾坤生菜素松)
Salt-and-pepper battered lotus root (椒盐藕片)

Dish to avoid:
Their xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). Yeah, yeah, how could I have thought that vegetarian XLB could be any good? (I have heard good things about the ones at Din Tai Fung, though.)

Vegetarian Lifestyle a.k.a. Jujube Tree (枣子树) Jing’an branch
258 Fengxian Rd. near Nanhui Rd.
6215-7566 (reservations highly recommended)


Filed under eating out, restaurants - vegetarian

Meeaatt! Pt. 3 — Xiao Shaoxing (小绍兴)

Alright, last post on my recent family-weekend meat-binge (hey, at least I stocked up on vitamin B12), but I couldn’t go all-out this weekend without filling up on some (more) of my all-time favourite meat: chicken. Fully recovered from the morning’s aches and nausea, I headed with Mom and Grandma late Sunday afternoon to Xiao Shaoxing (小绍兴), a longtime fixture on the Yunnan Road food street. My mom and I had been to Xiao Shaoxing once before, back in Sept. 2009 when I first moved to Shanghai. I’d completely forgotten about the place until she picked up our SH travel guide again this time and recalled our meal with relish.

This is what we came for (photo taken several minutes after we let our chopsticks go wild):

A glorious plate of 白斩鸡, or boiled “white cut” chicken, served with a sweet soy ginger dipping sauce. The nearly 70-year-old restaurant is synonymous with this type of chicken in Shanghai, with a large window on the ground floor offering views of whole boiled chickens deftly rendered by a cleaver into chopstick-friendly pieces.

As with a few other restaurants in Shanghai, both dining comfort and prices at this multi-story establishment rise the higher up you go. The first floor presents a no-frills, fast-food style experience, with low prices luring customers in and plastic trays and hard seats encouraging them not to linger. The second floor is an open, casual-but-comfortable-enough space whose ambiance was sufficient for our food-focused purposes. The third floor offers more stylish “banquet-style” dining, and even higher up are private dining rooms and the guesthouse… all serving presumably the same chicken.

After you’ve picked your level of eliteness, the restaurant offers further opportunities for choice at time of ordering: what parts of the chicken do you want? The head, neck, and feet are left out by default. A plate of chicken on the second floor goes for 80 RMB when you only want the thighs, drumsticks, and back (widely accepted by the Chinese as the best parts), and drops to 47 RMB when you’re willing to have some breast (typically shunned by Chinese as either dry or mushy) thrown in there (totaling about half a chicken). My grandma and mom prefer the dark meat, as do I, but noting the price difference I was willing to give the chicken breast a chance.

Good thing, because the chicken was such good quality that even the breast meat was excellent: moist and smooth and not so lean as to be a chore to chew. It was also chopped into thinner pieces to avoid that “huge chunk of lean meat” look and feel that Chinese eaters seem to fear. Anyway, the whole deal was delicious: neither too fat nor too lean, too meaty or too bony, not overcooked. I realize I’m using a lot of negatives to describe this chicken, but I guess you can’t know you’re having the good stuff unless you’ve had some less impressive stuff? In fact, I’m not really sure what adjectives to use in English, because I grew up hearing food mostly described in Chinese: 香,滑, 弹牙 come to mind: fragrant, silky/smooth, springy? … Yeah, sounds more like a bad ad for a luxury pillow or mattress pad.

The other dishes we ordered — a pot of fish soup, mater convolvulus (空心菜), some sort of mushroom — were quite average. The only other one worth mentioning is the lily bulb and pumpkin cold dish (another Shanghainese favourite of mine), which is served refreshingly cold and lightly sweet:

Need more convincing that the chicken at this place is the real deal? My grandmother, who has lost her taste for both Canadian (too much meat) and Hong Kong (flavourless) chicken, actually wanted to come back the next day — on her way to the airport — and pack a box to bring back to HK for my dad! We entertained the idea for a while, but feared it wouldn’t last six hours in transit (and worse, what if it got confiscated by HK Customs?), so the suggestion was finally scrapped.

Back to meatlessness after this post, I promise :)

Xiao Shaoxing (小绍兴)
75 Yunnan Rd., near Ninghai Dong Rd.
(21) 6326-0845

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Filed under eating out, restaurants - non-vegetarian

Meeaatt! Pt. 2 — Stiller’s Restaurant

On Saturday night we went to Stiller’s Restaurant in the south Bund. Embarrassingly enough, I’d never made it out to the fairly new Cool Docks before this, mostly because it’s inconveniently located and full of restaurants out of my usual price range. My mom had found out about this place while reading an account of a food writer’s trip to Shanghai. Apparently the writer’s wife had deemed the restaurant’s 36-hour slow-braised beef cheek — of all things! — the most unforgettable part of their trip. So my mom, always eager to try something new, had me put it on the agenda.

The restaurant is physically connected to a cooking school by the same name, all owned by German chef Stefan Stiller. After a short ride in a dim elevator to the top floor, my mom, my grandma, and I were led through an elegant, modern-looking space with an open kitchen to a balcony-side table that gave us views of the Huangpu and Pudong on the other side.

We’d peeked at the menu online before heading out, so had some idea of what we wanted. The dishes are pricey, so we didn’t want to overdo it, but we also didn’t want to leave hungry. Worried that four dishes might not fill us up, we asked our server if we could get some bread to start…

…to which she responded by bringing us a very generous basket of warm rolls along with three types of “butter”: sesame, cilantro, and curry. They were all interesting twists, but the sesame spread was truly delicious. The bread kept us company all through the meal. (Before the bread came, we’d already enjoyed a complimentary plate of savoury meat-filled mini-pastries… mmm.)

Our next surprise was an aesthetically pleasing array of amuse-bouche, three little hors d’oeuvres centred around the lantern pepper. Our server pointed to them in turn: chopped yellow pepper “salad”, red pepper mousse, and a green pepper “soup”. Soup? we echoed, gazing questioningly at the neat, round blob on the spoon. But then we popped it into our mouths, the blob went “pop”, and our tastebuds were delighted with a burst of sweet-peppery liquid that had til then been encased in a delicate skin. Mouth amusement, indeed.

Then came the stuff we actually ordered: a turbot-crayfish consomme with crayfish sausage, accompanied by slivers of toast and a saffron aioli. For fear of an allergic reaction, I didn’t touch the sausage (which looked weird anyway, a fleshy floating finger), but the consomme was light and sweet, but because we split it in three, the portion felt a tad small.

Next was a prettily presented foie gras “cake” layered with black truffle, served with toast and spiced pineapple bits. I hadn’t had foie gras in years, after learning about the horrors involved in producing the stuff, but I’d had pork belly last night and was about to have beef cheek, so what the heck. OH MAN. It was rich and creamy, its sweetness balanced by the tang of the pineapple and balsamic jelly, a refreshing alternative to the decadent heart-stopping devil that is fried foie gras. Not that we had any illusions about its nutritional properties…

And then the mains, a turbot fillet and Boston lobster with “lemon-grass curry sauce” — though the “sauce” really was foam and didn’t taste of lemon-grass or curry. The turbot, which my mom informed me is a big (and expensive) deal in fish-eating circles, was very tasty, tender-firm and moist and with none of that dryness or mushiness that characterizes too many restaurant fish dishes.

And then, of course, the slow-braised beef cheek, which was served with a delicious cauliflower puree, Servietten-Knoedel (dish-towel dumplings), and yummy sliced potatoes. After all the anticipation, though, I have to say I was a bit let down. Actually, we all agreed that a plain steak would’ve been more satisfying. The beef was super tender — so soft, indeed, it could be cut with a fork — but came off overwhelmingly… well, beefy. It tasted more like animal than meat, if that makes any sense, and the sweet gravy that accompanied it only served to emphasize the rawness, even though after 36 hours in a pot I’m certain it was fully cooked. The plate came with an extra dish containing two more chunks of cheek, but we could’ve done without seconds on this one. By the end I was making mini cheek sandwiches with the rolls.

We were too full — and too practical — to order one of the 110RMB desserts, but our reservations were actually rewarded with a plate of tiny sweets, on the house: a waxberry tartlet, a soft fruity (berry? hawthorn?) candy, mini cream puff, and a wonderful dark chocolate truffle, which wrapped up the meal splendidly.

While my tummy and palate were satisfied, my favourite part of this experience, perhaps more than the food itself, was the thoughtfulness and creativity that went into preparing and presenting the food, as well as all the little surprises (a.k.a. complimentary stuff :-) that really made us feel like we were being well looked after (rather than being watched) and justified the 885 RMB bill. Service was attentive but not over-eager, professional but not at all snooty, and the owner-chef even came over to see us out.

It had rained all day and was still drizzling when we emerged from the restaurant. The Cool Docks resembled a deserted Xintiandi, and in the rain felt like another world, a movie set. Bellies full and hearts warmed, we caught a cab back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.

The bad news: the next morning I felt terrible, afflicted with headache, stomachache, and a desire to vomit, though I wasn’t able to. Huddled against a chair in the hotel room, I felt nauseous at the thought and sight of food (on the cover of a travel guide). By noon I managed a pear, and recovered shortly thereafter… My mom and grandma were fine, though, so the problem was probably more my body (too much meat maybe?) than the food.

P.S. While the a la carte menu offers few meatless options, Stiller’s also has a vegetarian tasting menu alongside a “regular” non-vegetarian one, which looks promising. Nice to see a restaurant tell us that fine dining doesn’t have to mean lots of meat! At 598RMB, though, these veggies (and cheeses) had better be out of this world.

Stiller’s Restaurant & Cooking School
The Cool Docks, 6-7/F, Bldg 13
505 Zhongshan Nan Rd. near Fuxing Dong Rd.


Filed under eating out, restaurants - non-vegetarian

Meeaatt! Pt. 1 — Fu 1039 (福 1039)

This past week has been one of exceptions, and I feel that I should own up right away even if I am, as I type, trying to make up for the indulgences by eating a healthy (but delicious) home-cooked meal of tofu and zucchini and mushrooms on brown rice. First off: I ate out for dinner every day between last Wednesday and Sunday — five nights in a row! I attribute this to Sean being away (though at least I ate with friends and not alone) and my mom and grandmother visiting this past long weekend.

Because of the latter, I also broke my nearly three-month streak of meatlessness. My family came up to see me, yes, but also for the food, and in a city known for xiaolongbao (which we actually didn’t end up having) and hongshaorou, this meant that meat had to be on the table. And that I had to partake, because there was no way my mom and grandma would’ve been able to try (and finish) everything, or enjoyed their meals or my company, if I had stubbornly stuck to the greens. But! I have no regrets, because after the hiatus — and knowing another one would begin shortly — I was able to fully and consciously savour what I was eating, rather than take it for granted as I might’ve done if meat were still an everyday occurrence.

I’d heard about how one loses one’s taste for meat after going without it for a while, and was curious if that had happened to me. No sirree — that stuff is delicious as ever, especially as we’d made it a point to seek out some of the best in town.

Lest I be thought of as a hypocrite, I want to mention that I never called myself vegetarian or resolved to permanently abstain from meat. I did stay meatless for more than 12 weeks, and I’m pretty happy with myself for that, for succeeding in keeping myself full and energized for that long with veggies and eggs and soy and grains (and the occasional muffin, of course). The meals I had with my mom and grandma were — along with the added value of eating with loved ones — that much more meaningful and enjoyable because I saw them as a treat, rather than a cheat (or, worse, a fail). Negative words only serve to create bad feelings that kill motivation and weaken the will…

But enough blabbing. Let’s talk about the food.

Friday night at Fu 1039

A beautiful restored villa hidden in a quiet alley off Yuyuan Road, Fu 1039 was the perfect place to take my mom and grandma for our first dinner together. (I’d taken them to Xiaoyang Shengjian for lunch without having any myself, so I was pretty excited for this meal.) Entering the grounds through a garden complete with a deck, I felt as though we were going to a private dinner party. We were there early with a 5:30pm reservation, likely the first “guests” of the evening, and since we were only three, we got one of the few smaller tables in the dining room closest to the entrance.

The interior was clean, spacious if a little sparsely furnished, dark wood and white walls and art on the walls. The menu was generous but not overwhelming in its selection. We ordered a bunch of appetizers — Shanghainese cuisine’s strongest suit, in my opinion — to start.

Lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice in osmanthus syrup: a mouthful of a name, but a delicious mouthful and my first love upon arriving in this city. This was done decently, though the lotus could’ve been steamed a tad longer to fully remove the crunch. The kaofu was lightly flavoured, which was refreshing, but in place of the peanuts could have used more wood ear.

The drunken chicken, presented with a mound of shaved ice to keep it nice and cold, was excellent: the wine was sweet, the meat tender. The key, I think, is not to let the wine overpower. The crispy eel, which actually came near the end, was deep-fried into crunchy sweet-and-tangy fries (sort of like pork rinds) — the only time I’ve had yellow eel and not been disgusted, which is saying a lot.

The smoked fish was the clear winner of the appetizers. It looked a bit dry and overdone at first glance, but one bite through its crispy, sweet-and-savoury skin into the moist, juicy flesh reassured me that reviews can indeed be trusted. It was fatty like salmon but entirely absent of that “fishy” taste. This was perfectly executed and generously portioned.

We also had a napa cabbage with morel mushrooms, which was nice and light, although the expensive morels, which probably made up 80 of the dish’s 88 RMB price tag, tasted rather plain to me.

What was worth every kuai, though, was the similarly priced hongshaorou, which I am certain every table ordered, because we saw a pretty constant stream of those ample ceramic pots parading past our dining room. This “red-braised” pork belly was to-die-for: a perfect ratio of meat to fat to skin and a sweet and savoury sauce that was deep-flavoured but not cloying or overly oily. ‘Twas divine with a bit of rice.

At 7 o’clock, the soothing sounds of live piano music drifted into the room. It was a welcome addition to our dining experience since the room at times felt a bit too quiet.

I suppose Shanghainese cuisine is sweet enough not to warrant an extensive and well developed array of desserts, since we had to dance around the heavily Cantonese menu to find a few more “unique” dishes: glutinous rice dumpling in fermented rice wine (酒酿圆子), red date glutinous rice cake (枣泥拉糕), and a radish pastry (which — along with a ham pastry and a seaweed pastry — our server insisted was sweet, but turned out to be savoury), none of which were particularly memorable, but perhaps because we were already full to bursting by that point.

All in all, we had a very pleasant dinner, and the ambiance and presentation only added to our experience at the table. While not all the dishes were perfect, there were enough that were completely on point and the entire meal was a remarkably non-oily affair. Most importantly, my grandma, who nitpicks with her sky-high standards almost every time we eat out, also enjoyed the meal, which came to 528RMB.

My only grumbles would be the minimum spend of 150RMB/person excluding tea/drinks (we found ourselves ordering more food than we needed just to make the count), our not-so-knowledgeable server, and the uncomfortable feeling of being watched most of the time, even if it did mean more-attentive-and-less-snotty-than-average service.

Overall, Fu 1039 is probably the best — though fittingly, also the most expensive — experience of Shanghainese food I’ve had here (think solid offerings in a calm, relaxed atmosphere), and I’m glad to have shared it with family. At this price range, though, it might be a while before I’ll be back.

Fu 1039 (福 1039)
1039 Yuyuan Road, near Jiangsu Lu
(Walk down the lane and enter through the garden on your left)
(21) 5237-1878 (Reservations highly recommended)

(Meeaatt! Pt. II – Stiller’s – Stay tuned.)


Filed under eating out, restaurants - non-vegetarian