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.