Tag Archives: potatoes

Cleansing the body and spirit at Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食)

Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食) is a vegetarian restaurant located on tranquil, tree-lined Xinhua Road. Its storefront window claims a menu free of mock meats, fried or deep-fried dishes, MSG, and carbonated beverages.

Wu Guan Tang is another name for zhai tang (斋堂), the hall where meals are taken by monks in a Buddhist temple. Wu Guan refers to the five observations a monk must keep in mind during the meal. (Some more info in English and Chinese.) And indeed, the interior of the restaurant evokes a serene, spiritual atmosphere — ironically hard to find in Shanghai’s touristy and money-grabbing temples — that encourages slow and thoughtful eating.

Sean and I had come here once before when our vegan friend came to visit over a year ago, but had somehow forgotten about it since then. Another friend of mine told me recently he’d tried the place and didn’t like it at all (too bland), which subtly kept me away until a reminder from an employee at vegan dessert shop The Freshary (which I’ll write about soon) inspired us to give it another go on Friday.

Their Chinese and English-Chinese menus are handwritten, showcasing daily selections of juice/congee/soy drink/etc. that repeat by week. Unfortunately, there are no pictures and the English names of many of the items aren’t very descriptive (e.g. “Mixed vegetable in sauce”), so it can be hard to make informed choices on a first visit unless you have done some research beforehand or ask the server for recommendations.

We started with two cold dishes, a refreshing Cold noodle in vinegar-pepper sauce (酸辣凉皮, 25 RMB) — mung bean strips with peanuts, walnuts, cucumber strips, and three sauces — and an Eggplant in sesame paste (麻酱茄条, 22 RMB), which was melt-in-your-mouth tender but barely tasted of sesame paste, if at all.

We also ordered two of their signature dishes. The Special baked potato (烤土豆, 18 RMB) is to die for: soft and buttery (not sure if they actually used butter though) with a thin, slightly chewy skin that’s full of flavour. The Steamed potato with carrots and pears (一品鲜, 28 RMB), more like mashed potato/carrot with slivers of mushroom served inside a large bell pepper, is also one to be savoured. A photo of this dish graces every English and Chinese webpage about this restaurant.

We also threw in a recommendation from the waitress, drawn in by the word “pita”. The Pita with kale borecole and wing beans (榄菜龙豆口袋饼, 35 RMB), with its funnily-shaped beans and inky sauce, looked a bit ominous at first, but was quite good with the warm pita pockets. We added a strip of cold eggplant to each pita to add textural variety.

All of these dishes exhibited delicate flavours that some may find too bland. But Sean, who likes to add salt to every other dish I make at home, really liked it, so this says something! In a quiet, secluded environment like this where loud flavours would be out of place, it is perhaps easier to find appreciation for a more subtle set of flavours. While I enjoy Vegetarian Lifestyle’s flavourful mock-meat dishes, there is only so much deep-fried bean product I can take in a month. I like that this restaurant dares to celebrate the vegetable for what it is, and to make vegetarian food truly light and healthful.

All in all, Wu Guan Tang is the place to go if you are in the mood for a clean, unpresuming, well-made meatless meal (and some killer potato dishes) in a relaxing environment, or if you’re a vegetarian looking for a break from oily mock meats. I’ve read that there’s an outdoor third floor dining space, and plan to check that out when the temperature starts to drop again and mozzies go back into hibernation.

Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食)
349 Xinhua Road, near Dingxi Road
(21) 6281-3695 (reservations recommended)

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Mid-week brunch

Since I accrue a generous 1.75 days of vacation a month, I was “forced” to take a day off before the end of March, which also happens to be the end of the fiscal year. My boss sort of just decided that I’d take it on Wednesday, which was perfect since Sean also didn’t have work that day. So we made brunch, using up all the produce we had lying around:

Sean usually lets me do my thing in the kitchen, but that morning he joined me and it was fun.

Chives & eggs (韭菜炒蛋):

Basically an omelet using the fragrant/pungent Chinese chive. Normally a dish served with rice, we decided this could also be a breakfast food.

Blueberry-banana-pear smoothie:

Smoothies are Sean’s specialty. He’s been drinking them almost daily, even in the dead of winter, ever since we bought a blender back in 2009. It’s simple, refreshing, and, as he likes to say, a quick and delicious way to get in multiple servings of fruit. Our 99rmb blender has withstood the abuse pretty well.

Home fries:

We don’t eat potatoes as much as we’d like, because it’s a bit of a pain to cook (wash-peel-cut-boil-fry), but we lurve our homefries! We didn’t have onions so we threw in a bit of extra chives for flavour. We also accidentally left the potatoes in the pot too long so they got mushy, but the two of us still gobbled up all six potatoes.

Chives and eggs

A handful of Chinese chives (I don’t weigh my food, sorry. A good measure would be as much as you can wrap your fingers around with leaves extended)
4 eggs
1/2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt

We used a variation of this Chinese recipe.

1. Wash chives thoroughly, removing any bits that are brown or yellow. Chop into 5cm lengths.
2. Heat oil in pan, throw in chives and add cornstarch. Fry for about a minute.
3. Beat eggs and milk in bowl.
4. Arrange chives in pan into a thin flat layer. Pour eggs evenly into pan, add salt, and let cook for about a minute.
5. When bottom of egg begins to solidify, flip the mixture (cut it into 3 pieces with spatula first if need be), pressing lightly on egg to force water out.
6. Continue flipping until both sides are cooked and water has evaporated.

Fruit Smoothie

1 cup milk
2 ripe bananas, peeled and broken into quarters
1 pear, peeled and cut into medium-sized pieces
A handful of blueberries (or strawberries), washed

1/2 cup sweetened yogurt (optional)
Ice cubes (optional)
Honey (optional, if fruit isn’t ripe/sweet)

1. Put fruit and milk (and optional ingredients) in blender.
2. Blend for one minute (longer if you use ice), or until smooth.
3. Drink immediately. (You won’t be able to resist anyway!)
4. Adjust proportions to your preference.

Makes 2 large glasses.

You can pretty much use whatever fruit you like in addition to bananas. We prefer berries, (Asian) pears, peaches, and mangoes, whenever they are in season. (We’ve noticed that a lot of fruits only appear in fruit stores at certain times of the year. Thankfully bananas seem to always be in season!)

Home fries

4-6 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion (or green onion or chives), peeled and cut
1 green pepper, peeled and cut
Olive oil
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp other spices (paprika/chili flakes/basil/dill/cumin/etc.)

2 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)

1. Boil a few cups of water in large pot. Add potatoes, bring to a boil, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, depending on size of potato pieces.
2. Heat 1 tsp of oil in pan, put onion in and fry for 2 minutes.
3. Add green pepper and fry for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
4. When potatoes are almost cooked (before they turn mushy!), turn off heat and drain. Throw them back in pot and add salt, pepper, spices, 1 tbsp olive oil. Toss until evenly coated.
5. Heat 1 tbsp oil in pan, add potatoes. Move them around every 30 seconds until sides are browned. (If not using non-stick pan, flip them more frequently so they don’t burn!) Add more oil if necessary.
6. When potatoes are sufficiently browned, pour onion and pepper mixture back into pan. Remove from heat when potatoes are fully cooked.
7. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with ketchup.


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