June Shanghai itinerary (in progress...)
I'm heading to Shanghai from San Francisco in early June. As the two of us fill in our activity itinerary, I'll post with more questions about specific locations and restaurants. In the meantime, I have a few questions about what has been planned below.
We're only interested in eating Chinese food. I'd like to focus on food from Shanghai and the nearby regions, but would be game for other Chinese dishes/regional cuisines unobtainable in the San Francisco Bay Area.
We'll also be heading to Huangshan, so if you have any tips about that, let me know!
Are there any seasonal specialties we should be on the lookout for? The only one I've read about is 五香烤子魚 / Wǔxiāng kǎoziyú / Five-spice roasted anchovy.
Our verbal language skills are nil, but we're both skilled at pointing to whatever other people are eating, and I plan to research dishes so that I can recognize their characters on a menu.
Dinner : someplace Shanghainese and easily accessible from the East Nanking Road metro. Suggestions besides what's below?
- Yangs dumplings -- shengjianbao
- Jia jia tang bao -- xiao long bao
Lunch: Lan Ting
Drink: at top of Kathleen 5 or Ritz Carlton
Dinner : Southern barbarian -- yunnan eggplant cold starter, yunnan cheese starter, pork with yunnan sauerkraut, spiced BBQ whole fish
Breakfast: corner of yanqing Lu and donghu Lu for scallion pancakes
Travel to Tunxi, Tangkou, and Huangshan. No idea where to eat ...
Lunch: street food at Muslim Market. Any must haves?
Tea : afternoon tea at the Park Hyatt
Dinner: Reservations already made for Jesse @ 41 Tianping Lu. Placed an order for red braised pork (外婆红烧肉) and braised green onion fish head (葱烧鱼头). Will order the wild herbs wrapped in tofu.
Lunch: street food at Sipailou Lu. Any must haves?
Dinner: Reservations made at Fu 1088. Thinking of getting the drunken chicken with frozen wine, sauteed pea shoots and a pork, chicken sweet shrimp sautee with mushrooms, Shizitou lion's head in consomme, Sliced chicken with sour apples, deep fried yellow fish fingers with seaweed (tai tiao yu tiao).
Just got back ... we had a great trip and ate really well!
Things didn't go exactly as planned owing to rain and the inability to get served poultry due to avian flu. Such is life ... If we had to plan the trip again, with or without a focus on food, we'd stay in the French concession near a metro line. Language was an issue at some places, but Pleco helped out in times of need since I couldn't seem to properly pronounce the handful of words I thought I knew how to say.
==== Shanghai ====
= Breakfasts =
85 degrees C at corner of Henan and Ningbo: Taiwanese bakery chain. Pear juice topped with salty yogurt was my favorite drink of the trip. Pineapple bun was better than what I've had in the states, but I found five of their other buns and breads to lack structure, even for the processed carbs they obviously are.
Yang's Fry Dumplings: corner of Henan and Ningbo (we later had some at their People's Square location, and saw another on YuYuan Lu near the Jiangsu Lu metro line): The Sheng Jian Bao available back in the SF Bay Area are made of a rising dough, fried on their bottoms, and don't have any loose soup inside. Yang's SJB have a relatively thinner dough that I suspect has minimal if any leavener in it, and which prevents the wrapper from absorbing too much soup. They're also fried on the pleat side of the SJB. They're really cool, but I think there's room for improvement. The broth and meatball were straightforward and plentiful, but they lacked the complexity of what you get in a good XLB. We also had a curry noodle soup, which was weak to say the least.
Street food along Ningbo Lu West of Henan Lu: Shao bing stuffed with a Chinese doughnut stick (you tiao) from one vendor was okay. Green onion pancake (cong you bing) from another vendor was the best I've ever eaten. The green onion lined dough was coiled and then flattened, a preparation style sometimes described in cookbooks, but which isn't common in the SF Bay Area. An egg pancake (dan bing) from the same vendor was good, and not particularly greasy given how much oil he used. For this, an egg was cracked on top of the dough as it fried, and then green onions are added before it is folded, cut, and drained in the ovenspace underneath the grill. I'd have liked the dan bing more if the vendor had sauces to add to it.
Baker 1: We had a western style breakfast here. The best item was a nice mixed berry galette here that contained Korean raspberry, blueberry, and strawberry. Fruit had a great balance of sweetness and tartness.
= Lunch =
Din Tai Feng: The server told me not to take pictures. A pork xiao long bao were worthy or the hype. The thin translucent wrappers held their shape, looked beautiful, and didn't feel sticky. They held more soup than I was expecting and didn't flatten or leak with the passage of time. The XLB's soup and meatballs were delicious. The wrappers on the crab roe and pork XLB were as well made, but I didn't care for the filling, which seemed to ooze more than hold its shape and was too oily for my liking. Good taste though. Other dishes were all excellent. A kau fu (mislabeled as bean curd) starter came with edamame, shitake, and wood ear mushroom had a restrained use of sugar and soy. Morning glory with garlic was likewise a light and well prepared dish. The dessert XLB aren't anything special-- they're typical sweet buns, only using XLB wrappers instead of a yeast dough.
Street vendors near YuYuan Gardens: Sheng jian bao from one vendor was super greasy. They were filled with a tiny bacon-tasting meatball and tons of free liquid, mostly fat. Greasy as all hell but still very enjoyable. I also spotted one of those giant tang bao that you drink with a straw. After eating the gentle XLB at DTF, these flaccid bags of soup struck me as the Chinese equivalent of the tourist-oriented clam chowder in a bread bowl, so we skipped it.
= Dinner =
Shanghai Grandmother: Shanghai Uncle in the Bund appears to be closed, so we tried this close by Shanghainese place instead. We had the Lotus w/ glutinous rice; crispy eel; sweet and sour ribs; rice cakes w/ spinach (?). Nothing was bad, but the quality wasn't better than an okay Shanghainese place in the US.
Xinjishi (original location of Jesse, 41 Tianping Lu): Tender, potently flavored but not cloyingly sweet, their jiggly cubes of red braised pork were the best I'll probably ever eat (these were pre-ordered). The pre-ordered scallion fish heads were amazing and unlike anything I've ever eaten. The meat was silky. Nothing about the dish lets on that it's fish head, but the cartilage (?) was the best part. You chew and suck on these large pieces just like you would do with lobster legs. The dates stuffed with glutinous rice weren't our thing, but were well prepared. The tofu skin wrapped around wild herbs had too thick a wrapping of tofu skin. The mango salad was enjoyable, but it, heh, was an ambrosia-like salad made with mango, apples, and mayo. We'd forgotten that we ordered the braised pork knuckle, so were taken aback when it arrived about 90 minutes after we were seated. It was tender, juicy, and excellent. Way too much food ...
FU 1088: We were seated in a private room in a classy old mansion. Great food overall, and the highlight of the meal for me was the vegetables. The green bamboo with air dried eel was seasoned with fragrant Sichuan peppercorns. The bamboo's texture reminded me of a cross between cucumber and bitter melon. The sautéed garden greens with garlic (choy sum) were exquisite--- the stems were peeled kind of like you would do for asparagus, and the sauce was light. Traditional "ba bao" spicy sauce with sticky rice cake and pine nuts was also excellent--- the pork cubes were cut to the same size as the chewy cubes of rice cake. The deep fried fish in sweet soy sauce and the yellow croaker steamed with salty vegetable and bamboo shoots were both great. We got a few fusiony sounding dishes with varied success. The diced tuna and mango salad in crispy wrapper was better than similar preps I've had in California. The vegetable salad with crispy cheese was a Western mixed greens salad with spare amounts of under ripe avocado and a fried 7" crisp of Parmesan cheese. I highly recommend going here--- the 400 yuan/person minimum is difficult to reach if you don't get specialty seafood items or alcohol, but it means you are assured a variety of food.
I made a post about the Huangshan part of our trip
It's occuring to me that, because we're not taking day trips outside of Shanghai, we'll be eating a hodgpodge of dishes from Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Our priority is to eat excellent food, so it really doesn't matter from where the dishes originate. But for knowledge purposes, it would be cool to taste the common elements of a regional cuisine in one sitting.
Am I accurately characterizing the places on our list already, or do they specialize in any particular region without me being aware of it?
Are there recommendations for restaurants that specialize in Jiangsu (in particular Suzhou or Wuxi) or Zhejiang (in particular Hangzhou or Ningbo)?
Also, we made 8pm reservations at Jesse and Fu 1088. Is that so late that they might run out of particular dishes?
Steve, you are my savior! From that site, I confirmed the quality of a few places elsewhere. On the potential list are:
Ningbo Ren Jia looks good for Ningbo seafood (high priority)
Shun Feng Restaurant for Hangzhou cuisine (menu is supposedly long, which will be intimidating if there aren't English translations, but with lots of pictures)
Nanling Restaurant for Yangzhou cuisine and a Cantonese duck preparation often mistaken for Peking duck (not that we'd know the difference ...)
I've been to Hengshan Cafe in the French Concession. Excellent turbot with fresh chili peppers, roast goose, shallot root salad, stir-fried morning glory leaves. Cantonese.
Also, there is an app made by Plico which can translate from chinese to english anything your cell phone camera sees. Works surprisingly well, even with handwriting! You might want to check it out.
Wont be much help food wise but thought I would give you my 2 cents on Huangshan. We did not do any research on food for this area and were generally disappointed where we ate.
Huangshan- bused from Hangzhou to Tangkuo. Spent night in Tangkuo. Next day and night on Yellow Mountain. Following morning, private car to Tunxi via Hongcun village and bamboo forest:
Tangkuo: Stay near bus terminal. We stayed at The Tangkuo Hotel about 20 minutes walk along 2 lane highway with no lights. We could not get taxi at night to take us to central area or back to our hotel. All restaurants were in hotel lobbies and did not look appealing. IMO, only reason to stay here is for early start up mountain.
Huangshan- Stayed overnight on Mountain. Not necessary but was well worth it for us as we saw sunrise. One of the top highlights of our trip to China. There may be long lines for tram. Our hotel had decent food for being on top of mountain (Shilin Hotel)
Tunxi- Private driver took us to Hongcun and bamboo forest on way to tunxi. It was approx $50 US dollars and well worth it. We really enjoyed both these places and the drive. We were only in Tunxi for about 2 hours. Was enough to eat dinner and see old street/town. Not sure what else there is to do in Tunxi.
Shanghai- Really enjoyed Yangs, thought JJTB was just okay. I found the crab to be overpowering. We really enjoyed Din tai Fung and Mr and Mrs Bund.
Thank you so much for the Huangshan advice! We're actually staying at the Shilin, and I hadn't yet booked our Tangkou hotel yet. I'll take your advice to stay near the bus terminal.
Yeah, there's not a lot of information about local specialties out there. I have low expectations for the food, but some dishes listed for the region on various tourist sites are Preserved Mandarin Fish (Chou Guiyu), Steamed Chukar Chicken, Bamboo Shoots on Wenzheng Hill (wen zheng shan sun), & Wax Gourd Dumplings. I need to do some reading on the boards about dishes from other regions of Anhui in hopes we might encounter them...
You have really done your homework!
The only thing I'll add is to get pork and crab or simply crab xiao long bao if in season. Ask. I may be in the minority on this, but they are way better. Better yet, order as many different kinds as you can. They are soooo little.
Eat. Enjoy. Repeat.
Hairy crab won't be in season for another few months :-(. If they have an XLB that uses an in season kind of crab, I'll go for it--- in the SF Bay Area, the crab XLB tend to be more expensive, but unnoticeably difference from pork XLB. I understand also that the ones in China are more likely to use crab roe than the ones in the US, so that'll be an exciting improvement too.
"Eat. Enjoy. Repeat." Very good advice. We shouldn't be limiting ourselves to XLB at one place! Any recommendations for XLB beyond DTF and Yang's, and any other interesting varieties beyond the basics? I've identified a few places in previous posts, but these are a difficult enough thing to make that a chef change could make a difference and I'd want up to date info.
Oh, excellent-- crab dumplings here we come!
I've found some confusing threads on the distinction between "tang bao" and "xiao long bao." Perhaps someone can clarify.
The best xiao long bao, at least the ones in San Francisco, fill about half a spoonful of soup and have a delicate wrapper.
There are giant "tang bao," soup heated in giant dumpling skin that not everyone seems to eat, and which is drank through a straw. Other than the novelty factor, what makes these worth seeking out?
Descriptions of the another kind of "tang bao" are confusing me. In http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/653820#5111483 , someone says that "tang bao" and xlb are synonymous in Shanghai. Elsewhere, I've seen pictures of some "tang bao" sold at DTF which are smaller than typical XLB, pleated on the side touching the steamer, and served alongside actual soup. Friends who were in Taiwan last year told me that "tang bao" are like XLB, only with a higher percentage of soup in them (that makes sense since "tang" means soup). Is there some method to the madness, or is "tang bao" just a marketing term?
Tang Bao vs. Xiao Long Bao
Giant Tang Bao
小笼包 xiao long bao
小 xiao = small.
笼 long = steamer basket
包 bao = bun
They really are tiny and the idea is that the liquid sweats off from the filling, leaving some soup (aided with a bit of kitchen magic!)
Tang bao are big and have lots of soup.
汤 = soup
包 = bao (dumpling)
Not just a marketing term. The fried dumplings at Yang's also have lots of soup, but are a different dumpling altogether.
One thing to remember: When in doubt, over-order. Food is cheap, plane tickets expensive.
Cool, thanks for the clarification. The images I've seen at Jia Jia Tang Bao looked identical to what's sold as XLB in SF (SF's are smaller than the "soup dumplings" of Joe's Shanghai in NYC), but I suppose it's difficult to get a sense of perspective until you pick one up with chopsticks.
I am really excited about the Sheng Jian Bao at Yang's. We have competent XLB in SF, but none of the SJB have approached the photos or what's been described, and none have soup inside.
Yes, Yang's dumplings. We found Jia Jia Tang bao to be disappointing, but it is incredibly close to Yang's, so you may find it worth a shot. The skins just weren't that delicate and the insides were sort of mushy. The best soup dumplings we had in Shanghai were at Din Tai Fung in XinTianDi. Yes, a chain, but a really really good chain.
Southern Barbarian was really cool and totally unlike anything we've had in the U.S. Def that cheese appetizer and I would also recommend getting one of the salads. We had one with a ton of herbs (maybe mint and thai basil?) that was excellent.
Also, if you are at all into art, the newish Power Station of Art was really interesting. Based on our research, the ticketing process seemed incredibly tricky, but we walked over and stood in line and just got in without any difficulty.
Thanks for the tips! I'm conflicted about DTF--- everyone says they're as good as or better than Yang's and complains about the prices. It's a safe bet though, so we might head there on our first night.
Oh cool, thanks for the salad tip--- the dishes I seem to be most interested in for this trip seem not be on the healthier end of things so that'll be a good choice.
I'll add Power Station of Art to the list. So much to do!