September 6, 2009

Cheap and cheerful

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I'm still in Shanghai, and today I went in search of the perfect xiaolongbao (小籠包). Dingtaifeng (鼎泰豐) has long been my favorite, and I've struggled to find a worthy rival. Years ago I went to the famous Nanxiang Xiaolongbao (南翔小籠), only to be hugely disappointed by quality that seemed to stand still from generations ago.

I arrived at Huanghe Road (黃河路) just off People's Square (人民廣場), which has now been turned into a tourist area specializing in simple, local dishes. Chief among these are two restaurants that are institutions in Shanghai: Xiaoyang Pan-fried Dumpling (小楊生煎舘) has opened up an outlet right across the street from Jiajia Soup Dumpling (佳家湯包), taking advantage of the traffic flow heading to the latter.

I arrived a little late, and the only available items at Jiajia were the crab roe and pork dumplings (蟹粉鮮肉湯包) and pure crab roe dumplings (純蟹粉湯包). While I was really tempted to order the ones with pure crab roe, the prospect of downing a dozen of these - along with the grease and cholesterol - suddenly seemed daunting. So I opted for a dozen of the cheaper ones.

The xiaolongbao were made to order, so there's a bit of a wait before they show up on your table. I watch as an army dressed in red bandanas, red aprons and bright colored Crocs assemble the dumplings.  When the basket arrived in front of me, I knew immediately that I was in for a treat. The skins looked pretty thin and already stained with the yellow of the crab roe.

Picking up the first dumpling carefully with my chopsticks, I dipped it lightly in the vinegar and popped it whole into my mouth. Heaven. I bit through the soft, thin skin and my mouth was immediately filled with the delicious mixture of crab roe and meat juice. As big of a fan as I am of crab roe, I think the combination with pork was the better choice. I quickly dispatch the dozen dumplings in the basket.

I was tempted to cross the street for some of Xiaoyang's pan-fried dumplings, since a dozen xiaolongbao really isn't enough for lunch. But I kinda felt full from the richness of the crab roe so I gave it a pass.

Late afternoon found me sitting outside by the pond at Bali Laguna in Jingan Park (靜安公園). I met up with a friend and had a few drinks here, enjoying the lovely surroundings with a cool breeze and the sound of birds chirping. It's really relaxing here, and as night fell I can see why this place is considered a romantic venue. However I was a little suspicious of having Indonesian food in Shanghai, so we decided to move somewhere else.

One of the branches of Colabo, a Japanese-style Italian restaurant, sits on the ground floor of the Apollo Building on one edge of the park. I thought I'd gie it a try on my friend's recommendation.

We started with marinated grilled calamari. These small calamari were tender, nice and creamy inside. Drizzled with olive oil and some black pepper, they were just simple and good.

The baked homemade meatball and trippa was another homey dish. Soft and tender meatballs in marinara sauce, together with some thick-cut tripe. You won't find this on the menu on some fancy restaurant, but you can get the real deal right here.

Finally we shared a bowl of my favorite pasta - spaghetti carbonara. So creamy and good, without being too watery. Say what you will but I've always had a soft spot for Japanese-style Western cuisine, and Colabo definitely hits the spot.

Oh and we took advantage of their promotion - all-you-can-drink for RMB 100 with a selection of 6 wines. Not the type of wines I normally drink, for sure, but for the first time I got to drink a Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc blend as well as a dry Malvasia. It wasn't long before I had a real nice buzz...

My final stop for the day was the bar in the Jia Hotel. Very hip and modern decor here, which is what you'd expect from an establishment affiliated with the modern hotel. It was deserted late on a Sunday night, but I'm sure it'd be pretty hopping on weekends.

1 comment:

Lambda said...

Jiajia is good and so is xiaoyang (especially when it was on the street side). I used to take a box of xiaoyang onto my KA flight and skip the inflight meal.... Those were the days


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