December 23, 2009

Christmas in Shanghai day 1: neighborhood eats

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We received an offer to buy the house in Shanghai, so I’m back in Shanghai to close the deal.  It’s two days before Christmas, so I’ve decided to stay and spend it with some friends.

I got to the house a little later than I expected, and was left with about 30 minutes to grab lunch before going to meet the buyer.   The simple thing to do was to go back to Fuchun (富春小笼) as it’s just on my block.  I placed my order and sat down at the only available seat in the packed dining room.

The “crystal bun” (水晶包) arrived first.  I actually had no idea of what it was when I placed the order.  This is the Shanghainese version so it’s different from the small ones found in Cantonese restaurants.  This looks a bit like your regular steamed meat or veggie bun.  As I picked it up with my chopsticks, a bit of the clear, viscous liquid started to ooze out from the seams, and the first bite revealed something completely different inside – it was sweet.  I took a look inside, and it sure tasted like sweetened lard to me… Yup, this is the Shanghainese version alright.

The two large fried pork and chive dumplings (煎韭菜餃) came next.  They came fresh out of the pan and were piping hot.  I had to bite off one of the corners and let the heat escape from within.  Pretty decent for something cheap.

Finally my half-dozen of pork and crab roe xiaolongbao (蟹粉小笼) arrived.  These were steamed to order, and the skin was definitely better than those on the regular ones on my last visit.  I could definitely taste the sweetness of the pork, especially the coagulated protein that comes from the steaming process.  There was some crab roe mixed in, but somehow I also tasted some herbs…perhaps used as part of the roe mixture to cover up the strong taste?  These were definitely not as good as the ones I had at Jiajia (佳家汤包), and to think that half a dozen here cost about the same as a dozen at Jiajia!

I didn’t plan my trip very well, so I was left all alone for dinner tonight.  Chinese food is hard for the solo diner, and I’m left searching for something simple around the house.  I thought about going back to Fu 1039 (1039) for some nice Shanghainese, but the thought of dining alone and trying to meet the RMB 150/head minimum put me off.  I searched for neighborhood joints around the house in, and ended up a couple of doors down the road from Fu 1039 at a hole-in-the-wall that was rated 24 out of 30. 

百瑞斋桂林米粉 specializes in Guilin-style rice noodles.  Actually they’re more like rice spaghetti, as the shape and gauge of the noodles are very similar.  But the consistency is entirely different – the rice noodles are very soft and will hang limply when picked up with chopsticks.  I was thinking about getting it stir-fried, but I wanted a hot bowl of soup for the cold winter night.  I ended up ordering a soup noodle with pig intestines and pig ears (大腸豬耳米粉) as well as a side of stir-fried veggies.  The bowl was huge, with lots of dark brown soup undoubtedly full of MSG.  The intestines were chopped into fairly small pieces, and were pretty yummy and full of the typical strong flavor.  The pieces of ear were softer than what I’m used to, since they’ve been soaking in hot soup.  There was also a good amount of chopped pickled string beans and peanuts in the soup.  I’m not sure I agree with the rating, but the bowl of hot soup did the trick of warming me up – it’s just that I had to drink lots of water to rinse off the MSG on my tongue…

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