Update 17-April-2011: This restaurant is now closed.
Dylan made sure that the Jiangsu cuisine is one that everyone will never forget. He had set a standard so high that it will make it more difficult for future dinners in the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine (8GTCC) series to measure up to.
Last week was the second in the series of the discovery of the 8GTCC cuisine dinners. It was based on a cuisine that I had very little knowledge of. Dylan and the rest of the 8GTCC team did a lot of research and provided input that produced an excellent introduction to the Jiangsu cuisine. During the course of the planning, I personally learned a lot about the people, the history, the province and finer points of the Jiangsu cuisine.
The dinner was held in the Shanghai Village restaurant. The restaurant is located on Cambie Street.
When we started hashing the whole idea of the 8GTCC project, we were quite uncertain on how we could do the more obscure cuisines. We knew it would be easy to do Cantonese, Sichuan and Hunan cuisines because these cuisines were so well represented in Metro Vancouver. It was only with the collective effort of the team that we managed to find a restaurant that could do Jiangsu cuisine.
It was not easy. I mean who would have thought that a restaurant by the name of Shanghai Village would be the one? It was Sarah, a chowhound, who alerted the team that the chef behind Shanghai Village restaurant is from Nanjing, the capital of the province of Jiangsu.
This dinner is dubbed 8GTCC Jiangsu.
In all counts, this dinner surpasses the initial 8GTCC Hunan dinner in Alvin Garden. In the 8GTCC Hunan dinner, we had 52 people attending. In this dinner, we had 67 seats filled.
We think that the number would have been higher if not for the fact that this dinner is more expensive ($36+tips per person) compared to the 8GTCC Hunan dinner ($20 rounded). But then we know we cannot compare just on the prices alone. For one, this dinner has an astounding 19 dishes(!). I can safely say that I had never had a dinner with so many dishes before in my life.
The 8GTCC team debated on the number of dishes fearing that it would be too many. At the end, we all went ahead with 19 dishes, not wanted to cut any dishes from the initial shortlist.
Moreover, in Dylan’s words, the 8GTCC Jiangsu dinner is a journey from the humble farm houses of Hunan to the palatial ancient Chinese capital of Jiangsu. This dinner is more refined with a number of seafood dishes of lobsters, crab, fish, and prawns. There are also complete servings of duck and chicken.
Logistically, this dinner was a bit of a challenge when we found that the table arrangements were less than ideal. That called for some last second changes. Our dinner party was spread over 6 tables of various sizes and spread out through the length of the restaurant. That put paid to any pre-dinner speeches and all. I wanted so much to properly introduce all the people who worked so hard on this event (particularly Dylan).
The dinner started off with two types of soup.
Shanghai Village’s specialty is their soup. Their menu dedicates two full pages of their claypot soup and carries 35 different kind of soups.
The two soups are Ribs with Lotus Roots (left) and Ranch chicken with Tea Tree Mushroom (right).
The soup are double boiled soup cooked in individual claypot.
I like the Tea Tree Mushroom soup, particularly the medicinal mushroom which has a long stem with a woody smell.
The Nanjing Salty Duck came next. If there is one dish that associates most closely to Nanjing (the capital of Jiangsu), it is this. I was told that in Nanjing, you see this hanging from many city restaurant windows.
I had associated duck dishes with very lean dry meat with sharp bones. However, this Nanjing Salty Duck is very different. It is quite meaty and has a nice fatty layer under the skin. Served cold, the dish showcases the purest flavour and texture of the duck. Because this is such a classic dish, we had a full duck for each table.
Next came the Cold Dishes platter.
In the middle is the Qinhuai bean jelly — a cold dish of green bean jelly, named for the former pleasure district of Nanjing.
On the top left is the Five Spice Smoked Fish. it is cooked in the red-braised style, flavored with anise, cloves, cassia, and dark soy sauce.
On the top is the Preserved Beancurd which tasted pleasantly sweetish. I can’t recall this dish being planned but am not complaining if this is an addition.
The Marbled Preserved Egg is not exactly a Jiangsu specialty. This is the creation of Chef Ming which captivates the attention of everyone. This dish is a playful take on a cold dish of preserved duck egg: a salted duck yolk and a century egg combined in one shell.
Sorry for mentioning this but I felt it was funny that one of us actually ate the whole thing together with the egg shell. LOL! I understand. How is everyone to know right? This sort of things happens to the best of us and this is part of the learning of foreign cuisines.
The next one was my favourite … the Soy Sauce Braised Spot Prawns.
Taking the Jiangsu cuisine philosophy of eating what’s in season, Shanghai Village served the local prawns and had it cooked simply.
Chef Ming served the best and largest spot prawns that is so satisfying. For me, the proper way to eat this is … with the head. Oh yeah … and suck every drop of juice from the shell. Also, believe it or not, these prawns must be eaten with BOTH hands. It does taste better … agree?
The sauce, juice or whatever you call it is wonderful. It is salty-sweet if you know what I mean. It would have been great with steamed rice but since we had so many dishes ahead, we did not order any rice.
From the prawns, we next had Braised Crab and Lobster which is served on Nian Gao (sticky rice cake). It was a large plate and we had enough of this to go round.
Andrew had girls bringing him more of this stuff from the other tables. I noticed he had such a great time picking on the meat while the rest of the table was already moving on to the other dishes. I bet it felt good being taken good care of by the girls. :-)
At the bottom of the seafood was nian gao (not shown). Unlike the normal Chinese New Year type which is brown, this regional Nian Gao is white and made of non-glutinous rice. It is tasteless and is eaten for its texture and absorption of the flavour of the dish.
Next was a dish called Jinling Spareribs. Perhaps Chef Ming’s bias, but the Jinling spareribs are his take on the more well known Wuxi spareribs, and take their name from the ancient, poetic name from his hometown of Nanjing.
The spareribs was not very meaty and the serving wasn’t as big as I expected. Maybe it is because I normally have at least half rack of ribs in a sitting. In this dish, there were only enough of two short bones for each. I wasn’t too excited over this dish. Suanne makes much better and meaner spareribs, although not Wuxi Style.
You should check JS and TS’s version of the Wuxi Pork Spareribs.
Next was the Qiaoxia Sauteed Prawns with Pea Shoots.
The soul of Nanjing cuisine, this is a superficially simple dish of fresh pea shoots served with a clever preparation of shrimp; it sums up the flavors of the region. With the soft springy prawns, the tender pea shoots, and the very delicate (Ching, in Cantonese) flavour, it is something I would love with steamed rice.
The Shanghai Village restaurant won Gold for the “Most Innovative Dish” prize in the 2010 Chinese Restaurant Award with the dish above. I had this in my last visit to Shanghai Village but it was prepared differently.
This time Chef Ming improved on that and call this the Suantang Fish Noodles. It is a more sophisticated and flavorful take on the original Fish Noodle with Enoki Mushroom dish. The name suantang means sourish soup. I like this version better but really, this is a dish that is innovative, not necessarily the best tasting.
The “noodles” is made entirely of fish, no flour at all.
That is Chef Ming above. He is one half of two chefs who hailed from Nanjing. Chef Ming is the one who you will see in the front of the restaurant because he speaks English.
I did not know that Chef Ming would wheel out the Beggars Chicken and personally break it in front of everyone.
It was a good thing because, well, we all had action to see. A lot of us were scrambling to get up close to see how he does it.
In China, the Beggar’s Chicken is wrapped in leaves and mud. Here, Chef Ming uses dough to wrap-bake the chicken.
Technically, the wrap outside should qualify as bread, agree? I ate a small piece — it was bitter and urgh!
There are many versions of Beggar’s Chicken exist in the regional cuisines of south and central China, but many would say it originated in Suzhou. The best version is arguably created by the renowned Wang Si Restaurant. So, this version of Beggar’s Chicken is named the Suzhou Wang Si Beggar’s Chicken.
The chicken is marinated for 7 hours. It is stuffed with mushroom and dried shrimp. I see that not many people eat this. I think it is because the way it looked and it is hard to pick out the meat. It does also get dryish looking very quickly. However, the best stuff is right underneath it … the juice. One should use the juice to moist the chicken meat.
At this point we were only two third of the way through and I was already feeling full. I was wondering if I could last through the last dish!
The next one was the Boneless Sweet and Sour Cod. We had a mix up of the recipes. We thought we had ordered two separate fish dishes but ended up with only one.
This dish above is a work of art … or supposed to be a work of art. It took a full minute before we realized that this is supposed to resemble the Chinese dragon flying on clouds.
Looking at the intricate knifework and the “cloud” made of white foam, this sort of dishes represents some of the dishes that we don’t see a lot of in restaurants these days. It is laborious to make and requires “kung fu”.
The dish above is called the Fantail shrimp. I did not know why this is called Fantail Shrimp. I actually expected that the tail of this shrimp be spread out like a fan.
It was only later when someone pointed out that this is served like a fan with a tail.
We actually have a lot of shrimp dishes that night. I like shrimp and so am not complaining. They were fresh, plump and springy.
The Xiao Long Bao also known as Soup Dumplings.
According to Dylan, Shanghai’s xiǎolóngbāo (小笼包) are justifiably famous, but greater Jiangsu’s soup dumplings deserve some love too.
I still can’t get over why this version in Shanghai Village has a hole on top. I thought I could suck the soup up from the top. I tried but it does not work. Maybe it was just my piece. I need to find out why that hole or I will not be at peace for the rest of my life.
The Lion Head Meatball is a regional specialty too. I expected this to be served as four big meatballs as you normally see in other Vancouver restaurants.
Instead, it is one humongous one.
Called the Yangzhou Hongyun Lion’s Head Meatball, this is made with lean pork.
Returning to the roots of the famous dish, with the version most identified with Yangzhou, and with the famous Hongyun Restaurant in particular.
As famous as this dish is, not many people had this. One by one, the people on the table were surrendering to the onslaught of all the food.
So when the Yangzhou Fried Rice came, only a few could barely manage a spoonful. For those who managed to eat this, it was only because they must try every dish.
This Yangzhou Fried Rice is a dish that is available on every continent. A homey plate of fried rice, filled with ham, fresh vegetables, and shrimp, it is a dish that by tradition closes out most Chinese banquets. Anyone has any idea why fried rice is the last dish in a banquet … when everyone is already way too full to give this dish any justice?
“Quartz” Dumplings (Marble Sticky Rice Ball) is a multicolored glutinous rice dumpling that mimics perfectly …
… the quartz-veined river stones that one can find on the shores of the Yangtze, polished to a deep shine by the sandy currents of the river.
The above is the actual river stone that the restaurant showed our table. It is red when wet and turns greyish when it is dry.
Unfortunately or fortunately, there is only ONE piece for everyone. I was hopping for two or three a person.
With that, my friends, is our discovery of the Jiangsu cuisine. It was a successful event with all credit going to Dylan who did all the heavy lifting this time round and the rest of the 8GTCC team.
For those who took the time and interest to attend this dinner, I want to say thank you for all the support. I wished that I had the time to say hi to everyone but that proved to be impossible given the number of people that night. I know there are a few things we could improve on for future dinners and we will try to implement seating arrangements on future ones so that everyone could be seated with your party. Please let me know your feedback by way of commenting or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that we can make the next dinner even better!
I want to call out JS and TS (Eating Club Vancouver), who had spent a lot of time replicating some of the Jiangsu recipes for those of you who might be interested to know how it is cooked and may even try it out yourselves at home. Here are their recipes with very entertaining anecdotes:
- Suzhou Deep Fried Fish or Suzhou Smoked Fish
- Supreme Lions Head Meatballs with Crab Meat
- Wuxi Pork Spareribs
Here are also some of the excellent reviews of the dinners from the 8GTCC team:
Last but not least, I wanted to call out and thank Zhujiang Beer for part sponsoring the beer for the night.
Here is the Take Out Menu from Shanghai Village: