I can’t count and almost made a mess of it!
Actually when I plan for a chowdown, it is actually Suanne who does the heavy lifting behind the scenes. She is meticulous. Me? I get utterly confused when numbers are thrown at me. You see, for once I thought it would be easy for me to just plan the dinner myself since Suanne has already a lot on her plate.
Let me take you back to the genesis of this chowdown. It was two months ago I blogged about the good lunch I had in Shanghai House. It was so good, authentic and cheap that I mentioned that I would love to go back again for dinner and this time order more food. Of course with a few more people to make it more “dai” (worthwhile). Somewhere within the comment thread, someone suggested that I organize a chowdown. And I said sure, I’ll do it.
It was a quickie plan. I called for a show of hands of people who are interested. The post was put up on a Wednesday and I suggested a chowdown on Friday. Actually, I was thinking that we will have only two, maybe three couples who will attend given the short 2 day notice.
It then quickly got out of hands for me. Amidst my work and handling the emails and all, I guess I lost track of who is coming with who and all. I wanted to have a dinner on ONE table only. Spreading attendees over two tables defeats the purpose of having a good time chatting with everyone. So, I counted 14 people and I confirmed with Shanghai House that they have a table for 14 and 15 with a tight squeeze.
16 turned up.
I was in trouble! Good thing a few good sport did not mind sitting on a stool to make room for everyone. Sorry guys, it was my mistake. Next time, I’ll let Master Suanne handle this.
The restaurant was full that Friday evening. Nope, the picture above was not from the Friday but from the first early lunch we had. I just want to show you how pleasant the dining hall was. One could be easily fooled thinking this is a restaurant with above average prices. It is not. The prices will … surprise you. That is why I like it so much and wanted to make a return visit.
The dinner was perfect. Doris invited Andrea and Robert along and it was a good thing she did. You see, Andrea is a true blue Shanghainese and a foodie. She took charge of ordering all the dishes that afternoon. We left it all to Andrea and her selection was fabulous. How is that for an impromptu chowdown, huh?
Take a good at Robert above. He asked us, “Am I Chinese or am I European?”. We looked and looked and we don’t know. He did not tell. We still don’t know. Whatever it is he was teaching us about the finer points of eating Xiao Long Bao. He said “place on spoon, bite the side and suck the soup”. Yeah, I was sitting there feeling skeptical about this all. What if he was pulling our legs? I mean, he is a very funny guy and all. Anyway, I thought it was pretty amusing having a guy who looks more like an egg than a banana showing a table full of Asians how to eat XLBs.
You know what an egg and a banana is don’t you? Sorry, I don’t mean this as a racial slur but just for laughs. A banana is someone who is yellow on the outside and white on the inside. An egg, is the other way around. Got it?
I did not manage to take pictures of every page of their dinner menu but I think the above should be sufficient to show you what they have to offer.
Andrea ordered using Shanghainese with the restaurant manager. I can’t pick up a single word they were saying. This is despite I know quite a lot of Chinese dialects.
So I was just curious about the Shanghainese dialect. I had never asked why Shanghainese is so different from Mandarin. So I went to Wikipedia and wow … there is a throve of info about the branches of the Chinese language in this entry.
Well, it seems that there are actual classifications of Chinese languages. And these various languages are unintelligible to one another. I did not think of it that way but this all makes sense to me now.
I grew up speaking Cantonese, Mandarin, Hakka and Fujian. I can’t write but I understand the languages. This is because my parents are Fujian, KL is a Cantonese city, we attend a Mandarin speaking church and my best friends in school are Hakkas. Yeah, I was formally educated in the English and Malay languages too. Oh … there are a few programming languages I know too but I think I am getting off track here.
Per the map on the right, you see that Mandarin is the predominant Chinese language with 800+ million speakers worldwide.
Next is the Wu Chinese language of which Shanghainese belongs to with 77 million speakers.
Andrea was telling us that even within the Wu languages, like Shanghainese and Hangzhou language they are entirely different even though they are located just a couple of hours away from each other.
Yeah, this sort of information is what interests me a lot. Although I am Chinese, I do not know much of China and the cultural roots. All these are coming together a lot more for me. This is the other benefit of blogging. It made me research and discover more everyday.
Anyone has anything to share regarding Chinese languages?
Let me get back to food. Sorry for the diversion.
I think of all the chowdowns that I organized, I felt this one feels the most like a blind date. Most of the people who attended have not met one another before. And yet, bonded by love of food and learning about it, everyone felt like they had known each other forever. Yeah, we all did have a great time. Lots of laughs.
Service was excellent that day. When you don’t think about service, it just means that you got everything you need at the right time. Plates were changed at the right time and frequently.
Of course the litmus test for Shanghainese dinner has to be the Xiao Loong Bao. I thought it was pretty good. The skin was flappy although some burst – the perils of trying to make it extremely thin. It has that little funnel thingy at the top. Someone tell me again … is there a practical reason for that?
To whet the appetite we had the Tofu and Pork Soup with some kind of vegetable. The soup was thickish and light tasting. A good departure from the light clear soup that is more common in Chinese cooking.
The Cold Appetizer was pleasing to the eye. They are clock-wise from top:
- jelly pork
- char siu chicken
- tofu skin wrap
At the center was strips of bean curd, celery and carrot. The celery gives it a crunchy texture.
Of note was the char siu chicken. Yeah, chicken, not pork.
I like the tofu skin wrap particularly which has mushrooms in it and it is sweetish.
Let me flip the dish over so you can have a closer look at the platter.
At a glance, I was thinking “oh good … vegetable and cheese”.
Nope, not cheese. This is Tofu and Chinese Cress, finely chopped. We like the Chinese Cress which has an unique flavour. According to Andrea, these Chinese Cress is not readily available at retail groceries.
“Oh really?” I thought, “then I want to eat more. This is rare stuff”.
The Shanghainese Eel was interesting. If this was not pointed out to us, I would have thought this is just some fish. The dish is served cold and is lightly salted.
I had been having heartburn lately, like waking up in the middle of the night and needing to gulp down a Tums. I bought a bottle of Usana Digestive Enzymes from Doris. It did help with the heartburn. Oh … and it also did help with “plumbing” too. As someone who eats quite a bit, the plumbing function is important you know? LOL! Am not sure if it really works or if it is just some placebo effect but I did notice that I don’t end up with heartburn if take one a day continuously.
Not cheap though.
Oh .. Doris made some really nice look purins … Malaysian style some more! Hope you can see it using this Facebook link. Maybe you need to friend Doris Jung to do that.
The Deep Fried Fish with Seaweed was another pleasing dish. It is served with a vinegarish sauce on the side. It was crispy outside, very-very soft inside. It is also not oily at all. One would expect it to be greasy. We were all remarking that this reminds us as the Chinese version of the more well-known Fish and Chips (without the chips).
The Crab with Nian Gao (rice cake) was next. We had two crabs for our table of 16. Each crab is 2.5 lbs each. So this ends up at about $75.00.
It has edamame and the flavour is mild. We had this sort of dish from Ningtu before. The version we had in Ningtu was better. Moreover Ningtu won a CRA award with this dish too. Go check out the blog post here if you want.
This next dish was interesting. I have never had this before. Rather I should say I never had this served this way before. It is fun and a conversation maker.
The above is called Shredded Pork with Green Beans. Nothing special right? Well, by itself it was nothing special. You can order this dish with beef if you want. The dish is a bit spicy as you can probably notice the redness in it.
Well, that Green Bean Pork dish was meant to be paired with the above. At first I thought it is some kind of mantao. This is actually Corn Flour CUP Bun.
Yeah, CUP bun. The inside is made hollow for fillings.
Like this. Sure is fun. OK, I admit. I get amused with little things like this.
It was actually not easy to eat without messiness as the fillings will fall out once you bite into the bun.
Next up was the Smoked Duck Served with Steamed Bun. The pinkish meat of the smoked duck, well, had a smoky flavour (Do I need to say that?).
Some people might like it but I was not. I prefer BBQ duck over this. Just personal preference.
The steamed bun served on the plate is made in the shape of a sea shell.
The Fresh Bamboo Shoot with Chinese Cress is a simple dish. Love the crunch and lightness. This one has the same Chinese Cress. If I come back again to Shanghai House, I would order this again.
Hey! Wait-a-minute! Protocol, man! Protocol!
I don’t blame the waitress. She does not realize that there is a “chowtimes” protocol to follow. Everyone else on the table knows about that protocol already – “Don’t touch the food until the picture taking is done!”. LOL!
You see that little cut on the left side of the cuttle fish above? The waitress immediately sunk the scissors into it the very next moment after the dish landed on the table. I had to quickly say “WAIT!” … everyone looked at the waitress in horror as that perfect cuttle fish was blemished by that senseless act.
Hehehe … how was the dramatic piece up there? Like it?
Oliver was telling me during the dinner that “Ben, you missed your calling”, referring to my style of writing on chowtimes. I did not quite understand that but I think it is meant as a compliment.
This is called the Whole Cuttle Fish with Shanghai Bok Choy and is served with what they call their homemade special sauce. You know what? Restaurants always call it a “special sauce” when they don’t know how to name it in English.
This dish is very good as you can see. The cuttle fish was very tender and smooth. That “special sauce” was sweetish and not heavy in flavour. It does not do good as “jhup” with rice but just nice with the cuttle fish.
We also had two types of wonton soup. I would not have thought of ordering this in a Shanghai restaurant. The one on the left is, well, called small wonton soup and the other one is, well, called big wonton soup.
The Small Wonton Soup is served with seaweed. This has a seafood flavour and is quite salty.
The Big wonton soup is served with spinach. This wonton has pork and vegetable filings. It is quite salty too.
The Shanghainese Rice Wrap (jung) in bamboo leaves looked pretty delicious. It was filled with pork.
To close off, we had the Sweetened Rice Balls Dessert Soup. It has little glutinous rice balls, goji berries and egg flower. Taste-wise it has a winery taste. The rice balls were chewy. The soup was sweetish with a hint of sourness and a scent of osmanthus.
The bill came up to $25.00 per person including tax and tips.
It was a great and fun dinner with newly made friends. We were not too stuffed actually. Just right. I think it was because we did not have rice to go with the dishes.
Thanks all for taking time to come out. Suanne and I had great fun … and sorry again for those of you who had to sit on stools the whole night.