by Jason Sych
@ 30 Jun 2017
Shanghai cuisine is based on the cuisines of the surrounding regions but slightly modified and refined for the Shanghainese palates. Portions tend to be smaller, the food more delicate. The use of alcohol in cooking is wide-spread, with dishes like drunken chicken - marinated in shaoxing (Chinese rice wine) - being common, and not found to the same extent in the neighbouring regions. The preparation methods bring out the natural flavours of the ingredients.
At Shanghai Renjia, a small restaurant tucked in the set of HDB flats in Ang Mo Kio, the cuisine is very traditional Shanghai. The sliced fried French beans and tou miao (pea shoots) are a prime example : the French beans are simply sliced and fried with chilli and the pea shoots lightly seasoned and kissed by the wok before being brought to the table. The result is a bright flavour undimmed by overcooking. The taste is crystal clear and oddly enough, slightly addictive.
The xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumpling) were definitely the highlight of the tasting. The dough wrapping the dumpling was translucent, showing the barest impression of the broth and meat inside each. The shui jian bao (fried dumpling), steamed and then fried until a golden colour of the bottom, has a similar broth to the xiao long bao, except that it tasted ever-so-slightly sweeter because of how the light and fine dough interacted with the flavours.
The spring rolls were an exception to the rule of singular flavours; filled with a mixture of vegetables and pork and underlined by a hint of white pepper, the tastes intermingled and did not allow for any single component to move to the forefront. The result, was flavourful, delicate and harmonious - an accurate summary of what Shanghai cuisine is supposed to be. JIS