The Shanghai food odyssey begins in earnest

My hotel: the staggeringly good Langham Xintiandi:


Out wandering the streets on my first day, I kept being accosted by images of sea cucumbers, of all things. Seems they are a big ticket item in Shanghai's restaurants:



Sea cucumbers intrigued me, while this, on the other hand, looks like an unconscionable misuse of the earth's natural resources to me. White truffles? For cosmetics?:


Generally, during my trip I aimed to avoid the big name, mostly Western restaurants down on the Bund, Shanghai's glitzy, colonial riverfront night zone. So the first night I had a reservation at Fu1088, a much-talked-about contemporary Shanghaiese restaurant based in a most uncontemporary setting: a 1930s French-style villa in the French Concession, the old colonial quarter.

It was one of the very strangest dining experiences I have ever had. The place was virtually deserted, and had the feel of a very posh provincial Welsh hotel, circa 1954.


The food was… robust. This is one of their signature dishes: boiled egg with hairy crab, the latter one of Shanghai's other big ticket ingredients. It was mighty rich.


Things grew more peculiar with the arrival of bird's nest tarts, which were essentially sweet egg custard tarts with bird's nests in them. Wouldn't have been so weird, except that they were from the savoury part of the menu.


It's rare for me not to eat up, but these and other challenging dishes at FU1088 did somewhat defeat me, so I stopped by a 7-11 for a snack. Spotted these chickens' feet:


The next day brought more fortunate culinary experiences. Local chef Austin Hu, of modern American restaurant Madison (also in the French Concession), kindly offered to guide me around the city's food scene, starting with xiaolongbao at a branch of the Taiwanese soup dumpling masters, Din Tai Fung (now a global chain, whose Hong Kong branch has a Michelin star):


We started with a wheat gluten dish, cooked in rice wine and soy. Addictively umami-ish, with a lovely spongey texture, like some rare, ethereal mushroom.


And jelly fish – whose crunchiness always takes me by surprise – in, if memory serves, a zingy vinaigrette. 


And the star of the show, the soup and porked-filled parcels of pleasure, to be dipped in a ginger and vinegar mix. The Xiaolongbao Platonic ideal. Beautiful. I lost my xiaolongbao virginity to the best.



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  1. 2
    Michael Booth

    Thanks for your comment. Don’t know Dumplings Legend, but would be interested to know the best xiaolongboa place in London or Paris. Frankly, I want to know why Din Tai Fung isn’t a global chain on the scale of McD’s? It deserves to be.

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