April 23, 2009

Shanghai Markets

One of my favorite things to do when traveling anywhere is to check out the food markets to see how the rest of the world eats. Here in Shanghai, there are wet markets that sell fresh vegetables, poultry, meat, seafood, fresh noodles, tea, etc. But one of the fascinating markets we went to was a food emporium of sorts. Located on Nanjing Road (one of the main pedestrian shopping areas), these stores have an array of Shanghainese snacks. Because of the humidity in Shanghai, many of these snacks are wrapped in small individual size packets.

Additionally, the market has a huge selection of dried foods - everything from vegetables, meats, fish, shrimp. Over 2,000 years ago, Chinese used wind and sun to dry their food to prevent spoilage and prolong food supply. Today, dried foods are part of their cuisine. I was fascinated by the meat section. Just like every other culture, the Chinese cured their own ham and sausages. They look exactly like prosciutto, but yet they are much saltier.

The ham cannot be sliced and eaten. Usually, it is used to flavor soup or sliced thin to give flavor to cooked dishes.

Shanghai Street Food

In the US, most Chinese restaurants serve Cantonese style cuisine, as a result, Shanghai cooking is one of the lesser known styles of Chinese cooking. It is much heavier and meat-centric than Cantonese-style food; in fact with over 20 million residents, you can find any style of Chinese cooking, or any type of international cuisine, for that matter! One of the best known examples of Shanghainese foods are its street foods. As you walk down the crowded streets, you can find street food at almost every corner. Soup dumplings are one of everyone's favorites. And three days into the trip I have definitely had my share of soup dumplings. They can be made with just pork or with pork and crab roe. The key to the soup dumplings is congealed soup stock which they mix into the dumpling filling and melts when steamed. Another major difference between the dumplings I've had in the US and those here (besides the fact that they are made to order!) is the thin dumpling skin here which never seems to break when you eat them. One "long" (笼) or one bamboo steamer with about 8 - 12 dumplings cost from 5 RMB to 50 RMB with an exchange rate of roughly 7 RMB to US Dollars! So one "long" is 70 cents at the street stand! Always be careful when eating hot soup dumplings because the juiciness may come squirting out. Usually they are served with Chinese vinegar and ginger slices.

Another common version of a dumpling is a lightly fried bun (sheng jian bao 生煎包) which are also filled with pork, cabbage and a touch of soup stock. The difference is that these buns are slightly larger, and have a little yeast. They are made on a huge round very hot frying pan, covered with a bamboo or wooden lid. The pan is constantly turned so it is fried on the bottom, but steamed on the top. It's finished with sesame seeds and green onion. Be careful, they look so good, but they are really hot because when they are cooked, the fat from the pork melts and keeps the stock really hot. According to my brother, he hasn't met anyone who hasn't burned their mouth or squirted hot oil all over their shirt the first time eating them!

April 22, 2009

Shanghai Adventures in Eating

After a 13 hour flight from Chicago, I finally arrive at my brother's apartment in Shanghai. He's been living here for almost three years, and this is my first visit with our entire immediate family. Mark claims that all there is to do in Shanghai is eat, shop and be massaged. What's wrong with that? With only 7 days in Shanghai, I'm looking forward to staying put.

As soon as I arrive, I'm offered a plate of Lion's Head Meatballs, a traditional Shanghainese casserole of large braised pork meatballs and greens, prepared by my brother's personal chef Gina. All my life I was under the impression that this is a Shanghainese dish, but Gina tells us that they originated in Yangzhou, a City near by Shanghai , and that they are just meatballs to Shanghai residents.

1 pound ground pork butt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tsp cornstarch
2 T chicken stock or water
1 T rice or shaoxin wine
1 tsp sugar
white ground pepper to taste
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger, finely minced
1 tsp sesame oil
(water chestnuts, finely chopped, optional)
extra cornstarch

2 T vegetable oil
1/2 cup to 1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp sugar to taste
3 T soy sauce
1 pound napa cabbage, cleaned

Mix cornstarch and chicken stock together in a small bowl. Set aside. In a larger bowl, mix ground pork, egg, scallions, ginger, sugar, pepper, sesame oil and cornstarch mixture Allow mixture to sit for 30 minutes or so. Add more cornstarch if the mixture is too wet. Then form the pork into 6 - 8 patties.

Heat oil in a saute pan. When oil is hot, add meatballs and brown over high heat until the outside is seared and caramelized approximately 5 minutes. Turn and brown the other side. When meatballs are browned, remove from heat. Using the same pan or casserole dish, bring 1/2 cup chicken stock and soy sauce to a boil. Lower heat, add meatballs. Add more chicken stock if necessary to cover the meatballs. Slowly braise for 10 minutes. Add cabbage and seasoning to taste.