Shops in Shanghai often have….interesting……English names. These names usually have very little to do with what’s sold inside the shop. Need a new sofa? Don’t go to “Sofa” then, because it sells sneakers. So I was quite surprised to find a shop on Fuxing Lu that sells what you think it does. I just never imagined that selling cooking pots and shoes side by side would be a goer, but you know me……always on the lookout for a place that can solve all my culinary and shoewear needs in one go. Why hasn’t this concept taken off everywhere??
Never, ever visit Tongli without trying their version of Wansan pork. You will regret it for the rest of your days. This slow-cooked, sweet, meltingly tender bit of pig’s leg can be carved with a spoon, or a single chopstick, depending on your preference. It’s that tender. If you want to relive the experience at home, back in your poky Shanghai kitchen, you can buy a take-away leg or three from one of the many vendors lining the last street in Tongli before you leave. Try not to open the foil bag and eat it on the way home………….
We just spent a weekend in Tongli – it’s a small town west of Shanghai with a maze of small canals and old stone houses. Despite the bitter cold a happy wedding group set off to the ear-splitting sound of hundreds of confetti fire-crackers, followed by an entourage of friends and family as they walked beside the canal on their way to good food and a day of celebration.
Shanghai Fried Dumplings (shengjianbao) are delicious. And completely evil. You will put on 5kg just by looking at them, and boy, if you put one of these babies in your mouth you can expect to be completely hooked. They are the ultimate winter comfort food, a soft white steamed wheaten bun filled with a fragrant and savoury mixture of pork meat and soup, with a topping of chives and black sesame seeds, and a golden,crunchy fried bottom. A little like the coarse country cousin of the refined Shanghainese soup dumpling xiaolongbao.
At cooking class this week, we made our first batch. The trick is to roll out the dumpling wrapper so it is thicker in the middle than at the edges….this keeps the top of the bun strong.
Then you have to carefully pleat the edges of the wrapper while keeping the filling inside, then pinch the pleated edges together…..for a beginner, this is so impossible you begin to lose confidence…………….but then at last, after much practice, you sort of get the hang of it.
Then pop them all in the pan, sizzle them with a little oil for a few minutes until the bottoms are crisp, then add a little water, and as the steam billows up cover them tightly with a lid. Steam away for 5 minutes or so….
Now enjoy the whole damn lot. Chinese vinegar optional. Try and eat just one…
When you go to Yu Gardens, as you will when you visit Shanghai, you can have a stamp engraved with your own name in English and in Chinese – it’s called a ‘chop’. If you bargain hard, you might pay 70 yuan, but the bargaining will exhaust you, and you may need a little rest before buying anything else. And if you bargain too hard, the chop-maker may write the Chinese word for ‘tight-ass loser’ under your name………
Blue Nankeen cloth is heavy cotton, stencilled with a paste made from soy flour and lime, then dip dyed with natural indigo dye. The stencilled pattern is then scraped off, leaving a white design. There is a little workshop off Changle Lu, down a laneway, behind a house – then you come around the corner to the garden, and the sight of all those beautiful crisp blue designs drying in the sun, like a load of indigo washing.