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Les Garcons Bouchers, Shanghai

I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I have only just discovered there is a genuine French butcher here in Shanghai. There are plenty of ‘genuine French’ things in Shanghai, but on closer inspection they are often not. A boulangerie selling pork floss buns? Loius Vitton (sic) bags and wallets? A French Cafe completely untouched by coffee beans? A bottle of Chateau Laffitte (with 2 fs and 2ts, to avoid copyright issues)? There is no end to Chinese ingenuity when it comes to reproducing something that might be profitable – so faking French beef or lamb shouldn’t be so hard. Should it?

So I admit I was a touch sceptical about Les Garcons Boucherie, with attached Boulangerie. It’s out in west Shanghai, in the expat belt of Gubei, in a non-descript strip of shops on Shuicheng Lu. In fact it’s just on the other side of the elevated highway to Carrefour.

But this is the real deal, with a genuinely real butcher with an eye for lovely meats, juxtaposed with a real French bakery run by a real French baker. David Emer (the butcher) and Laurent Meffre (the baker) set up shop 6 months ago, and will shortly be moving to separate larger premises, with Les Garcons Boucher moving to Jianhe Lu slated for November.

The selection of meat and charcuterie is small but perfectly formed, although surprisingly little is from France. Instead they have sourced the best cuts of meat from the best local and international suppliers. Think of all those saved food miles! So the entrecote de boeuf  and beef shin is from China, the lamb is both local (cutlets) and imported (legs). They make their own small range of plump sausages and their own terrines and pate. Fresh chevre too!

It all looks good, and when I’ve cooked the 3.5kg leg of Australian lamb I’ll let you know how it tastes.
Les Garcons Bouchers
356 Shuicheng Nan Lu, near Hongqiao Lu
Gubei District
Ph +8621 6209 1803
水城南路356号

The Shanghai Shikumen Open House Museum

Do you love to see how other people live? It’s human nature to be curious abut the insides of other people’s houses. Ever since I toured the Tenement Museum in Manhattan 15 or so years ago, I have a fascination for these tiny, but very personal museums that detail how life looked in a certain place at a certain time. From Dicken’s House in London, to Freud’s in Vienna, and the Blackhouse in the Outer Hebrides, and  I’ve poked my nose in everywhere, and especially into the kitchens.
The Shanghai Shikumen Open House Museum at Xintiandi is just as interesting as any of these, and gives a glimpse into life in a stone gate (shikumen) house of 1920s Shanghai. These houses were the birthplace or early homes of more than 70% of Shanghai’s residents in those days. Usually three-sided, two-storey houses, they centered around a light-filled courtyard one entered through the stone gate. The kitchen is surprisingly similar to the one still in use at a farm I visited, with a wood-fired stove taking up most of the tiny space. The stove top has a two recessed woks, usually one for frying, and one holding boiling water for steaming, both covered with heavy wooden lids. What struck me was how little preparation space there was, and what a dark, small lowly space the kitchen occupied: unlike the central position of today’s kitchens. 
The rest of the house is equally fascinating, with footage from 20s and 30s Shanghai projected on the walls. Whether you’ve lived here for years, or visiting the city for the first time, have a poke around and enjoy the ambience. It’s smack in the middle of Xintiandi so you can combine a visit with a spot of lunch – looking at kitchens always makes me hungry.

The Shanghai Shikumen Museum 
Shikumen Wulixiang
No 25, Lane 181 Taicang Lu, Xintiandi
Ph +8621 33070337
新天地  太仓路181弄25号
Open 7 days: Sun-Thurs 10.30-22.30,  Fri/Sat 11.00-23.00

Project Food Blog Challenge 2: The Great Xiaolongbao Experiment



A giant thank-you to everyone who voted me into Round 2 of Project Food Blog!
For this second challenge I have been asked to prepare a dish from another cuisine.


‘Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or you are not as familiar with. Try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal.’

So because I’m living in Shanghai, for this challenge I have created one of the most classic and beloved Shanghainese dishes known, as well of one of the most difficult – for anyone who is not a dumpling chef. Which I’m not. The dish is xiǎolóngbāo. The name xiǎolóngbāo means small steamer bun. Say show(as in ‘ow!’)-long-bow.

Xiǎolóngbāo are small, delicate, thin-skinned steamed dumplings filled with pork and an aromatic and savoury soup. There is some contention about their exact geographic origin, but now they are associated inextricably with Shanghai. Someone went so far as to say they were ‘the only contribution Shanghai had made to global cuisine’. Well!


The first time you try xiǎolóngbāo the soup bursts surprisingly onto your tongue with your  first bite, sending hot liquid all over your dress. Despite this, you are filled with wonderment that scalding soup can be contained inside a soft dumpling skin. How do they do it? How do they get the soup inside?? The secret to this culinary marvel is that the soup is made from pork jelly, mixed with the meat filling, solid at room temperature but melting into a delicious liquid when cooked. 



Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m cheating

You will all gasp: She lives in CHINA and she’s making a CHINESE dish??!  How hard can that be??


But I’m an Australian. My national food is a fusion of Mediterranean, British, and South-East Asian cuisine. When it comes to Chinese food, it’s about as far away fromy own ethnic cuisine as it possible to be. In fact, I had never cooked it before, unless you count working your way through The Australian Women’s Weekly Easy Chinese Cookbook, age 14. I’m sure if you served those dishes to a Chinese person they wouldn’t recognise them. I thought we were pretty cosmopolitan.  


And although everyone in Shanghai loves xiǎolóngbāo, I have never met a single person who makes them at home, because they are far too time-consuming, and they need to be cooked and eaten within five minutes of being made. I thought, therefore, that they sounded like the perfect dish for this challenge.


So just how did my xiǎolóngbāo experiment pan out? Better than the Australian Women’s Weekly Lemon Chicken, circa 1983, let me tell you. But still in need of a lot of practice. At least the ugly ones still taste good.

The real fun of xiǎolóngbāo is, of course, in the eating. Here’s the technique:


Lift one carefully out of the steamer by its topknot.



Drizzle over some dark, complex-flavoured brown rice vinegar, or dunk the whole thing in a dish of vinegar. Or, if you prefer, eat it plain.



Nibble a small hole in the top, and allow the steam to escape.
Carefully, ever so carefully, suck out the boiling hot soup. Slurp noisily, and with enjoyment. Now pop the whole hot steaming bundle into your mouth.

Have another, and another. You’ve got a whole basket to get through!



Should you have a day or two up your sleeve, here’s the recipe. The pork jelly needs to be made the day before.

Shanghai Xiǎolóngbāo
Makes 24 



Ingredients

For the filling:

200g pork mince
3tsp water
3tsp shaoxing rice wine
2tsp ginger, finely diced
1tsp scallion, finely diced
1 tsp salt
2tsp sugar
2tsp light soy sauce
shake of white pepper
2tsp sesame oil
200g pork skin jelly, finely diced (my recipe separately here)

Combine all the ingredients except the jelly. Stir the mixture 50 times in one direction. Not a joke! If you don’t the meat will be lumpy. Now add the jelly, and mix. Refrigerate until ready.


For the dumpling skins:


160g wheat flour
90ml cold water


1. Combine the flour and water into a dough. Knead for 10 minutes until elastic.


2. Divide dough into two equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 12 inch long cylinder. Separate each cylinder into 12 equal pieces.


3. Roll each individual piece into a ball, then flatten into a disc. Roll out to 6cm size.


To construct:

1. Hold a wrapper flat on the palm of your left hand.


2. Place a heaped teaspoon of the dumpling mixture into the centre of the wrapper.


3. Cup your hand slightly, bringing the edges of the wrapper up around the filling.


4. Using both thumbs, and both index fingers, stretch and pleat the edges of the xiǎolóngbāo wrapper working anticlockwise as shown. Both thumbs remain inside the dumpling at all times, with both index fingers on the outside.


5. Continue working all the way round the edge of the wrapper, gently turning the bun in the palm of your left hand as you go.





6. It should resemble a rosette like this.


7. Press the pleated edges lightly together to seal.


8. So that it looks like this.


To cook:

1. Line a steamer basket with a store-bought liner, or a piece of tea-towel cut to shape. This will stop the xiǎolóngbāo frosticking to the steamer bottoand tearing when you lift them out. Place the xiǎolóngbāo into the steamer without touching one another.


2. Bring a pot of water to the boil, reduce to a simmer. Place the lidded steamer basket on top. Steam for 10 minutes.


3. Serve xiǎolóngbāo in the steamer basket, with brown rice vinegar on the side for dipping. Enjoy!





(Adapted with thanks from a recipe by The Chinese Cooking Workshop, Weihai Lu, Shanghai)

The Great Xiaolongbao Experiment Part 1 – Pork Skin Jelly

Exciting news! I have made it through the tough first round of Project Food Blog and into the second. For this challenge I have been asked to make a classic dish from another culture, and as I am living in the midst of a culture about as different from my own as it is possible to be, I have decided to make the classic and beloved Shanghai dumpling – xiǎolóngbāo


I spent all day (literally!) yesterday making pork skin jelly, an essential component for making xiǎolóngbāo completely authentic. Xiǎolóngbāo are filled with a fragrant soup, 
made possible only by the melting of the jelly during steaming. When I first learnt that the jelly is made from slow-cooked pig skin I have to admit I was pretty repulsed. But they taste so good, and so in the interests of good food I have managed to overcome my repulsion and consume about 500 of the beauties.


Here’s how to make the jelly. The next post (my official entry) will tell you how to make the dumplings themselves.



Pork Skin Jelly


Ingredients


400g of pork skin, undyed

Water, for blanching skin
4 cloves of garlic
4 small scallions
4 slices of ginger
8 cups of water
1 teasoon of salt
1 inch piece of smoked ham or a ham bone



Method

1. Blanch the skin to remove any impurities. Bring a big pot of water to the boil and add the pork skin. When the water returns to the boil, remove the skin and blanch in cold water. Scrape any hair off the skin with a sharp blade.


2. Cut the skin into 3cm squares. Remove excess fat.


3. Combine the 8 cups of water, pork skin, and all the remaining ingredients in a stock pot. Bring to the boil.


4. Cook covered for 6-7 hours at a simmer until all the pig skin is dissolved.  If the water level drops, top up with boiling water from time to time. When ready, you should have an opaque, milky liquid with scant small pieces of undissolved skin.


5. Strain and reserve the liquid. Refrigerate overnight.
6. When jelly is set, remove any solidified fat from the top. Chop into fine dice. Can be stored frozen for up to three months. 



After 1 hour
After 2 hours

5 hours
After overnight refrigeration

The finished jelly


The Street Vendors of Wulumuqi Lu – The Breakfast Vendors

This is one of a series of posts about the Street Vendors on Wulumuqi Lu, in the French Concession. It’s one of Shanghai’s many great food streets, packed from beginning to end with restaurants and fresh food shops, and some of the best and worst smells all in one place.  You might also like:
Number 274 – The Lady of Wulumuqi Lu
Number 220 – The Smoky Ham Seller
Today we meet The Breakfast Vendors at Number 296 Wulumuqi Lu.  This tiny street front restaurant dishes out hundreds and hundreds of breakfasts every single day of the year. Eat-in, take-away, their stock in trade is yóu tiáo, deep-fried bread sticks, although they also do deep-fried slabs of tofu, deep fried sesame balls, and char-grilled flatbreads. If you’re eating in, just pick up your bread of choice on the way in, put it in a plastic basket, grab a bowl and spoon and get filled up. 
The two choices to fill your bowl are hot sweet soy milk (just dunk your yóu tiáo in, tear off a piece, dunk again) or savory soy milk. To the savory version add chopped scallions, chopped pickled greens, chopped bread chunks, and optional chili. Something like a breakfast soup. Sit elbow-to-elbow with the locals, facing out towards the street, and watch the passing parade of  morning traffic as you slurp away.

The Shanghai Kitchen Market, Aomen Lu

Are you in the market for a wok burner so powerful it would launch into space if it weren’t riveted to the bench? How about a large wire basket for safely keeping live crabs in? Or a dim sum trolley just like at yum cha? Do you love stainless steel and knives? If the answer to all of these is ‘no’, don’t worry, you’re probably just normal. And if the answer is ‘yes!yes!!’ then have I got the place for you….

I got tipped off about the Shanghai Hotel Equipment Company by The Shanghai Foodist and yet it’s taken me months to get round to going. One of my most exciting shopping experiences all year, and that’s saying something. It’s four floors of everything you need to start a Chinese restaurant, and if you’re  not in that category, never mind, because members of the public can wander in any old time to look at all the shiny stuff. Most of it can be bought by the piece, although there is also a bulk price on many items, should you actually need one dozen cleavers.
Here’s some of the treasures I found:

I have a thing for tin mess trays after all those years working in hospitals. Only 12 yuan ($2) each! So  I found myself seriously wondering how a canteen style dinner party would go down….thank God something else bright and shiny caught my eye before I put them in my trolley.

Menu holders in four different heights! Never knew I needed two of those, did I? And every aisle practically devoid of people! Fantastic!

Woks in 18 different diameters! And, they have a Lazy Susan Department. Can you believe it?? 
 The green plastic grass that goes with every plate of sushi! This is where it comes from! Colourful squeegee bottles!

Shiny silver cleaver keepers! And just when I thought I might faint with sensory overload, I found just what I was after – a box of buffoon sticks for only 7.3 yuan. Little clowny cocktail favours on a stick, who looked a little like red-nosed KKK.

Four floors of kitchen shopping excitement. I took my buffoon sticks and called it a day.

Shanghai Hotel Equipment Company
345-349 Aomen Lu, between Jiangning Lu and Changhua Lu
Putuo District
+8621 62669988

上海酒店设备股份有限公司; 澳门路345-349号

How to Swear in Chinese

I love Shanghai, you know I do, but Shanghai, bless its heart, doesn’t always love me back. Yesterday I got hit by a car.  I was cycling across a laneway and the driver, in a pale pink hatchback decorated with hibiscus stickers, simply pulled out, saw me, braked, then kept coming anyway. I fell over, the bike fell over, and all of my groceries fell across the road. It’s very inauspicious to hit a foreigner and kill them, so luckily I was quite alive, although completely struck dumb. I wanted to retaliate with the biggest fattest Chinese swearword I could think of but I couldn’t bring a single one to mind. 
Then today I stopped to take a photo of a an interesting street I hadn’t seen before. As I fiddled with getting the exposure correct I realised out of my peripheral vision I was about to have an empty water bottle thrown at me. An indignant fruit seller thought I taking photos of him, and despite waving his arms at me I didn’t stop, precisely because I hadn’t noticed him flapping at me, such was my intense correct-photographic-technique concentration. That’s him on the right of the photo, picking his nose. He then took even more offence when I seemed to ignore him. In a last ditch effort to really get his point across he picked up some of his cherries to throw at me, thought better of it (they are quite expensive at the moment), and found a water bottle instead. He was outraged, but not as much as I was. Fuming, offended and really, really mad, all I could think of to splurt out was ‘Ni bu shi youming! Wo…wo….wo….yao pai zhao pian zai zheli!!’ Loosely translated as ‘You’re not famous! I…I…I…want to take a photo of here!’ Pathetic. 
So I really wished I knew some bad, bad Chinese swearwords for these occasions. Problem is, the vast majority of Chinese people you meet are way too polite to teach you any. Luckily Eveline Chao has written a great book with all the best ones in great detail. The title, Niubi! means ‘F**kin’ awesome!’ but translates directly as ‘cow pussy’. 

I love this book – Eveline has gotten right into the etymology, history, culture and colour of these swear words, and gives appropriate ways in which to use them, in case you use the wrong profanity with your landlady, for example. Interesting, but food features quite prominently.

Báichī – idiot


Shăguā – fool – literally ‘silly melon’


Xiē cài – knock it off – literally ‘rest vegetable’


Năozi huài le ba? – is your brain broken?


Gŭn dàn – get lost – literally ‘go away egg’


Hun dàn – bastard – literally ‘slacker egg’


Cào nĭ mā! – f*** you


Nĭ zhēn cào dàn – you stupid f*** – literally ‘you’re a real f*** egg’



Now I just need to find a native speaker who’ll let me practice on them to get my tones right………..

(from Niubi! by Eveline Chow, published 2009 by Plume, a Penguin Group Publisher)

Project Food Blog – Voting Now Open!

Voting has now opened for the first Project Food Blog Challenge. In case you missed my entry explaining it all Project Food Blog is going to whittle down the ranks of TWO THOUSAND food bloggers to just ONE over the next twelve weeks with 10 nail-biting challenges. It’s terrifying. I mean, think of those poor buggers on Australian Idol who get slammed by Kyle Sandilands before they even start singing. You can help me avoid a similar fate by signing on to Project Food Blog and voting!

Voting opens now and closes 6pm US time on Thursday,Sept 23, or 9am Shanghai time Friday Sept 24. 

Try Everything At Least Once: Deep Fried Honeybees

I looked at the menu and read it out to the table.

‘Listen to this! ‘Yunnan Specialties: Deep Fried Honeybees with Yunnan Beef Jerky and Malt Crisps’

‘Wow!’ said E. ‘I wonder what malt crisps taste like? I really want to try malt crisps’

‘Did you hear me?? I just said HONEYBEES! This is the first time you get to try eating honeybees and you’re more interested in the malt crisps?? What are malt crisps anyway??’ 

We were having dinner at the newly opened Southern Barbarian in Lujiazui. Everything told me it was going to be a fine night. Firstly, they specialize in homestyle Yunnan cuisine, from the part of China that meets with Burma, Laos and Vietnam. The food is complex and uses ingredients not found in other Chinese cuisines, like goats cheese, and certain wild herbs, edible flowers and mushrooms. ‘Homestyle’ makes it sound like the cooking is rustic, but the execution and presentation of the dishes is polished and expert, but true to its roots. The menu includes famous dishes -‘cross-the-bridge noodles’ and sauteed pomegranate flowers, and a host of lip-smacking dishes you’ve never heard of but will be desperate to try out. Honeybees being one.

Secondly, the beer list. Southern Barbarian now has around 80 beers from Belgium, USA, Australia and the UK, the best selection of beers anywhere in Shanghai. You could come just to try the beer, true, but then you would miss out on some of the best food in the city.

Thirdly, by a quirk of fate and bad weather we were the only customers, which meant we had owner and Yunnan native Feng Jianwen all to ourselves, and he obligingly helped us choose the best dishes and answered all our questions.

We began with his suggestion of salt and pepper Yunnan goats cheese. Delicious. Followed by crispy mint leaves with spiced beef jerky, high on flavour, and a scorchingly hot chilli and basil salad. The barbecued whole freshwater snapper arrived next, butterflied, crisp skinned and sweetly smoky. It was a refined, sophisticated version of the barbecue river fish I had eaten a few months ago in Guilin – spiced with a cumin and salt rub before being grilled on charcoal. This was followed by an incredible dish of slow-roasted Yunnan pork, served with strong flavoured black beans and pickled vegetables. I would have come here just for this dish, it was so good – salty, intense black beans and sweet and tender pork slices. 

But then the honeybees arrived and stole the show. E went straight for the crinkle cut malt chips, of course, but realising they were all crunch and no flavour she was soon scooping up those bees as fast as her little chopsticks could manage. And how did they taste? Creamy, nutty, firm and delicious. Not at all insect-y. Not at all like honey. Surprisingly more-ish. Surprisingly something you would order again next time. 

And there will definitely be a next time – this place is a real find.


Southern Barbarian Pudong
Base
ment Level, DBS Building
1318 Lujiazui Ring Road, Pudong
(near Shanghai Aquarium)

Open every day for lunch and dinner

浦东陆家嘴环路1318号星展银行大B1-9
金海洋馆
地铁2号线陆家嘴站1号出口, 右转步行2分钟

A Food-Filled Life in Shanghai: Project Food Blog Number 1



It’s 6am in Shanghai, and I’ve been woken up by the group of elderly women exercising and gossiping on the communal exercise equipment in my lane. Again. They’re my human alarm clock. I get dressed and head out into the hot and steamy September day. The cicadas have already begun humming loudly in the leafy green French plane trees lining my street, Nanchang Lu, and as I pass the corner shop there is an emerald green cricket singing loudly in his exquisitely tiny bamboo cage, hung above the doorway. He stops as he senses my approach, and starts up again in full chirruping song as soon as I’ve passed.

I’m heading to the wet market – the noisy, colourful Chinese version of the supermarket, to buy food for dinner. It’s part of my daily life now. The food vendors are already busy outside the wet market entrance, where a crowd is building. The walnuts arrived this week from distant Xinjiang, in far-west China, and the man selling them from two large wire panniers balanced on each side of his bicycle wears a crisp white cap. Next to him Chicken Lady is selling live chickens, ducks and pigeons from a 6-storey cage strapped tightly to the back of her tricycle. Later, as she cycles away with the unsold birds, the cages, way taller than her head, lean precariously to the left and all the chickens sqwawk and try to stand up, feathers flying everywhere. A lady in her pyjamas, holding a chicken upside down by its feet, walks towards home.

Early morning is the best time to come shopping, when the produce is freshest and the choice is best. I go inside the market, making my way through the tangle of bicycles, and the buzz of hundreds of voices fills my ears with snatches of ‘fresh today!’ ‘best quality!’ and ‘good price!’ filtering through the noisy hum of Shanghainese dialect. 

At the first row of stalls the customers are three deep, and through their elbows I can see a pile of glistening deep purple Chinese eggplants, long and slim; a basket of shiitake mushrooms so fresh there is still moist earth clinging to their stems, and bundles of sinuous green snakebeans.  The second row of stalls is lined with woven baskets filled with Chinese leeks, mountains of fresh ginger, pale green bamboo shoots and tender baby bok choy so fresh it was born only a few hours ago. 

Strange misshapen dirt-coloured lumps catch my eye – they are lily bulbs, in season right now, and when cleaned they can be separated into small white petals and stir fried with a little garlic and celery. They have a tender and delicate flavour. I buy a handful, and choose some eggplants and a bunch of fresh greens.

The last row of stalls is lined with fish tanks filled with flapping fish, tubs of slithering eels, and net bags full of bullfrogs and crabs. The smell is strong, salty, and quite unpleasant, so I move off to the side where the noodle seller and his wife, covered in a fine layer of white flour, hand me a stack of dumpling skins and a tangle of fresh-made noodles to take home. Dinner sorted in ten short minutes, and way more interesting than the aisles of a supermarket.

I arrived in Shanghai over a year ago now, with no real idea of what I had gotten myself into. I came here for my husband’s work, along with our two daughters, initially unwilling participants but now full-blown ‘old china hands’. Accustomed to the intensity of my work as an ER doctor, I suddenly found myself with more free time on my hands than I’d had since I was a kid. I had only a single resolve – I wanted to write a blog, to document the incredible and colourful life around me, and I wanted to concentrate on people and food, always so inextricably intertwined in my life. Along the way I rekindled an old passion – photography, and learnt to really enjoy writing, and as I wrote I began to understand a little of this intriguing place in which I found myself. 


So much of life in China orbits around the national obsession – food. When you read my blog I want you to imagine you are here in Shanghai, right at my elbow, bargaining over the price of a plump catfish, or hovering at the kitchen doorway working out exactly how that dish is cooked. Think of yourself as a culinary anthropologist, discovering new places and foods without ever having to leave home. I will be your eyes, your ears, (thankfully not your nose) as you discover what life is really like inside China, and what they eat here. People. Food. Life. That’s it. I hope you enjoy your little slice of life in Shanghai with me!

This is my first entry for Project Food Blog, an incredibly fun competition involving two thousand food bloggers from all over the world and weekly knockout challenges. They’re looking for the next food blog star! You can vote (for me! for me!) by clicking on the link below and signing in. I’ll keep you posted about how it goes….!