On these hot, hot days, the best street snack is a refreshing juicy wedge of fruit, skewered on a stick, for one yuan (16c). The vendors are on every street corner and the fruit sells as fast as it can be peeled and sliced.
Choose from watermelon ( 西瓜) rockmelon or Hami melon (hāmì guā 哈密瓜 – an elongated version of a rockmelon or canteloupe), or pineapple
Number 24 Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25 Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Ah, the Chinese wedding car. I haven’t seen one for weeks – presumably san fu‘s stinking weather means it’s off-season for weddings in August. But now at the tail end of the month the temperature has dropped to a practically chilly 35 degrees and only 91% humidity, which means weddings are starting to crop up all over the place.
This wedding car was parked on the Bund yesterday, on the footpath, right outside Cartier. I don’t know why there weren’t parking cops or Cartier doormen all over it like a rash, hauling them newlyweds off to parking hell. Perhaps the wedding was being held inside the store?
The rest of the entourage cars were parked nearby in an alleyway, all six of them. In China, the number of cars in the wedding entourage gives people an indication of your status, so seven cars = pretty well-off, but certainly not rich enough to afford anything at Cartier. Odd numbers are good. Avoid four cars, because the word for four sounds like the word for death. Not auspicious. Anything more than eleven cars is getting into serious status territory – filthy rich, or high up in the Party, or both. Luckily, the cars don’t need to be matching, so you can call up all your mates and have them sticky-tape roses to the car doors and meet you en route.
One wedding car rule is set in stone – the lead car must be different from the others, and it must have a wedding pair of stuffed Disney characters stuck to the bonnet, plus a heart-shaped floral arrangement and a special wedding themed license plate cover. Hello Kitty pairs are okay, but only if one of you is Taiwanese, or if the shop has sold out of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy.
I went today to have high tea in the Jasmine Lounge of The Peace Hotel on The Bund. I should have prepped better for this high tea with a 24 hour fast beforehand – as it was I was woefully underprepared for the mountain of food that arrived, thankfully not all at once. Opera cake, strawberry macaroons, chocolate butterflies, miniature doughnuts, smoked salmon on rye, all served with good quality darjeeling tea – heavenly. Just when I thought I couldn’t swallow another crumb, out came a plate of exquisite hand-made chocolates, including a green tea chocolate pyramid topped with gold leaf.
The real joy of the Peace Hotel though is in the surroundings. This masterpiece of art deco decadence opened in 1929, as The Cathay Hotel. Sir Victor Sassoon, the owner, and legendary entrepreneur, spared no expense on the incredible glass atrium ceiling, the art deco light fixtures, the bars and restaurants, and the rooms. Noel Coward wrote Private Lives while holed up here and every visiting diplomat and celebrity in the thirties stayed or dined here, Charlie Chaplin included. Sitting on the corner of Shanghai’s two most famous roads – Nanjing East Road and The Bund, it was the place to be seen.
Sadly years of political turmoil and state ownership from 1949 eroded and divided its beautiful interior, and covered up its art deco features. The rooms became offices, the atrium hidden, the beautiful tiles painted over. Although part of the hotel re-opened in 1956 as The Peace Hotel, now it felt like a sad ghost of its former self. It’s been under closed and renovation for the last three years, but as time dragged on and there was no sign of it re-opening I became apprehensive that the Chinese fervour for soul-less modernizations had taken hold here too. I shouldn’t have been worried. This is a true restoration, rather than a renovation, and all the incredible original features are unveiled – the banisters, the original art deco lights and heater grilles, the revolving doors, and the beautiful tiled walls.
I’m looking forward to coming back soon to hear their jazz band play in the top floor bar, apparently with six of the original (now very elderly) members included. Bet they’d have a few stories to tell…….
Is it possible for a mooncake to taste any good? My experience of mooncakes is limited to the ones I was given at last year’s Mid-Autumn Festival – more effort had gone into the boxes than the cakes, whose fillings were dry, unidentifiable, or just plain revolting. Salted duck yolk with green tea anyone? How about white lotus with melon seeds, or red bean paste with olive kernel? Intriguing as these may sound, the taste leaves a lot to be desired.
So when I heard that The Chinese Cooking Workshop on Weihai Lu was offering a special class in home-style moon cakes, in preparation for next month’s festival, I signed up straight away. No-one makes mooncakes at home anymore, because they’re fiddly, and you need an oven – but Chef Guo is a woman who never lets anything stand in the way of a good dumpling, and she taught me how to make the trickiest dumpling of all time, xiaolongbao, so I knew that mooncakes would be a doddle for her.
The fluted, highly patterned mooncakes sold in the shops are Cantonese style, she told me. The ones she plans to teach us to make will be Suzhou style, very rustic and homely.
Our classroom…and six enthusiastic students..
We start with the pastry. It’s like old-fashioned lard pastry.
To make 8 mooncakes: 120g of wheat flour, 45g of pork lard, a teaspoon of maltose syrup, and enough hot water to make a soft dough. Knead for 10 minutes. Then make a second dough from only flour (80g) and lard (50g), no water, and knead it well.
Roll the first dough into a square shape. Place the second, waterless dough in the centre.
Fold the edges over the dough ball to make a square packet.
Now roll onto a rectangle about 15cm by 25cm, and fold each end of the rectangle into the middle, like folding a letter into thirds. The folding is what helps establish the flaky layers of the pastry. Now roll this rectangle into a large square, about 25cm across.
Roll up the square into a cylinder. Cut or tear the cylinder into 8 equal pieces. Take each piece and roll it into a rough disc, 10cm across.
Now for the filling – we used three different kinds – red bean paste, shown here, lotus seed paste, shown below, and a savoury pork mixture.
Seasoned pork mixture – 1tsp each of salt, sugar, sesame oil, light soy, dark soy, rice wine, finely chopped shallot and finely chopped ginger mixed with 100g of fatty minced pork.
Whichever filling you use, roll it into a small ball and place in the centre of the pastry disc. Now fold the pastry edges around the ball and pinch together so it is completely sealed. Gently roll it to return it to ball shape. The sealed side goes underneath and the top should look smooth and rounded.
The lotus paste, rolled ready for use.
Use a chopstick and beaten egg yolk to mark the top of the mooncake so that you know which ones have which filling. One dot for pork, two dots for red bean paste, and skull and crossbones for lotus paste.
We made some novelty shapes with the leftover dough – flowers, a walnut, and a money bag.
Ayi prepares to put them in the oven. 220 degrees C for 20 minutes.
Fresh out of the oven…..piping hot. The egg dots have turned dark brown.
Chef Guo has a taste. Her verdict? ‘Hao chi!’ (Chinese for ‘I’m surprised these taste so good!’) I liked the savoury ones the best – a little like a reaaly good home-made sausage roll. The lotus paste is rather bland and gluey, and is saved only by eating it fresh from the oven. The red bean paste is surprisingly good, but again needs to be eaten warm to minimise it’s glueyness.
The Chinese Cooking Workshop in the French Concession runs about ten bilingual classes every week in both dumplings and wok cooking. Highly recommended.
Kate Lamont, Western Australian restauranteur and winemaker, spoke at M on the Bund today of going beyond simple wine-matching in restaurants, and advocated choosing a wine before cooking food at home, matching seasonings and cooking techniques to further enhance the food-wine pairing.
As an example, she contrasted the way one might cook a piece of chicken depending on whether there was a sauvignon blanc or a shiraz in the cupboard. For the former, it might be poached chicken with a mango and lime salsa, and for the latter, a slow roast with roasted garlic, tomatoes, herbs and potatoes. Very thought provoking and completely different to how I currently cook – for me it’s usually a matter of deciding on a particular dish, then scouring the wine cupboard for what might be OK to drink with it, and often finding the answer is ‘nothing much’ or ‘gin and tonic.’
M on the Bund came to the party with a fabulous 3 course lunch and Wolf Blass wines (what a shame they weren’t West Australian wines, thought many of us….). We started with a summer soup of peas and mint, followed by tender grilled snapper served with shaved fennel, sumac and lemon. Lastly a fool of summer berries, with rich, ripe raspberries and blueberries nestled in the creamy fool.
Inspired by Kate’s approach, I visited The Lady on Wulumuqi Lu on the way home for some pinenuts and Italian parsley and dragged a bottle of New Zealand Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Gris from the cupboard (thanks go to Martel who brought it in her luggage all the way from NZ a few months ago). I remembered the pinot gris was still lurking there for a special occasion, and I thought it would pair nicely with chicken breasts if I cooked them with vino cotto, currants, and a salad of Italian parsley and rocket topped with toasted pine nuts and parmesan, bringing out the lovely pear, peach and toasty honey flavours of the wine.
It did. It was bloody delicious. Thanks Kate!
Are these the ugliest snack in the world? They taste fantastic though! S literal
Number 24 Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25 Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
It’s great to be back! Sure, it’s a pain having to shower five times a day to keep that sweaty, dusty, grimy feeling under control, and it’s melting outside, but I stepped out the door and thought ‘Wow! What a great place to live! The people! All 20 million of them! The unusual blue sky!’
I was clearly having some kind of Shanghai honeymoon period, which came abruptly to an end when I got knocked over by an angry Chinese woman on a motor scooter in the middle of a pedestrian crossing. Who thought that it was my fault. Clearly it was, because I was trying to cross the pedestrian crossing on foot, instead of in a wheelchair as indicated by the sign. At least I had the presence of mind to tell her off in Chinese, which nearly made her fall over. As if hitting a foreigner wasn’t bad luck enough but then to be told off in your own language? Unbelievable.
I got into the next available taxi, rubbed the tyre marks off my legs, and resolved to pull myself together and enjoy the fact I wasn’t in hospital. You know I love Shanghai taxi drivers and this guy was no exception, with a happy disposition, severe short-sightedness, and a wide grin full of alarming looking gold fillings. I loved him forever when he said that although my pronunciation was really terrible he could understand every single thing I said. And that learning Chinese was so difficult it was amazing I could speak it at all after only a year. Bless him. At least I think that’s what he said. I resolved right away to study my Chinese cusses a lot more, because they were bound to come in handy. He’d seen the whole scooter incident and he agreed it was her fault even though I wasn’t in a wheelchair.
Love of the city flooding back, I ignored the four near misses we had over the next ten minutes and concentrated on getting to lunch. Lunch was great – not Chinese food unfortunately, but tapas – but that’s the great thing about this place – there are cuisines from every corner of the world on offer. Don’t like tapas? Walk next door and have Sichuan, or French, Uighur or Persian food. Food heaven.
Walking home later past a typical Shanghai fruit shop I was loving the wonderful colours and variety of everything on display – the lychees, the peaches, the big, ripe mangoes. The fruit was displayed with so much care – all the pyramids of grapes just so, all the watermelons piled in neat rows and the peaches rolled so that the blush side was up. Just as I was admiring the sheer wonderfulness of it all I noticed the shop girl in a corner, sitting on a low stool and plucking out her long underarm hairs one by one, then absentmindedly dropping them on the lychees. Ah, Shanghai. I love you, warts and all.
This is what Chinatown in Brisbane looks like. It’s not exactly downtown Shanghai, and there are very few Chinese people wandering around it, but it does have pretty much all the elements of a Chinese town as far as I can see.
For a start, what looks like a pedestrian zone down the middle is actually a road leading in and out of the hulking great carpark to the left. Be careful, all you pedestrians! A car will come whizzing past at any minute, and there ain’t no zebra crossing there to save you. Should you survive the walk across the carpark entrance, you will be enchanted by the understated feng shui elements adorning the site – a giant red and silver fish seems to be leaping out of the concrete outside the entrance to the Burlington Chinese Supermarket, and there is a lucky pond with a few lacklustre turtles in it underneath that giant red metal China Pavilion lookalike.
I’m not sure if the pedestrian overpass from the carpark to the building opposite has any feng shui advantages, but it is really ugly and it sure looks like it was cobbled together without planning permission or adherence to building standards. Pretty Chinese then.
Inside the Burlington Supermarket I can buy roast duck, fresh tofu, dumpling wrappers and extra-fat pork mince. Last time I was in Brisbane I even managed to purchase a giant piece of pork skin, with a view to making xiaolongbao, and I believe it may still be languishing in the depths of my sister’s freezer, unused. Might want to check on that sis.
I did have some delicious xiaolongbao though, not far from Chinatown at The Bamboo Basket on Grey Street. This place is the first restaurant in Brisbane to serve these lovely little soup-filled dumplings, and they even have a street-side window where you can watch the dumping chef at work, much like the concept at Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung. I also tried their hong shao rou (red-cooked pork) – sticky and delicious, and a tasty cold cucumber dish. When the bill arrived I thought that we had eaten pretty well for 126 yuan (about $20), until I realised it was actually for $126. Bugger.
See you all back in Shanghai in a day or two! The food is cheaper there but the feng shui is even worse….
Hong shao rou with a basket of steamed bread on the side
1889 Enoteca lives in what was once, in 1889, a shopfront on Logan Road at Woollongabba (‘the Gabba’ to locals, because Woolongabba has too many syllables). It’s a perfect example of a how perfect a bistro can be when it takes care and continues doing what it does best – great Italian food and a superb collection of Italian wines. It was great to have a chance to eat there again this week, and wonderful to see that it’s as good now as when it opened two years ago. Restaurant goers are fickle creatures, and so Enoteca must be doing something really, really right.
The menu is deceptively simple. I started with a loin of rabbit on polenta with pecorino, but this description fails to do justice to the dish, which had been executed with a light touch and perfect balance. The Granite Belt rabbit loin had been been gently and tenderly cooked, and was sliced into pink-tinged petals sitting over a bed of white polenta made on fresh cream and stock. The salty flakes of pecorino added depth to the rich polenta as they melted into it.
Kingfish with lentils and pancetta hid a dish of such complex and robust flavours – the fish was sweet and tender, with a layer of crisped skin, and sat on a bed of richly savoury green lentils studded through with big falt salty cubes of pancetta, all surrounded by a herby, lemony, garlicky salsa verde. A fabulous hearty fish dish. I wish I could tell you the name of the wine that went so well with it, but by this stage I had begun with a superb prosecco, the match of any French champagne, moved onto soave, and now I had stopped looking at the labels and was just enjoying the flavours. It was a red. Nebbiolo? Barolo?There are no photographs of the food because the long exposure required was a struggle with all that wine I’d enjoyed. You’ll just have to enjoy the descriptions, although I can tell you the dishes looked as beautiful as they sounded.
For dessert I was dying to try the vanilla pannacotta with berries, pistachios and strawberry doughnuts, but I was done in by the taste of a tiramisu done so well it was pointless trying to better it. An incredible dinner, amazing wines. It just reminds me of how far Brisbane has come in the last few years.
There are so many different Australian cliches in this photo it’s hard to know where to begin. A Kingswood is a classic Australian car of the 1970s, and was even the centrepiece of a TV show called Kingswood Country, featuring an unlikely character named Ted Bullpit. This particular Kingswood, lovingly restored, has it’s own back window poetry, with typos and everything. Love it.
My baby’s car crazy: She loves automobiles
Cadillacs and Corvettes: Chev’ys and Oldsmobiles
My baby’s car crazy: She really digs a set of wheels
Ted Bullpit would be proud.
(lovin’ the Eureka Redneck flag too)