Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nanling Restaurant, Shanghai

Here's a post on one of the most memorable lunches I had in Shanghai last October. The hosts were the Fang sisters, whose father, like Uncle Ma, and my FIL were childhood friends and university mates. The meal was especially memorable because the food was absolutely delicious and our hosts had ordered most of the restaurant's top popular dishes, a total of 20 dishes including two desserts! By the end of the meal, I was ready to go home and lie down, unable to move from over-eating. It was almost painful when we were reminded that we had a dinner invitation that same day. We knew that Shanghainese were serious when it came to being hospitable. This was the meal that made me consider bulimia as a way to cope, but of course it was just a fleeting thought.

Nanling Restaurant occupies a renovated mansion (168 Yueyang Lu) which in the roaring 1920s was home to opera artistes. The mansion seemed lacking in upkeep compared to the modern upscale restaurants now teeming in Shanghai but this is where the locals come to eat, and the food at Nanling is favored by older folks who want their Huaiyang food the old school way.

First the 8 cold dishes:

Jelly fish 'head'--tender, crunchy and delicious, the 'heads' are much better than regular jelly fish. The bite is very different from regular jelly fish.

Pork in aspic tasted like ham. Refreshing.

Lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice in osmanthus sauce was delicate and yummy.

Spring onions and oil on boiled chicken was very good, the chicken full of flavor.

Squid in a delicious soy sauce.

'Sween yu' is a highly fragrant fish that's fried and soaked in a sauce made with soy sauce, crystal sugar, wine and star anise. My MIL does this dish very well.

Potato salad, Russian-style, is perhaps influenced by those days in the 1930s when Shanghai was the 'Paris of the East'.

I've forgotten what this was, but it's likely it was lamb.

Now the 10 hot dishes:

Eel in soy sauce--I get uneasy eating eel so I had only one piece of this. It was good, very tender and sweet.

Gunxi tang, a popular Shanghainese soup of bean curd, winter bamboo and Chinese ham. The old folks complained that the bean curd strips were too fine and gave a different feel on the tongue. I nodded and learnt, trusting their taste buds which have been seasoned through  decades of eating the best food.

Crystal prawns, so-called because they are seasoned to be almost transparent, or translucent, and are very crunchy.

P1040657_1024x768 Peking duck is usually served as crispy duck skin wrapped in a pancake with scallion strips and a thick hoisin sauce. Nanling serves their Peking duck skin with some meat on. Yumm... just the way I like it.

Of all the dishes, I was most awed by this: lion heads. Nanling's Yangzhou lion heads with prawn roe are braised in a superior soup while Shanghainese lion heads are braised in a wine and soy sauce. The meatballs were also different in that the fat was not chopped with the meat but rather they seemed to have been cooked and cut into bits and mixed into the meat, so that you can taste the butter-soft fat bits on your tongue. To this day, I think about this dish and I know this is what I'll eat on my next trip to Shanghai. Absolutely heavenly, a gorgeous dish.

 'Little dragon buns' give a mouthful of delicious soup that's not to be wasted so you have to be careful not to break the buns before popping them into your mouth.

A delicious stir-fry of fish maw and crab meat.

Another dish that makes you wonder if you're in heaven. This was a special fish cooked with a super delicious sauce.

One of the simplest but absolutely delicious greens, doe miao which is the tender tip of the pea sprouts.

There are many versions of fen jen rou ('flour steamed meat') and Nanling's version wraps the meat in lotus leaves. Another yum dish but I was weary by then.

But wait, what was this? I thought that the transparent bits were water chestnuts but when I put one into my mouth, there was no crunch and instead, the 'chestnut' just melted in my mouth. I was astounded and took another bite, just to feel the 'chestnut' melting in my mouth again. The other diners knew what they were eating and didn't have a stupid look on their faces like I did.  My host graciously explained that this was steamed cake with pork fat. The fat is not ordinary pork belly fat.  Pork caul (what I used to call omentum) is a net-like piece of transparent membrane with bits of white fat here and there. The fat bits are painstakingly cut out from the membrane for this cake.

Something this special needed more attention so although I had food running out of my ears, I reached out for a whole piece of the steamed cake and bit into it, savoring everything about it, the texture, the flavor, the taste, the experience of eating something new and unusual. The other diners had given up eating and I had the whole plate of pork fat cake to myself. I didn't disappoint them because I ate another piece, three pieces in all. I said a silent prayer for my heart (and thighs). The cake was subtle in taste but was soft, delicate and exquisite. Wow.

Shanghai pancake was greasy but so tasty.

An excellent meal full of variety that included all the top Huaiyang dishes. Very well done, Fang Sisters.


Fooman said...

Anonymous said...

Your food blog is very interesting. The crystal prawns..they look so cute! how was it seasoned to make it look so transparant?

Bunnies said...

wow!! so many dishes!! I know I wont touch that fat cake.. it looks and sounded very gross... sorry..

Chocolate Cookies & Candies said...

Terri, this is incredible! I wish my parents knew about places like this when they were living in Shanghai. I guess you'll have to be a native.

Heather said...

i want to go back to Shanghai. :,(
your posts and pictures make me salivate and drool and faint. sigh.

Unknown said...

Its always amazing to read your shanghai posts... it seemed like u guys have stomachs the size of the Universe! Dish after dish after dish.. geez, how you'd finish all these. I would've been full by the time l finish taking all these great photos~ Well done Terri :)

Milosh said...

Wow, great pics!
Fooman is right, I only read your blog on a full stomach.

terri@adailyobsession said...


anon: oh, my MIL's bro taught me years ago and it was a lot of work, keeping the shrimps in running water, then in a towel in the fridge n so on. i must find out from him if there's an easier way.

bunnies: haha. tt's still better than eating horse semen. tt's what they are serving at the weird food festival, nz.

ccc: i'm sure they knew where to go :))

heather: haha time to head east my sweet.

terri@adailyobsession said...

joh: believe me, it was agonizing after a while, eating two big meals a day. there were times when i complained n complained. i'm blessed to have a hub who puts up with my complaints.

milosh: you must head out to the east soon, esp when china's still very affordable:)

the lunch guy said...

this meal is off the chain.

once again i am envious and salivating.

i used to get cantonese style eel in nyc's china town. so greasy, but so good. funny to hear you are apprehensive about eel.

it all looks fantastic.

terri@adailyobsession said...

lunchguy: i am ophidiophobic, have a crippling fear of snakes n eels look like snakes...

fresh said...

terri@adailyobsession said...

lunchguy: i am ophidiophobic, have a crippling fear of snakes n eels look like snakes...

me too, the 2 legged kind.

the lunch guy said...

i keep forgetting to sign out of the other google ID. ~fresh~.

sorr y if there was an corn-fushion

evv said...

thank you for the detailed post on nanling restaurant. we are going in a few weeks, and i've been doing research for places to eat. everything looked and sounded really good, but when you talked about the pork fat cake, i was sold :) i will definitely make sure we go here and try the pork fat cake :)

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