There are 3 floors in my FIL's father's shikumen house in Shanghai. On the ground floor is a small entrance with the maid's room on the right and the kitchen on the left. There's a bathroom next to the kitchen, next to which is FIL's youngest bro and wife (Xiao Su and Xiao Shenshen)'s living and dining room and oldest aunty's (Doh Ma in Shanghainese or Da Ma in Mandarin, meaning biggest or oldest mom, who's the wife of FIL's late oldest bro) living and dining room. On the second floor is Doh Mah's bedroom and bathroom, Xiao Su and wife's bedroom and bathroom and my in-laws' old room, which is kept neat and clean, just in case any of us visit. On the attic floor are two rooms, one my daughter's bedroom and the other where her Jay Chou coffee stain painting lies, on the linoleum floor. You can smell the wonderful coffee aroma even when you are going up the stairs. The painting is even more beautiful when you see it face-to-face, in person.
On a typical day, Ahyi, Da Ma's maid, would cook for Da Ma and Xiao Shenshen would cook for Xiao Su and herself. Both Da Ma and Xiao Shenshen's children live nearby and visit daily. Da Ma is 89 years old, very alert and strong, always well-dressed, loves to go out, loves to dance and speaks English. Xiao Shenshen must've had a queue of suitors, given her looks. She is motherly, spends most of her time with her church friends and she knows the bible as well as any pastor.
The morning after we arrived, Hub and I got downstairs to find both Ahyi and Xiao Shenshen cooking up a lunch feast for us in their kitchen which is diplomatically divided into 'yours' and 'mine'. We were going to meet up with our daughter for lunch, so we had to disappoint them. But I love to try other people's cooking, so I ate a chopstick of this and that, running right to Xiao Shenshen as she told me to try her soup, then running left to Ahyi as she gave me a taste of her pork chops. I can see why Yi feels so at home here.
We ate maybe two lunches at home in the week we were in SH, and I enjoy home-cooked meals as much as I enjoy eating out. I always think that anywhere I go, it's such a privilege to live with the locals and eat their food.
Like all old folks, Doh Ma and Xiao Shenshen prefer lots of veggies and soupy dishes. All the dishes they cooked were familiar to me; they were what my MIL cooks. The veggies though are not familiar and I just love how all the veggies are tender sprouts or young shoots. These are photos taken whenever I found Ahyi and Xiao Shenshen cooking.
"Water celery" and semi-hard tofu are stir-fried into the dish below:
Yindoxin is a very yummy Shanghainese soup of tofu sheets, pork, Chinese ham and fresh bamboo. The tofu sheets are usually tied into knots but Xiao Shenshen didn't bother. Xiao Shenshen loves fatty pork and swears that the body needs some fatty pork, "hao de". Xiao Shenshen's yindoxin woke me up one day: I could smell it from my room. She added "yellow wine" (Shao Xin Hua Tiao) at the start, something my MIL snorted at when I told her. Don't tell MIL but I prefer Xiao Shenshen's version.
Another dish that my MIL regularly cooks: dried bamboo and pork stew. Very yummy.
Young bamboo shoots fried with soy sauce. Drool...
I don't quite like Shanghai-style steamed fish as much as Cantonese steamed fish because the addition of "yellow wine" overwhelms the delicate flavor of the fish. Doh Ma said the big tropical ocean fish in Malaysia are too coarse for steaming and she's quite right.
Shanghainese cuisine is known to be oilier and sugar-sweeter than other Chinese dishes. I don't like sugar or wine in every day stir-fried veggies.
The Shanghainese just love bamboo shoots.
Sticky rice 'sticks' (nian gao) in soup.
Meat-filled savory tang yuan.
I jumped when I took a close up of this fish because it jumped too, even though it was cut into half. Frozen fish is unheard of in China. I was relieved that I didn't stay for lunch because I don't eat fish that look like snakes.