H’s colleague M, a grand gent with knowledge of all things Eastern, hosted a banquet at his 1930’s house in the French Concession area of Shanghai. This was a part of the city controlled by the French from the 1850’s until 1940’s, when the French and other foreigners cleared out of Shanghai.
We walked through a wide alleyway surrounded by older apartment buildings into a walled garden, gently lit by lanterns. We entered the house through a large room divided into dining and living room spaces. Two enormous statues kept guard near the doorways. A beautiful tree (shaped like a giant bonsai) held colorful lanterns of different sizes and shapes which illuminated the room.
We moved to the long large roughly hewn wooden table, smartly covered with glass. Dish after dish appeared by the phalanx of folks in the kitchen. We were just catching our breathe and M informed us that those were just the appetizers and we were only halfway done! Gracious!
I may have left out a dish or two. We had gotten off the plane (14 hours from Chicago) hours earlier but here goes:
Fresh Tofu with lots of fresh cilantro on top. Very soft texture, mild flavor. Delicious.
Cucumber Salad, refreshing (my picture was too dark to show you.)
Salted Duck from Nanking
Spring Bamboo, imagine hearts of palm with an even more delicate flavor and that’s what you have. I imagine these are boiled first as here (agsyst.wsu.edu/bambroc.pdf) and then stir fried. Very delightful.
Crispy Bean Curd Skin stuffed with spinach. These were wonderful. A meaty flavor without the meat. The skin was chewy as it should be but slightly crispy.
Eggplant. The eggplant was cut into long very skinny strips. I think it was cooked in a chili sauce. It was very spicy and tasty. The eggplant was completely white inside and there wasn’t a hint of bitterness.
Whole fried fish garnished with strips of chilies.
Stir fried bok choy. The leaves were fairly soft, but the stems retained a bit of crunch, which was a nice contrast within the same vegetable.
Lion's Head is a tradtional dish of Shanghai and named for its large pork meatball representing the head of the lion, and the shredded cabbage (sometimes bok choy) its mane. This dish, to me, was really all about the cabbage. Recipes vary on cooking times, but the cabbage, in this rendition, must have been cooked for an hour of longer, because it was completely soft and meltingly tender and offered no resistance to being slurped up with the broth.
Pork surrounded by broccoli. I didn’t have the heart, actually the stomach, to try this, but it looked like a fine specimen.
River shrimp with vinegar
Vegetable soup (there was also chicken soup)
It was an amazing array of dishes. Each dish was brought out separately on it own, which meant that everything was freshly cooked and could be appreciated by itself. The best part of the meal? M’s hospitality and dining in such convivial surroundings.