Thursday, December 24, 2009

Real Deal: Old Jesse aka Ji shi 老吉士(Shanghai)

Jesse Restaurant Jesse Menu
As a Chinese American, who grew up eating nothing but Chinese food, lived in Hong Kong for 4 months and currently lives 20 minutes to Monterey Park, CA where I can frequent Taiwanese, Hong Kong Café, Shanghainese, Szechuan and of course Cantonese restaurants, I thought I was well versed in Chinese food. In fact, I proclaimed myself, an expert - VA, the Chinese food expert.

That is until my dinner at Old Jesse, where my expert card was revolted after a Shanghainese dinner with an amazing blend of sweet and savory flavors that was foreign to my palette. . How can I be an expert and have never tasted authentic Shanghainese flavors? In fact, I was always uninspired by the “authentic” Shanghainese cuisine in the states, but it is the real deal at Old Jesse and the real deal was amazing.

Old Jesse was recommended to me by a Shanghai expiate, who told me that Old Jesse is commonly regarded to be the best authentic Shanghainese food in the city. (Please don’t confuse it with New Jesse who serves a modern interpretation of Shanghainese food.)

Old Jesse serves traditional food, but it is not located in an old school food stall. Old Jesse is in a small, clean, minimalist, yet warm space located in the outskirts of the French Concession on a quant, quiet street.

The restaurant is always busy. Apparently, old money and Chinese A-listers are regular clienteles, but as a tourist, I wouldn’t know one even if they accidentally bumped into me. Reservations are recommended. Be sure to make it a few days ahead of time. Luckily my mandarin-speaking mom called a few days before we arrived in Asia and made a reservation for 7:30 on a Tuesday night for 4 people.

Do your homework; the waiter was bad at making recommendations, so I took a mental survey at the other patrons and ordered the most popular dishes that were ordered around me.

Jishi’s Salted Chicken - Tough and dried with an alcohol taste like a drunken chicken. I was not a fan.
Jishi’s Salted Chicken Braised Pork in Brown Sauce
Braised Pork in Brown Sauce - Fatty pork in a sweet, savory, oily sauce. This pork was amazing, except, I had to control myself from eating too much. I could feel my arteries clog up.

Fried Sword Bean with Potato - (Vegetarian dish) Green beans and potatoes swimming in oil, mixed in the same sauce as the pork. The dish was yummy, but there was too much oil for my taste.
Fried Sword Bean with Potato Gluten and Mushroom Pot
Gluten and Mushroom Pot - Various types of mushrooms sautéed together with oil. I feel like there was a little butter too, but I’m not sure if they use that in Shanghainese cooking.
Shaken Shrimp Jesse Restaurant
Shaken Shrimp - Mini, fresh peeled, sautéed shrimp. It was tasty.

I loved the pork dish the most! It was a great food experience and I enjoyed it. We spent about 300 RMB for the meal. It was well worth the price tag.

Shanghainese food in America is watered down for the local plate. I realized that I am not well versed in Chinese cuisine, like me, the food I eat is Chinese American. Maybe one day, after more time in China, I will be well versed in Chinese food too.
Jesse, Inc Business Card
Old Jesse
41 Tianping Rd., near Huaihai Lu French Concession
+ 82 21 6282-9260

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disoriented: NanXiang Steamed Buns Restaurant 南翔馒头店 (Shanghai)

Yu Yuan Juicy Pork Crab Dumplings
Because of my cheap Chinese parents, we arrived in Shanghai at the most awkward time – 12 am. After almost 24 hours of no sleep, when I finally went to bed, it was the best sleep of my life. I woke up the next day, disoriented – not knowing where I was and what time it was. When I finally realized that I was in Shanghai, I panicked and called my parents in the next room
“Mom! Mom! ! It’s 2 pm! We’ve missed the 1st day in Shanghai! “

My mom in her sleepy voice said back:
“It’s 7 am!! You can get up and explore Shanghai, I’m going back to sleep for 2 more hours!”

After a few more hours of sleep, we decided to start the day visiting Chenghuangmiao (City Gold Temple) in the Old City to see the Yu Yuan Gardens. Thanks to my guidebook, we never made it to the actual Chenghuangmiao because I was confused and thought the shopping plaza around Yu Yuan was called Chenghuangmiao. I didn’t realize that there was an actual temple. Oh well.

We first went to the beautiful Yu Yuan Gardens. It was the first of many Suzhou style gardens on my trip. In comparison to the others, it was not as elaborate, well maintained, or big in size.

Then we walked around the two-story, retail tourist trap complex with stereotypical Chinese buildings. This retail part of the Old City is filled with souvenir vendors, western snack shops such as Starbucks and McDonalds, sub-par, over priced Shanghai street food and droids of tourist following the leader with a flag on a stick.

Even, Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant (aka. soup dumplings), situated in the middle of the Old City, seemed like a tourist trap. I’m not one for falling into tourist traps, but I was there and couldn’t resist a restaurant chain named after a city that created the famous soup dumplings.

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant is a three-story building. There is a take out window on the 1st floor and dinning rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors with higher quality dumplings at a higher cost.

Due to our time constrains, my parents decided to order from the take out window. Dumplings are a snack anyways. We stood in line around 2 pm and waited about 20 minutes. There is no English menu. Luckily my mom reads Chinese! We ordered 2 trays of the crab/meat dumplings at the 1st window and received the dumplings at the 2nd window. Don’t forget to grab the chopsticks and add vinegar before hungry people mob you.
Steaming Dumplings
Crab Dumplings - The skin was soft, but too thick, starchy and oily. It looked greasier than McDonald’s fries. When I bit into the dumpling, I found a generous amount of meat and only a small amount of crab. Also, instead of the usual burst of soup, I only tasted a bland squirt.
Crab and Meat Soup Dumplings Chenghuangmiao at night
Disappointed. Maybe the 2nd and 3rd floors do serve better dumplings.

I am grateful that Nanxiang created the soup dumpling, but happy that other restaurants have improved on it. Now, that I’m done with this tourist trap, I’m off to find better soup dumplings.
Nanxiang Steamed Buns Restaurant
85 Yu Yuan Rd, Old Town
Shanghai, 20001
+86 21 6355 4206