Archive for August, 2011

A Shanghainese dream

Posted by Fuchsia on August 16, 2011
Chinese cuisine, Cooking / 11 Comments

An August Saturday night in a flat in Wapping, East London… and I was privileged to share the best Chinese meal I’ve ever had outside China. A Shanghainese friend emailed me some time ago to say that his mother would be visiting from China and cooking dinner, and would I like to come? Now, anyone who has lived in China could tell you that the best home-cooked food can be better than anything you can taste in a restaurant, but this was extraordinary. My friend’s mother had flown over from Shanghai with a suitcase full of dried vegetables and seasonings. When we arrived at the flat, the table was already covered in little dishes of Shanghainese appetisers: sour-and-hot Chinese cabbage, green soybeans with ‘snow vegetable’, fried sea moss and peanuts, home-made pickles, wheat gluten with shiitake mushrooms (烤麸), pig’s tongue steeped in fermented rice liquor… an incredible array. So the five of us began to eat, and every few minutes my friend’s mother would emerge from the kitchen with another dish: pieces of deep-fried grouper with a vinegar dip; stir-fried prawns; steamed pork belly with Shaoxing dried vegetables; sea bream in a sweet-and-sour sauce; stir-fried spinach… And everything, just everything, was utterly delicious, expressing the essential nature (本味) of the ingredients, perfectly balanced and perfectly cooked. After we’d enjoyed the main dishes, there were noodles in spring onion oil, pot-sticker dumplings and a delicate soup. I counted 23 dishes in all, which would be a large number in a restaurant, let alone in a private home. And aside from the food, the company was delightful, and we drank beautiful wines, and, as a digestif, a fine Taiwanese tea. As I assured my hosts would be the case, I have remembered that dinner ever since almost as a dream…