1/2 Maybe it’s just because I got back from Shanghai and I’m now sensitive to the subject, but all of a sudden I’m seeing mentions about Shanghainese food in NYC (Eating in Translation, Village Voice and Chowhound) when I don’t recall them before. It’s not a cuisine I’ve delved into much, my one bad fish finger experience at New Green Bo eons ago might have been my only exposure.
So, I wasn’t gung ho on the local grub in Shanghai, though I’ll admit I was swayed by every single description published anywhere calling it “sweet and oily.” Those minor pejoratives are totally positives to me.
Our first night in Shanghai was our only meal of that style and I regret that now. Technically, Whampoa Club, our last supper was upscale Shanghainese but we tried a Beijing-style tasting menu. Kind of wrong-headed, I guess.
Right after checking in at our hotel, we got out the maps and started our leisurely quest to find Jishi. Meandering through the balmy, mostly leafy, occasionally construction-wracked (all of China is covered in dust and littered with cranes, it seems) French Concession, I was already liking Shanghai better than frequently exhausting Beijing. Maybe we lucked out neighborhood-wise because nearly everywhere I had on my Shanghai to-eat list was under 20 minutes on foot while in Beijing we were near historic sites like the Forbidden City, but it took at least 20 minutes by cab to get anywhere of culinary interest.
I was also happy to see the place was still jumping at 9pm, our table up the narrow staircase, was the only one open. We’d made reservations everywhere since all my research indicted this was an absolute must, but it didn’t really turn out to be the case anywhere. There were always open tables and most restaurants didn’t even ask if we’d reserved. The only exception to this were the higher end restaurants, which still weren’t full to capacity, but it did seem that our seats were primer than those allotted to walk-ins. I’d heard about the Shanghainese dialect, and I think we were hearing it shouted from the frenetic young waiters running up and down the stairs, squeezing between chairs all night. The weirdest thing was the row of knocked crooked black and white photos of NYC on one wall. I never thought I’d be eating Chinese eels while staring at a BQE Cadman Plaza exit sign.
I’ve learned enough from Asia travel that upscale is frequently disappointing. Chinese-only hole in the wall isn’t necessarily better. Humble, home-style, one of those H’s is what usually delivers, places with imperfect English translations and picture menus. This was absolutely the case with Jishi. At least I think this clamorous, bi-level restaurant was called Jishi. The sign out front actually read Jesse, and I’ve seen it referred to as both. To complicate matters there seems to be another branch called Xinjishi. James’s guide book (he bought Lonely Planet, I bought Time Out and then left mine at Face Bar during a mid-afternoon gin and tonic pit stop the second day in Shanghai, which really enervated me because we both agreed that mine was the better reference) pegged this original location as the “foodie” one, which meant nothing to me until I saw Xinjishi, which is sleek, more sterile and in tourist-heavy Xintiandi. I would say Jishi is more “local” as opposed to the F word.
If this braised pork belly didn’t epitomize sweet and oily, I don’t know what would. (I might also add rice wine as a distinctive flavor.) Perfect, and it reinforced that yes, I do love sugary soy and mouthfuls of unctuous fat. I still haven’t had a chance to go grocery shopping since getting back, and I’m completely starving thinking about this pork. I have to review a Chilean and Peruvian restaurant in the next two days, when I really want to seek out Shanghainese red cooked pork.
I don’t remember the exact description of this dish but “eel shreds” were mentioned. I thought that might be dried shredded fish but it was bits of eel. Yes, this was also oily, as well as strongly flavored with minced garlic.
I swear this edamame preserved vegetable mix was dressed with melted butter. That doesn’t sound very Chinese, but it was certainly tasty, especially spiked lightly with chiles.
Jishi * 41 Tianping Lu, Shanghai, China