Category Archives: Travel

Churros in China, Old Hutong, Beijing

Jesse (Ji Shi) Restaurant, Shanghai

Jesse serves traditional Shanghaiese cuisine in an “it’s all about the food” setting. And the food is excellent. Fresh ingredients cooked perfectly with delicately balanced flavors and heat. The massive Braised King Prawn is exceptionally juicy and served in a “lick the plate clean” sauce that is as colorful as it is delicious. The Noodles with Scallion Oil, topped with dried seaweed, is a true standout, make your reputation kind of dish. And the Shredded Pork tastes like it was “born in the sauce” (to borrow a well-worn phrase from an LA staple Mexican joint).

Mixed Mushroom with Beancurd Sheet
Mixed Eggplant
Shredded Pork in Chili Sauce
Braised King Prawns with Chili Sauce
Braised Beancurd with Chiui Sauce (garlic, chili, pork)
Noodles with Scallion Oil
Shanghai Vegetable Rice

The Best Dumpling in the World

In a new food mall on West Nanjing Lu, on the second floor, is Yang’s Fried Dumpling (Xaio Yang Sheng Jian), purveyor of what is quite simply the best dumplings in the world. Going to Yang’s is a pilgrimage; I now understand what a Crusader felt upon finding the Grail.

It’s not much to look at. And there is always a line; two actually. One to order and one to pick up. Walking up to the register counter, I point at a decaying, bright yellow menu. “Je-ga”, I say pointing, “this one”. One order dumplings, one hot and sour rice noodles.

And then there is the wait for a table, hovering like a vulture for a space to open. But its not a problem. Its worth it.

The dumplings are simply the best. Flavor bombs that literally explode when bitten into. Weapons of Mass Digestion. Fried in a cast iron pan to a crisp on one side. Sprinkled with sesame seeds on the other. The doughy outer shell like a woman, soft and hard in the all the right places.

And if highly enriched uranium has a food equivalent, then this pork filling is it. Boiled in its juice as the dumplings fry. Wanting to evaporate your mouth in a mushroom cloud of flavor.

And then there are the rice noodles, as balanced a dish as you will find. Deep ripples of rich flavor, cut with cilantro sour, spiked with green pepper heat, crunchy with peanuts, silky with the gelatinous noodles.

Get on a plane. Come to Shanghai. Eat Yang’s Fried Dumplings.  Xie xie, the quest is over.

Din Tai Fung, Xintiandi Shanghai

Any student of Los Angeles ethnic cuisine knows that the best dumplings in So. Cal are at Din Tai Fung’s outpost in Arcadia. So I was pleasantly surprised when my informal poll of Shanghaioans on the best dumpling house resulted in the answer Din Tai Fung. Although there are many locations in Shanghai, we went to the one at Xintiandi, an outdoor shopping and dining mall as western as they come.

The food was as expected, simple and amazing. Apps included (1) bean curd with black mushroom and soybean and (2) sautéed pea sprouts. The xiaolongbao included mini-soup with pork, chicken with black truffle (sublime), and mushrooms. We also got some pork and shrimp shu-mai, vegetable filled bao, and for desert, bao with red bean paste and with juju paste.

Xiaolumian (Little Hut Noodles) near Mutianyu Great Wall, Huairou District, Beijing

The Mutianyu Great Wall was built up by General Xuda, who served Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang in the early Ming Dynasty (1386-1644AD). This scenic spot is hugged by mountains and a beautiful, serene atmosphere. Stretching 20 gates over about 7KM, Mutianyu provides a moderate to hard hike which is perfect for working up an appetite for some delicious Beijing-style noodles.

Nestled in the crevice of the mountains below the Great Wall, Xiaolumian is exactly what its name says, a friendly little hut for noodles. We ordered the sampler, which is basically everything on the menu. It included 3 types of noodles (spinach, egg and flour), many kinds of meat and vegetarian sauces (bean paste with pork, sesame & peanut, mushroom, eggplant & hot peppers, egg & peppers, chicken & ginger), two kinds of dumplings (egg & chive and pork & cabbage) and a bunch of fixings and toppings.

Imperial Chinese Restaurant at Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing

Lao Sun Jia – Sun Family Restaurant in Lintong District, Xi’an Province

Lintong is a suburb of Xi’an, the small (by Chinese standard, 8M people, basically the size of New York) city that for centuries was home to many Dynasties.  Lintong is home to a large contingent of Muslim Chinese.  Lintong is also home to one of the Wonders of the World, the terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperior of China and founder of the Qin Dynasty. 

The weather in Xi’an was particularly mediocre; it had been raining for 20 days straight when we got there.  So the food at the Lintong outlet of Lao Sun Jia, a small Muslim Chinese chain founded in 1898 (!!!), was particularly well suited to the crisp autumn day.   

We started with some pickeled garlic and fresh greens, served with a salty red peper sauce.  These were also to be used as a garnish for what was up next, traditional muslim chinese soup (Rou Pao Mo).  We had both the beef and vegetarian version, which had egg and tomato.  The star of this dish is the bread, which are used like noodles in the stew.  Hand formed, the custom is both unique and interesting.  Traditionally, when you order the meal you are given a large bowl and a quantity of round, flat unleavened bread (nan bread).  You break the bread into small pieces so that it can absorb the flavor of the liquid.  The stew is then added to the bowl.  The resulting taste is similar to spatzle.  And the flavors were layered, robust and delicious.

The Rou Pao Mo was accompagnied by chicken with spicy peppers.  Simple ingrediants perfectly sauteed together, this soulful dish is rich in heat and delicate in flavor.