When we were last in Shanghai, one of the locals we talked to said that when the Shanghainese go abroad the thing they miss the most is the food. It’s estimated that there are over 20,000 restaurants in Shanghai, which means that you could eat at a different restaurant for around 55 years without needing to go back to the same place twice! Doing review posts would get really tedious and repetitive quickly – so I thought we could focus on some of the more adventurous things we’re eating and drinking as and when.
Emma loves vegetarian food. Emma loves the food I make for her. Emma should love tofu. Emma did love tofu until I cooked it for her. I made a massive error with it when I tried to make a ramen with mushrooms and tofu. I just dropped the tofu in straight from the packet and it broke up into a horrible sludgy mess, the texture of which instantly made her vomit violently. Hitherto the mere mention of tofu would make her cheeks go green and puff up, looking a bit like a Buddha made of jade.
China is well known for being pretty good at faking things. A place we’ve found called ‘Godly’ lives up to that reputation by copying the taste and texture of meat dishes, using tofu. This includes meals such as shredded ‘beef’, ‘eel’, ‘pork’, ‘sea cucumber’ and ‘duck’. It’s amazing, and even though the Jade Buddha made an appearance when I said we were ordering tofu, Emma’s a huge fan.
Check out the ‘duck’…. the ‘meat’ part was firm but soft; it absorbed the dipping sauce really well and contrasted really well with the crispy duck ‘skin’ coating.
Whenever I hear the words ‘fish heads’ I think of this….
So when I saw that fish heads was a special delicacy of the Hunan province of China there wasn’t a chance I wasn’t going to order them as soon as we found a Hunanese restaurant. (although I somehow manages to resist ordering the stir fried goose bowels…)
This is a fish head split down the middle and butterflied out. It’s then covered in chilli and chives, and lots of oil, garlic and ginger. Hunan food is very spicy, in that most (if not all) of the dishes will have chilli in them. Compared to a standard Indian restaurant, you’re talking about everything being somewhere between a Jalfrezi and a Madras/Vindaloo – but not much outside of that spectrum.
The fish heads were actually very very tasty. If you’ve ever had cod cheeks or pig cheeks, you’ll know that cheek meat is really delicious – firm but not dry or chewy – and while you could taste the fish through the chilli it wasn’t over-powering. The appearance of the dish might put some off, but if you can cope with that it’s definitely worth a go. I even ate the eye – which wasn’t bad either.
I’ve never had Hunan food before yesterday, but i’ve got a soft spot for it. Maybe it’s because I love chilli and they serve it with gusto; or maybe it’s because a Hunanese restaurant is the first place I managed to say something in mandarin without them looking at me like I was standing naked in the middle of the street doing the macarena.
“Zhen hao chi” (This tastes delicious)
“Xiexie” (Thank you)
“Bu ke qi. Mei dan” (You’re welcome. Can I have the bill)
Seasoned coffee drinker
This is a latte with Agave nectar and topped with a healthy grind of black pepper. Made by a small chain of cafes called Coffee Architects, it’s one of the most interesting coffees i’ve had in ages – I loved the tingly spice from the pepper. At over £5 a pop you’d probably keep to less than 8 or 9 a day. In Italy they give you a shot glass of water to wash down your coffee (stops your teeth staining); Here that water is hot (most of the water you get served is hot – we think that is either because you’re not meant to drink tap water so heating it up might purify it, or something to do with keeping your internal systems balanced)