On a recent food find in the muddy backwash that calls itself Shanghai, I have rediscovered the true essence of simplicity and fuss free dining.
As a young cook I always remembered industry heavy weights saying keep it fresh, keep it simple it's the way food is going you know, lets give the people what they want, blah de blah de blah! Heard it a million times before, but it always seemed to be so complicated to achieve simplicity I suspect over shadowed with trying too hard I guess.
My Food Find
Anyway back to my food find, four words Jia Jia Tang Bao (specialising in xiaolong boa) have hit the nail on the head with the essence of simple dining and fuss free eating. Achieving a lot of what most only dream about producing in their own restaurants.
For those that don't know this famous dumpling seller, it is a simple eatery in an area of Shanghai, that could possibly lend itself to a movie set for a Kung Fu feature, a street that by day is a bustling neighbourhood and by night is a place of late drunken diners, night crawlers, pay-by-the-hour hotels, under world types and a strange smell. It's an area where people meet and deals are done and things get settled.
Get There Early
The eatery has no set opening and closing time but instead its hours are determined by when the food runs out! (Note to self, I like this place already). As you approach the restaurant you will see a huge line of locals waiting to get their fill of these silky soup dumplings and this can only be a good sign that quality food is served here.
There are no printed menus as such, but special menus in Chinese that are painted on plastic panels hanging from the wall. Simply when a flavour runs out the panel is removed. There is a special menu for round eye types so don't be afraid. It has been specially handwritten in the back of an old note book and the lady on the desk takes great pride in making sure everyone knows that you are stupid and need the special menu. From that moment, it was if I had a neon sign above me that flashed, "Not from around here" and was enough for the old guy who works the floor to eye-ball me at every available opportunity!
There are possibly a dozen flavours to choose from with pricing from extremely cheap to crazy cheap. Once the order is placed there is a small team of girls that neatly and patiently fold your dumplings and then steam them to order for you, this was a joy to watch.
Eating is an Art
The type of people that eat here are serious dumpling eaters, the type that would stab you in the eye with their chopsticks if they saw you eating incorrectly or disrespectfully. The type that look you up and down when you walk in as if to say, "What the hell are you doing in here, this is for professionals only buddy". These regulars are seasoned dumpling eaters and have been eating these dumplings since Hu Jintao was in diapers. As such I say be aware and I highly recommend practicing your chopstick etiquette before entering to save yourself the humiliation of being the only guy in the shop that does not respect the dumpling or can't hold a pair of chopsticks.
When my dumplings arrived they were perfect, who could ask for anything else - sexy little silky purses of thin dough encasing a sticky soup broth with a little pork meat seasoned with hairy crab roe, hearty goodness in every mouthful.
There is an art to eating these little fun bags, I would recommend you place the dumpling onto a spoon and then use your chopsticks to steady it and then gently puncture the top with your teeth and slurp the soup out. FYI, you must slurp and then burp at the end or it will seem that you have not appreciated the little bags of perfection and then the lovely girls from the provinces will go home broken-hearted that you did not make enough bodily noises in appreciation of their labour intensive love.
This place is not the kind of establishment where you can just lounge about afterwards to digest oh no, either you buy another round or you move on buddy, time is money and there are about a million people outside looking in as if to say, "Aren't you done yet!".
A Great Foodie Moment
With its focus on simplicity, a reliance on good ingredients, talented people, simple décor and hard to please but loyal clientele, this is the kind of place that gets referred to as one of those great foodie moments of your life.
The kind of moment that you recall and share while sitting sipping a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau, while wearing your alpaca turtle neck in front of a fire as you tell your hard-to-please-friends, my palette had the time of its life, you should go!
So shouldn't you?
Jia Jia Tang Boa, No. 90 Huang He Lu, Shanghai