The Great Noodle Tour: Peking Duck at Wei Jing Ge

The last night of our stay, we ate at our hotel’s restaurant, Wei Jing Ge.

We had early flights the next morning. We were tired from sightseeing all day. And we wanted some Peking duck before we left China. Wei Jing Ge delivered on all counts.

20150428_065257 Pardon the dark photographs – the restaurant is very elegant (though quite empty) and it’s dark. I couldn’t put my flash on without being “that ugly American.” This is a great place for a client dinner or an elegant night on the town with a loved one.  20150428_065304-001 Or a family who is about to travel 17 million hours across the ocean soon.  20150428_065310-001 Beautiful Chinoiserie place setting.  20150428_072140-001 Crispy pork belly served with sugar and mustard

That’s right sugar and mustard! You dip the pork into the mustard first and then just a touch of the sugar. The result is a granular, spicy, sweet marinade that you will soon be eating off of your fingers. It’s awesome. So is the pork belly. The meat is firmer than I’m used to and with a more distinctively barnyard-y, hay taste. It’s like wild boar – I love it. The fat is only rendered on top – a golden, crispy, sharp crackling – so if you don’t like that squishy fat feeling of un-rendered fat, this won’t be for you.

Again, I love it.  20150428_072554-001 Sauteed Chinese greens with ginger

You might think that this is bok choy, but you would be mistaken. Our lovely server told us that there is no English name for this Chinese green which is sweeter, more tender, and much less fibrous than bok choy. With some ginger, it’s an excellent palate cleanser to a meat-heavy meal.  20150428_072558 Honey-lacquered bbq pork

I’ll just let you guess how melting, tender, juicy, soft, and sweet this was.

Yeah, it is practically dessert. 
20150428_073253 Spicy sesame noodles 20150428_073447-001 Oh, get the hell out of here, NYC delivery guy. This is such a far cry from the crap on Seamless. These noodles are bouncy, wheaty, airy enough to soak up the sauce. The sauce is salty, sweet, nutty, almost meaty. It’s complex and scattered with scallions and bits of sweet sautéed garlic. It’s just…wow. The dreamiest noodles I had on the entire trip.  20150428_074747-001 Peking duck

I wish that I had a better video or photograph of this. This Peking duck…damn. First of all, the whole duck is carved down to, what must be, an ounce per person of meat and fat. You look at it and you’re like…wow, is this the diet portion? Then you eat it and you’re like, wow…I won’t be able to finish this. And you aren’t. You are served meat with skin that is juicy, tender, and covered with sweet skin. You are served plain skin that is sharp and sticky, crackly and potato-chip-y in the best way possible. You layer them all in pliable pancakes topped with cucumber, scallions, chilli, and hoisin sauce. You think about how this is the greatest duck you have ever had.  20150428_074943-001 You eat these little tacos until you can no longer imbibe.  20150428_085720 You finish off the meal with the world’s greatest coffee frappe at the hotel’s famed Long Bar. It used to be that the people with the highest social status sat closest to the window and those who were still climbing the ranks sat toward the other end of the bar.

This meal is worthwhile no matter where you are staying. It’s on the pricier side of Shanghai dining, but with that price comes air conditioning, excellent service, and a memorable dining experience.

The Great Noodle Tour: Shopping in Shanghai

Japan doesn’t have all of the shopping fun. China has its own charms and wonder.

20150426_033628 The city of Shanghai loves to eat. Tons of snack shops and stalls on every corner.
20150426_034257 Including a thousand different lemonade varieties, each worse tasting than the last.  20150426_034306 Including a hot tea option topped with cheese.  20150427_005831 Eating, eating, eating.  20150427_020715 These creepy toys which I learned are called Monchicis…wow, so frightening.
20150427_021231 A million snacks which ranged from unappealing to vomit inducing. I will just never be into dried fish.
20150427_021248 Love these photos of Shanghai Girls on the drie fruit.  20150427_024629 Dried chicken feet in the convenience store. Yeah, you’re in CHINA. 
20150428_011834 These funny little cartoon girls advertising adult shampoo.  20150428_012119 Nori snacks rolled like fruit rollups.

20150428_013302 Black chicken and chicken with head and toes intact. 
20150428_013330 Langoustine and shrimp varieties ranging from the size of a needle to almost lobster like mammoths. Some came as far as Madagascar.  20150428_013356 Tiny quail eggs and huge goose eggs.

20150428_013445 No comment. Love it.  20150428_013525 American hot wings flavored Doritos! Why don’t we have these, just called “hot wings?” 20150428_013545 Gotta love an aisle of puffed foods. 
20150428_013857 I doubt I would use an aisle filled with spicy duck tongue and sauced duck neck.  20150428_014020 Love the packaging.
20150428_014931 Adorable buns filled with pork floss.  20150428_015413 And a huge shopping mall that is half empty and looks like Vegas on crack.

China was a trip and we hadn’t even enjoyed our most awesome meal yet – Peking duck.

The Great Noodle Tour: Shen Jiang Bao

So, there are these little dumplings all over the streets of Shanghai. They are called shen jiang bao, and they are more buns than dumplings. Fried doughy buns filled with juicy pork and fabulous soupy broth. I don’t know the names of any of the places that we ate, because they were just little holes in the wall with lines out the door. They are all over the place.

20150426_032247 Look at those little buns just waiting to get all fried and crunchy.  20150426_032256 Steamer baskets full in the windows of little shops. 20150426_032648 Cover and shake, then let them sit so the bottoms get golden and the juice is searing hot.  20150426_032917 A sprinkling of black sesame seeds and all that it needs ia a quick hit of vinegar.  20150426_033222 AAAH MAAHH GAAAHHH SO GOOD. The dumpling dough absorbs the flavor so much better than thin soup dumpling dough. The bottom is crispy and contrasts with the dough and the juicy pork within. Every dumpling is slightly different – softer, harder, juicier, meatier – but they are all absolutely delicious.  20150428_003503 The restaurants that offer these dumplings are very casual and often run out of them by early afternoon. They are mostly a breakfast or lunch food.  20150428_003505 Find some staff who seems nice and point to what other people are eating to order. That’s what we did.
20150428_003554 These long ones had the best ratio of meat:dough that we experienced in China.  20150428_003557 And this is one of my favorite meals of the trip. It was consistently delicious, fun, and SO CHEAP. 4 of us ate like kings for $5 per meal. Apparently they are available in NYC, but not to the same level of amazing-ness. Shen jiang bao – don’t miss them in Shanghai.

*Quick note: New Taste of the UWS is this weekend. This fabulous event covers 3 separate dining experiences and festivals with celebrity chefs and food from all of the UWS greats. The tickets are pricey but the proceeds all go towards beautifying and generally improving the neighborhood. My choice pick is Best of the West, but these are all winners! Get tickets here. This blurb is not sponsored.*

The Great Noodle Tour: Din Tai Fung’s Fabulous Food

I finally made it to the much-lauded dumpling parlor Din Tai Fung

20150427_065114 This Taiwanese chain was started by a Shanghai immigrant who brought his exceptional dumpling skills to Taiwan and created and international sensation known for its cleanliness, predictability, and totally delicious dumplings.

20150427_065104 We were quickly seated by a friendly, English speaking server and then the food came out in quick succession. 
20150427_065254
Even the ginger arrives artfully. 20150427_070337 Shrimp and pork wontons in spicy sauce

 The sleeper hit of the night. Meaty, porky, umami, and pleasantly salty with just a touch of salinity from the ground shrimp. The sauce is spicy, slick with chile oil,a nd peppered with chives. A truly delicious way to start the meal.  20150427_070341 Spring rolls

Crispy, piping hot, savory. Good, not memorable.  20150427_070344 Noodles with minced pork sauce

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MMM, MMM, GOOD! Bouncy, fresh noodles soaking up all of the meaty, tomatoey, porky goodness. A savory way to break up the dumpling monotony. 
20150427_070819 Spicy sautéed green beans…with pork

Notice a theme here? Yep, it’s all about the pork and the veggies are no exception. These beans are cooked over high, high heat until they blister and pop open, allowing the chiles and pork to seep into their every pore.

Good stuff.  20150427_071115 BBQ pork buns. Also good stuff.

20150427_070412

The soup dumplings. I’m so sorry that I don’t have a better photo of these PERFECT little soup dumplings. Oh, they are so divine. Thin skinned like gossamer little pockets of pork and broth. The broth is light and tastes clean, not at all greasy or heavy. The pork fairly dissolves in your mouth. This is a damned fine dumpling that enhanced, not made or broken, by the ginger infused vinegar.
20150427_072652 Sticky rice with pork 20150427_072722 Glutinous. Fatty to the nth degree. Salty and savory. Basically awesome.

If I lived here, I would be a Din Tai Fung fanatic. The service is excellent, they have diet coke (a MAJOR rarity in Asia), and the food is some of the best that we had in China.

The Great Noodle Tour: Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant

20150427_015527

The restaurant that I was told to visit in Shanghai, the city famed for its soup dumplings, was Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. It’s a mini chain and there is a location isnide the touristy but lovely and well located YuYuan Garden. Think Disney-esque China, complete with street performers, hordes of families with kids, and a million kitschy souvenirs.

20150427_013001 When you follow the signs and eventually find Nanxiang Steamed Buns, you will go upstairs (Skip that huge line outside for the counter service) and be confronted by 2 lines. They are, though not identical, nearly so. Go in whichever line is shorter – there is one dining room that has, like, a $5 minimum spending which you will reach, no problem.  20150427_013007 It’s very, VERY difficult to get any sort of service here. Breathe into it. And tip the first person who comes by. Then the service comes real fast. 
20150427_013500 Soup dumplings.

Pork and Crab. Lovely! Thin, soft wrappers surrounding soft meat and plenty of juice. The pork taste is predominant, which I prefer.  20150427_014233

You can see how juicy it is. The pork is a little underseasoned, but the tangy/tart vinegar spikes it up really well.  20150427_013539 Big ass crab dumpling
20150427_013836 It’s honestly huge. And delicious. Like the most buttery, silky, sweet crab flavored chowder ever. It’s clean and umami, not at all minerally or funky. You sip up the broth through the straw and then discard the wrapper. Or eat it, as I did. Doughy wrapper = excellent vinegar delivery system. 
20150427_015509 Nanxiang is certainly where the locals go and the food is inexpensive and delicious. However, was this the greatest soup dumpling of my trip? Why, no. That’s yet to come.