An Asia Foodie: Shanghai Edition

Xiao long bao, soup dumplings, were invented in Nanxiang, a village outside Shanghai.  So, just as Chicago tourists head to Gino’s East to eat deep dish pizza and Memphis tourists get their fingers dirty eating ribs, Shanghai tourists line up for hours for steamers of thin-skinned tongue-burning xiao long bao.  I was lucky to find Phat in Shanghai’s thorough reviews of the city’s xiao long bao offerings before getting mine.  I went to his top pick, Ling Long Fang, on a quiet block near Xintiandi.  The menu is very simple—4 or 5 kinds of xiao long bao, from a 7 RMB steamer of pure pork to the 81 RMB steamer of crab and crab roe.  You also choose a soup—I chose chicken and duck blood—and drink—Pepsi!  Everything was, of course, delicious.  The dumplings were smaller than the ones I’ve had in Hong Kong and New York, and the subtle flavor of the filling and the mouth-pleasing mix of textures were the definition of comfort food.  Drinking the soup that had mixed with the soy-vinegar in my spoon after each dumpling, I felt very pleased with myself.

Chowhound poster Simon’s description of Yunnan restaurant Southern Barbarian single-handedly sold me on it: “Southern Barbarian has a minimalist, stripped-down cool vibe (would not be out of place in the East Village of NYC or San Fran or some other N.American loft district) and serves yummy, straight-up Yunnan food for very moderate prices and has the best artisnal beer/ale selection in all of SH…”

And that’s how I discovered that there’s a Chinese cheese!  And it’s really, really good!  It’s called rubing and is a goat cheese native to Yunnan.  Imagine a dense, watertight, high-quality paneer (or mozzarella) cut into quarter-inch-thick slices, pan-fried, and sprinkled with salt.  Southern Barbarian’s potato pancake was crispy on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside, and flavored with green onion, salt, and tongue-tingling ground Sichuan peppercorn.  The rubing and pancake made perfect cool weather beer food.

Southern Barbarian’s “crossing the bridge” noodles, a traditional Yunnan dish that I’ve never had before, failed to inspire me.  The noodles didn’t seem like anything special, and neither were any of the toppings put into the bowl tableside.

My final night in Shanghai, I had tasty, fatty Uighur lamb skewers from a popular walk-up window operation on Yunnan Road, four Portuguese egg tarts, and a bubble tea from the Tea Lemon under the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall.  I hope that I can still fit in the cocktail dress that I bought for Shad’s wedding…

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