Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Chun - A Shanghainese Restaurant

This will be the first post in a series about favorite Shanghai-style restaurants. That's in addition to my series about the best places to get xiaolongbao, a local-style snack.

Shanghai's cuisine is not my favorite. I prefer the stronger flavors of South East Asian cuisine, or maybe the hot, oily Sichuan and Hunan styles of Chinese food. Shanghai style food relies on subtle flavors, where quality comes from the fresh ingredients. There's less oil than other Chinese cuisines, with foods often being steamed, rather than fried in a wok. Local seafood is prevalent, as is local produce – farms still line the outskirts of Shanghai. Sauces are mild, often depending on interplay of light soy sauce and sugar – really a lot of Shanghai's food is mildly sweet, and that's probably the biggest hurdle for someone new to the cuisine.

That being said, probably my favorite place in Shanghai for local-style cuisine is Chun, on 124 Jinxian Lu, right next to the Lomography store and nearish to the Shaanxi Nan Lu Subway Station. The restaurant has only four tables, between that and a NY Times write up it all sounded very mysterious. But really the insides are nothing special – it looks like a normal hole in the wall, only maybe just a little fancier and a little smaller. Also, with such a small restaurant, it's a good idea either show up really early, or better yet to book a table, the number is 21-6256-0301.

There's no menu. Instead, the chef prepares what's fresh that day – customers tell the waiter how many dishes they want. Of course there's some leeway to order favorite dishes, or to request certain foods not be served. The waiter only speaks Chinese, but the restaurant is well-known enough with foreigners that I'm sure it's possible to order without the local lingo.

All the pictures above have been taken at the restaurant, and they were all incredibly delicious, to the point that it was hard to choose a favorite or least favorite dish. If there are any caveats to be made, it's that the food is served local style, and personally I'm so lazy at eating, I hate spitting out bones, or digging the meat out of shrimps.

What was shown? The pictures were taken at a meal for two, where we got a cold braised pork, a plate of seasoned shrimp, a steamed whitefish with a hong shao sauce, and pork soup with bamboo shoots and those crazy tofu sheets that are tied into knots. A lot of food, although I should have added a vegetable. It came in to slightly under 200 kuai, or about $14 per person. About double the price from some of my other favorite Shanghai-style restaurants, but you pay the big bucks to get the best!


Ted said...

I went to check this restaurant out based on your recommd., turned out it was closed, I went to the back and saw a lady in the kitchen and asked if they were going to open....My chinese is poor and my friend's even worst, but I think she said the guy passed away!...I hope I'm wrong. Please post some more Shanghai restaurants, as I don't want to come half away around the world to be eating food western food. Anyway great blog...

Jeff Rutsch said...

Thanks for the comment. Oddly enough, I had called Chun for a reservation, about 30 minutes before I saw your reply. They told me they were closed, but would be open next week - I don't know if it's due to a death, or just an extended Chinese New Year's break, or what.

I'll talk about a few Shanghainese Restaurants soon - one of them will be Lan Xin, which is three or four doors over from Chun. It's not as good, but it's pretty similar.

Anonymous said...

I called back with a Chinese friend, the place is open and is still very good. Ted

Also since your in China, I found this to be a very good blog on the current political issues going on-