Sunday, April 05, 2009

Wu Yue Ren Jia Noodles

The foreigner shopping complex of Taikang Lu is fun, I've written about it before, and there's a few stores within which I hope to write about in the near future. At the same time, despite having a whole lot of restaurants, none of them look particularly appealing to me. I'm perfectly willing to believe there's some place I haven't been to yet that's actually really good, but a cursory look around makes it seem to be a bunch of typical foreigner restaurants, over-priced and unexceptional.

When I'm in the area, my favorite place to get food is the nearby Wu Yue Ren Jia, a branch of a local noodle chain restaurant. While in the US “chain restaurant” conjures up the image of McDonald's or Olive Garden, in Shanghai many of even the most upscale restaurants will open a few branches around the city. Wu Yue Ren Jia is not one of the most upscale restaurants – however while many of the branches are just a step up from any other cheap noodle joint, the Taikang Lu branch is pretty fancy inside, clean and spacious and generally new-looking. They even play traditional Suzhou music softly in the background, I like that.

The “Wu Yue” in the name is a reference to an ancient state in Southern Jiangsu and Northern Zhejiang, the geographical surroundings of Shanghai. While the noodles themselves are just basic Southern Chinese noodles and nothing fancy, the accompanying meat or vegetables are mostly local specialties. They're generally very good - they're served alongside the bowl in a smaller plate, and can either be eaten separately, or placed in the soup bowl. Personally, I think the soup broth is too bland without adding at least some of the sauce.

The noodle dishes are fairly cheap, but on the small side. Here's a look at their selection of noodles, although the menu is only in Chinese:

It's probably worth getting a side dish to go along with the noodles. Again, most of the dishes are local specialties, I've had about half the menu and I have to say I've enjoyed everything. They're not substantial enough to make a meal out of them alone, to my mind, but one could certainly try. My favorites are probably the si xi kaofu (spongy tofu) and the wu xiang niu rou (five fragrance cold beef). The second half of the menu is to the right of this paragraph, although there's also temporary specials and the normal assortment of drinks. Here's a picture of their cucumber. It's quite nice, although cucumber is so basic that it would be hard to do wrong:

All in all, Wu Yue Ren Jia isn't a destination restaurant, the way the other Shanghainese Restaurants I've mentioned so far are. The food just isn't as good or as ambitious. However, it's casual, it's thoroughly local-style, it's perfectly normal for a person to visit by themselves or as a group, and it's a good place to go if you find yourself nearby. The bill might come out to twenty or thirty kuai per person, the equivalent to three or four dollars. The Taikang Lu branch is at #5 Taikang Lu, right where Sinan Lu hits Taikang Lu, but there's a number of branches around town.

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