Sunday, October 21, 2007

Have a Munch

Da Qing Hua Manchurian Cuisine
Junction of Xie Tu Lu and Da Pu Lu
Lu Wan District, Shanghai, China
Chinese cuisine to the rest of the world is often well represented by schools of Cantonese, Sichuan, Beijing, Shanghainese and Hunan flavours. Beyond these five major schools of flavours, there are many other less discovered ethnic cuisines of China and among them, the ethnic cuisine of Manchuria. While it may not be a significant part of Chinese cuisine, it does have its own characteristics merits and specialities.
Having lost our way to the hotel, it turn out to be a blessing in disguise as N and I caught sight of this unique Manuchuria themed restaurant as we circled the neighbourhood in search of our designated accommodation location. After settling down, we walked down 2 blocks into this Qing dynasty themed decorated restaurant where service staffs are decked in royal servants attire. The menu represented the flavours of this north eastern province whose ethnic people once ruled China for more than three hundred years. Lamb is the preferred meat and is done in various ways from being simmered in a hot pot filled with spicy broth, to being braised, sautéed or even spice dusted and grilled. Hence we ordered the grilled lamb leg which is one of the house specialties.
We started with other items from the menu among which is a cold platter of Fen Pi with shredded raw vegetables with sesame sauce and oil oriented garlic soy dressing. Fen Pi is actually flat noodles made from mung bean flour and taste slippery smooth with slight suppleness. To appreciate this dish, the sesame pasted is first poured over the noodles and followed by the soy garlic dressing. Toss evenly with the finely shredded toppings of cucumbers, carrots, red cabbage, fresh coriander leaves and finely sliced soy marinated pork. We tasted the dish and the initial toss and found it to be very nice but upon N’s suggestion to drizzle some black vinegar, it really lifted the whole dish and brought it alive, perking up the flavours to a new level of deliciousness. Sometimes wife knows best.
Dumplings are a part of Manchurian cuisine and also a speciality of this restaurant which offers more than 15 combinations of fillings. We chose the chef’s recommendations of having it done imperial style that has them lightly pan fried and covered with a paper thin wafer of rice starch. The dumplings were bursting with juicy bits of shrimp and Beijing cabbage. By dipping them into the fragrant black vinegar, it enhanced the pleasure of each morsel and cuts the greasy mouth feel. The sweetness of the Beijing cabbage was a great companion to the shrimp meat and gave the dumpling fillings a nice crunchy texture.
Soon the roast lamb arrived with the meat all sliced up and re-cooked till almost dried up. It was a letdown for us as we anticipated juicy roasted leg but ended with torn shredded pieces of overcooked meat. However there were some interesting learning points of how the way it was eaten. The roast lamb was accompanied by a sauce of minced garlic, onions and pickled vegetables cooked in oil. A small side dish of whole cumin seeds mixed with chilli powder, salt and sesame seeds were also served. The idea is to take each slice of lamb meat, dip into the sauce and followed by the dry mix. Each bite releases the spicy fragrance of the toasted cumin seeds and the nuttiness aromas of roasted sesame seeds. The sauce also made up slightly for the loss of the precious meat juices giving the rubbery textured meat a small relief. I was fantasizing that if the meat had been served the way it is always appreciated in western cooking, pink and juicy, it would indeed have been heavenly.
Meat and mushrooms are a classic combination so we ordered a dish of sautéed sliced mushrooms as our final dish. The abalone textured like slices of Bai Ling Mushrooms were sautéed with a sauce that was made up with soy, ketchup and Maggi Seasoning sauces, accompanied with shoestring style strips of deep fried sweet potatoes. The lovage and soy notes of the sauce brought out the savouriness of the supple textured mushroom slices which was balance by the natural and crispiness of the deep fried sweet potatoes. We enjoyed this dish very much and appreciated the delicate balance of fungus, root vegetable and naturally fermented sauces.

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