In the heat of a typically scorching Shanghai Saturday, food lovers and local media gathered at The Chinoise Story for Best Food In China's summer cooking show, its second event of the year. Event host, award-winning The Chinoise Story, is a stylishly elegant restaurant in the Old Jinjiang Hotel compound, specializing in modern Shanghainese fare. A fusion of classic standards with a fresh gourmand twist, the food pops with exciting contemporary accents and pleases with the time-tested flavors of the local Huiyang tradition.
After a brief welcome by Best Food In China co-founder, Simon Pan, the show began. The event, emceed by BFIC lancers David Evans and Brian Sun, with interpretation provided by Summer Xia, showcased four unique and tantalizing dishes from The Chinoise Story's culinary arsenal. As Head Chef Jacky took to his cooking station at the front of the dining room, the crowd of guests eagerly leaned forward for better views and snapshots of the proceedings.
The first offering, braised bean curd roll in chicken stock, was a classic take on the local favorite. With the help of some audience volunteers, the tender sheets of tofu were twisted and tied in miniature knots. Braised in a stock of sugar, chicken essence, and Chinese rice wine, the bean curd absorbed all the wonderful flavors into its elastic skin. Piled beneath a colorful pile of julienned red pepper, needle mushroom and green vegetable, the rolls resembled little "lines of soldiers" according to the chef, but looked more like an edible pile of kindling logs. On first bite, the flavorful broth flowed from the roll, covering the tongue with savory umami satisfaction.
Curiosity was sparked by the second dish on the menu: deep fried lychee with fresh crab meat. The combination of tastes and textures seemed an imaginative mix. Frying up a fragrant blend of diced onion, chopped needle mushroom, crab meat and curry sauce, the chef created a delicate filling for the pitted lychee. Dunked in a light coating of corn starch and batter, the stuffed fruit met their fate in the fryer, containing enough oil to "allow the lychee to swim," quipped emcee Brian Sun. The first taste was interesting. The crunchy crust gave way to the juicy flesh inside, with the curry crab stuffing providing just a slight complimentary bite. Both texture and flavor were very intriguing and possible experimentation with other seasonal fruits or shellfish could produce a bevy of delicious summertime snacks.
Our third dish was stewed sliced fish with shredded black fungus in a special wine sauce. The "special wine" sauce – called jiu zao - is composed in part by fermented rice, or jiu niang, the solid leftovers saved from the Chinese rice wine process. Used as a popular flavoring in Huiyang cooking, the sauce gave off a slightly sour aroma that offered a fragrant complement to the fresh, boneless fish. Audience members interviewed by emcee David Evans unanimously agreed that the fish was “very delicious.” A fitting end to the day's showcase.
After a palate-cleansing finish of dense green bean and lily bulb jelly topped with sweet and sour plum sauce, the audience returned to the oppressive humidity of the afternoon. The light and cooling dishes presented by Chinoise Story were a refreshing reminder that “classic” does not necessarily mean stale and breathing new life into standard favorites can revive interest in local cuisine so often prepared by the book in this city.
BestFoodInChina.net would like to thank gracious General Manager Mary Xuan and the talented Head Chef Jacky for providing the local and expat foodie community with an afternoon of delightful new flavors. For coverage of the day's events, please tune in to the Young TV Network, who was on hand to tape Chef Jacky and his creative process.
By Neil Yeung