Where East meets West for din­ner

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Guide­books ad­vise sam­pling Shang­hai’s “must-tries” like xi­ao­long­bao (soup dumplings), red­braised pork and hairy crabs.

But the city’s best-kept open se­cret is haipai xi­can, which lit­er­ally trans­lates as “Hai-style West­ern fare”.

It shows ev­ery di­men­sion of the me­trop­o­lis’ cul­ture — down to its cui­sine — ex­ists at the in­ter­sec­tion of East and West.

It’s per­haps the clos­est you’ ll find to West­ern Chi­na­towns’ food in the coun­try, yet is its own dis­tinc­tive group — a melt­ing pot of an­cient in­dige­nous dishes with a dash of French, Ital­ian and Ger­man in­flu­ence.

It’s con­sid­ered fine din­ing and of­ten sa­vored dur­ing im­por­tant or ro­man­tic oc­ca­sions.

“It’s a kind of West­ern cui­sine that you can use chop­sticks to eat, even though most peo­ple wouldn’t,” lo­cal food writer Kong Mingzhu ex­plains.

Haipai sta­ples in­clude potato salad, fried pork chops and borsch.

Th­ese three dishes are used as the lit­mus test to de­ter­mine if a cook has mas­tered lo­cal culi­nary arts.

Yet all th­ese are dif­fer­ent from how they’re clas­si­cally pre­pared in their coun­tries of ori­gin.

The potato salad, for in­stance, lacks the med­ley of other veg­eta­bles the Moscow orig­i­nal con­tains. Pota­toes and pro­cessed ham are cubed and mixed with a sauce made from egg yolk and cook­ing oil.

Fried pork chops re­main truer to the Vienna cut­let from which it’s de­rived. The lip-puck­er­ing spicy soy sauce is Shang­hai’s ad­di­tion.

The di­alec­ti­cal pro­nun­ci­a­tion of borsch, lu­osong — the soup be­lieved to have orig­i­nated from Ukraine — is ho­mo­phonic with the Chi­nese word for Rus­sian, the na­tion­al­ity who brought it to the city.

Beet­root wasn’t grown in China when borsch ar­rived, so it in­stead fea­tures an as­sort­ment of veg­gies and sausage slices in a tomato broth.

Adap­ta­tion ac­cord­ing to avail­able in­gre­di­ents is the hall­mark of haipai, says re­tired Red House chef Hou Gen­quan.

Even bak­ing in­cludes a mix of cul­tur­ally in­flu­ences.

A but­ter­fly-shaped, sugar-sprin­kled pas­try is widely en­joyed dur­ing af­ter­noon tea and cre­ates long lines at stores like Deda and Park Ho­tel ev­ery af­ter­noon, when it comes fresh out of the ovens.

Vis­i­tors to the city should of course try its iconic dishes — and save room for a help­ing of haipai.


But­ter­fly-shaped, sugar-sprin­kled cook­ies are widely en­joyed in Shang­hai, es­pe­cially when they come fresh out of the ovens.

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