The world on a plate

A pop­u­lar Shang­hai bistro’s menu is in­formed by its owner’s over­seas trav­els. Xu Jun­qian re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | DINING - Con­tact the writer at xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

We are con­stantly fed — and overfed — with posts and pho­tos ofwho’s trav­el­ing where thanks to so­cial me­dia. Some­thing very sim­i­lar hap­pens for fans of the bistro Ginger by the Park in Shang­hai: They have a stalker-like knowl­edge of where its owner has been trav­el­ing through­out the year via the menu, and they are likely to be overfed with the food in­spired from those trips.

“Af­ter many years of oper­at­ing Ginger, I un­der­stand what to bring back to share with our guests that will en­tice their taste buds,” says Betty Ng, the owner and cre­ative spirit be­hind Ginger.

The three-floor bistro and cafe is tucked, as its name sug­gests, in a cor­ner of a lush neigh­bor­hood park.

Like its lo­ca­tion — a quiet spot in the most cen­tral area of the city, yet hid­den from all the me­trop­o­lis mad­ness — the res­tau­rant has, over the past decade since its open­ing, man­aged to find its own place in the ev­er­com­pet­i­tive mar­ket with­out re­lyin­gupon­stunts or chas­ing trends.

“I love re­fresh­ing dishes, not too heavy, with a cer­tain unique­ness and, if pos­si­ble, not nor­mally served in town,” says Ng.

The Sin­ga­porean restau­ra­teur lived in Ja­pan, where she took culi­nary train­ing at the Cor­don Bleu be­fore set­tling down in Shang­hai with her fam­ily in the 2000s.

Her life­long pas­sion for food, and spices in par­tic­u­lar, was sparked by the home cook­ing of her child­hood. Ng opened the chic-yet-cozy bistro in a re­fur­bished villa with a spa­cious ter­race, and she has built on the con­cept of shar­ing and re-cre­at­ing the food that im­presses her while trav­el­ing, which she makes time to do four times a year.

A re­cently in­spired and “very un-nor­mal” dish, for ex­am­ple, is chick­en­tagine, anaro­matic gift­fromher trip toMar­rakech­inMorocco last­sum­mer. Th­es­low-braised saf­fron chicken paired with cous­cous is par­tic­u­larly ten­der and juicy and whets the ap­petite for North African cuisines and the coun­tries that pro­duce such foods.

TheAsian dips, as starters, are the col­lected mem­o­ries of Ng’s ex­pe­ri­ences in the con­ti­nent.

While the sticks of cu­cum­bers and car­rots and the rice crack­ers are gen­er­ally fresh, the laksa pesto, among all three sauces, is a star that con­vinces din­ers that South­east Asia is a spice par­adise.

Us­ing leaves of fresh herbs from Ng’s “jun­gle” of plants at home, the paste is com­bined with gar­lic, roasted pine nuts and rice bran oil and then sea­soned with sea salt and ground pep­per. They mix beau­ti­fully, cre­at­ing a minty and fla­vor­ful taste that in­vites you to dip ev­ery­thing— noo­dles, pork and choco­late cake— into it.

That is, ev­ery­thing ex­cept the steamed black cod, for which dip­ping would sim­ply be gild­ing the lily. In­stead of a light steamed dish, it’s more like a heart­warm­ing and stom­ach-grat­i­fy­ing soup for win­ter com­fort: The fish chunk is cooked and served in a glass jar of soup, spiced with lemon­grass, ginger, lime leavesand­co­conut milk.

Of course, you wouldn’t mind en­joy­ing it in sum­mere­i­ther, if you are the tom-yam-kung-slurp­ing type who en­joys sweat­ing at Thai­land’s street stalls in pur­suit of that coun­try’s fa­mously de­li­cious street food.

The Mochi Mochi ice dessert ends the meal with a fun-yet-sooth­ing touch af­ter all the spices.

The Iza­kaya-style clas­sic fea­tures a va­ri­ety of tex­tures, in­clud­ing smooth­ing ice cream, and spongy and chewy mocha, all with a finely tuned mild sweet­ness.

owner of res­tau­rant Ginger in Shang­hai. No 91, Xing­guo Road, Changn­ing dis­trict, Shang­hai. 021-3406-0599.

Ginger

Betty Ng,

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