The world on a plate
A popular Shanghai bistro’s menu is informed by its owner’s overseas travels. Xu Junqian reports.
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.