I heart SH: Food nostalgia

You never know if you are going to fall in love with the food in a new city, or if you eat and are always disappointed. During my two-week visit in Shanghai I tried to always eat as local as possible. I only had a few western meals, and other than trekking all over the city to find a good green smoothie (actually just a real green smoothie), I stuck to trying new things.

I have not been a fan of Chinese food in Portland. Most of the places we have tried have been too Americanized and are mostly bland options. For the most part Thai or Chinese food for us has been the quick “too tired, or too busy to cook” option. You do not really crave that kind of Chinese food, it is more of a convenience. So not really sure what to expect and knowing that I have definitely not really ever experienced “good” Chinese food, I jumped in head first. I thought I would share a few of my favorites.

photo 5Xiao long bao is a kind of steamed dumpling (or bun) that is made in bamboo steamer baskets, and filled with a tiny amount of broth. Xiaolongbao - Yum!They are usually served with slices of ginger, soy, and vinegar to dip in before popping in your mouth. I became addicted to the pork filled versions, although I also had some that had hairy crab inside. They have a thin, light exterior, and it is best to tear a corner and check the temperature of the soup, or just go for it and down it all in one bite, hoping not to burn your mouth in the process. They are little morsels of intense flavor and just so so so good.

Favorite location: Din Tai Fung (for those of you in the US, there is a location in Seattle). Roadtrip soon, Chris?

Sheng Jian BaoTheir cousins or siblings are Sheng Jian Bao (fried soup dumplings) and take a close second for me. My first Sheng jian baoThey are a breakfast speciality in Shanghai. Twice the size of the Xia long bao, also filled with pork and broth, but fried on the bottom. They also have a thicker exterior.

Favorite location: Yang’s Dumplings

I tried other local Shanghainese food, with differing opinions. Some dishes were bland, some just not the flavor I would crave. Junk food, street food, fine dining. More items with beans then I can imagine. By far my favorite were these two versions of dumplings. I have already started the hunt of where I can find something even close as to as good in Portland.

Dessert in Shanghai was few and far between. We usually were too full to care, but not in that ‘your pants are bursting’ kind of way. In more of a ‘that was amazing and I do not want to do anything to the flavors happening in my mouth’. However, we happened across a bakery selling a Cronut (croissant + doughnut), we could not resist.

CronutEver since we had heard about all the hubbub in New York City at the Dominique Ansel Bakery, we have always wanted to try one. While I appreciate that the fad has not blown up and been cloned all over the US, when you have never had one, and you see it in Shanghai, why not try it? They know that they are stealing the idea from New York City, but rather than completely steal the idea, we saw it marketed as “Cronut = Crack + Doughnut.” Whatever way they want to justify it, we found two bakeries that sold them. Worth it? Yes.

I enjoyed trying so many unique and local dishes and will miss Xiao Long Bao, but the adventurer in me will see if I can find them locally. Or, maybe Chris will play in the kitchen and see how hard they are to make right at home.

Is toast the new cupcake?

I continue to see articles about toast. Yes, that is what I said… toast! It is turning into the newest fad. $3, $5, $7 slices of thick toast. Some with cinnamon and sugar, others with jelly, or other savory toppings. It is locally made, and sliced thickly, and toasted to perfection. Much of my research shows that this new toast trend first popped up in the San Francisco area, but is starting to make its way across the country.

It is a funny thing when you think about it. Of all the crazes, cupcakes and cronuts, even locally made ice cream with crazy ingredients are all things that are a bit more complicated to make at home. Yet, toast, one of the easiest items to make in your kitchen is now a luxury item in bakeries, cafes, and restaurants. Maybe it is just a current fad and will not last.

An article on ABC states:

“The Mill’s offerings change often, but selections, priced up to $3.75 per slice, can be country bread with butter, maple syrup, powdered sugar and sea salt, or whole wheat bread with house made pumpkin butter. The trend has spread to Los Angeles, where Sqirl charges $7 for thick-cut local “burnt” brioche bread topped with house made ricotta and seasonal jam, and New York City, where The Smile offers buttered multigrain toast with local honey, raspberry jam or almond butter for $3.75.”

A group in San Francisco is even petitioning the mayor to get the cost of living under control, blaming the tech community for having the ability to purchase luxury items such as a piece of $7 toast. Wow, what is the world coming to these days? I am not saying I am against $7 toast, I think we should each decide for ourselves what we purchase. I am not one that would want to purchase a piece of $7 if I could purchase a whole loaf for that price. Call me cheap, or thrifty, I just think a bit more about the economy of things. If I did fork over $7 it better be a damn good piece of toast.

What do you think about the new toast craze?

Have you had a cronut?

I am intrigued. A colleague at work told me the other day about cronuts. They are a cross between croissants and doughnuts, or more specifically croissant dough fried like a doughnut. I do not have a sweet tooth. If there is such a thing as a salt tooth, that would be me. However, the cronut interests me. I would at least like to see if the craze is worth all the hype.

On different blogs and news sites, I found that they are selling for $5 a piece and Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City is limiting the amount they can sell per customer. Another site says that Craigslist is selling them on the black market for 8 times the value – can you believe it? $40 a cronut. Dominique Ansel is now on the map as a bakery. I am sure they cannot keep up with the business they have acquired through their new invention. They will be what Magnolia Bakery was to cupcakes.

I even found that this blogger has come up with a recipe that takes Trader Joe’s croissants or chocolate croissants and turns them into a cronut at home concoction. While Dominique Ansel has only been selling them since May 10, if you do an Internet search you will see there is quite a bit of excitement in just the few weeks since they launched. There is even a website dedicated to cronuts.

I do not have plans to go to New York City anytime soon (although I would love to) so if anyone is going that way and then immediately coming back to Portland bring some back for me. Yum!