As a mixture of all advantages from each Chinese cuisine, local dishes in Shanghai, known as “Benbang Cai” (Benbang means local, while Cai is the Chinese for dishes), has a unique flavor with appropriate taste of sweet and salty, moderate degree of light and strong, and pleasant concordance of fresh and mellow.
The common cooking methods include braising in soy sauce and stewing in order to make a flavor of salty and sweet and a taste of savory but not greasy. People from the other countries often describe the Shanghai Cuisine as “strong in taste, rich in oil, sufficient in sugar and various in colors”. As for the characteristic for Shanghai Cuisine, the following words are classical enough to make a summary, which are distinct in seasons, exquisite in materials, strict in cooking, and nice in shapes.
Distinct in Seasons
For Shanghainese, the highest evaluation for food is fresh, which has two meanings in local diet – delicious and seasonable. The seasonal vegetables are common sense for old Shanghainese.
Since the dishes change accordingly with the four seasons, it is the original flavor to be enjoyed. For example, bamboo shoot soup with fresh and pickled streaky pork is for spring – the season the fresh bamboo shoots come into the market. Before Tomb-Sweeping Day, it’s the perfect time for eating sauries, when their bones are tender and the meats are fine; once after the festival, the bones turn rigid and lost fine taste. Until Dragon Boat Festival, when garlic is well ripe, it’s best for eating large yellow croaker braised with garlic. And shrimps are most delicious in June. Around September and October, fresh garlic sprouts become available in the market, making it golden time for preparing braised fish head soup in casserole – the fragrance from the several garlic sprouts scattered to the soup and the delicious taste is extremely an enjoyment to everyone.
Exquisite in Materials
Do you know the dish of “Fried Shrimps” at Shanghai Old Restaurant? For 500 grams of shrimps, there always contains 80 shrimps. Why? It is because all shrimps are carefully selected, with the same size and weight. To make a qualified local dish, chefs not only need to have skillful hands but also keen eyes as well.
Shanghainese like to blend soy sauce with sugar. Soy sauce is much better than salt. It will bring sweetness and freshness in salty taste and make the taste multi-layered. Soy sauce and sugar will blend with each other to bring out the oily and jelly taste of meat materials so that the gravy will be thick and rich (better in reserving the original flavor of food materials than starch paste).
Strict in Cooking
The cooking for local dishes pays attention to the exact length of cooking time. The theory of strict heating lies in the function of the temperature that may introduce the original quality and the best texture of the raw materials. For stir-fried shrimps, the shrimps should be fried in the oil with a temperature of 300 ℃ for only dozens of seconds so as to make the best texture of crispy outside and tender inside. Usually the temperature for stir-frying and soup-making is above 50 ℃ and around 80 ℃ respectively.
Nice in Shapes
Speaking of the thickness of the Shanghai Cuisine, big streaky pork must be used to make a big pot of “Rufu Pork”, in order to make the gravy rich and thick. As for the thinness, we can see it through the technique of making “Three-Shreds” – ham, bamboo shoots and cooked chicken chest are all cut into shreds, each with 36 strokes in the horizontal direction and 72 strokes vertically. Altogether, there should have a total number of 1,999 shreds for one dish, no one more and no one less.
In Shanghai, you can taste not only authentic Shanghai food, but also delicacies from all parts of China and dishes and snacks from all over the world. Bon Appétit！