Editor’s note: This post is the first installment of “Best Bites of 2013,” a roundup of our top culinary experiences over the last year. Stay tuned for “Best Bites” from all of the cities Culinary Backstreets covers.
Deng Ji Chuan Cai
Culinary bucket lists are some of the best ways to discover our friends’ hidden gems: expat foodies are only willing to give up their proprietary favorites when they’re heading home. While we were sad to see one of the city’s best chefs move back to America this year, he left an excellent parting gift: the details of Deng Ji Chuan Cai’s famous crab.
Sure, all the spicy Sichuan cuisine on Deng Ji’s menu is delicious and certain to set your mouth ablaze, but the sour and spicy crab is the reason we keep returning for more. The live crab is brought out from the kitchen for approval before being stewed in a traditional Sichuan earthenware pickling jar. Spoon the sour and spicy soup over your bowl of rice and bask in the fire of the white chilis. We guarantee you’ll be back.
Lao Shaoxing Doujiang
There’s nothing like breakfast for dinner! This soy milk (豆浆, dòujiāng) and cruller (油条, yóutiáo) shop doesn’t even get cracking until 10 p.m., when Mercedes SUVs roll up next to migrant workers looking to satisfy their late-night cravings. Everyone sits side-by-side at makeshift tables. The only choice you have to make is whether you’d like your soy milk sweet or savory – they’re both delicious, but we’re partial to the latter, with its pickled vegetables in the spicy vinegar-laced soup.
Back when the high-speed rail between Shanghai and Beijing opened in 2010, we loved that we were only a five-hour ride from Da Dong’s delicious roasted duck. Now the famous Peking Duck emporium has fired up its brick ovens for the first time outside of the capital, and the duck was worth the wait. With an extra 20 minutes over fruitwood, the super lean bird is served with enough sauces and sides to make a meal all on its own. Expect a wait, even with reservations, but the queues are quelled with free-flowing beer and wine in the lobby.
As winter in Shanghai sets in, it’s important to eat foods that are not only nutritious but also yang (warming), to keep the body in balance and the immune system strong. It’s not often found on menus, but goat is a good yang food, and Lu Dajie’s big-eared goat meat soup (羊肉汤, yángròu tāng) is second to none. The Sichuan specialty (and secret family recipe) is soul-warming to the core, and Shanghainese diners come in droves – be prepared to wait a bit. Healthy and truly delicious makes for an unbeatable bite, and we’ll be back for plenty more in 2014.
We weren’t sure if it was the end of an era when the Muslim Market closed this spring, but thankfully it reopened a few weeks later near the original location. Although the vendors are fewer, the important foods are all represented. We can’t resist a lamb skewer (羊肉串, yáng ròu chuàn) when we see the small BBQ stands set up around the city, but the market vendors outside the Huxi Mosque’s back gate tend to have better quality, bringing in meat from the famous fat-bottomed sheep from the western provinces.
There’s enough on offer that snacking around can add up to a full meal, but be sure to get our other best bite from the market this year, the fried beef dumplings (煎牛肉包, jiān niúròu bāo), a fluffy bun with a delightful crispy bottom encasing a juicy seasoned beef filling. Our fingers are crossed for a prosperous and uneventful new year for the vendors and their families.