We’ve raved about the Shanghai-style soup dumplings at Fu Chun for years now, but let us let you in on a secret: There’s more to this tiny hole-in-the-wall than its xiaolongbao.
Since 1959, the restaurant has been serving up benbang dishes, but little has changed on the menu or in the kitchen. A Huaiyang snack shop, Fu Chun admittedly skews Shanghainese in its regional flavor profile, which means extra sugar and a lot of pork. Try the traditional deep-fried pork cutlet (炸猪排, zhà zhūpái). Pounded thin before hitting the deep fryer, these fatty flanks are served sliced with a side of black rice vinegar – a dip helps cut the grease. Here it’s all about local comfort food, with the Shanghainese answer to British fish and chips (排骨年糕, páigǔ niángāo). Fried potatoes are traded in for starchy glutinous rice cakes paired with more of those deep-fried pork chops, and instead of tartar sauce, there’s sweet gravy thickened with cornstarch.
There are other local classics offered here that are hard to find elsewhere in Shanghai, as menus begin to make room for more upscale dishes using imported ingredients. “Partner” soup (单档, dān dàng) is one such home-style dish featured at Fu Chun. Named after a classical instrument duet, this regional delicacy pairs pork and shrimp sausage swaddled in tofu skin with a deep-fried wheat gluten puff stuffed with a pork meatball. This dish uses the same chicken and pork broth that Fu Chun’s famous handmade wontons (三鲜小云吞, sān xiān xiǎo yún tūn) float in.
Thanks to Shanghai’s penchant for sweets, there are several desserts worth a try, like red date “pull” cake (枣泥拉糕, zaoní lā gāo). The glutinous rice flour base, cut into diamonds, gets its name from its sticky consistency, which requires a good tug to wrench it into bite-sized pieces with a pair of chopsticks. Also worth an order is coconut milk with tapioca balls (椰汁西米露, yē zhī xī mǐ lù). More of a drink than a dish (though it is served in a bowl with a spoon), it goes down well after a steamer basket full of soup dumplings.
This is all ground-floor dining, where you order at the counter, hover over those lucky enough to already be seated, then hand your receipt with a numbered clothespin to a harried waitress carrying stacks of steamer baskets 10 high to diners gossiping in Shanghainese. Upstairs, you can also order these snacks, but the menu extends to dishes enjoyed at a more leisurely pace. But that’s for another review.
This article was originally published on June 15, 2015.