Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Taste of Shanghai

Shanghai is in the news. A lot. It's in the financial headlines and seems to come up often in discussions about restaurants and food. Back in March when I went to hear Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl speak she talked about "an obsession with the regional cuisine of China" that is influencing the restaurants of the world and she mentioned Shanghai in particular. I have to admit, that got me thinking.

I love Chinese food and am always eager to learn and taste more. So when I got a review copy of Richard Wong's Modern Asian Flavors--A Taste of Shanghai I couldn't wait to meet the author and interview him for Bay Area Bites.

Richard Wong grew up in Shanghai and left during the Cultural Revolution. He learned to cook from his mother, aunts and most importantly perhaps, his grandmother. In this country he cooked for his friends and created Chinablue a line of sauces, glazes, oils and dressings based on specific dishes. In turn his friends used the sauces in their own ways creating new and memorable dishes that Wong has written up in his book.

Talking to Wong and reading Modern Asian Flavors helped prepare me for my recent dinner at Jai Yun (more on that soon). I could recognize the Shanghainese dishes based on what I learned from Wong and his book about the flavor and style of this amazing cuisine. There is a subtlty and lightness to Shanghai cuisine. Sauces are not overwhelming and there is a charactaristic sweetness. There is also a saltiness, which comes from the use of preserved vegetables and salted meats. The cuisine is influenced by the coastal provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang so seafood is very common and because the Shanghainese are not big eaters, portions are small by Chinese standards.

Wong's recipes are easy to prepare and combine flavors like anise, sesame, ginger and scallion. I have a feeling sauces like Tangy Ginger Sauce, Sweet Scallion Sauce and even Sweet Soy Sauce may become staples in my kitchen. Next week I'll have a review of the book and reprint a recipe over at Bay Area Bites.

Over at Bay Area Bites is my interview with Richard Wong, founder of Chinablue and author of Modern Asian Flavors.