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Published June 15, 2017

Hidden Gem: A Shan

By Ben Cost

Farmer-turned-restaurateur Xue Shengnian opened A Shan in the 1980s—back when Hongqiao was basically a giant field. Since then, the standard gaggle of malls, gated communities and chain restaurants have sprung up around it, but A Shan has resisted modernization like a culinary “nail house.” You see it in everything from Xue’s menu of character-etched wooden tablets hanging from a board to the smoke-stained walls, despite the “no smoking” policy. When we walked in, Xue had a cigarette with a 6-inch cone of ash dangling from his grizzled mouth.

 

The recipes are equally frozen in amber— a credit to Xue basing the menu on his mother and grandmother’s home-style classics. One thing you’ll see on every table is shàn sī 鳝丝, ribbons of freshwater yellow eel (those squiggly creatures you see in buckets at wet markets) stir-fried in oil and garnished with scallions, garlic and ginger. They have a similar flavor profile to Japanese unagi, but with springier flesh that doesn’t slough off the bones as readily.

 


Like many local haunts, A Shan has found delicious uses for fish parts that most Westerners might throw to the gulls. We’ve always wondered if there’s a term for “trash cut” in Shanghainese, seeing how coveted they are in the local cuisine. Xue’s specialty is braised carp tail (hóngshāo huàshuĬ 红烧划水), which literally translates to “red-cooked painting” due to its resemblance to giant brushes. They’re the perfect texture for sponging up the trinity of sweet soy, rice wine and rock sugar that adorns them—just beware of the forests of spines lurking beneath the flaky meat.

 


Need a chaser from all that red braise? Hit up a plate of cucumbers and shrimp. We would’ve actually preferred the small, sweet-meat river shrimp to the bulky prawns, but this dish presents a crisp, refreshing interlude before the main attraction: Yanduxian (腌笃鲜, RMB120 small, RMB180 large). This harbinger of spring entails a brawny stew of salted pork, fresh pork, winter bamboo shoots and knotted tofu sheet. The salt pork represents last year’s bounty, the fresh pork this year’s, and the bamboo shoots symbolize prosperity in the New Year. Quite a few restaurants do this dish in the spring when fresh bamboo is in season. Make a pilgrimage to this landmark before it gets washed away by the waves of urban renewal. 

Find it: 2378 Hongqiao Lu (across from the Shanghai Zoo), 虹桥路2378号(近动物园), Tel: 6268-6583

 

Related:  Hidden Gem: Scrambled Eggs And Tomatoes at Wo Jia