Yesterday’s mission: find this girl some fried rice cakes (chao nian gao).
It’s not just me who’s become taken with a number of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese dishes I’d never heard of before starting this job. My friends have also started to crave certain things, and send me texts like this one, which I received from Dana:
“I would give ANYTHING for a plate of those fried rice cakes right now.”
Dana first tried chao nian gao at Top Shanghai, and while I thought those ones were a little overcooked, they were still divinely savoury. Their chewy texture drew her in, and apparently she’s been thinking about them ever since. Of course, we set about finding her some good ones.
Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen was just what we were looking for – easy to find, casual, inexpensive, and of course, Shanghainese. This restaurant is a local favourite, and after we arrived last night at around 5:30pm, it quickly filled up. Our server was really lovely, and put up with our indecisive ordering. We were starving, and having a hard time thinking straight.
We first had to decide what rice cakes to order; there were rice cakes with pork, rice cakes with pork chops, and rice cakes with pork and snow cabbage. We opted for the latter ($8.95). We also got the steamed mini pork buns (xiao long bao, 6 pieces for $4.50), a rice roll ($3.75), a beef roll ($4.25), and a plate of sauteed seasonal Shanghai-style vegetables ($10.50) . Then, terrifyingly, we nearly ate it all. We were just so hungry.
Mercifully, the rice cakes arrived quickly. This was the first time I’d had them sauteed with bean sprouts, and the strips of sauteed pork were nice and lean. Overall, the dish wasn’t quite as salty as we both would have liked, but the chewy texture was there. Ooooh, that texture.
The xiao long bao were phenomenal; without a doubt, these were the juiciest XLB I’ve had in Richmond so far. So juicy, in fact, that when I bit into the first one, the broth didn’t flow neatly into my spoon as it usually does. Instead, it overflowed onto the table and into my lap. XLB: 1, Lindsay: 0. I then took to eating them whole, which was less messy but prevented me from speaking for a good long while. There’s just so much soup, pork, and bun to get through.
Don’t let the fear of soup spillage put you off, however, because these are some of the best (and cheapest) xiao long bao in town. I’m pretty sure Dana and I could have easily eaten another half-dozen.
Because I loved the rice roll from Osaka Market so much, I ordered one for us last night. It consisted of sticky rice wrapped around a Chinese donut and rousung, which is pork floss. I know the term “pork floss” sounds rather unappetizing, but trust me when I say it’s DELICIOUS. The rice roll was big, crunchy, sweet, and salty, just like my first one. It didn’t have preserved vegetables in it, however, and I missed the vinegary hit of flavour they provide.
The beef roll was good, but would have been perfect if it had less hoisin sauce. The hoisin was sweet and strong, and overpowered the dish. The thinly-sliced beef and the crispy pancake were both excellent, though.
The seasonal vegetable dish included bok choy, broccoli, mushrooms, snow peas, cabbage, steamed tofu, fried tofu, and balls of puffed gluten. It was saucy and tasty.
I especially liked the dark ripply mushrooms, stalks of broccoli, and fried tofu. The balls of puffed gluten didn’t taste like much, but were incredibly textural. Here’s a warning: if you are averse to soft and squishy sea creature-like textures, you should avoid these. If you love soft and squishy sea creature-like textures, then order away.
Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen is the perfect hole-in-the-wall for Shanghai favourites; the food is good, and the food is cheap (Dana and I ate enough for about four people, and our bill was only $35 – Boom!) I’m curious to see what Richmond dish will be the subject of her next “I’d give ANYTHING for a _____” text…..
Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen (sometimes also listed as “Zhang’s Shanghai Kitchen”)
Vegetarian options available