Last night I had my first big Shanghaiese dinner. I’ve delved into Shanghai cuisine with dim sum, but had not yet tried this inviting food after sunset. I was joined by my friends Jeff and Steph (Jeff’s a woodworker, and I foolishly forgot to ask him to make us custom-designed chopsticks – next time Martin, next time), and Steph’s lovely mom Debbie, who’s visiting from Ontario. Not only does Debbie know cheese (I LOVE to talk about cheese), but she has a culinary background too, so she knows food. You don’t want to take chances with an out-of-towner with good taste, and I knew Shanghai River would deliver. Not only did we have a great meal, but now they’re all hooked on xiao long bao!
This restaurant has a solid reputation; it’s been praised by plenty of locals, and The New York Times speaks pretty highly of it, too. Not bad, eh? (Just bringing us back to Canada, there). I did chuckle when I read “…out in Richmond the dim sum palaces are thriving, along with the strip-mall noodle huts and Chinese supermarkets, the tea parlors and barbecue dives. It would take weeks to negotiate them all.” Weeks? Ha! Trust me, an entire year isn’t nearly enough!
Because of its popularity, there’s already plenty of literature on Shanghai River in the blogging world. I used Follow me Foodie’s fantastic 3 part guide to get started, though reading about her favourite dishes before we left was torture to my grumbling belly.
Shanghai River is large but always full, so reservations are strongly recommended. I’d walked past it on Westminster Highway a number of times, and was in awe of how the tables seemed forever surrounded by diners. This is a place where both locals and visitors come, and it’s truly a well-oiled machine. Servers and food move efficiently through the vast dining room, tables are cleared quickly, and your teapot will never go empty. It’s clean and stylishly-kept, with some of the friendliest service you’ll find in Richmond, and that reminds me: if you’re an English-only speaker calling to make a reservation, they may answer the phone in Mandarin, but don’t be alarmed. Just go ahead and make your inquiry, and they’ll speak back to you in English. Easy peasy.
So what’s at the very top of everyone’s Shanghai River wish-list? The xiao long bao of course! Those famous soup-filled dumplings I tried for the first time at Suhang. Shanghai River does a crab + pork-filled version, so we started with that.
They were smaller than the ones at Suhang, and slightly orange at the very tip – perhaps from the crab? The dough was thin and tender, with a savoury, soul-warming mixture of crab, pork, and broth on the inside. I especially loved dipping it in the ginger-vinegar before popping it into my mouth, which offset the oily filling perfectly. One bite, and we were all in xiao long love!
Then, even though there were only 4 of us, we ate like we were 10 strong. In total, we had the Xiao Long Bao with Crab ($9.80 for 5), the Handmade Noodles with Seafood ($15.80), Braised Eggplant in Chili Sauce ($15.80), Fried Rice Cakes with Pork ($14.80), Pork with Bean Sprouts and 8 Crepes (written “cripes” on the menu, inciting a running joke which I think might last forever, $17.80), and Pan-fried Pork Dumplings ($7.50). In other words, “The Meal of Pork.”
Based on these two sites, here are a few things I’ve mustered up on the basics of Shanghai cuisine:
– Generally speaking, it originated in the Ming and Qing Dynasties
– It incorporates a wide variety of cooking techniques including baking, stewing, frying, boiling, marinating, smoking, and roasting
– Dishes tend to be accompanied by condiments
– Raw ingredients are cut precisely, and well-arranged
– Flavours are light and not terribly spicy (sweet and sour are typical tastes)
– Currently, it’s becoming more influenced by Cantonese cuisine, in that dishes tend to be less oily and focused more on health
Did these guidelines prove true while we were eating? I think so, as the food was exquisite. The handmade noodles were flavourful and firm, tossed in a light, savoury brown sauce with crunchy snow peas and beautifully cooked prawns, squid, and scallops.
The braised eggplant was soft, saucy, and tossed with chopped vegetables and strips of pork. These added not only to the flavour of the dish, but also provided a wonderful array of textures.
The tender fried rice cakes had been sautéed with greens and sliced pork. We decided they’re like pasta, in that quality matters, as does preparation. Nobody wants to eat a plain, chewy rice cake (or at least I don’t), but a soft one fried up with a flavourful sauce? Yes please. This dish has already been jotted down on my mental list of “Things I Will Forever Crave.”
The pork and bean sprouts with crepes/cripes was my least favourite dish. The crepes and sauce were fantastic, but the pork filling was kind of chewy. Still, it was satisfying and we had no problem finishing it.
At the end, we snuck in an order for 5 pan-fried pork dumplings, because I wanted Steph, Jeff, and Debbie to taste what a real, homemade pan-fried dumpling tastes like.
They were skillfully-folded packages of juicy pork, made with fresh dough and fried to a crisp, golden brown. The xiao long bao will always win the dumpling war at Shanghai River, but these were pretty darn good.
Genuinely, I could not have enjoyed my experience at Shanghai River more. I was in fantastic company, our server (Wilson) was phenomenal, and the food was just so good. I applaud the kitchen, because with the number of customers they cook for each day, it must be incredibly difficult to keep the quality of food as high as they do. This place is affordable and centrally located, so Richmondites can enjoy it regularly, and visitors need not hesitate about booking themselves in either. Not only will you be taken care of, but there’s also the entertainment factor of watching the open kitchen xiao long bao station, of which I was too late to get a picture! I nearly cried! But don’t worry, I plan on filming a video about homemade dumplings and noodles in Richmond, so I shall return.
The food of Shanghai is beautiful, as are its city-scapes. Please enjoy this great video, and please visit Shanghai River someday if you can.
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available