Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shanghai Social Diary

When in Shanghai, I love trying foods both new and traditional. One of my favorites is Beggar’s Chicken, one of the famous dishes of China.
by Jeanne Lawrence

One of the many reasons I travel is to taste the various cuisines of the world. In Shanghai, I’ve had the opportunity to entertain and dine with my friends in a variety of venues. In this dispatch, I’ve picked a few dining experiences that were special.


On a lovely Saturday afternoon, I met up with my friend Han Feng, the peripatetic designer of fashions, opera sets and costumes, who spends alternating months in New York City and Shanghai.
Han Feng and I had lunch at the luxury Andaz Hotel in Shanghai’s Xintiandi neighborhood in the former French Concession.

I was introduced to the Andaz Hotel chain when it moved into my Xintiandi neighborhood—a landmark entertainment area filled with stylish restaurants, bars, and boutiques. 
Andaz Shanghai was the first of Hyatt’s new collection of contemporary, boutique-inspired hotels in Asia.  It’s in the heart of downtown Shanghai near the Huai Hai Zhong Road, one of Shanghai’s premier shopping areas.
The hotel features a lounge in the main lobby and Éclair, an all-day patisserie, off the lobby. I often stop by with friends for European coffee and pastries after our morning walks.

At lunchtime, I met Han Feng and her parents, who were visiting from Hangzhou (an hour’s trip on the bullet train).

Not only is Han Feng a talented designer, she’s also a fabulous cook. At her home I’ve eaten some of the most inventive and healthy Chinese food—all prepared by her.
Han Feng, her parents and I dined in Andaz Hotel’s casual restaurant Hai Pai—meaning “modern Shanghainese spirit”—a combination French bistro and Shanghainese brasserie.
Jeanne Lawrence with Han Feng.
Jeanne Lawrence, Han Feng, her mother Han Jin Wen and stepfather Yu Qun, and Hai Pai Executive Chef Jacqueline Qiu.
Andaz GM Wilson Lee, Han Feng, and Jacqueline Qiu.
As Han Feng has great taste in food, I was happy to leave the ordering to her. I’ve eaten some of my favorite restaurant meals with her and enjoyed of her home-cooked meals as well.

It was only a casual Saturday afternoon lunch, but it was memorable. Han Feng chose one of my favorite dishes:  Beggar’s Chicken, whose name, like that of many Chinese dishes, comes from folklore.

Legend has it that during the Qing dynasty, a starving beggar stole a chicken and buried it in the mud of a riverbank before escaping.

Later, he returned and threw the mud-soaked chicken directly on an open fire, which hardened the clay-rich crust around the bird. When cracked open, it yielded an aromatic and succulent roast chicken.

A perfectly cooked beggar’s chicken is a Chinese delicacy that every visitor should experience, and I dream of it when I’m back in the U.S.
Chef de Cuisine Johnny Xiang brought out the Beggar’s Chicken dish, a masterpiece of Chinese haute cuisine.
The Chef prepared Beggar’s Chicken following a traditional Chinese recipe: A marinated whole chicken is wrapped in lotus leaves, sealed tight with layers of parchment paper, and encased in clay.
The chicken is then roasted so the clay hardens around it. Han Feng got the first crack at the rock-like shell, using a mallet.
Then it was my turn. With some effort I cracked it open, revealing the mud casing and the parchment paper and releasing a mouthwatering fragrance.
This unique cooking technique produces the most tender, moist, intensely flavored chicken.
After hours of baking, the meat takes on the fragrance of the lotus leaves and falls right off the bones.
Afterward, the remains of the chicken are made into a soup and served later.

What I most enjoy in China is dining with a group and sampling a variety of foods. A Chinese tour guide once confessed to me that he found Western-style dining –with a single main entrée—very boring compared to Chinese style, where many dishes are offered at once.

As you can see, it’s always a banquet in China. Hao Chur! (“Taste good!”), as they say in Chinese.
In addition to the chicken, our lunch menu included river shrimp, smoked fish bathed in soy sauce with yellow rice wine, beef with pickled vegetables, bamboo shoots and local green vegetables, and a dish of tofu and salty pork.
A Shanghai specialty: tiny river shrimp, native to the area.
One of Han Feng’s favorites is the deep-fried carp, exceedingly crispy on the outside and soaked in a sauce of soy, dark raw sugar, scallions, and ginger.
Hanging honey glazed roasted ducks and pork.
The meal was accompanied by a selection of Chinese condiments, such as ginger, scallions, cilantro, peanuts, and seaweed.
At the end of the meal, Chef Johnny Xiang came over so we could show him our appreciation. Good food is very important to the Chinese.

Attention shoppers! I recently had the pleasure of visiting Han Feng’s New York City studio, where I got a sneak peek at her fall collection of rugs for Tai Ping luxury carpets, which has a showroom in Shanghai. The colorful silk and wool rugs were truly works of art.


As I always want to learn more about Chinese cuisine, I jumped at the chance to attend a special food and wine pairing evening at the invitation of my friend, wine connoisseur Andrea Mingfai Chu.

Hosted by Chu with (China’s largest online wine retailer) the event celebrated the publication of the Chinese-language edition of Jeannie Cho Lee’s book, Asian Palate.
Jeanne Lawrence, Andrea Mingfai Chu, and Jeannie Cho Lee, one of only 366 people in the world to have become a certified Master of Wine, and the first Asian to do so.

At Shanghai’s historic Peace Hotel, now operated by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, I was thrilled to taste distinctive Chinese dishes and sample Lee’s thoughtful wine pairings in the company of some serious oenophiles.
The Shanghai Peace Hotel on the Bund is a popular venue for parties and special events, known also for its formal English tea and a nighttime jazz club.
Built in the 1920s by bon vivant Victor Sassoon, the Peace Hotel was renovated to its former glory by architectural firm Hirsch-Bedner in 2010.

Andrea Mingfai Chu published the Chinese language version of Lee’s book. Andrea herself is also an author of several books about the design and architecture of historic Shanghai houses, among them Modern Shanghai Vintage Houses (Shuyi Publishing)and Shanghai Interiors (Structure Books Ltd).
Andrea Mingfai Chu and Jeannie Cho Lee.
Andrea Mingfai Chu.
Andrea’s book Modern Shanghai Vintage Houses.

Lee, born in South Korea and raised in the United States, earned an undergraduate degree from Smith College and a Masters in public policy from Harvard. Before transitioning to wine, she began her career in business journalism in Asia.
An award-winning author, journalist, consultant, judge, and wine critic and educator, Jeannie Cho Lee is considered one of the most influential people in the wine world.

To research her book, Lee spent a year dining on five to six meals a day in major Asian cities including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Seoul, Beijing, Taipei, Mumbai, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. Her goal was to experience first-hand the popular regional dishes and select the wines to pair with them.
Based in Hong Kong, Lee’s Asian Palate explores Asian food and wine pairings in ten Asian culinary capitals.
Asian Palate won a Gourmand Award for Best Food and Wine Pairing Book in the World.
I would have loved to follow Lee around on the research tour—provided I could have kept up with her schedule. A mother of four daughters, she is constantly on the road. 

Friends and fans can visit her website to keep abreast of her travels and enjoy nuggets of information from her research.


The dinner party I attended in honor of Jeannie Cho Lee included the best of the best: superb Asian dishes from around the content and spectacular French wines from several regions.
We began with assorted Chinese appetizers paired with a NV Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut from Champagne.
The opening dish was deep-fried fresh river shrimps with spring onion, braised fish tail with soy sauce, and poached asparagus with light soy sauce, accompanied by a 2007 F, E, Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve from Alsace.
Dish 2 was braised crab and shrimp meat with egg white, with a 2009 Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuisse AOC, Maconnais, from Burgundy.
Served together with Dish 2 was the famous “Peace Hotel” Eight Treasure Stew.
Dish 3 was river croaker fish with sweet and sour sauce and deep-fried spring rolls stuffed with shredded chicken, The wine was a 2007 Francois Martenot Les Griottines, Gevrey-Chambertin AOC.
A Burgundy red, the 2007 Francois Martenot Les Griottines, Gevrey-Chambertin AOC paired well with the fried croaker fish and spring rolls because its acidity cuts through oil.
Dish 4, our last course, was braised pork belly with soy sauce, and wok-fried choy sum with shiitake mushrooms, served with a 2007 La Lagune, Haut-Medoc, and a 2007 Pichon Lalande, Pauillace, both from Bordeaux.
This 2007 La Lagune, Haut-Medoc Bordeaux was a good match with the braised pork belly with soy sauce, since its tannin and oak flavors complement fatty and rich foods.
Dessert was red date with taro paste. Good as it was, I confess to preferring French and Austrian pastries. (Flourless chocolate cake?  Yum!)
The newly minted wine aficionados gathered at one of the four tables in the Peace Hotel’s private dining room.
Jeannie Cho Lee (right) with friends Riana and Savio Chow.
Andrea Mingfai Chu with Chauteau Margaux Brand Ambassador Fang Yuan Zheng.
Hong Kong-based Alan Yu, former executive chef at 8 ½ Otto E Mezzo Bombana, with Dong Fu, owner of the House of Blues & Jazz on the Bund.
Lee’s friends Riana and Savio Chow flew in for the event from Hong Kong.

Lee’s website offers a great guide for pairing wines with Asian foods.

Choose a cuisine region, a food category, and a specific dish, and the site comes up with a long list of suggested wines.

Or, if you have a bottle of wine with particular characteristics (it’s sweet, acidic, or tannin-flavored, for example), the website will suggest dishes to accompany it.

Lee also offers a basic view of “pairing concepts”: sweet foods go with sweet wines, sour foods with wines that are highly acidic, salty foods with fruity wines, bitter foods with full-bodied choices, and umami flavors with delicate, savory, mature wines.


After the dinner, I poked my nose into other rooms at the Peace Hotel to see what was happening. The historic ballroom was packed with animated guests in gowns and black tie for a charity dinner and auction.

I was happy to see that this storied hotel was continuing the Peace Hotel’s long tradition of hosting glamorous society parties. Victor Sassoon would be very pleased.
The famed Peace Ballroom is once again one of the city’s premier event spaces.
With the country’s newfound wealth, the Chinese are hosting more and more philanthropic events such this recent one for Noblesse, a children’s charity.
As we left the hotel, we admired the creative lighting highlighting the colonial architecture of the Swatch Art Hotel across the street, formerly part of old Peace Hotel.

As Shanghai is such an international city, it offers a tremendous variety of dining establishments, from regional Chinese food to French, Italian, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and more, catering to the locals and also the many foreigners living and vacationing here.

I especially enjoy Shanghai’s German bräuhaus (“brew houses”). They conjure up fond memories of my college year abroad in Heidelberg. I celebrated the authentic Oktoberfest holiday in Munich and clearly recall the joyous gemütlich (“cozy”) spirit and the skill with which Fräuleins in bustiers and dirndls carried six to eight pints of beer at a time!
Paulaner Bräuhaus at Fen Yang Road is Shanghai’s largest beer house.
The Bräuhaus is located in a massive 1930s three-story building, set back from Fen Yang Road away from the traffic noise and featuring a lovely summer beer garden.
Oktoberfest is a celebration of the fall season and German culture and food (especially beer!).

According to a 2012 Shanghai Daily article, Shanghai has the largest German population in East Asia, with 8,000 registered German residents and 11,000 in the consular jurisdiction. Dr. Wolfgang Röhr, German Consul General to Shanghai, was quoted as saying that bilateral trade had reached US$170 billion in 2011, and nearly 50% of European exports to China come from Germany.
Thousands of Germans of all ages make Shanghai their home.

Aside from Germany itself, there’s no better place to celebrate authentic Oktoberfest than in Shanghai, at one of the city’s many bräuhaus.
Paulaner Bräuhaus features authentic Bavarian-style décor, copper beer kettles, and a stage for live music.
All four of the city’s branches of the Paulaner Bräuhaus are popular family restaurants and great spots for celebrating
Paulaner offers heaps of German food and drink, including pork knuckles, bratwurst and other types of sausage, wiener schnitzel, potatoes, mushroom soup, and cabbage (very healthy, of course!).
The brew house has a small stage for live music.
The house band plays a mix of popular songs and traditional German tunes.

The casual and fun brew house was the perfect place to celebrate Oktoberfest with friends.

As you can see, it was an evening full of gemütlichkeit!
Enjoying Paulaner’s three in-house brews: financier Christopher Loeffler with the dark beer, Jeanne Lawrence with wheat beer, and entrepreneur Stewart Beck with the lager.
Gallerist Rebecca Catching.
Jeanne Lawrence and interior designer Luke Van Dyke.
Art Consultant Maya Kramer and artist Jin Shan.
Author and journalist Lisa Movius.
Jigsaw marketing research CEO Kim Beck with Luke Van Dyke.
We ordered the deluxe dinner—a gigantic platter of grilled chicken shanks, roasted pork neck, Nürnberger bratwurst, roasted duckling, pork knuckle, bread dumplings, spätzle, sauerkraut, and cabbage.
The evening was filled with music­­––beer-drinking songs and dancing accompanied by the spirited German umpapa (oompah) band.
Photos by Jeanne Lawrence

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.