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.
LUNCH WITH FASHION DESIGNER HAN FENG
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.
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.
HAI PAI RESTAURANT
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.
BEGGAR’S CHICKEN LEGEND
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.
MORE DISHES ON THE MENU
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.
HAN FENG’S NEWEST DESIGN PROJECT
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.
FOOD & WINE PAIRING DINNER AT THE HISTORIC PEACE HOTEL
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 YesMyWine.com (China’s largest online wine retailer) the event celebrated the publication of the Chinese-language edition of Jeannie Cho Lee’s book,Asian Palate.
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.
ORGANIZER ANDREA MINGFAI CHU
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).
JEANNIE CHO LEE, THE FIRST ASIAN MASTER OF WINE
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.
LEE’S BOOK: ASIAN PALATE
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.
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 www.AsianPalate.com to keep abreast of her travels and enjoy nuggets of information from her research.
THE DINNER MENU
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.
JEANNIE CHO LEE’S SUGGESTIONS
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.
ANOTHER EVENT AT THE PEACE HOTEL
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.
OKTOBERFEST AT PAULANER BRAUHAUS
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!
GERMANS IN SHANGHAI
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.
Aside from Germany itself, there’s no better place to celebrate authentic Oktoberfest than in Shanghai, at one of the city’s many bräuhaus.
MY OKTOBERFEST DINNER GUESTS
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!
Photos byJeanne 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.