China’s culinary scene is exciting. Just like its booming economy, new dining concepts that work on century old foundations spring up like mushrooms after a storm. Four months after my last visit to Shanghai, a new dining concept based on tofu started in the mall next door.皖 – “Wan” is the short form of Anhui Province. The restaurant specialised in Hui Cuisine (徽系菜), which is one of the eight main cuisine specialisation of China coming from Anhui. Anhui was a very poor region of China in terms of agricultural output. Most men would leave their homes to seek fortunes elsewhere. Womenfolk will try to make ends meet by the most out of whatever they had. Tofu was one of the ingenious produce they came up with.
WanHui’s menu featured a lot of tofu dishes. But firstly, I need to introduce the really high tech way of ordering (and payment) that is happening in China.
You scanned QR code on the table and you were brought to a micro-app within WeChat. From the micro-app, you can pick the dishes you want to order from the electronic menu. Others on the same table can do the same and they would be able to add to the order. So, welcome to the modern Chinese restaurant. No longer one menu for the host, everyone around the table can participate in the ordering. And at the end of the meal, you can pay with WeChat Pay.
八公山手工豆腐 – Handmade Mount BaGong Tofu – In BC 164, Liu An, a royalty in the Han dynasty, was made Viscount of HuaiNan. He loved to throw banquets to a motley crew of guests that included Taoist monks and alchemists. They came up with tofu, supposedly for its longevity property for the consumers. And the place where they invented tofu was Mount BaGong.
This was very good tofu, but not as smooth as the ones from Kyoto. It had a very distinct soy bean taste and felt more firm. The broth it was cooked in gave it the flavours and umami. A very good dish, must order.
宣城芝麻臭干 Xuan City Stinky Dry Bean Curd – It’s like the Teochew sweet Black Tau Gua, except this is the Stinky Tofu variety. Another key characteristics of Hui Cuisine was the introduction of stink as part of the dining experience. While in the West (and most Oriental cultures too) would be turned off by this smell of decomposition, when done well and right, the process of fermentation and decomposition actually broke down the food molecules further and gave it a whole new dimension. Stinky tofu was one such result. The harsh soy bean taste was gone. What’s left was the clean taste of plant-based protein that was really smooth and tasty. And stir-fried with green peppercorns, it was another great dish to order.
徽州有三宝 Three Specialities of Huizhou – Three things are famous in Huizhou, 豆腐Tofu, 笋干Dried Bamboo Shoots and 火腿 Ham. The three were combined in this soup which took the flavour from the dried bamboo shoot and ham, and soaked by the fried bean curd. Lots of umami in this broth.
麻辣魔鬼牛蛙 Szechuan Mala Bullfrog – It was less hot than the Szechuan restaurants. Unlike other places, it came with seafood. Good, but common.
招牌金丝饼 Golden Threads Pancake – When you break into one of these, it breaks into tiny strains. It’s a Jiangnan dish, not quite Hui Cuisine, but a good break after the heat from the bullfrogs.
鸡汤西洋菜 Greens in Chicken Stock – a very simple, palate cleansing dish.
We ordered several others, but nothing to shout like Roast Chicken and Chasiew.
鲜豆浆 Fresh Soya Bean Milk – it had a very burnt smell, like the one coming from the tofu factory near my Taipei house. It can come in either sweet (sugar added) or savoury (salted vegetable added) or plain.
If the decor of the place was an indication of the things to come in Shanghai (and China), the culinary scene was going to even greater heights. The lunch costed us lest than RMB 50 per person. The ambiance was good and the service prompt and efficient with the use of IT. And it was located in a Tier 1 mall.
Recommended for all that are in the vicinity.
Date visited : Dec 2017