Good Eats

Master Xu’s Fish 许爷剁椒鱼头 @ Shanghai

Recently there was a renewal of restaurants in Raffles City Changning. Many have closed in the recent pandemic, and in their places many have opened with new dining concepts. Here’s one that opened in Feb with a single champion product.

Hunanese Cuisine Chef Xu Juyun 许菊云 participated in a competition in 2013 with a 36kg fish head to make the Huananese classic – Hunan Chopped Chilli Fishhead 剁椒鱼头. He won the competition and broke the Guinness Record for the heaviest fish head cooked. Restauranteur Cao Nanping from Shanghai went to Chef Xu and asked for the permission to open a Hunanese restaurant chain using his name and signature dish. Master Xu’s Fish 许爷剁椒鱼头 opened its first store in 2016.

The shop in Raffles City Changning opened in Feb 2021, a few months before my visit. We went just before the lunch time crowd arrived, and the place was empty, But promptly at lunch time, the place filled up, which demonstrated the popularity of spicy food among the Shanghainese.

The decor is tacky and reminded me of the Fire Palace Temple 火宫殿 in Changsha, with all those temple red and signs. Mind you, it is different from the Imperial red used in the Forbidden Palace.

There’s nothing special about chopped chilli fish head. You take really large carp fish head, steamed it and then topped it with lots of chopped jalapeño and red chilli, pickled and/or fresh. But with clever marketing and franchise, the brand has opened 16 shops in a span of 4 years.

许爷剁椒鱼头 Master Xu’s Chopped Chilli Fish Head

许爷剁椒鱼头 Master Xu’s Chopped Chilli Fish Head

If you ordered the premium version, 许爷剁椒鱼头 Master Xu’s Chopped Chilli Fish Head would be presented to you using the traditional carriage at front of the restaurant. The “normal” version would still feature a large fish head in the familiar red topping.

许爷酱椒鱼头 Master Xu’s Pickled Chilli Fish Head

许爷酱椒鱼头 Master Xu’s Pickled Chilli Fish Head

Pickled jalapeño was used for 许爷酱椒鱼头 Master Xu’s Pickled Chilli Fish Head. While most will assume that the red chilli pepper was spicier, it was this underrated green one that would burn your tongue.

红煨滋补甲鱼 Grass Tortoise Stew in Red Sauce

Hunan cuisine is divided into three main schools, among which Dongting Lake 洞庭湖 area is good at cooking waterfowl and aquatic products. Turtle is a relatively precious ingredient in freshwater aquatic products and has a tonic effect. People in Hunan not only like to eat turtles, but they are also very good at cooking turtles.

红煨滋补甲鱼 Grass Tortoise Stew in Red Sauce from Hunan cuisine was full of flavours from the sauce and condiments used. But it was the tender meat of the turtle and the jelly-like soft tissue of the back of the shell that fully absorb the flavours. The turtle has lots of collagen and this was released into the sauce which was a perfect match for steamed white rice.

湘西凤凰擂茄子 Hunanese Eggplant Mash with Century Eggs

West of Hunan is known as 湘西 and is the home of many indigenous people of the province. They are not Chinese and share similar cultural affiliations and roots with the Cambodia-Thai-Vietnamese cultures. And their cuisine featured more fresh spices, fermentation and natural preservation techniques.

湘西凤凰擂茄子 Hunanese Eggplant Mash with Century Eggs featured steamed and peeled eggplant mashed up with century egg and grilled jalapeño  in a large pestle and mortar. 擂 (lēi) means “grind” or “pound”. It is spicy, in a good way, with the metallic taste of century egg and creamy texture off eggplant, we are off to a good start for the meal.

Other Appetisers

Hunan cuisine is known for their braise too. Unlike the Teochew version, they are spicy and this reduces the greasiness of the items braised.

老长沙臭豆腐 Old Changsha Stinky Tofu

老长沙臭豆腐 Old Changsha Stinky Tofu

Stinky tofu is a specialty street food all around China and each location has a different style. The Changsha style stinky tofu was made famous because Chairman Mao spent his youth as a student there and enjoyed this black and stinky deep fried tofu, which is now immortalised by his saying, “闻起来臭,吃在嘴里香.” (“Smells bad, but tastes delicious.”). It is always accompanied with lots of chilli and fermented bean sauce 辣豆瓣酱.

长沙辣椒炒肉 Changsha Sautéed Pork with Green Peppers

长沙辣椒炒肉 Changsha Sautéed Pork with Green Peppers

You would be hard pushed to find a single person in Hunan who didn’t love this dish. Made from fresh slices of pork, green peppers and garlic, you may ask what makes 长沙辣椒炒肉 Changsha Sautéed Pork with Green Peppers particularly Hunanese in style. The secret comes from the local thin green or red peppers commonly found in the province. These peppers absorb the oil from the pork, giving the dish a uniquely savoury and smoky taste.

常德米粉蒸肉 Changde Steamed Pork with Glutinous Rice Flour

常德米粉蒸肉 Changde Steamed Pork with Glutinous Rice Flour

粉蒸肉 Steamed Pork with Glutinous Rice Flour is a Jiangxi Nanchang specialty but is also popular in Hunan where it has a slight variation of added Hunanese spices. I still prefer the Jiangxi version that I ate at Nanchang Hotel in Beijing – the meat has transformed into another texture with the glutinous rice flour. This one is chewy.

You must be wondering what happen to the rest of the fish other than fish head. 千岛湖鱼汤煨豆衣 Qiandaohu Fish Balls Soup with Bean Curd used the fish meat to make fish balls and the bones used to make the stock for this dish. Added umami from bean curd skin and Chinese ham. You County is famous for their dry bean curd, and this was used as the main ingredient for 小炒攸县香干 You County Stir-fry Dry Bean Curd, simple stir-fry dish that was spicy and good with cold beer.

Hunan cuisine is known to be spicy, but the more I try Hunan cuisine the more flavours I have found that are not spicy in nature. And these are usually the best ones to have. Master Xu’s a good place to be introduced to Hunan cuisine, and plus points for the authenticity. Glad they do have a couple of items other than the chopped chilli fish head that are not bad.

Master Xu’s Fish 许爷剁椒鱼头(长宁)
Tel : +86 (021) 62129517

Date Visited : Jul 2021

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