The name of the restaurant has a very rare Chinese character 餥 pronounced as “Fei”. It takes a very confident restauranteur to name his restaurant with something that is difficult to google these days.
The Origin of “Fei” 餥
During Spring-Autumn Period (770–476 BC), the people of States of Chen 陈国 and Chu 楚国 (modern day Henan 河南) would offer their most distinguished guests steamed quinoa mixed with vegetables in a dish called “Fei” 餥. And if you split the word into its parts 非 and 食, it can also come to mean “非常食材” or “special ingredients”. Having a meal here is like eating across the vast country in a dish – many ingredients used here have been sourced from remote places in China.
Before you complain about the carbon footprint, it is all part of the China government’s partnership program to pair the more successful provinces or municipalities with the poorer ones to impart skills and knowledge in trade and commerce. Shanghai has been paired with Yunnan. So many of the ingredients used in this restaurant came directly from Yunnan.
Besides eating them in the restaurant, you can buy the ingredients to prepare them at home. And this is not restricted to grains and processed food. Some they would offer fresh produce that came from Horticulture Institute of the Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences, where they promote season produce and eating only fruits and vegetables of the season.
1/ 云南黑糖熏鲳鱼 Yunnan brown sugar smoked pomfret
A classic Shanghainese appetiser, the pomfret is deep fried and simmered in sugar syrup made from Yunnan unprocessed sugar to produce a smoky, simmering coat around every piece of fish. Yunnan sugar had a caramel taste that was not too sweet.
2/ 油醋汁拌芽苗云南核桃 Pea shoots and walnuts with vinaigrette dressing
Yunnan has developed their walnut agriculture industry for years and has been promoting the nut to Shanghai since 2020. Yunnan is now the world’s largest producer of walnut.
This dish is something I will try to make at home – fresh walnuts with pea shoots dressed with a Western style vinaigrette. Refreshing and good eats.
3/ 云南嫩姜黄蚬子 Drunken Venus clams with Yunnan baby ginger
The Venus clams were poached to just cooked and then marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, cooking wine, ginger, garlic and chilli. Served cold, another wonderful appetiser.
4/ 餥常鲜虾藕饼 Fei’s pan-fried lotus roots with prawns and water chestnuts
Autumn is the best season for lotus roots. Chef Ye has demonstrated the method to make this on TV and it looked simple enough to make at home. This remained one of the top three most popular dishes in this restaurant. The minced prawn remained moist on the inside with a Maillard crust. The dip was similar to Thai sweet chilli, but the tartlets were good enough on their own.
5/ 刘胖子家乡烧鸡 James’ grilled chicken
This is the other Top Three popular dish – the grilled chicken that is named after the owner. The flesh was really moist while the skin remained crispy. I would have thought it was “sandy chicken” 风沙鸡 from Hong Kong until the waitress explained that this was a home recipe from James’ mother.
6/ 云南笋尖炒腊肉 Yunnan bamboo shoot with Chinese bacon
“Children, don’t be greedy, after Laba 腊八 is the New Year”, another Chinese New Year is coming soon, and the taste of New Year is getting closer all over the country. Many areas in the south have already started to make the most important food of the year – Chinese cured bacon 腊肉 .
Tujia Tribe 土家族 is a minority tribe found in the mountains of Wuling that bordered Hunan, Hubei, Yunnan and Guizhou. Here’s a really good documentary that introduced these people. Yunnan bamboo shoots stir-fried with Tujia-style bacon and Chinese leeks used cured bacon from Hubei Enshi 湖北恩施土家族苗族自治州. The fat and meat distribution for these pork belly were even and firm, making them perfect for curing. And the special mix of spices and salt makes them perfect to be sautéed with vegetables.
7/ 贺兰山紫蘑菇夹饼 Mt Helan purple mushroom with pita pockets
When I was young, my Science teacher taught me that one way to differentiate toadstool and mushroom was colour. The more colourful the fungus, the most likely it would be poisonous. Inner Mongolia’s Mt Helan purple mushrooms 贺兰山紫蘑菇 (Cortinarius purpurascens) are exactly as described – purple. My teacher’s words came to mind.
I do not know about any special properties, but they tasted just like brown button mushrooms. This is novel way of eating – filling the sautéed mushrooms into mini pita pockets.
8/ 古法蒸新疆赛里木湖高白鲑鱼 Traditional steamed Xinjiang peled
The Shanghainese are apt at preparing peled, a freshwater fish that is usually quite muddy taste. These highland peleds came from Xinjiang, raised in icy cold lakes and rivers, resulting in a fatty fish, however still bland. 古法蒸新疆赛里木湖高白鲑鱼 Traditional steamed Xinjiang peled took the Shanghainese cooking method using wine lee and yellow wine to add flavours to the steamed fish while removing the muddy taste.
9/ 乌江榨菜炒黑豆苗 Stir-fry Wujiang pickled mustard with black bean shoots
The river Wujiang 乌江 in Sichuan is famous for two things – this was where the Western Chu king committed suicide and thus heralded in the Han dynasty, and pickled mustard. Officially, it’s called Fuling pickled mustard 涪陵榨菜, Wujiang is the brand that it is marketed under. Fuling mustard is considered one of three most popular pickles (together with French pickled dills and German sauerkraut).
This versatile pickle can be used to enhance the flavours of stock, as well as a condiment for stir-fry. 乌江榨菜炒黑豆苗 Stir-fry Wujiang pickled mustard with black bean shoots and black wood fungus was a delightful home tasting dish. The simplest of ingredients with the most nostalgic flavours.
10/ 番茄豆皮烩丝瓜 Tomato bean curd skin loofah stew
This Pink Girl tomato 沙瓤西红柿 was cultivated and grown by a co-operative farm in Shanghai that only supply them only to some of the best restaurants in town. The fruit tomato was used to cook in a stew with bean curd skin and loofah. A refreshing and wonderful stew.
11/ 餥常阳春面 Fei’s Yangchun Noodles
The simplest things in life are usually the most difficult to master. Yangchun noodle is one of those complex simplicity. In a nutshell, it is just Shanghainese ramen with a pork and chicken broth. Lard is the secret to these noodles. But to get the right combination of soy sauce and broth, the right doneness for noodles, the right serving temperature and the right amount of lard when serving, it takes years of perfection. We were so amazed by this perfect ending to a wonderful dinner. We wanted to order another round, but they were sold out by this time.
Behind every successful restaurant is a team that made it all happened. There are three co-founders; the restaurant was the brainchild of James Liu Yanfeng 刘延峰, who was a 20 years retail veteran as a buyer. He quit his job and started Fei in 2014.
All the ingredients are sourced by Zhao Minghong 赵明红, who also doubled as the restaurant manager. She personally went to Xinjiang, Tibet, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hubei Three Gorges area and other regions to find these precious ingredients.
And then there’s the soul behind the food, Executive Chef Ye Zuojian 叶卓坚 from Hong Kong. He has been the executive chef of many 5 star hotels in China and was one of the few chefs that participated in 1977 Imperial Banquet presentation in Hong Kong. The Executive Sous Chef Li Yanming 李言明 is his prodigy and runs the kitchen right now.
It takes a lot of factors for a really good restaurant. The team, the food, the service, the attention to details. Fei has done all these. It was a really delicious meal, simple and reminded one of home. For all of us constantly on the road, this place is the next closest thing to a home cooked meal made from the heart.
Fei’s Restaurant 餥餐厅 (非常食材)
Tel : +86 21 6051 6997
Date visited : Dec 2021
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