Hidden in the old French Concession in Shanghai is a restaurant that is not known to many, as they don’t publicise in any media. But inside this old mansion is a really wonderful Anhui cuisine restaurant.
安徽省驻沪招待所 Anhui Provincial Guest House in Shanghai is the official hotel/restaurant of the Anhui Provincial Government that is opened with one purpose only – to serve the guests of the Anhui Government that are in Shanghai.
Anhui Province is a modest inland province west of Shanghai, so its food is characterised by rustic and hearty food using simple and inexpensive ingredients. And hidden in No.7 is the restaurant that serves traditional and exquisite Hui cuisine.
徽菜 Hui cuisine is a cross between Jiangsu cuisine and Beijing cuisine, which uses seasonal ingredients and prepared with cooking methods of Beijing cuisine, which is usually oily and strong tasting. Hui cuisine can be traced back to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) in ancient Huizhou. Not to be confused with Anhui cuisine or better known as 皖菜 Wan cuisine, which has a subset of Hui cuisine and other cuisines served with the province.
I had the privilege to be invited to a dinner at this restaurant by an Anhui native. A table here is really hard to get, especially during the periods where there are many meetings in Shanghai. They have to cater to the officials first before allowing the public to book a table.
徽州印象 Impressions of Anhui
First up, 徽州印象 Impressions of Anhui featured some specialities of Anhui. Making traditional cured meat is a winter traditional Anhui. Every winter, local residents take advantage of the sunny weather to dry them. Then, the streets are often filled with fragrance of preserved meat, which becomes a unique scenery.
徽州风干香肠 Air dried chorizo sausage, 腊八蒜 pickled garlic, and 徽州黄豆冻 soy bean aspic – common appetisers from Anhui. During the month of La Yue 腊月, when China enters into deep winter 大寒, many families will prepare 腊肉 “waxed” meat as the weather is perfect for doing this. Nothing is left to waste, the parts of the pork not used to make these salted meat are used and mixed with boiled soy bean to make the aspic. This is a misnomer, there’s no wax used to preserve the meat. The naturally occurring oil from the meat sealed the exterior to give it a waxy look and also the month is 腊腊肉.
海胆酱白茄 Braised white eggplant with sea urchin sauce
Braised eggplant, skin off and presented in a vinaigrette sauce, delicious. The sea urchin did nothing to enhance the taste, except to improve the presentation. Only fresh sea urchin has umami, these processed ones are simply salted egg yolk.
乳瓜鸡枞菌 Zucchini flowers, dried bean curd with termite mushrooms
Another combination that I found to be delicious and easy to achieve at home, if only the ingredients can be found easily. Only the dried bean curd can be found in my supermarket. Everything else has to be specially ordered from a gourmet supermarket. Lightly blanched and dressed with a truffle oil dressing. Yummy.
无为熏板鸭 Wuwei smoked flat duck
板鸭 or “flat duck” is a term used to describe several kinds of cured duck produced across China. The name is translated as “flat duck” because of its board-like shape. The best way to enjoy it is simply steaming the whole duck after soaking it in warm water to soften the duck. The texture softens, releasing the rich flavours that have been concentrated from the curing process.
木坑竹笙炖土鸡汤 Double-boiled bamboo fungus in free-range chicken soup
If you have watched the Oscar-winner “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, you would remember the scene when Chow Yunfatt’s character was being chased by the female lead on top of the Bamboo Forest. That bamboo forest is located at 木坑 Mukeng in Anhui.
竹笙 Bamboo fungus, a kind of parasite living in synergy at the bottom of a bamboo, is delicious and nutritious. Dubbed “queen of fungus,” it used to be a tribute prepared for emperors. They are spongy and will soak up all the flavours of the soup. And the soup was a double-boiled free-range chicken stock with Chinese ham. Clean tasting with a nostalgic chicken flavour not found in farmed chicken these days.
徽州臭鳜鱼 Huizhou stinky mandarin fish
In the olden days, 桂鱼、鳜鱼 Mandarin fish were sought after for their succulent flesh and clean taste. And during springtime peach blossoms, they fed on petals dropped from the trees lined along the river. Gourmets then believed that gave them the “peach blossom” taste.
The mandarin fish used was about 1.2-1.5 kg, perfect size for sharing among 8-10 persons. It was pickled with salt for about 15 days in the local climate of Huangshan. A heavy slate was used to press the fish during the pickling process to make the meat firmer. The fat and meat in the fish were relatively balanced, and the strong tasting sauce may be off-putting for some at first, but the fish is delicious. An acquired taste for sure.
黄焖水库五年大甲鱼 Stewed reservoir raised freshwater turtle in yellow sauce
中华鳖 Chinese softshell turtles are raised in the reservoirs of Huoshan these days for their meat. A five year old turtle weighs around 3-3.5kg each, a relatively large size creature for cooking.
The turtle was simmered for three hours, extracting all the collagens into the stew. Seasoned with Sichuan peppercorn for that slight numbness in the thick sauce, the meat of the turtle actually tasted like chicken. Except that it came with thick layers of soft tissues around the back of the shell and the legs. The skirtings were bouncy and jelly like, sticky and smooth texture which like slipped down the throat. I asked for a bowl of steamed white rice just to drown it in the sauce.
徽州臭豆腐烧肥肠 Stinky tofu with pig’s intestines
This is not ordinary stinky tofu, but stinky tofu made from melted water from the first snow in Anhui, mixed with turtle egg whites and zongye ash.
The pig’s intestines were soft and waxy. When you scooped them together, the pungent smell and weird aroma came and went, and for the uninitiated this was quite disgusting. Afterwards, the pungent smell gave way to an elegant and dense wonderful contrast. Another acquired taste for sure.
毛峰茶煮新安江虾 Xin’an river shrimps cooked Anhui Maofeng tea
The mountainous province produces many types of tea, and one of the most famous is 黄山毛峰茶 Huangshan Maofeng tea. Mount Huangshan is one of China’s famous mountains for producing great green teas and its Maofeng is certainly one of the best.
This is an innovative way of cooking river shrimp. The common method was to fry the river shrimps in oil 油爆虾. But that is considered unhealthy in modern day. So the restaurant decided to cooked the river shrimps in tea. The tea retained the sweetness of the shrimps, and the tea soup was light to taste.
In addition to the spectacular scenery, as the mother river of Huizhou, 新安江 Xin’an River also brings countless delicious fresh river produce to residents along the route, among those mandarin fish, river shrimps, snails, and white bars are among the best.
问政山笋炒霜冻黄心乌 Wenzheng bamboo shoot with yellow-heart cabbage
Wenzheng mountain bamboo shoots is another famous dish in Huizhou. Bamboo shoots grown on Mount Wenzheng are fresh and tender. After peeling the bamboo shoots that are just dug out, squeeze them with two fingers, and the juice will keep coming out. It is usually cooked as a stew with sausage, salted meat and mushrooms.
黄心乌 Yellow-heart cabbage is a cabbage variant similar to the kale and found in Anhui. It is one of the few green, leafy vegetable that remained in abundance in winter-spring period. Despite the large leaves, it loses water very quickly when sautéed and shrinks to a fraction of its original size. Paired with the fresh bamboo shoots, this makes a really good eat in winter.
蒙城烧饼 Mengcheng County sesame biscuit
蒙城烧饼 Mengcheng County sesame biscuit gained its fame when a prominent member of the CCP came to visit Mengcheng County and ate the crispy, fragrant biscuit. He loved it so much that he became the best promoter of it in Beijing. And subsequently, everyone that went to Mengcheng asked to try this biscuit.
These sesame biscuits are baked by sticking them on the wall in a tandoori oven. They are crispy when hot, and should be served while they are hot and crispy. It softens when cold, but strangely it can be reheated and the crispiness will return. Eaten as a main course, it can be used to pocket shredded bamboo shoots or other meats.
徽州刀板香荷叶夹馍 Hui salted pork belly with lotus buns
徽州刀板香 Huizhou salted pork belly is one of the masterpieces of Huizhou cuisine and a main dish for Huizhou people to treat guests. Its main ingredient is salted pork belly. After salting the bacon, it is sliced and placed on a chopping board made from the local camphor wood. The excess oil is absorbed by the board, and only the salty freshness of the meat is retained. It tastes fatty but not greasy, and the smokiness and salty fragrance remain in the mouth.
According to legend, when the famous Ming dynasty general Hu Zongxian 胡宗宪 returned after a successful campaign, he passed through the county and asked for a visit to his teacher. The wife of the teacher used salted pork belly, sliced them and steamed the salted belly on the chopping board. The whole board was presented to Hu and he was amazed how fragrant it was. Since then, 徽州刀板香 Huizhou salted pork belly has been prepared the same way and called “fragrant chopping board”.
I loved their version – not too salty, the pork belly remained soft and fragrant, and the lotus bun kept the balance.
The location is in a heritage building, and the area is absolutely beautiful in winter. Service was really attentive and prompt, even though we were in a private dining room. The service staff are used to having VIP in closed door dinners, but still need that level of service. Food is a solid factor, but according to my host the price has gone up since they decided to pass the management to a third-party. The hardware has improved tremendously though, but we need to go back to the food.
There’s no better place in Shanghai to have good solid Anhui cuisine with ingredients sent from Anhui daily. The chefs are the best of the bests to work in this guest house because of the VIP guests. But these official guesthouses had a bad reputation of serving subpar food for the public. This has been rectified since a professional F&B took over. The overall standard improved while the food has been consistently churned out at high quality.
No walk-in, must call and reserved. Subjected to last minute cancellations if there’s official functions.
Anhui Provincial Guest House in Shanghai
上海市长宁区新华路新华路185弄5 邮政编码: 200052
Tel : +86 13370293001
Date visited： Dec 2021
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