Shanghai is not an old city by comparison, but Shanghai has many old restaurants. Some have survived multiple civil wars, a world war and several pandemics. Laozhengxing is one of them.
History of Lao Zheng Xing
For more than a hundred years, Shanghai Laozhengxing Restaurant 上海老正兴菜馆 has been famous for its Shanghainese cuisine – aka 本帮菜 – at home and abroad. Shanghainese cuisine involved many cooking techniques and is heavy on sweet and savoury seasoning.
Laozhengxing was founded in the first year of Tongzhi in the Qing Dynasty (1862). It was founded by two Ningbo natives, Zhu Zhengben 祝正本 and Cai Renxing 蔡仁兴. The word “Zheng” and the word “Xing” in their names formed the name of the store. As their popularity grew, there were so many imposters. Hence they changed their name to “Laozhengxing” and the word “Tongzhi” was crowned. And as they said, the rest was history!
It moved to its current location in 1997, which gave it considerably more space as it now occupies several floors. These days, the restaurant is operated by a holding company owned by the Shanghai Municipal. Therefore there’s a glass ceiling to how good it can be.
This is our dinner menu.
- Dried Leaf Mustard 银丝芥菜
- Signature Chicken in Yellow Wine 正兴醉鸡
- Pickled Cauliflower 醋腌花菜
- Shanghai-style Smoked Pomfret 上海熏鱼
- Fried River Shrimp 油爆河虾
- Sautéed River Eel 响油鳝糊
- Braised Sea Cucumber 虾籽大乌参
- Sautéed Edible Clover with Pig’s Colon 草头圈子
- Stir-fry Yellow Chives with Bean Curd 韭黄干丝
- Pan Fried Beltfish 干煎东海带鱼
- Shepherd’s Purse with Tofu Soup 荠菜豆腐羹
- Braised Tofu with Hairy Crab Meat 蟹粉白玉
- Scallion Pancakes 葱油饼
Dried Leaf Mustard 银丝芥菜
This may not look like anything, but dried leaf mustard is a savoury vegetable that is a method of preserving vegetables for the winter months before refrigeration. These days, they are used for their strong flavours as an appetiser to be stewed with other vegetables like mushrooms, bean curd, etc.
Signature Chicken in Yellow Wine 正兴醉鸡
A very popular appetiser in Shanghai and aptly named “drunken chicken”, they soak poached chicken in yellow wine overnight to infuse the sweet taste of the wine into the chicken. The chicken is served cold, which freaked out many of my Western friends. But it is a really good eat.
Pickled Cauliflower 醋腌花菜
Pickled cauliflower, nothing to shout about.
Shanghai-style Smoked Pomfret 上海熏鱼
A classic Shanghainese appetiser that epitomises the style. The pomfret slices are pan fried to a crisp and then coated with a sticky sweet and savoury soy sauce. 浓油赤酱 – oily, strong flavours, brown sauce, sweet overtones – these are the pillars of the Shanghai style that may turn away some.
Fried River Shrimp 油爆河虾
River shrimps are deep fried with their shells on in a heavy pot of hot oil. The fried shrimps are then coated with a layer of syrupy sauce. The result is a savoury shrimp with sweet overtone – another Shanghainese classic.
Sautéed River Eel 响油鳝糊
This is my favourite Shanghainese dish, the sautéed river eel. The finishing touch is the ladle of boiling oil poured over the scallions and chives to give the sautéed river eel that shine. The flavour can be overpowering for. the uninitiated.
Braised Sea Cucumber 虾籽大乌参
The sea cucumber is stuffed with river shrimps and then braised in a thick, brown sauce. The umami from the shrimps combined with the savoury brown sauce are imparted to the tasteless sea cucumber.
Sautéed Edible Clover with Pig’s Colon 草头圈子
I finally found out the English translation to the local vegetable called edible clover 草头. I often confused it with Indian Aster 马兰头, which is another popular local vegetable. Both are herby and unusual eats, and for first timers, they can be like chewing grass. The edible clover is often sautéed with yellow wine and added with pig’s colon 圈子, yes, colon. That is a very fatty piece of offal which is loved by the older generation of Shanghainese. I love it too, but I have to leave it alone for health reasons.
Stir-fry Yellow Chives with Bean Curd 韭黄干丝
Next, a simple stir-fry dish of yellow chives and julienne bean curd.
Pan Fried Beltfish 干煎东海带鱼
Pan fried belt fish used to be a household dish. These days, belt fish is a delicacy on the restaurant table, as families moved away from this humble sea fish. I loved let fish, my mom used to prepare it at home for me. They do a very decent version, crispy and not oily.
Shepherd’s Purse with Tofu Soup 荠菜豆腐羹
Another local vegetable, the shepherd’s purse heralds in springtime and is usually made into a broth.
Braised Tofu with Hairy Crab Meat 蟹粉白玉
Tofu and hairy crab meat, nothing special but this is a rice killer dish.
Scallion Pancakes 葱油饼
Finally, scallion pancakes were delicious – fragrant, crispy and savoury.
There were many reviews online that mentioned poor service attitudes and lousy food. I would say that was true before the pandemic. They were a state-owned enterprise, and therefore they were not incentivised to perform beyond their assigned duties. These days the attitude has changed as the management has been turned over to professional managers, and it is facing a lot of competition from the private sector.
The food was a good introduction to Shanghainese cuisine, although I prefer the ones from newcomers like Rose Garden and Danshizhai.
Lao Zheng Xing (Huangpu) 老正興 (黄埔总店)
556 Fuzhou Road, Shanghai, China Mainland
Tel : +86 (021) 6322 2624
Visited Feb 2023
Michelin Shanghai Guide 1 Star 2017-23
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