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[Eat It]: Jiu Kuan's Jian Sun Pu
Humble hole-in-the-wall Jiu Kuan serves a mean bamboo dish. Here one to seek out at the Ningbo restaurant and a few more suggestions.
By Mar 5, 2018 Dining
Eat It is a regular feature that cuts to the core of a given restaurant's menu, highlighting a specialty, favorite, or otherwise good thing to eat.

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“I’m the director, I’m the producer, I’m the screenwriter,” the 63-year-old owner of Ningboese restaurant Jiu Kuan joked, as he sat down at our table in the shabby second floor on a recent night. “My wife? She’s just the actress. She’s the cook. I’m the one telling her what to do.”

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Despite the joke, Yan Xinmin is not a chauvinist. He’s a voluble, sociable owner of an unexpectedly good hole-in-the-wall, off the side of the highway, and he’s been doing things his way for more than 30 years. The menu is different from other Ningbo restaurants, which are usually known for being heavy on salty dishes, lots of seafood, and “drunken” dishes from nearby Shaoxing.

Yan explains why: “All of this food came from my family kitchen. They’re family recipes, my family recipes.”

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Fish and chips-y

Because of that, the kitchen turns out unexpected winners like small yellow croakers, a typically bony fish, that has been filleted and deep-fried with tai tiao, a type of feathery seaweed common in coastal Zhejiang, and vinegar to dip them in. Think of it as Ningbo fish and chips, where the chips are seaweed.

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You're looking for the Jian Sun Pu

The restaurant’s showstopper is not a seafood dish at all but a bamboo dish,jian sun pu, in which Qian, Yan’s wife, slices the bamboo into thin strips, slowly fries it in oil until it browns, and then stir-fries it together with cured ham, peeled shrimp, gingko nuts and a sprinkle of sugar. The first time I went, our table ordered it twice, because it could barely make it around the lazy susan once without being devoured. The second time I went, we ventured a little bit off the showstoppers and tried the bamboo stir-fried with tiny dried shrimp – not so good.

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Drunken crab

They are a host of other seafood dishes and I’ve skipped many of them: hai guazi, tiny clams whose name means ocean melon seeds and are a pain in the ass to eat; raw blood clams with vinegar for dipping, which I don’t eat because hepatitis B; and moyu dan, which are baby squid but just don’t impress the way they might on the coast of Spain. Call me a snob. I like the non-seafood stuff at Jiu Kuan best.

Also Try Out...



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Like the pork tongue. It’s sliced thin, stir-fried with a healthy amount of greens, garlic and chili, and that’s it. It’s meaty and flavorful, with not a trace of discount meat flavor. Like the fried rice, which is almost equal parts shepherd’s purse and rice. Like the niangao, the sticky rice cakes Ningbo is famous for, also stir-fried with a ton of shepherd’s purse and thin strips of bamboo. Like the big fat snails, which have had their meat removed, chopped, mixed with pork, stuffed back into their shells, and then been red-braised.

There is one catch to Jiu Kuan, whose name literally means, "Old Style", and it’s not Yan and his great personality, or Qian and her great cooking. If we’re going to be honest here, the place is a dump. The lighting is fluorescent, the tables are rickety, the bathroom is a squatter in less than prime condition, and the place has generally seen better days. But for those who value flavor over environment, for those who like seeking out regional Chinese cuisine and not paying a bomb for it (many other Ningbo restaurants in Shanghai are high-end), Yan and Qian’s production is homely and endearing. They make a good team.

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Jiu Kuan is at 660 Yan'an Xi Lu, near Zhenning Lu.
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  • 3 months ago untoursh

    Yasss! This is one of our stops on our Night Eats route, and the bamboo is def the star. Thanks for highlighting such great homestyle cooking!!

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