"Shanghai Famous" Danyi Gao may have never set out to be a chef, but she's always been a damn good customer.
Danyi Gao didn’t mean to be a chef. It just sort of happened to her. The Ningbo native liked to cook and said so on an Airbnb profile she kept in Shanghai. She’d cook for her guests for a small fee, who eventually convinced her she had the skills. She moved to Qingpu so she could have a house with a garden where she could grow vegetables and host dinners. At the same time, she was a frequent customer of jazz bar Heyday, and got to be friends with the owner. One night, on the spur of the moment, they decided they would open a funkier kind of place, what would become Shake, but she couldn’t find the right chef for the budget she had. So her partner suggested she do it. Me? she asked. She wasn’t a chef but that didn’t stop her. And so her career as a chef was born. Today, she’s garnered a degree of fame from cooking shows and local media, and sits on a database of knowledge about Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese restaurants from her time living in the western suburbs of the city, where those restaurants predominate. These are her picks.
This is a Japanese restaurant that’s famous for sukiyaki. There’s no other restaurant in Shanghai to compare it to for sukiyaki, just based on ingredient quality alone. They have A4, A5 and A6 beef – that’s the Japanese grading system. Personally, I prefer the A4. The A6 is like 60-70% fat. I can’t take it. I’ve been to Japan several times, and there’s really no difference with Ri He.
Another of my favorites there is the horse sashimi. It looks like sliced beef with a lot of marbling, though of course the color is a little bit darker. I eat simply with fresh garlic and soy sauce. This sounds weird but the fat is really good. It has its own flavor, very different from beef. The fresh uni is also very good. The main reason I go is for the ingredients. That’s the most important thing for a cook.
This is a soondae place, the Korean blood sausage, sometimes made with rice and sometimes with noodles. You can eat it by itself, dip it into salt and pepper, dip it into chili sauce, and you cook it in a broth. This is the best food you can get for a hangover. I was playing poker the other night with a bunch of chefs, and I used Meituan to go out to K-Town to pick this up and bring it back for us at like 2am. The restaurant is a tiny, tiny shop inside this well-known mall in Koreatown town called Jin Ting. I found it accidentally, and they basically only serve soondae and a couple other dishes. I think there are six things on the menu in total, including this creamy pork bone broth.
My favorite Thai restaurant is in a mall… Home Thai in K11. OMG. I was really surprised by it. Like, it doesn’t have that much personality, and all of the customers are Chinese, so how good can it be? It seemed so casual. And then my friend took me there. Holy shit. This was better than some restaurants I ate at in Thailand. The spices and flavors are really well-balanced. There’s really nothing I can find to complain about. Everything is so good. There’s this chang fen style dish, like Hong Kong dim sum, that made a really deep impression on me, but their mango sticky rice is also very good, and their grilled pork neck is super tender. My absolute favorite is this red curry beef shank with potatoes. So tender.
This is further out in Gubei in what used to be K-Town (but now is not). I used to live in Qingpu and all these places were nearby for me. This place is famous for its yutou fensi guo – taro, glass noodles, mushrooms, and minced pork. Again, everything is simple but when you start eating it, you just can’t stop. It’s like your grandmother made it for you. No wow effect, just really nice food. Their three-cup chicken is also very good, as is their Taiwanese omelette made with sun-dried, chopped daikon.
Again, the ingredients win. Yong Fu gets really good seafood from Ningbo and that area. It’s simple ingredients with big flavors. But when you look at the dishes, there’s no wow factor, you’re like, "what is this?", because it’s just simple, traditional Ningbo cooking. Ningbo food is all about the ingredients. We don’t eat seafood with much sauce. We prefer the original, natural flavors of things, so the ingredients have to be good. I took my dad there – he is so so picky – and he approved. It’s quite expensive. The last time I went I spent 1,800rmb on a fish that would have cost 100rmb in my hometown, but if you’ve never had good, proper Ningbo food, then it’s worth it. Of course, it doesn’t have to be super expensive. It depends on what you order. Overall, it’s totally worth going.