Industry Nights is a semi-regular column featuring the haunts of chefs, restaurant owners, F&B managers, and other marginally sane people with good eating recommendations.
Mark Baar is the man behind the kitchens of The Apartment, The Food Central, and the soon-to-open Geisha. He takes us off the grid, or at least off of SmartSh's map, for a tour of Baoshan and Putuo, Shanghai's gastronomic hinterland.
The Nanshi Lu Street Market
"This is my favorite food street in Shanghai. I know everyone has a favorite street, but this one is around the corner from the biggest fish market and across the street from the biggest produce market in the city and is a daily haunt of mine. After 8:00 at night there are stands and open BBQ’s lined up from one end to the other. All the food on a stick you can eat; vegetables, lamb and beef, then there is the grilled giant squids, oysters, shrimp, whole fish, amazing scallops, all in the shell pried unceremoniously in half and seasoned with heat, salt and some combo of other spices I have yet to decipher. Try the whole grilled Eggplant and Tofu on a stick also."
"At the end of this meandering little street and you will find a cavernous vegetable market. Directly across the street is Tong Cheng Mei Shi, or as I prefer to call it “Home Style Lamb Noodles.” It's probably the longest sign on the street; you can't miss it. Any time of day and night you will find a lot of men sitting around bowls of great noodles with sweet lamb in a clear broth, lots of small plates of vegetables like broad beans, cabbage or long beans with pork or tofu, pickled river fish with chilies and, of course, tomato and scrambled egg. I love this place and they have come to know and like me over the years. They introduce me to the food and I eat all that is ever brought to me."
"On the east corner of this intersection there is a Hunan Place that, like so many others, claims to have been a favorite of Mao’s. That of course is impossible because this part of my hood was probably nothing more than pasture land when he was alive. Nevertheless, they have wonderful and simple classical Hunan dishes like sweet pickled radishes with chilies, red-braised pork. The vegetables vary from day to day. There are fish tubs on the floor and wood burning ovens in the back. The stir-fried cucumber and broad beans with preserved mushrooms is a good bet. The smoked beef with stir-fried, garlic shoots, eggplant and hot chili, is wonderful and the braised sweet and spicy eggplant works with everything. I also have the egg custard which must be an anomaly because it is light with sweet Shaoxing wine and soy sauce, uncommon, to me at least, for Hunan food."
"At the west corner of Hualin Lu and Xinhu Lu our is this gigantic Shaoxing place. It is crazy how big this place is. You have the typical back room next to the kitchen as big as a football field, displaying, fifty different types of live fish, shrimp, lobsters, crabs and other crustaceans. Then there are the hundred other different dishes on plates wrapped in plastic for you to choose from. I always have something different but things that never change for me are the shrimp balls. These are wonderful fried crispy bits of joy. Don't miss the whole steamed fish Shanghai style, braised short beef ribs with red onions in black pepper sauce and the potatoes with green chilies. Of course, you have to eat the cold sticky gooey, sweet and lovely lotus root with the pork in jelly as well.
"Hai Di Lao… Not news to you, I'm sure. But the one in Putuo is my favorite. The soup selections are amazing. I usually have the mushroom and seafood broth, or, if in the mood, the spicy-as-hell Sichuan broth. We all know for a fact that the service is great and the shoe shines, getting your nails done or free snacks and board games while you wait can’t be more fun. But the food is great too. I have always loved hot pot and being able to have fresh pig brains and trotters, with fresh fish, abalone and razor clams in season. A wide variety of tofu, quality meats and vegetables make this my go-to place no matter what new trendy spot opens up downtown. The gym suit noodle spin ain’t bad either. Maybe it’s the condiments as well? But in the end I think it is just that I am the only Westerner ever there."