CITYLIFE / Eating Out

Not just roasted duck
By Theresa Miao (Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2006-06-15 15:12

What is to be said about the culinary specialities of Beijing besides its famous roasted duck?

During a recent visit to the Shanghai Spring restaurant in the Sofitel Jinjiang Hotel, I expanded my limited knowledge of Beijing cuisine after sampling from a special menu of Beijing dishes available there. The menu, which is limited to June, includes a series of cold dishes such as salted vegetables with dry shrimps, mixed radish with pepper and crystal skin and also hot dishes like pan-fried bean curd, hot and sour soup with cuttlefish egg and-of course-roasted duck.

Most of the dishes I sampled tasted lighter than I had expected, especially when compared to other dishes from the northern part of China. This made me wonder whether it was a set of Beijing dishes influenced by the Shanghai culinary style.

But chef Fan Minqi later dispelled my doubts. "The main characteristic of Beijing dishes is not a matter of whether the flavour is heavy or light, but their singularity," he said.

He thought Beijing dishes were similar to the temper of Beijing people-who are often described as straightforward and explicit-just as the flavours of the food are typically straightforward, either salty or sweet.

"Beijing food has already been improved, with a lighter flavour than before, so as to cater to the tastes of more diners," he said.

Among the dishes I tried, the most impressive was the stewed fillet with wine sauce zaoliu yupian. The fillets were made of codfish and tasted especially tender, delicate and savoury, due to the accompaniment of the wine sauce.

According to Fan, the wine sauce combined Chinese yellow wine and sweet-scented osmanthus. Its preparation involved filtering through gauze. Then the sauce was added to the stewed fillet, making the fish more flavoursome and juicy.

The hot and sour soup with cuttlefish egg was also worthy of recommendation. Served along with a set of cold dishes, the soup, made of chicken broth, white vinegar and pepper, tasted very refreshing and delectable. The cuttlefish roes were completely unfolded in the soup and very much resembled fish slices, tasting generous and soft.

The Beijing roasted duck served in Shanghai Spring has been renamed "Jinjiang roasted duck." The duck appeared larger than usual and splendidly dark-red.

According to Fan, what distinguished the "Jinjiang roasted duck" from others was that the ducks were usually marinated in salty spices, although most of the preparation process was the same.

The duck tasted fatty and sweet, while the roasted skin was crispy. Served with sauces, cucumbers and shallots, it tasted almost indistinguishable from the standard Beijing roasted duck.

The final dish was another Beijing speciality-stewed apple with sugar. Beijing people are quite good at stewing many different kinds of fruit with sugar, not just apples. Diners should eat the dish quickly after it is served, dipping the fruit slices in water. The dish was quite sweet and its exterior, mostly crystallized syrup, tasted crunchy.

Shanghai Spring occupies a large dining space located on the first underground level of the hotel, with more than 150 seats. Diners still get a good view of the gardens through its grand windows, while sunshine pours in through the transparent ceiling.

Sofitel Jinjiang Oriental Pudong Shanghai
Location: No.889 Yanggao Nanlu
Tel: 021-50504888