Pu Dong 上海菜
I have eaten many times at Pu Dong Kitchen (operated by Shanghainese and specialising in Shanghainese cuisine) located in the basement of Balmoral Plaza but have never truly been a fan of this place because of inconsistent cooking and unfriendly service. I had once ordered “lion’s head” which was basically tennis ball-sized pork patties cooked with nappa cabbage and it came out pinkish raw, most definitely under-cooked. The gravy was not impressive either and I even felt I could do and have done better cooking this dish at home. However, this trip has definitely changed my mind. The food was good in almost every way and I suspect that’s because my host is “pally” with the restaurant owner. Service was prompt and one item, Sheng Jian Bao, which is only served on weekends, were found on our table (we had 3 rounds!).
Braised Pork Knuckle (紅燒元蹄) although was not the first dish served at our table was chosen to be the header photo for this post simply because it was really the star that night, both visually and orally. The tenderness of this hunk of pork knuckle was due to the fact that it had been slowly braised in a premium thick black soy, most likely for hours, to bring out the tenderness. The pork skin glistened so brightly lady diners’ diamonds paled in comparison under the restaurant’s fluorescence lighting. Its visual presentation was so appealing it practically beckoned us to eat it without reservations. My host very carefully scalped away at the skin in a single profile not unlike a surgeon revealing a pink hue (this time the pink is not raw as the pork had been stewed for hours) of lean meat under a cushion of gelatinous fats. I was the first to serve myself the skin and my host was happy to see me tuck in this “collagen” delicacy without any prompting. I’d skillfully used a metal spoon to scrape the whitish fats separating it from the caramelised skin and slurp it into my mouth. The taste was heavenly and I could never do justice trying to describe its texture and taste. All I could do, while savouring the mix of extremely well balanced spices and thick, dark soy of the smooth slippery organ dancing on my tongue, was trying to get my two thumbs up! I did not suffer greasy mouth-feel at all. The flavoursome meat was tender and moist but still not as tasty as the skin. I gave in and took another orgasmic helping of the dish 🙂
Drunken Chicken (花雕醉雞) I am not sure as to whether this restaurant steam or boil their chickens. I have eaten this dish from Pu Dong several times and sometimes I see bloody marrows on the bird which actually grosses me out. Tonight’s serving was good, no blood in sight and the aroma of the strong wine was intoxicating. The chilled chicken was tender and the skin was succulent and crisp to the bite. Very good indeed. Kudos!
You will find that Pu Dong Kitchen does their Shanghai Dumpling or Xiao Long Bao (小籠包) quite well. I have no complains nor praises for it as I expected them to do this snack well since XLB is characteristic to Shanghainese cuisine. My daughters often do take-aways with this item. The skin could go thinner but there’s enough juice in the tiny buns to compensate the extra dough. I usually suck up the juice first and then drizzle a little of the vinegar dip topped with a few strands of ginger strips before popping it into my mouth. If I still feel that the skin is too thick, I would try to discard the excess discreetly or politely if there’s no where to hide.
Drunken Crab (醉蟹) here is actually raw crab marinated in salt and preserved in Chinese wines for a period of time and then served chilled. This is the second time I had this dish. The first time, the crab was not carefully scrubbed clean before the the soaking process. My fingers were stained with some blackish ink like substances (oil leak from sea?). Tonight’s was all squeaky clean. So how does it taste like? The wine aroma was strong, very strong, enough to kill bacteria I hope. The flesh was salty, mushy like paste, and a little slimy. You either like it or you don’t. I am neutral on this dish. I will not specifically order this since it’s not a to-die-for dish on my list.
The insides of the crab were translucent and the deep coral coloured roe was very inviting… erm watch out the cholesterol level here. I will reserve my quota for the Braised Pork Knuckle skin.
Steamed Nappa Cabbage in Rich Stock and Chinese Ham. I do not know the Chinese name for this dish but I will compensate with a recipe below 🙂 Needless to say, I found this extremely delicious. This not an ostentatious dish but do not be fooled by its peasant composition of ingredients and appearance. I hope you will give it a shot.
Pan-fried dumpling (生煎包) is the weekend menu only item that we were able to enjoy during this weekday night. It is actually meat buns (the dough tasted in between the regular bao and Xiao Long Bao) with meaty broth inside not unlike XLB. They were pan-fried till they achieve very crispy bottom, then sprinkled generously with scallions and toasted white sesame seeds. A good Sheng Jian Bao is characterised by the thinness of its dough, the crisp on its bottom and how much tasty broth can be packed inside the bao.
This Cold Cucumber Pickle looked innocent but the chilli infusion choked the skin out of my friend. If you like cucumber pickle/salad, why not try Mo’s recipe here?
Napa Cabbage with Chinese Ham
500g Napa Cabbage (medium or half a big head).
3-5 very thin slices of Chinese Ham (see picture above for size).
1 slice Old Ginger.
1 clove Garlic.
1 teaspoon Oil.
1 teaspoon Oyster Sauce.
Salt to taste (do taste test first as canned broth and ham are salty already).
1 teaspoon Cornflour mixed with a bit of the broth.
1 cup Chicken Stock (canned or home-made but take note that canned may contain salt).
Get your wok or steaming pot ready. Keep it boiling on medium heat while you prepare the other ingredients.
Cut the bottom stem of the cabbage and keep the leaves whole.
Blanch the cabbage in boiling water and drain away the water well.
Re-assemble the leaves onto a shallow dish for steaming.
You may keep the leaves whole or cut them across (like in the nappa cabbage photo above) at this stage.
Dry-fry or toast the ham over low heat for a few seconds to release its fragrance, keep aside to cool.
Heat up 1 teaspoon of oil and saute the ginger and garlic.
Once garlic turns opaque, add chicken stock, oyster sauce, ham slices and let them simmer over low heat for 2 minutes.
Turn up the heat and stir in the cornflour solution. Keep stirring a few times quickly.
Turn off heat. Adjust final seasoning with salt if necessary, stir well if using.
Pour away excess water from the cabbage if any, making sure you get rid as much water as possible from the blanching liquid.
Pour this prepared stock over the ham and assembled cabbage leaves.
Steam over high heat for 10-15 minutes (depending on how soft you like your nappa).
If you can buy dried Chinese Ham from the grocer they are better tasting than canned. If cannot find both versions, you can also use deli ham which is salty.
You can add conpoy (dried scallop, reconstituted first) to enrich the stock but I am keeping this dish as simple as possible so we can taste the refreshing sweetness of the nappa cabbage especially during the Chinese winter months when the vegetable is in season and taste especially good.
You can also pack the vegetable like a mound into a big bowl and steam in your rice cooker if you do not have the traditional steaming pot and cover.
I am giving you all these tips in hope you will try out this yummy and hopefully healthy dish.
Happy cooking 🙂
Pu Dong Kitchen
Address: 271 Bukit Timah Road
Phone: 6732 8966
Hours: 11:00 am–2:30 pm, 5:30 pm–9:30 pm
Transit: Balmoral Plaza
Yunan Ham Photo Credit: Google Images