CUISINE from northwestern China can be ideal comfort food. Residents of Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu and Xinjiang provinces eat a lot of mutton, which is considered a “warm” food in traditional Chinese medicine. Heavy flavors complement winter weather nicely.
Authentic northwestern Chinese cuisine is just around the corner in Minhang. It may be a mutton restaurant or a street stall specializing in hearty snacks.
Here’s a guide to some of the best offerings.
Roujiamo, which people sometimes humorously translate as “Chinese hamburger,” is a Shaanxi-origin snack that has become popular throughout the country, if often varied from place to place.
Roujiamo is basically a steamed bread with minced meat, but this version is different from standard baozi because the filling is not completely encased.
Authentic Shaanxi roujiamo is made with mutton or pork. The meat is simmered in a sauce made with more than 30 seasonings, giving it a rich flavor.
Northwest Hulless Oat Village in Minhang is believed to be the best restaurant for this specialty in Shanghai.
Here, the roujiamo wrapper is baked in charcoal, giving the snack a crispy surface while retaining a soft middle
The restaurant also serves other signature northwestern dishes, such as steamed hulless oat rolls (筱面窝窝) and hulless oat gnocchi soup (筱面鱼鱼). Both dishes are frequently seen on dinner tables in Shaanxi Province.
The open kitchen plan allows customers to watch the process of making the rolls and gnocchi.
Northwest Hulless Oat Village (西贝筱面村)
Address: B2, 6088 Humin Rd;
5/F, 7388 Humin Rd;
1/F, 3644 Qixin Road
The cuisines of the northwestern provinces all bear a certain similarity, but the food in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region definitely has its own uniqueness.
Sauteed spicy chicken, crusty pancakes and lamb kebabs are popular staples with their own signature tastes.
In Minhang, one Xinjiang-style restaurant has adapted authentic Xinjiang cooking to Shanghai tastes without sacrificing flavor.
Tong Yanghua, owner of Tahar Xinjiang Restaurant, grew up in Xinjiang, and his wife Xu Feina hails from Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. Although both are Han, they specialize in the ethnic cuisine of the Uygurs of Xinjiang.
Tong said all the ingredients used in the restaurant come from Xinjiang, but his wife has modified the cooking methods somewhat.
“When I was preparing to open the restaurant, we always had Xinjiang pancakes for supper because we were too busy to cook,” said Tong. “But gradually my wife lost her appetite for them, so I tried to think of a way to make the pancakes more tantalizing.”
Tong’s solution was to cut a pancake into small pieces and fry them with onions and lamb. His wife loved the dish, and it has now become a specialty in the restaurant.
Tong said modifying dishes is not necessarily bad. For example, the lamb kebab served in the restaurant is a bit different from those sold in Xinjiang. The meat is leaner and less seasoned with cumin, which gives the kebab a lighter, juicier taste.
“I always insist that we keep an authentic atmosphere in the restaurant, but traditional flavors can be altered a bit as long as the food remains delicious,” said Tong.
Tahar Xinjiang Restaurant (塔哈尔新疆盛宴)
Address: B2, 6088 Humin Rd;
2094 Meilong Rd
Noodles are a mainstay in Shaanxi Province. They are found in both dishes and snacks.
One popular variation is liangpi, or cold rice noodles with sauce, a street snack that has become popular in Shanghai. It looks simple but requires a complicated cooking procedure to produce extremely thin noodles that are served al dente.
Yushaanfang shop on Yongping Road in the Jiangchuan area is popular for serving this snack. Its noodles look semi-transparent, but they retain a pleasant chewiness. They are served in a chili sesame sauce, accompanied by shredded cucumber. The cost is only 7 yuan (US$1.14).
Another restaurant, the Qinguo Noodle House in Xinzhuang, serves very down-to-earth fare. Noodles with pork paste and noodles in spicy oil are the two best sellers here.
Both noodles come to the table looking very red, but they are not as hot as people think. The pork paste lends a salty flavor, while the spicy oil dish contains many vegetables that neutralize the heat of the hot peppers.
The noodle house, where customers on average spend 5 yuan, is very crowded during lunchtime.
“The noodles here taste quite authentic,” said one frequent customer, who identified himself only by the surname Zhang. “I’m from Gansu Province, and we have very similar diet with that in Shaanxi. I taste home here.”