Despite the lack of turkey and pie over this Thanksgiving (as bemoaned before), we decided that the American tradition of belly-busting, coronary-clogging feasting could not go un-honored. So we continued our culinary tour of China, this time in search of food highlighting lesser-known or -celebrated regions of the vast country.
I had been to drinks at the roof terrace at Lost Heaven on the Bund (an exotic gem in itself), and on the way out, I couldn’t help notice the still-bumpin’ dining room, lit low with a clubby vibe and still packed out with people and even better smells. And after hearing it repeatedly recommended by friends, I decided this was a place to explore.
When we arrived, unusually late, my memory did not disappoint – the spicy room, all dark corners and heavy textiles accented with punches of red light and romantic photos of the ethnic tribes, was much larger even than on my first impression and full to bursting with beautiful people having saucy Mexican staring contests over tables loaded with delicious-looking dishes. I filed it for later as a great date spot but luckily (luckily?) I was with family and could focus on the food.
(This is the best photo I could get of the room. Yep - that's one sexy space.)
The menu is a veritable safari through the Yunnan region and its food reflects the region’s borders of Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Tibet as well as the enormous province of Sichuan. At first glance the dishes looked a lot more Vietnamese or even Indian-influenced than ‘Chinese’, and it was difficult to choose, despite or maybe because of the questionably helpful snippets ‘explaining’ some of the offerings.
Yunnan is famous for its pu’er tea, so we started with a tea leaf salad as well as a token papaya salad in a nod to Vietnam.
Although a friend hailed the tea leaf salad as “everyone’s favorite” and it came with a great mix of textures among the shredded leaves including seeds and dried broad beans, it was super salty which took its umami to almost-inedible levels. The papaya salad, however, was a surprise crowd pleaser – thick ‘noodles’ of papaya were almost indistinguishable from the noodles themselves, both seemingly soaked in its juice, making it much softer and more sensuous than any similar salad I’ve ever tried.
Next came delicious roast pork (insert surrounding story of ethnic village tradition) with a perfect amount of fat marbled into the meat and not around it and a plate of “green onion and chili chicken” – the most tender and flavorful non-fried chicken I’ve ever had – all along with some of the best lamb ‘lollypops’ I’ve had as well, with the lamb managing to maintain its own gamey flavor while luxuriating in a thick, almost-Indian/almost-Thai smoky spiced (cumin?) coating.
This food seemed to slip seamlessly into its environs – sexy, spicy and bold; slightly foreign and yet very familiar.
We were looking for heavenly food and we found it.
17 Yan'an Dong Lu, Bund