My first real Chinese meal - Zhanggui Restaurant, Shanghai

It’s taken me over two weeks since I’ve returned from an absolutely exciting trip to Shanghai to get this post up. And that’s all thanks to my (now erstwhile) internet provider who decided it was completely fine to take over two weeks to lay cables. Anyway, good riddance. Let’s talk about the food.

I’m absolutely ecstatic about this particular post because it’s about my very first authentic Chinese meal in China. I did do a few places in Hong Kong last year, but that’s not really China. A colleague of ours took us to the Zhanggui Restaurant near the Holiday Inn Express and was completely in charge of ordering food. One of the things about eating in Shanghai is that (a) not all restaurants would have an English menu or an English speaking bearer and (b) not all restaurants keep spoons. I was fortunate that there was an English translation and spoons at this place. I was in for a total surprise because I left the ordering up to my colleague and whatever Mandarin he spoke, did not fit into the 5 sentences that I know.

While we waited for our food to arrive, we cracked open a bottle of Tiger beer. It was my first time trying this one out; I’m not a big fan. We ordered two appetizers – The Stir-fried Shredded Potato and the Scrambled Eggs with Fungus and Caraway. While the former was a very familiar taste, what really got the party going with my taste buds was the scrambled eggs dish. The mushrooms and the eggs were a fabulous combination with the eggs being just a tad runny and the bitter taste of the mushrooms complementing the taste of the yolk. This is a dish that I want to go back and try should I go to Shanghai again.

Stir-fried Shredded Potato

Scrambled Eggs with Fungus and Caraway

Our main course was extremely elaborate, but surprisingly did not make one feel bloated. We started off with the Braised Wild Vegetable Casserole, a dish that I simply loved. A lot of folks who say that genuine Chinese food is all about exotic animals, here’s a simple yet tasty vegetarian dish that had a slight vinegar taste that was left behind. We also ordered the Beef Brisket with Beef Tendon and Peppers. The dish tasted a lot like a rasam with beef portions, I didn’t quite enjoy the tomato-peppery flavour of the dish overall. This round was accompanied by some Noodles in a chilli soya sauce. 

Braised Wild Vegetable Casserole


I’m not a big fan of tofu, and was a little disappointed when my colleague said he’s ordered fresh tofu. However, the tofu that came was almost like a thick curd and was accompanied by beans and a soya sauce. Oddly enough, that combination worked quite alright. I wouldn’t swear by the dish, but it did show me that tofu has to be made well to taste good. We also ordered a river fish cooked in a chilli sauce of some sort. I unfortunately did not catch the name of the dish. From a taste perspective, the amount of saltiness in the meat was a little too high for me. The outer sauce had a nice spicy yet citrus taste to it. While I didn’t enjoy the fish by itself, its flavour got neutralized with the simple fried rice that we ordered.

The best dish of the evening, and one of the most elegant dishes I’ve ever had was the Prawns cooked in Tea. Every now and then, a dish comes into my life that knocks the shoes, socks and pants off me. This was one such dish. True to the name, the crunchy prawns had a splendid aroma of freshly brewed tea; one bite into them released a wave of flavours that made me make a lot of inappropriate happy noises. The outer layer has a light sweet-chilli coating, but the kick comes when one bites into the meat. Almost immediately you taste freshly brewed tea with a very mild jasmine flavour. As one chews through the prawn, the flavour overtakes the palate leaving a fresh refreshing taste. I was told by my colleague that not everyone enjoys this flavour and it takes a great deal of experience with food to immediately enjoy this. While I’m not sure if he was buttering me up, I’ll just take it as a complement.

Prawn cooked in tea
Dessert was a simple ice cream. As far as the décor of the restaurant goes, it does resemble some of the cramped eat out you’d see in old Chinese movies with wooden tables, portraits of history on the wall, and even a squawking blackbird as you enter the restaurant.

I was absolutely thrilled by my very first truly Chinese meal. I was told that the flavours here were very local to the Shanghai region and vary drastically when one moves towards the Beijing area. I guess one will have to wait and hope for a trip to Beijing next year to see for themselves. Overall, one of the most memorable meals I’ve had. The 31 year wait was worth it.