China cooks tend to be a bit heavy handed with salt and oil, and the food comes off as overly salty and greasy, and often, Singaporeans are turned off by eateries set up by Mainland Chinese.
It was a surprise then, to find a small Chinese restaurant hidden away in one corner of Ang Mo Kio avenue 5 that not only produce authentic Shanghai fare, but also catered to our local palate too.
The restaurant roughly only sits about 30 persons, and thus, is very much different from say, Ding Tai Fung with its large open spaces and numerous staff.
I was delighted to be there for a special tasting session where the owner, Mr Zhang had a 17 dish lunch prepared for us. As I cannot possibly list down all 17 items, I would instead focus on the highlights of that lunch.
|Fried Fish Slices|
I am not sure of what particular fish this was, but it was sliced and deep fried until they were curled somewhat. It had a nice marinate on the outside, and there was a hint of sweetness as well.
What I liked about this dish, as well as the food overall, is how the chef tended not to be very oily or greasy with their fried stuff. This was no exception, and the perfect blend of texture and flavors really came off well.
Shanghai drunken chick is a staple in Ding Tai Fung, but here, it was more subtle with the wine element, and came off with a more pleasant and less bitter aftertaste.
The chicken was also very finely sliced and perfectly tender and moist. My final word on this dish is that I will find it hard to consume Ding Tai Fung's drunken chicken without thinking of this superior version.
|Xiao Long Bao|
Xiao Long Bao is also another popular item in Ding Tai Fung, and it is very good there. Shanghai Ren Jia's version is even better, and perhaps, the best Xiao Long Bao in Singapore.
|The thin almost translucent skin|
The skin of the bao here was so fine here that it was almost translucent, and fragile enough that a slight tap would burst it immediately.
As for the fillings, the pork broth was again, less intense, but more subtle in its flavors, and again, a hint of sweetness. It was also less oily than the usual Xiao Long Baos, and ultimately, this was one bao that you could not stop at one.
|Fried Flat Beans and Bamboo Shoots|
Mr Zhang was intent on pointing out that cooking simple ingredients but bringing out the flavors was more important than using expensive and premium ingredients.
And it was exemplified in this simple vegetable dish, where the intense green of the flat beans meant that the vegetable was cooked to just right. Crunchy, and just a slight touch of salt. Simple and effective.
|Shen Jian Bao|
Shen Jian Bao was one of the most interesting dishes during the lunch. There are small buns that are pan fried on the bottom first before they are steamed.
Just taking one look at these buns was mouth watering indeed, and the mixture of fried and steam bun skins was actually very novel. Mr Zhang pointed out that most other eateries steam then fry the buns, which is wrong.
The fillings were packed full of pork flavors and seasoning, and this was one of my favorite dishes here as well.
|Smoked Duck with Asparags|
My singular favorite from this session was this beautifully presented smoked duck dish. Sitting on a base of asparagus, this dish was a beautiful dish to look at and to consume.
The smoked flavor of the duck was sumptuously aromatic, and the tenderness of the duck was perfect. Not too dry, it was just right and delicious.
|Pork Rib Noodles|
Mr Zhang and his wife hand make all their noodles, and it clearly shows when you take a bit out of this tasty pork rib noodle plate.
The pork ribs themselves were nicely marinated and tender, and went perfectly with the wonderfully textured noodles. Forming a nice bite, the noodles could have done with more sauce, but was otherwise another standout from this humble restaurant.
|The Passionate Mr Zhang|
I had a chance to visit the equally humble kitchen, where Mrs Zhang did most of the cooking and with only one helper to serve the diners, it was certainly a very compact yet efficient operation.
Mr Zhang and his wife have been in Singapore for two decades, and the zest they have for food here is very palpable. They informed us that they regularly patronize other restaurants in order to learn how to cater to local tastes, and it clearly shows in their final product.
There were some other great dishes on offer that day, including a wonderful cold tofu with century egg and pork floss, which was superb and a simple fried egg with yellow chive dish.
I did notice that some of their dishes did show a bit more sweetness than I would have liked, but otherwise, their cooking was excellent all around.
If you fancy Shanghai food and a nice eatery outside of town, Shanghai Ren Jia is just perfect for such an occasion.
Shanghai Ren Jia
Blk 151 Ang Mo Kio Ave 5