On Shanghai River, and Xiao Long Love.

Last night I had my first big Shanghaiese dinner.  I’ve delved into Shanghai cuisine with dim sum, but had not yet tried this inviting food after sunset.  I was joined by my friends Jeff and Steph (Jeff’s a woodworker, and I foolishly forgot to ask him to make us custom-designed chopsticks – next time Martin, next time), and Steph’s lovely mom Debbie, who’s visiting from Ontario.  Not only does Debbie know cheese (I LOVE to talk about cheese), but she has a culinary background too, so she knows food.  You don’t want to take chances with an out-of-towner with good taste, and I knew Shanghai River would deliver.  Not only did we have a great meal, but now they’re all hooked on xiao long bao!

This restaurant has a solid reputation; it’s been praised by plenty of locals, and The New York Times speaks pretty highly of it, too.  Not bad, eh?  (Just bringing us back to Canada, there).  I did chuckle when I read “…out in Richmond the dim sum palaces are thriving, along with the strip-mall noodle huts and Chinese supermarkets, the tea parlors and barbecue dives. It would take weeks to negotiate them all.”  Weeks?  Ha!  Trust me, an entire year isn’t nearly enough!

Because of its popularity, there’s already plenty of literature on Shanghai River in the blogging world.  I used Follow me Foodie’s fantastic 3 part guide to get started, though reading about her favourite dishes before we left was torture to my grumbling belly.

I took this photo close to the end of the evening, when a number of diners had already left. When we arrived, each and every one of these tables was packed!

Shanghai River is large but always full, so reservations are strongly recommended.  I’d walked past it on Westminster Highway a number of times, and was in awe of how the tables seemed forever surrounded by diners.  This is a place where both locals and visitors come, and it’s truly a well-oiled machine.  Servers and food move efficiently through the vast dining room, tables are cleared quickly, and your teapot will never go empty.  It’s clean and stylishly-kept, with some of the friendliest service you’ll find in Richmond, and that reminds me: if you’re an English-only speaker calling to make a reservation, they may answer the phone in Mandarin, but don’t be alarmed.  Just go ahead and make your inquiry, and they’ll speak back to you in English.  Easy peasy.

So what’s at the very top of everyone’s Shanghai River wish-list?  The xiao long bao of course!  Those famous soup-filled dumplings I tried for the first time at Suhang.  Shanghai River does a crab + pork-filled version, so we started with that.

They were smaller than the ones at Suhang, and slightly orange at the very tip – perhaps from the crab?  The dough was thin and tender, with a savoury, soul-warming mixture of crab, pork, and broth on the inside.  I especially loved dipping it in the ginger-vinegar before popping it into my mouth, which offset the oily filling perfectly.  One bite, and we were all in xiao long love!

Then, even though there were only 4 of us, we ate like we were 10 strong.  In total, we had the Xiao Long Bao with Crab ($9.80 for 5), the Handmade Noodles with Seafood ($15.80), Braised Eggplant in Chili Sauce ($15.80), Fried Rice Cakes with Pork ($14.80), Pork with Bean Sprouts and 8 Crepes (written “cripes” on the menu, inciting a running joke which I think might last forever, $17.80), and Pan-fried Pork Dumplings ($7.50).  In other words, “The Meal of Pork.”

Based on these two sites, here are a few things I’ve mustered up on the basics of Shanghai cuisine:

– Generally speaking, it originated in the Ming and Qing Dynasties

– It incorporates a wide variety of cooking techniques including baking, stewing, frying, boiling, marinating, smoking, and roasting

– Dishes tend to be accompanied by condiments

– Raw ingredients are cut precisely, and well-arranged

– Flavours are light and not terribly spicy (sweet and sour are typical tastes)

– Currently, it’s becoming more influenced by Cantonese cuisine, in that dishes tend to be less oily and focused more on health

Did these guidelines prove true while we were eating?  I think so, as the food was exquisite.  The handmade noodles were flavourful and firm, tossed in a light, savoury brown sauce with crunchy snow peas and beautifully cooked prawns, squid, and scallops.

The braised eggplant was soft, saucy, and tossed with chopped vegetables and strips of pork.  These added not only to the flavour of the dish, but also provided a wonderful array of textures.

The tender fried rice cakes had been sautéed with greens and sliced pork.  We decided they’re like pasta, in that quality matters, as does preparation.  Nobody wants to eat a plain, chewy rice cake (or at least I don’t), but a soft one fried up with a flavourful sauce?  Yes please.  This dish has already been jotted down on my mental list of “Things I Will Forever Crave.”

The pork and bean sprouts with crepes/cripes was my least favourite dish.  The crepes and sauce were fantastic, but the pork filling was kind of chewy.  Still, it was satisfying and we had no problem finishing it.

At the end, we snuck in an order for 5 pan-fried pork dumplings, because I wanted Steph, Jeff, and Debbie to taste what a real, homemade pan-fried dumpling tastes like.

They were skillfully-folded packages of juicy pork, made with fresh dough and fried to a crisp, golden brown.  The xiao long bao will always win the dumpling war at Shanghai River, but these were pretty darn good.

Genuinely, I could not have enjoyed my experience at Shanghai River more.  I was in fantastic company, our server (Wilson) was phenomenal, and the food was just so good.  I applaud the kitchen, because with the number of customers they cook for each day, it must be incredibly difficult to keep the quality of food as high as they do.  This place is affordable and centrally located, so Richmondites can enjoy it regularly, and visitors need not hesitate about booking themselves in either.  Not only will you be taken care of, but there’s also the entertainment factor of watching the open kitchen xiao long bao station, of which I was too late to get a picture!  I nearly cried!  But don’t worry, I plan on filming a video about homemade dumplings and noodles in Richmond, so I shall return.

The food of Shanghai is beautiful, as are its city-scapes.  Please enjoy this great video, and please visit Shanghai River someday if you can.

Shanghai River

7831 Westminster Highway, Richmond BC

604-233-8885

Cash and cards accepted

Vegetarian options available

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Comments

  1. Rosie

    Love that place! My family and I go there a lot, and we always order the xiao long bao and some sort of rice cake dish. YUM!

    Reply
  2. Katy

    Shanghainese is my favorite Asian cuisine. Shanghai River always hits the spot. Delish!

    Reply
  3. Dana

    I didn’t realize there were other types of xiao long bao! (Though really it shouldn’t surprise me…) And the crab & pork filling sounds so good right about now! Mmmmm and now I’m hungry. Plus the fried rice cakes and a new addition to my favourite asian dishes – I totally agree about the flavourful sauces and how they can totally change the dish!

    Fantastic job Lindsay! I’m loving your posts everyday and how much your writing has evolved – keep it up :)

    Reply
  4. Doug

    We always take out of town visitors to Shanghai River and LOVE the xiao long bao. My fav is the pan fried pork dumplings. Caution – the juice squirts out if not eaten carefully.

    Love your posts, Lindsay.

    Keep up the great work and try some more restaurants at night.

    Reply
  5. Jen

    I hate to disagree but of my numbered visits to Shanghai River, I remembered none other than the relatively clean and pretty decor. The service was prompt but typical of any upscale Chinese restaurant, and the shanghainese dishes were simply not as authentic as some of the other less glamorous places (Suhang or Top Shanghai), On my last visit, our group of 10 was given 2 tiny vinegar/ginger dips to share for the XLB, and mine fell apart immediately upon contact. This is a rare occurance with hundreds of the XLB’s I’ve grown up eating. Overall I’ve never understood the hype and doubt I will…

    Reply
  6. Jay

    What??? Another Chinese restaurant post?? I’m so tired of these MSG laden food posts. I want to see more normal Western food.

    Reply
    • Kai

      Not sure what you are complaining about or what ‘normal’ is supposed to be. Of the 44 Posts so far, only 10 of them were on Chinese restaurants/cafes. This is perfectly ‘normal’ and unbiased in my book. Lindsay is doing an excellent job.

      Reply
  7. Pulpos

    I have been enjoying your blog until now that I realize you insist upon patronizing establishments that serve shark fin soup as a part of their menu. This is not the first and it most likely will not be the last seeing as there are so many here in Richmond. Have you not read anything about the debates going on at this moment or are you simply siding with those that believe the Chinese are the top of the food chain?

    Reply
    • June

      I’d hardly call Lindsay visiting the city’s numerous Chinese establishments an endorsement for sharks fin…

      I’m going to give Linds the benefit of the doubt here – it’s highly unlikely that she’s WILLINGLY patronizing these establishments. Similarly, I honestly don’t think the head honchos at Tourism Richmond are in on it too…or that Shanghai River is in cahoots with Linds.

      On to more important matters: I’m personally on the fence with Shanghai River. It’s an “okay” Chinese fine dining establishment to bring out-of-towners to impress them but better Shanghainese food can be had elsewhere. There are some less regal but equally delicious places like Shanghai Wonderful, Chen’s Shanghai and even Top Shanghai (though the din is almost unbearable sometimes).

      IMO, some of the best XLB is from Chen’s Shanghai (a few doors down from Tai Hing).

      Reply
      • GS

        June
        “On to more important matters”
        This is a pretty myopic comment. In the overall picture, who cares if the dumplings at restaurant x are better than the ones a restaurant y.
        I’m no expert on the sustainability of sharks and their fins, but I believe it merits discussion, not just being brushed aside.
        Many restaurants in the World are now looking at the sustainability of their food-sources.

        Reply
    • Tang

      My take on this sharkfin issue is to just don’t order it. If enough people avoid ordering it, it will just die a natural death. You can’t boycott restaurants serving sharkfins because you will be left with just noodle joints. Most high-end and mid-end Chinese seafood restaurants serve sharkfin soup.

      Reply
  8. GS

    Lindsay & Richmond Tourism.
    Where are you on the issue of Shark-Fin Soup?

    Reply
    • Sharkie

      I’d be very curious to hear an answer to this question. It’s a controversial issue within the Chinese community, and most Chinese restaurants do serve it, so I understand why this question may go unanswered but it should be. Especially considering that Richmond is looking into joining the many other cities with bylaws prohibiting the sale of shark fin.

      Reply
  9. Vee

    please try Shanghai House. Very authentic.

    Reply
  10. Pulpos

    Supporting establishments that offer shark fin soup is akin to supporting the industry. Yes, the federal government is behind in putting shark fins on par with elephant tusks, rhino/tiger parts etc. but we, as intelligent and rational human beings can do our part. Lindsay, you are in the perfect position to stand up for what is right for the planet.

    Reply

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