There are a couple of regrets about this Shanghai Business Trip -all related to food. We were grounded in a remote albeit beautiful hotel situated 1 hour away from downtown Shanghai. Meetings generally started at 8:45am in the morning and ran until 5:30- 6pm. The hotel's F&B capability was utterly disappointing. Buffet lunch spread was exactly the same everyday and the food did not taste good. The only Chinese restaurant in the vicinity served a mix of Spicy Sichuan food and Shanghainese cuisine but again it was just sub-standard stuff. I could tell that we were in for a disappointment when the Xiaolongbao (shanghainese dumplings) had a pastry skin that was thick and tough and that the Crab Roe Tofu (蟹粉豆腐) had a fishy stench.
On the one rare evening when I took my customer out to town for dinner, I had looked forward to revisit Justin Quek's creative French restaurant at Xintiandi. Justin Quek, for those who are not familiar is a Singaporean chef who struck out on his own after working at Les Amis. He opened his very first French restuarant in Taipei and was amazingly successful. He then went on to open some 3-4 restaurants at Shanghai's XinTianDi , a cluster of old Shanghainese style residencial buildings,石库门 (like the brownstones in New York) which has been preserved and converted to restaurants and bars. This is where foreigners come to find a slice of old Shanghai and Shanghainese go to connect with the Western world. I still remember my first visit to Quek's highly recommended La Platane restuarant, 梧桐 at Xintiandi. I had the Xiaolongbao with Foie Gras which was just amazing. This time,as I led my customer through Xintiandi, I noticed something was wrong.Quek's bistro at the main restaurant aisle was missing and when I finally got to the site where La Platane used to sit,we saw that it had been replaced by a Spanish Restaurant. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed. I was really suprised because I had thought it was a really successful and popular restaurant. Then, something spooky happened the next morning, my customer showed me a news article on his Iphone - Justin Quek apparently just got sentenced to jail and fined in Singapore for drunk driving.
So by the end of the 'food deprived' week, I became too weary to do anymore food hunting. After my last appointment in Nanjing, I checked into a hotel that was closer to the shanghai airport and it was when I was strolling in the food court next door that a stall selling Laksa Curry caught my eye. Calling themselves LaksaCurry, they were selling various dishes served with the Laksa gravy. Laksa apparently, has really become well received in Shanghai - the eatery stall at the Singapore World Expo Pavillion was selling among other things, Laksa, Kueh Pai Ti and Satay.
Business was brisk at LaksaCurry but one look at the gravy, I knew it would not be spectacular. Still, it was an irrestible option for me at that point. Their best selling item was apparently the Laksa Curry Rice served with Fish Cake (叻沙加哩鱼饼泡饭). We normally take Laksa with vermecilli noodles and I have also eaten laksa served with Rice Drops (Mi Tai Mak/ Louxu Fan老鼠粉). It has never occurred to me to eat Laksa gravy with rice... and I was fairly intrigued. As I tucked into the bowl of Laksa rice, I was strangely satisfied. The gravy, as I had suspected was not spectacular, it was watered down and not as fragrant as what we would have in Singapore. However, the familiar and comforting spiciness was exactly what I needed after a week of sub-par Xiaolong Bao, Giant Meat Ball (狮子头) and Crab Roe Tofu.
Intent on recreating this with a more authentic Laksa Curry gravy, I decided that this would be the first thing to cook when I get back. For those who are too lazy to prepare the Laksa paste from scratch, there are many ready made paste in the supermarket but I have always been partial to Prima Taste's products. They are my crave saviour when I was stationed in China a few years ago.
Lemon Grass 2 stalks
Blue ginger 40 slices
Dried Chilli 15 pieces
Shallots 25 pieces
Belachan 2 thumb sized knobs
Coriander powder 2 tbsp
Dried Shrimps 30g (soaked to soften and pound to coarse paste)
Chilli oil 80g
Thick coconut milk 125ml
Bean sprouts As you like. Blanched in boiling water.
Cooked Rice 1 bowl
Fried Fish Cake Sliced and you can put as much as you like
Tofu Puff 5-6 pieces
Laksa leaf 2-3 leaves (cut into fine shreds)
Quails Eggs Hard boiled. Peeled.
Salt To season
Coriander leaf To garnish
Cooked Scallops As you like. (alternatively, you can replace with shredded chicken)
1. Soak dried chillie in warm water until softened. Blend all ingredients in Laksa Paste except coriander powder in a blender. Add coriander powder last.
2. In a heated wok, add chillie oil and fry (1) until fragrant. Add pounded dried shrimps and continue to fry for 2 mins.
3. Increase heat and add coconut milk and water. Continue to stir. Add Tofu Puff and cooked scallops.
4. In another wok heat a little oil and add 2 cloves of garlic. Fry cooked rice until fragrant.
5. Dish fried rice into a bowl. Add Laksa gravy (3) over the rice.
6. Garnish with Laksa leaves, fish cake, quail's egg, bean sprouts and coriander leaf. Serve hot.