In Hong Kong, one of the places my friend S insisted we try was one of two highly-rated restaurants serving Shanghai crab. Lucky for us, we were at the tail-end of the Shanghai crab season. I love crab but hadn't tried the Shanghai variety before. As she's an adventurous soul, she took us to the one she hadn't been to before, Lao Shang Hai Restaurant. It was a huge, bustling restaurant filled with locals and extremely friendly waiters who cracked jokes and recited recommendations as they asked us where we were from -- they looked after us like royalty.
As soon as we were seated, they set down some boiled peanuts and pickled, dry radishes which tasted very similar to the Japanese takuan, the ubiquitous yellow pickle. This was crunchly, sweet and I couldn't stop picking at it.
Warning us not to fill up our stomachs, we left the ordering to our friend who solicited advice from our waiter and came up with a varied menu for three.
To start, we had smoked egg (燻蛋) which we ate with a pinch of salt and fleks of black pepper.
The yolk was creamy and the smoky flavour added an extra depth just like with aji-tamago found in ramen. This was served slightly chilled and was a surprisingly simple yet satisfying starter.
Then came the Shanghai crab noodles (蟹粉粉皮), recommended strongly by our waiter.
It's not much to look at but this was my favourite dish in Hong Kong. The crab meat and kani miso (crab butter) are made into a sauce into which is mixed fan pei (粉皮), a type of noodle made from mung bean starch.
The noodles were translucent, extremely elastic, and the perfect match for the sauce which had an incredible salty sea flavour due to the kani miso. Umami! I could have eaten the whole bowl myself, it was so delicious.
Then followed a minced chicken and vegetable dish which we stuffed into crispy rice cones.
The salty, sticky meat mixture which was cooked with something similar to sweet bean or hoisin sauce -- a good match with the crunchy, slightly sweet rice cracker.
Overall it was an interestingly crunchy experience as the minced chicken was mixed with diced celery, carrots, green pepper and pine nuts and was texturally different from all our other dishes and felt a bit like a snack.
Then came a steamed wooden casket filled with kani miso xiao long bao (蟹粉小笼包) or Shanghai soup dumplings.
With incredibly thin skin quivering with soup inside, these were delicate morsels of crab bursting with flavour.
But however incredible the soup dumplings were, they couldn't quite reach the dizzying heights of the Shanghai crab fan pei.
When we thought we couldn't eat anymore, this turned up.
That's right, braised pork belly in sweet bean sauce on a bed of Chinese greens. We all went straight for the greens because, you know... veg right? But the pork was so soft and melt in your mouth, I couldn't help eating it either.
I don't know how much the waiters thought we could eat but when we asked for dessert suggestions, they sent us this.
It looks a bit like tarmac but we were assured it was a special dessert made of sweet black rice. Black rice and sugar, a little greasy and a bit too plain. Not my cup of tea but we all dutifully had a few bites and found some walnut pieces along the way.
It's not a glitzy restaurant but the quality of the food and the Shanghai crab dishes make it pricier than other restaurants. However, the food is well prepared and no wonder the place was packed. If you do ever go to a Shanghai crab restaurant, make sure you try the Shanghai crab fan pei!
HONG KONG LAO SHANG HAI RESTAURANT
UG1, Novotel Century Hong Kong
238 Jaffe Road
Wan Chai, Hong Kong
T: +852 2827 9339