Wandering Chef: Clark Frasier in Shanghai
Clark Frasier, the co-chef and co-owner of Arrows and MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, and Summer Winter restaurant in Burlington, Massachusetts, recently returned from a trip to Shanghai. It was the chef’s third visit to the city. Here, he shares his impressions of the city and must-try dishes.
“I first went in 1983 and it was really still untouched from the world. It was really phenomenal for me to see all of the change that’s taken place in such a short period of time. The change is so massive it’s almost incomprehensible. Twenty years ago you didn’t have those skyscrapers. I think many Americans still have this vision of mainland China as it was 20 or so years ago—with people on bikes and wearing Mao suits. But no one rides bikes and no one wears Mao suits. People here are staggeringly wealthy. Don’t get me wrong, there is great inequality too, but also great, great wealth.
“In certain neighborhoods of Shanghai you’ll see a Porsche parked next to a Ferrari, parked next to a Maserati. And the people are dressed to the nines. The nightclubs here are really almost too much. People go out to display their wealth and the scene is very glamorous, with Rolls-Royces lined up out front. It’s a bit over the top. Meanwhile, your cab driver is saying how his life is unchanged in this boom time and it’s hard to make a living and conditions are poor but then he drops you around the corner at a chic café filled with young Chinese people dressed in the latest fashions with their iPhones. New Heights (7/F, Three on the Bund, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, 86 (0) 21-6321-0909) is a very cool bar on the Bund with fabulous views. Come for the cocktails and the scene. It’s where all of the city’s moneyed young things—they call them princelings—hang out. It’s also a good jumping off point for a night on the town.
“The Whampoa Club (5/F, 3 on the Bund, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, 86/(0) 21-6321-3737) is right on the Bund and I am always amazed by how spectacular it is. It’s located in an old building with a number of restaurants inside. Whampoa Club really reinterprets Shanghai food and brings it to a different level. The dining room overlooks the river and the Pudong skyline. The first time I ever went it was snowing out and I felt transported back to Shanghai in the 1920s with is elegance and glamor. Staring out, you are reminded that this is still such a romantic, evocative city. My favorite traditional Chinese dish from Shanghai is xiao xing wine–poached chicken. It’s a real shock to people who haven’t grown up around Chinese food. Maybe they’ve had take out Chinese or have eaten at a hallway decent Chinese restaurant but this is a real Chinese dish. The chicken is poached, chilled slightly and then sliced. The Whampoa Club makes a great xiao xing chicken. Hairy crab is a real specialty in Shanghai that you must have. It’s like having Dungeness crab in San Francisco or softshell crab in Maryland or lobster in Maine.
You should also have fried dumplings; Yang’s Fry-Dumpling (269 Wujiang Rd., 86/(0) 21-6136-1391) is the real deal. People line up to get the dumplings. I would say 90 percent of the diners are Chinese people. They do amazing pan-friend shengh jian bao which are a type of pork dumpling. If you want dumplings that are a little more accessible or if you are just looking for a more upscale atmosphere then go to Crystal Jade (South Block Plaza, 2/F, 123 Xingye Lu, 86/(0) 21-6385-8752). It’s in Xintiandi and have great steamed buns. People like to come here for dim sum.”