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Jai Yun for Authentic Shanghainese food in San Francisco

This is the restaurant that triggered me to start a food blog. We went to Jai Yun on the edge of Chinatown in San Franciscoe as it was a bit of a cult in San Francisco. It is where all the chefs go to eat when they get off work. It is run by chef/owner Nei Chia Ji who has been described as both an artist and a genius. There is no menu, you just tell them how much you want to pay and they food starts arriving. The decor is sparse and but not dingy.

This was the beginning of a 22 course meal and for our $40 budget. Every dish was cooked fresh, was totally unique, cooked in a different style and every flavour was distinct and quite amazing.

Jai Yun San Francisco

Starters: Lotus root, Vegetarian chicken, duck, imperial vegetable, jelly fish, beef, pickled cucumbers

Jai Yun San Francisco

Jai Yun San Francisco

Stir Fried Prawns with chickpeas

Jai Yun San Francisco

Soyabean, goji berry, fu chuk and spring onions

Jai Yun San Francisco

Squid in garlic, chilli and pepper garnish

Jai Yun San Francisco

Fan pei, shanghainese noodles

Jai Yun San Francisco

Deep fried crispy beef

Jai Yun San Francisco

Yin choi with tofu and chives

Jai Yun San Francisco

Stewed pork knuckle

Jai Yun San Francisco

Spicy chicken with nuts

Jai Yun San Francisco

Double fried egg plant

There was plenty to eat but we felt a bit cheated when the table of 10 next to us got a fish dish as well. We were a smaller table so maybe that was our ration.

Of all the chinese places that I have eaten at in San Francisco Chinatown, this was the best by a mile. The food was not like the Americanised chinese food that is in most of the restaurants in Chinatown. Not  chop suey to be seen. I have not been back in while so am not sure if it is still there. Definitely worth a visit, if you want an authentic chinese food experience.

Jai Yun on Urbanspoon

Dim Sum at Golden Dragon

Dim Sum or sometimes called Yum Cha is originally a Cantonese snack which has now been raised to be a full blown meal. Dim sum was usually served as a breakfast or brunch over a leisurely pot of tea, hence the Yum Cha which is to drink tea. One would have just one small dish at a time, slowly whiling away the morning, reading the paper. Dim Sum today is a noisy hurried meal with a whole table laden with almost the entire dim sum menu of a restaurant.

In Hong Kong and parts of Asia, some larger dim sum restaurants would serve dim sum from heated carts where you can pick the dishes fresh from the kitchen as they come around your table. In London, the New World Restaurant still does this but the food is really is inedible.

As much of the original Chinese immigrants to London who opened restaurants in Chinatown were from Southern China or Hakka or Cantonese origin. They brought along some expertise in cooking and some respectable dim sum places opened up in London. Dim Sum chefs are usually quite well trained as it requires a lot of skill to make the skins and wraps thin enough to make fine dim sum. Nowadays, much of the dim sum places in Chinatown serve warmed up frozen dim sum.

Golden Dragon is one of the better ones in Chinatown for dim sum. We regularly meet here on Sundays where you see a lot of big groups of Chinese families. If you are visiting London, don’t expect dim sum to the standards of Hong Kong or Vancouver.

What to order at a Dim Sum restaurant?
Some of my non Chinese friends and some twitter friends have asked me for a list of what to order as they can never get the same things when I don’t order for them so here goes. We usually have a mixture of steamed dishes, dumplings and fried dishes.

XO Sauce Cheung Fun

XO Sauce Cheung Fun

Cheung fun is a steamed rice noodle and is sometimes filled with either prawns, roast pork, beef, scallop or a fried dough stick. All quite delicious.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Har Gau Prawn Dumpling

Har Gau Prawn Dumpling

Stewed Tripe

Stewed Tripe

I might give this a miss if you don’t like offal.

Glutinous Rice wrapped in Lotus Leaf

Glutinous Rice wrapped in Lotus Leaf

This is glutinous rice with some meat, chinese sausages and mushrooms. Just unwrap the parcel and dig in.

Roast Pork Puffs and Yam Croquettes

Roast Pork Puffs and Yam Croquettes

There are other fried dishes like prawn toast and spring rolls, or the pan fried radish cake,  the varieties are endless.

Prawn and Chives Dumpling

Prawn and Chives Dumpling

There are quite a few more dishes that are on the steamed menu like beef balls, spare ribs, chicken feet, vegetarian dumplings and snails.

Salted Fish and Chicken Claypot Rice

Salted Fish and Chicken Claypot Rice

This is a very fragrant rice dish which I want to introduce to my Brazillian friends who recently fed me several delicious salt cod dishes. They might like the Chinese salted fish dishes too.

Sometimes instead of a rice dish, we order some fried noodles or a soup noodle like Rice Vermicelli with Shredded Duck and Snow Vegetables in Soup.

Crispy Suckling Pig and Roast Duck

Crispy Suckling Pig and Roast Duck

Do try the suckling pig as the skin is super crispy with a plum sauce dip.

Stir Fried Pea Shoots

Stir Fried Pea Shoots

We always order a vegetable dish as well and do ask them what veg they have on that day. This is not on the menu usually.

For pudding, most restaurants don’t have many choices but sometimes have desserts that are off the menu like red bean soup or Tau Fu Fa which is a soft soya bean jelly served sweet.

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

Mango pudding has a jelly like consitency and curiously served swimming in evaporated milk. Not my favourite.

Black Sesame Glutinous Rice Balls

Black Sesame Glutinous Rice Balls

If you have never tried these, you should try to order them. Make sure you tell them before the end of your meal as it takes about 20 minutes to make. These are made with glutinous rice flour and filled with a black sesame paste which oozes when you bite into it. Sometimes comes rolled in crushed peanuts of coconut (non traditional). Not many places do this but you can try it here.

Other Dim Sum Restaurants in London

Gerrards Corner – Best dish is the stir fried radish cake

Royal China Bayswater, Bake St – Very average and expensive for what it is

Plum Valley – Very expensive and not very good food, very expensive tea

Superstar – Surprisingly, not bad

Yauatcha – higher quality and much more expensive dim sum

Phoenix Palace – Busy but really not very good dim sum

Min Jiang – Totally overpriced but I guess you are paying for the view over Hyde Park

Pearl Liang – Not bad for West London, nice decor, decent service

Royal China Putney – Not part of the Royal China group, good dim sum, better than most in London and well worth the trek out there.

Places to avoid – Ping Pong, New World, Chuen Cheng Ku

Golden Dragon may not serve the most refined dim sum and the service is the typlical nonchalant Chinatown restaurant service but the dim sum is quite decent by London standards and the prices are very reasonable. Your meal should not cost more than £15 per person, (not including any drinks).

Golden Dragon on Urbanspoon

Review – Congee at Leong’s Legend

When you are feeling under the weather the best thing to have is something light. I remember being force fed congee when I was younger and hated it. Things have changed, I can now appreciate all the different types of congee there is and it is a sort of comfort food.

Congee is chinese rice porridge which is made by boiling rice in a  lot of water for a while until it resembles a thick soup. This is usually a breakfast dish or sometimes for supper. The little shops in Hong Kong do this really well and you can usually find a couple of choices of congee on a dim sum menu. Some of the favourite flavours are raw fish congee, pork with salted ducks egg and thousand year old egg and dried oysters and dried scallops.

In London Chinatown, Dragon’s Inn used to have a massive cauldron of white congee bubbling away at the entrance next to their cheong fun steamer which was really popular for supper. Sadly, this place is gone and we have to look around for a good alternative. The Taiwanese serve congee plain, with a lot of little dishes of accompaniments like omelletes, crispy anchovies, fried fish, picked cabbage and stewed pork to name a few,  not unlike the Teochew people.

On a friend’s suggestion, we ended up at Leong’s Legend. They had 2 flavours on the menu, Oyster Congee (made with dried oysters)  or the Salty Pork and Black  egg (Thousand Year old egg) congee (£4.20). We had the pork congee with an essential side order of fried dough sticks (£2.00).

Pork and Thousand Year old egg congee The congee was nice and smooth with large chunks of the thousand year old egg and slithers of pork. Could have done with a bit of salted egg in there but not in this recipe. Disappointingly, the dough sticks were really soggy, like they were just microwaved, when they should have been crispy. For a quick meal, that hit the spot and at £6.20 was a real bargain.

Here’s a quick recipe if you want to try this at home.

Congee Recipe

150ml plain white rice, soaked in cold water for at least an hour or overnight

700ml liquid, water for the plain version or stock for a flavoured version

Add meat as required. Suggested flavours:

  • Raw fish slices added at the end of into the hot congee with julienne of ginger
  • Raw beef slice, as above
  • Minced pork meatballs
  • Pork ribs

Garnishes:

  • sliced spring onions
  • garlic oil
  • cripy fried dough cut into bite size pieces like croutons

Method

Bring to boil and then turn down heat to let it simmer. Continue boiling until the rice becomes a creamy texture, usually about 30 – 40 minutes. Alternatively, the easy route is to use the porridge setting in your rice cooker or use a slow cooker and leave it in all day. Serve hot with some soya sauce on the side.

Leong's Legends Continue on Urbanspoon

Review China City: Great Cantonese Home Cooking

Poons Restaurants in London used to be where we went for consistently good home style Cantonese food. In 2005, the China City group took over the chain and kept this branch and the one in Russel square. Thankfully they have maintained both the menu and the high  standard of cooking.

London Chinatown used to have a massive choice of medium priced Chinese restaurants serving good Cantonese food. In recent years, the numbers have dwindled, new trendier places with sometimes worse and more expensive food have been introduced. A recent trend is the opening of Szechuan and Shanghainese restaurants and none of these cuisines are done that well. Most of the cooking is done by non native chefs and only approximate good regional Chinese cooking.

I heard from a restauranter that quite of a few of the decent remaining places are going to be shutting down or have their menus drastically transformed due to a 30% increase in business rates by the council in 2009 and a vastly decreasing influx of diners. The restaurants that are supposed to be struggling are Fung Shing (one of the best chefs in Chinatown) and the Empress of China.

On a recent night out with some friends, we went to China City for some home cooking. The place was very quiet and the waitresses seems to have been replaced by some mainland Chinese workers like most other restaurants in London Chinatown. Unfortunately, I can’t order Cantonese dishes in Mandarin very well and although the waitress did speak Cantonese, albeit with a strong Mandarin accent, she misheard my order 5 times and brought us a wrong dish. This was duly rectified by the manager who replaced the dish without hesitation.

Bitter Gourd and Turbot in black bean sauce

Bitter Gourd and Turbot in black bean sauce

Poons was famous for it’s wax meat rice cooked in clay pot ( Lap Mei Fan)  which is normally a winter dish. However, my friend from out of town wanted to order it for sentimental reasons. We started with a mix waxed meat rice which consisted of waxed duck, liver sausage and chinese sausage, cooked in fragantly  flavoured rice in the clay pot. They serve this with a cooked soy sauce which you then add to your own portion in the bowl. Chinese wax meats is a type of preserved food that has been salted and cured, but not with wax as the name suggest.

Clay pot wax meat rice

Clay pot wax meat rice

Chinese Sausages and wax meat

Chinese Sausages and wax meat

As we were doing a home style meal, the other dishes to share were Bitter Gourd and Turbot in black bean sauce, stir fried baby pak choi, peipa tofu, steamed mince pork with salted fish. We were also offered the complimentary house soup which is usually a soup with either the roast duck carcass, ribs or miscellaneous cuts of meat, some dates, vegetables to sweeten it. Most Cantonese meals are incomplete without one of these soups served either with the meal or at the end of a meal and is also one of the anti ageing secrets to Chinese cuisine.

Peipa Tofu

Peipa Tofu

Stir Fried Baby Pak Choi

Stir Fried Baby Pak Choi

Steamed mince pork with salted fish

Steamed mince pork with salted fish

House soup

House soup

Every Chinese meal is meant to a balanced, hence we will have a bit of meat, fish and vegetables. We almost never have just one dish each as this would be so boring and also not nutritionally balanced. All the dishes were done very well and the portions are quite substantial and definitely needs to be shared and would be a bit too much for an individual portion. Average costs -£15 per head.

Cantonese Home Cooking

Cantonese Home Cooking

China City on Urbanspoon