By Benjamin Cost
Every few days our team will scour Shanghai’s dining scene for scrumptious dishes that’ll fill your belly without emptying your savings. Not to discriminate, we’ll search everywhere from bicycle carts to chic venues with twenty-course tasting menus, knowing that any spot could have the next Dish of the Day.
If Cantonese cuisine could be condensed into one Shanghai eatery, it would be “Dongjun Seafood Restaurant,” a hotel lobby-sized haunt that offers an array of delicacies more diverse and unique than at most wet markets. Here, you can feast on the whole scope of Cantonese fare from roast goose to dim sum to shark’s fin – all to be ordered in advance like a marketplace and whipped up any way you choose with the flair you’d expect from Cantonese food wizards.
We knew Dongjun emphasized top-tier quality over quantity (a rarity amongst spots with myriad options) upon mouthing the first spoonful of its fluffy, fresh-tasting white rice, which had a detoxifying effect after years of nibbling the gluey mounds found at most spots.
But the venue’s big draw is the coral-reef’s worth of sea creatures inhabiting the tanks at Dongjun’s epicenter. Strawberry grouper, spiny lobster, mantis shrimp, and razor clams all make a splash here, and sport your typical ritzy Cantonese price-tags, with the exception of abalone.
While abalone can go for hundreds of RMB a piece at many venues, Dongjun’s Qing Dao abalone only cost 12 RMB per shellfish, a bargain buy even for domestic mollusks.
After double-checking the sign on the abalone tank to ensure that our critters were of the Qing Dao variety (and not the bulkier Australian species which run you 58RMB a piece), we chose to have six of them stir-fried in black bean sauce, one of the three options listed on the sign.
The half-dozen petite abalones arrive fast, steaming and nestled in shimmering white/blue shells, like the oyster’s higher-karat cousins. You pluck out the first abalone’s foot, which consists of a thick white disk with tiny ruffles, unlike the juicy pouch of a clam, and squash it between your teeth.
It’s buttery rather than fishy, with a muscular yet penetrable body which reminds you of a scallop that lifted weights for a year. And after buzz-sawing through the rest, you get the check, a 72RMB steal for six abalone, and feel like you’ve found a delicious loophole in Cantonese gastronomy’s elite sector.
Shanghai Dongjun Bird’s Nest Shark’s Fin Seafood Restaurant (上海东骏燕窝鱼翅海鲜酒家) – 518 Huaihai West Road, near An’shun Road (淮海西路518号, 近安顺路). Tel: (0)21-6281-1978. Hours: 11am – 10pm daily.
Have a recommendation for Dish of the Day? Let Shanghaiist’s food editor Benjamin Cost know at [email protected]!