Last week we came out with our 20th installment of Off the Beaten Palate! To celebrate 20 episodes of chowing on the slimiest, scaliest, smelliest, and stingiest members of Shanghai gastronomy, we’re counting down the five tastiest Off the Beaten Palate eats. These dishes went beyond simply being less revolting than expected, and actually rank amongst my favorite bites in town.
5. Yak penis
Having seen photos of animal penis dishes at premier penis purveyor, Guolizhuang Restaurant in Beijing, I had a bout of penis panic at the prospect of trying one. Their renditions entailed animal shlongs as big as wiffle bats dumped on plates without garnish like veiny bavarian sausages. Fortunately, the yak penis I tried at Sichuan hotspot, Ba Guo Bu Yi (188RMB) couldn’t have been more opposite. It entailed a Flinstones-sized melon hollowed out and filled with ravishing red chili broth, melon hunks and yak penis segments, which twirled about in the stock in a surprisingly inviting manner. The penis sections had curled into floral shapes so elegant a bridesmaid could almost wear one in her hair without being ridiculed. And the flavor followed suit. Each segment tasted both unctuous and tensile like ox tail or beef tendon, and sponged up the chili oil magnificently. Ba Guo Bu Yi (巴国布衣) // 1018 Dingxi Lu, near Yan’an Xi Lu (定西路1018号, 近延安西路) // Closest metro stop: West Yan’an Road (延安西路) Line 3/4.
4. Beetle grubs
While I wasn’t too pumped to eat something that looked like it would be found tunneling through a sawdusty ceiling, the Yunnan beetle grubs at Southern Barbarian are the ipso facto best bar snacks in town. These hotdog-sized creepers are deep-fried until they take on the fatty crunchiness of chicken cracklings, but with a slight peanut-y tinge. And unlike the live ones, they don’t burst into cream like a living eclair when bit into. If they weren’t 45RMB for three, I’d order a bowl of 20 of them to munch while pounding Southern Barbarian’s delicious beers. Southern Barbarian (南蛮子) // Ju’Roshine Life Arts Space,
2/F, 169 Jinxian Lu, near Maoming Nan Lu (进贤路169号2楼, 近茂名南路) // Closest metro stop: South Shanxi Road (陕西南路) Line 1.
3. Pig’s lungs
With so many pig carcasses found in the Huangpu River, I was surprised Shanghai’s pork lungs didn’t have pneumonia. I was even more surprised at their incredible flavor. The rendition at Shanghai down-homer, Song Tao Family (48RMB), consists of lung chunks buoying about in meaty white stock, which you spoon into smaller bowls to slurp. I’d liken pig lung’s texture to tofu crossed with pork loin and its taste to the combo of those two as well, but even tastier. Eating pork lungs is said to allieve coughing and mucus secretion, major pluses in a-smog-alyptic Shanghai. Song Tao Family (松逃人家) // 27 Yunnan Lu, near Ninghai Dong Lu (云南路27号, 近宁海东路) // Closest Metro Stop: People’s Square (人民广场) Lines 1, 2, 8.
2. Stinky tofu
Not a surprising pick, since anybody’s who’s a moderately adventurous eater in Shanghai would probably select the same. My favorite isn’t the county fair-esque fried blocks on the street corner nor the black Hunan variety in Qibao and various other spots, but the steamed stinkers at Hao You (45RMB). Brined for weeks, steamed, and paired with fermented amaranth stocks, chilies, and garlic cloves, Hao You’s tofu smells like a sun-bleached fish carcass, but looks and tastes like mild blue cheese. The stench is so atrocious however, that you could probably use the garlic cloves as Tic Tacs after you’re done eating. Hao You (好友汇土菜馆) // 2/F, 657 Dingxi Lu near Fahuazhen Lu (above the Tesco Express) (定西路657号2-3楼, 近法华镇路) // Closest Metro Stop: Jiaotong University (交通大学) Line 10.
1. Soft-shelled turtle
Flavor is another race where the turtle trumps the hare. Soft-shelled turtle is not just one of my favorite eats in Shanghai, but one of my faves period. Unfortunately, our favorite turtle eatery, Xinxiangweilou, closed down last year, so the best place to get them now is at the restaurant of Xinxiangweilou’s boss’s former boss, Shao Shan Mao Jia Cai. You want to choose the wild Dongping lake variety. Though twice expensive as a domestic one, the flavor difference is comparable to that of a feedlot chicken to a wild quail. Eating one you feel like you’re exploring different terrains of taste from the jelly-like shell casing to the chicken-y feet to the gamey shreds near the edge of the shell. Shao Shan Mao Jia Cai (韶山毛家菜) // No. 1, Shanghai Qibao Shangye Jie Can Ying Qu, Jiabao Lu (佳宝路, 上海七宝商业街餐饮区1号).
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Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].