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.
Flakier than sea bass yet airy as a cloud, yellow croaker are among China’s most prized food fish. Large ones are popular at wedding banquets, and can fetch up to 3 million RMB. They’re also critically-endangered. Far cheaper and more plentiful are the small variety, which we find equally delicious. Mind you, each shiny swimmer is a pincushion of bones, so more finicky Westerners might want to hit up A Niang Mian (Grandma’s Noodles), where they’re served filleted in a bowl of their own stock with noodles (黄鱼面, huángyúmiàn).
This seemingly simple dish has a story richer than its broth. The grandma in question, A Niang Mian from Ningbo, used to rise at 3am to simmer the fish stock for the dish, and then head to the fish market at 5:00 to land the most sparkling specimens. By 6:30, bowls of piping hot croaker noodle soup would decorate every table, and the joint would be packed to the brim. Unfortunately, A Niang passed away in 2008, and many feared that her famed noodles died with her. As luck would have it, her grandson, fresh from graduate school in the UK, decided her noodles were worth reviving, opened a shop several doors down from her former location, and is now serving A Niang’s famed recipe. And he’s doing a bang-up job.
To prepare the dish, the prep cook faces the unenviable task of de-spining croakers and tossing the spines in stock day-in-day-out. He then puts the filets in a mixture of soy and the aforementioned fish stock. A handful of noodles completes the dish. The magenta broth is simultaneously filling and cleansing, and the wispy petals of fish evaporate in your mouth. Beware the bones, however. Although the fish has been filleted, there are always a couple stragglers.
The dish runs you 26RMB, plus a few yuan if you throw in a bowl of salted mustard greens with pork (咸菜肉丝, xiáncàiròusī), which we recommend. It adds some savory crunch. Our advice for beating the infamous 11am lunch rush: skip it. Head to the place for dinner at around 6:30-7pm when crowds have receded a bit.
A Niang Mian – 36 Sinan Lu, near Nanchang Lu (思南路36号近南昌路). Hours: 11am-8pm.
Last time on Dish of the Day: Wontons with peanut sauce @ Er Guang
See a complete list of our Dish of the Day series here.
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