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.
We love Charmant as much as the next guy, but let’s face it, Charmant is to authentic Taiwanese cuisine what “zoo tram safaris” are to the real wilderness. If you want true untamed Taiwanese, look no further than Yilan Da Ding Huo Xia in Hongqiao. Essentially what you’d get if the Taiwanese brother of Bubba from Forrest Gump started a restaurant, this dive offers every prawn preparation from “sweet and sour” to stir-fried. But the version adorning every table is black pepper prawns (胡椒蝦, huo jiao xia, 75RMB).
This dish is simple. The chef snatches a bunch of shimmeringly-fresh, blue-clawed prawns from a tank teeming with the critters. They’re then flash-fried, flecked with pepper, and dumped in a small metal cauldron.
To eat, wrench off the head, suck it dry, and then slip off the “trousers” to get at the tail meat. Think of it as a chitinous candy bar, except with much sweeter stuff under the wrapper. The dry prickle of the pepper and the crackling carapace juxtapose nicely with the plump, juicy flesh underneath. It’s a nice break from the standard steamed Tiger prawn, which is a bit played out by now. Make sure to chisel the smaller prawns off the bottom of the cauldron, they tend to get fused to the metal.
Prawn season is at it’s plumpest point so head on down. Come winter, these prawns will be, for lack of a better word, shrimpy.
Yilan Da Ding Huo Xia – 671 Xianxia Lu, near Anlong Lu (仙霞路671号, 近安龙路). Tel: (0)21-6291-8239. Hours: 11am-3am. Closest metro stop: Shuicheng Road, line 10.
Last time on Dish of the Day: Hainan chicken rice @ Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice
See a complete list of our Dish of the Day series here.
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