No. 56 Restaurant 高第街56号 – Cantonese/Hong Kong-style cuisine in Shandong, Northern Chinese Province.

Who would have expected to find a fancy Hong-kong style cuisine restaurant in the quiet university district in Jinan, Shandong, and most importantly, one that actually serves very delicious Cantonese food!

On my second day in China, we went to a grand, two-storeyed Cantonese restaurant, a five-minute walk from Shandong University, for a lunch meeting with Chinese friends.

Another surprising thing I have encountered in China, is the size and grandness of some of the restaurants there. Luxury in dining is easily affordable in China. This restaurant had chandeliers, private rooms, lacquered dining table sets, etc. with prices affordable for typical white-collared Chinese workers i.e. prices ranging from around 16 – 80 or more yuan. Actually, most of them has the appearance of an old, gangster lair… which is quite an interesting environment to dine in!

Now onto the food. This is just to showcase some of dishes common in Cantonese cuisine, and also a few with some Shandong flavours. I won’t know all the components of each dishes, but I will try my best to describe them, in the case where you may want to attempt recreating some of the dishes in your own kitchens!

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烧鹅 shao e (roasted goose)

Roasted duck is a signature of Hong Kong cuisine (imagine ducks hung behind glass windows at Hong Kong restaurants), but roasted goose is no less a celebrated dish. Roasted goose is, although less popular, more expensive per plate, they are mostly sold in either whole or half a bird, so is better ordered at get togethers. This may be due to the size and quaility of meat? Goose normally has got more delicate textures.

The taste was not bad. Goose meat is softer than duck as the meat seems to contain a higher percentage of fat. The chef made no effort of rendering the meat of its abundance of fat, and this resulted in super moist, roasted goose which is delicious but can leave you with a sickly feeling after the third or even second piece.

Stir-fried mushroom
Stir-fried mushroom

I have no idea what this mushroom is called but it tasted very intriguing! According to our Chinese friend, it is a native mushroom. This mushroom once cooked didn’t become all mushy like most, but became slightly chewy and elastic. The texture could be compared to squid (They’re vegan squids!). I suspect the chef may have used the ‘stem’ parts of mushrooms where you can often achieve the similR chewy texture once dehydrated.

The mushrooms had been stir fried with heavy oil and seasoned with soy sauce. Although it was well-seasoned and had interesting texture, and flavour, they had used too much oil in cooking it, making the dish also slightly sickly.

Stir-fried chicken with green chillies
Stir-fried chicken with green chillies

Once again, another very oily dish, but its oily feel was slightly reduced by the spiciness of green chillies, garlic and red onions (which are actually purple..)

I really like this Chinese stir-fry combination of garlic, red onions and green chillies (perhaps the equivalent of jalapenos?). When re-creating this combination, you must also use a sweet tasting flavouring sauce i.e. sweet tasting fermented bean paste. The dish would end up with a slight sweet tinge that is overtoned with garlicky flavours and invigorating, spiciness of chilli.

I’ve found that a trend with the meat used in this style dish is soft texture. The chicken above was just incredibly soft with a slight elasticity with each chew that really made the dish perfect, save for overflow of soybean oil (oil most often used in Chinese kitchens). I’ve also had another same-styled stir fry at a different restaurant, but with thinly sliced, lamb (which is already naturally soft with its high fat contents i.e. without marinating) instead of chicken eaten along with ‘bing’ or thin pancakes. It was uber divine!

I believe the key in making this dish is the sweetness in some sort of a sweet soybean sauce i.e. the Korean red-coloured bean paste, and not over-cooking the garlic maintaining the crispy and pungent flavour, and not restricting the oil content. It doesn’t need to be another one of many super oil-drenched Chinese dish, but it can’t be made low-fat, otherwise the essence of the dish will be altered.

Anyway, the half raw garlic helps a lot with reducing queasiness caused by oiliness or meat. It’s always a good idea to eat raw garlic with oily/meaty dish to counteract certain chemicals in those foods.

Fried squid rings and chicken wings with chilli
Fried squid rings and chicken wings with chilli

This is an example of typical Sichuan dish. They love all sorts of fried foods covered with mounds of chili that has been fried along with them. You won’t believe the amount of chillies Sichuan chefs put into each dish, so much chillies that I feel bad that there are so many leftover chillies. Most Chinese don’t even eat the actual chillies: to them they’re only there for the flavour.

Apparently, accoring to my mentor in China, Sichuan people are known as the most good-looking people in all of China due to their diet which is high in chillies. And he also have heard of Chinese researches that had linked chilli-eating and weight loss (You won’t believe how crazy Chinese people in China are about losing weight). Finally, the Chinese have also caught on the diet band-wagon.

I guess that is why the more oily, the more chillies with Sichuan dishes?

What was the taste of the dish like? Basically, deep fried food taste. As you can tell, I’m not much of a fan. But for some reason, they have put sliced bamboo shoots down the bottom as well. I’m quite intrigued by Chinese people’s use of bamboo shoots in dishes, it seems like there are so many of them, they are simply put into every dishes as secondary ingredients. I am yet to learn more of the history of bamboo shoots used in Chinese cuisine…

Fish head soup.
Fish head soup.

This was a pretty plain fish head soup. It seems they have used a river fish. The soup tasted slightly creamy (essence from fish head) but mostly quite plain and not too strongly-flavoured. Other ingredients included soft tofu, some green vegetables and bamboo shoots.

A deep-fried mushroom medley (I made up the name myself)
A deep-fried mushroom medley (I made up the name myself)

This dish was pretty tasty for a deep-fried dish, mostly because it had some vegetables flavours. Deep-fried mushrooms are pretty much one of the few deep-fried foods I enjoy. Chewy and with a slightly soft interior, it was also well-seasoned.

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Vegetables stir-fry – some strips of root vegetables (perhaps some variety of bamboo shoots?), spring onions, squid strips and about three small slices of fresh capsicum as a garnish (which I desperately grappled after rounds after rounds of oiliness “fresh veggies!!!”)

This tasted averagely good.

Sweet potatoes, pumpkin in coconut milk.
Sweet potatoes, pumpkin in coconut milk.

This was one of my favourite dishes ever at No. 56 Restaurant, and I had gone there a total of five times during my four month stay in Jinan. Imagine the competition it won over.

The sweet and chewy sweet potatoes (could be because I have a strange obsession with sweet potatoes) went very well with the creaminess and slightly gooey texture of the lightly sweetened coconut milk thick soup. The pumpkins gave a fresh taste which helped counterbalance the creaminess of the coconut milk soup.

I believe they had used tapioca flour or sweet potaotes flour in creating the gooey texture of the coconut milk soup. I know Western diners won’t be quite used to this gooey texture, but this is often used in Asian and South East Asian desserts. Their thickened coconut milk soup was also not too queasy tasting as most soup dishes with coconut milk/cream are like i.e. Thai curries, laksa noodles soup, with this dish, I can actually drink some of the soup.

What made this dish especially delicious could be because it was slow-cooked in a clay pot which had given it the special texture and flavour only achieved with clay pot cooking – a sort of slightly burnt and crispy taste.

In this review, I wasn’t all too praising about the dishes shown here, but in our following visits to the restaurant, we became more skillful in ordering the dishes. In the next upcoming reviews (will definitely be more on this restaurant), I will be introducing you guys to one of the most flavourful and healthy Southern/Cantonese Chinese dishes!

-Izzy

 

 

 

 

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