Monday, 1 October 2012

Shanghai – A Chinese Movable Feast

My first visit to China was in 1990. It was to Shanghai for a magazine shoot for a leading French fashion house. We chose Shanghai as the backdrop because of its retro grandeur in architecture, its atmosphere of a bygone yet cosmopolitan era, and, most importantly, for the pulse of an awakening giant city after slumbering for decades. 

Though I was a stranger to the city, its cuisine was familiar, like an old friend. I was raised eating Shanghainese food on occasion, and the smells and tastes of Shanghainese food meant “home” to me.

Like Singapore, the majority of Shanghai’s population is descended from immigrants, mostly from nearby provinces such as Jiangsu and Zhejiang. During the Ching dynasty more than 300 years years ago, Shanghai was a major port city where east met west. As a result, every bite of Shanghainese cuisine today embodies a conglomeration of cultures and flavors from all over the world.

The distinct taste of Shanghai food arises from its strong use of wine, vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce, as well as freshwater produce. And a Shanghainese meal ---even a casual one – would feature an awe-inspiring variety of starters, along with delicate portions of main courses.

During my growing up years, nutritional supplements were unheard of. If an elder wished to shower affection on a young one, an egg was normally given. Eggs were expensive then, and it was known that they contained nutrients enough to nourish and bring a chick to full development in it. The egg could be cooked in various ways and served anytime of day.

This recipe is very likely of Shanghainese origin, because of its use of fermented rice paste. The poached egg reminds me of Western cooking and it might well have come from the French Concessions in Shanghai. Fermented rice is a staple of Shanghainese food; almost every family has its own formula for making it. Apart from this recipe, fermented rice is also widely used in other dishes and desserts.

I’ll be sharing more of my experiences and memories of Shanghai, through the lens of food, at my cooking class this Friday at Shermay’s Cooking School.

Poached Egg with Fermented Rice Brine

Water                                                200 ml
Rock sugar                                        50 g
Fermented rice brine (酒釀)          60 g
Dried osmanthus flower                 ½ tbsp (optional)
Eggs                                                    2
Water                                                 1 litre
Vinegar                                              1 tbsp


  1. Boil water and rock sugar until the sugar has fully melted. Adjust the taste with more sugar if necessary.
  2. Add fermented rice into the syrup and turn off the heat immediately.
  3. Scoop the syrup into a bowl with the poached egg in it.
  4. Sprinkle dried osmanthus flower and serve.

Poached Egg:
  1. In another wide shallow saucepan, boil 1 litre of water to around 80°C. Add vinegar and swirl the water with a spoon.  
  2. Drop one egg into the centre of the saucepan while the water is still swirling. Using a spoon, gently nudge the egg white closer to the yolk. Cover the saucepan with a lid and turn off the heat.
  3. Poach for 3 minutes and remove the egg with a slotted spoon.
  4. Place the egg in serving bowl.
Note:   This coming Friday, 5 Oct 2012, I will be sharing some of my favourite recipes at Shermay’s Cooking School. If you are interested, please refer to this.

1 comment:

  1. That egg looks SO perfectly poached! I remember I had this at a restaurant that served it with tang yuan. Sounds even better with osmanthus ^.^