When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Little Blue Whale Restaurant (小藍鯨; xiao▪lan▪jing), Nanjing

Around the corner from the Crowne Plaza in central Nanjing is Wangfu Broad Street (王府大街; wang▪fu▪da▪jie), a boulevard filled with bars and restaurants. Although it’s not New York’s 54th Street or L.A.’s “Restaurant Row,” the collection of eateries features an eclectic mix of the trendy and the traditional. What I really like about the place is that much of these restaurants cater to the locals and not the tourists. So, no matter where you go, you can expect good food with a good local flair.

Somewhere in the middle of Wangfu Broad Street, I came up to a signboard that read “Home Cooking Served Here.” So I went in. The waitress greeted me and pointed to several glass aquariums lining the wall. “We only serve fresh fish from the Yangtze. Are you familiar with Lower Yangtze cuisine?” Obviously, she knew I was not from around here.

I said I was willing to try anything, so show me the menu.

You could tell this was a privately owned restaurant, because unlike the state-owned places, the waitress actually cared about the service and the food. She turned out to be the daughter of the owner, who was the kitchen in the back. Thoroughly she explained the menu, which included a good number of Lower Yangtze dishes that I immediately recognized, but others required a bit of explanation:

“The loach we use in our restaurant weighs about a kilogram, so it’s fairly large. It is simmered with fermented-chili-and-bean paste, tofu, and cellophane noodles. The dish comes with potstickers, which you eat together like soup and bread.”

“The meatballs are made with ground white pork and jicai (薺菜; a type of dandelion), and then cooked in a casserole with black tree fungus, sliced jinhua ham, and cellophane noodles.”

“The braised chicken is cooked in soy sauce and rock sugar for two hours. My father likes to add a shot of Shaoxing rice liquor at the beginning, which creates a penetrating flavor. It’s a family recipe.”

“I also recommend chrysanthemum stems (蘆蒿; lu▪hao), just stir-fried with julienne dried stinking tofu and salt. If you’ve never been to Nanjing until now, you’ve never had this before because only in Nanjing during springtime can you find chrysanthemum stems.”

I’ll have them all. Plus the foil-roasted chicken wings, the stir-fried nira with river shrimp, the tofu earthenware hotpot, the …

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