My blog is actually inspired by eat.tanspace.com. Friends were 'insulted' that the blogger didn't eat lamb at a famous lamb hotpot place; they were also 'outraged' that their favourite Ramen place was ranked below another one; also the idea that using this blog I can keep track of which restaurants I'd tried and what I ordered and what was good, was mentioned by the owner of tanspace. So first I thank mr. or ms. tanspace for the inspiration.
The first place I want to review is actually one that was already reviewed by mr. tanspace. It's the little hole in the wall place in Sunnyvale called Shanghai Flavor Shop 上海生煎馆. The instant I saw the photo of that shengjianbao (Pan Fried Bun) on eat.tanspace, I knew this place had to be a winner. Why? From the way the bun is cooked, of course! To me, authenticity is key, and this is the first place serving shengjian where the bun is actually fried 'upside down' - PROMISING! I knew I had to check this place out.
Without delay, I grabbed a friend after badminton on Tuesday, and drove all the way to Sunnyvale in search of this perfect little bun. When we got to the area, it was already just past 9pm, and I was in fear that the store might be closed already (I could not find the hours for this place online). To make things worse, due to the hole-in-the-wall-ness of this place, it took another 10 mins to actually find the restaurant in the dark. When we pulled up in the parking space right outside the shop, the lights in the sign were dimmed, and to my dismay the sign on the door clearly said "4PM-9PM". =( But look! The door is still open, and the light still on inside. I asked my friend to go in and asked. My heart sank once more when she came back out saying that they had indeed closed for the day.
Just as I was about to drive away, the lady proprietor came out, and turned her head in all directions, as if looking for something. My friend waved at her through the window and she saw us, and said that if shengjian is what we are looking for, they can still make it for us to-go. HURRAY!
We quickly stepped out of the car and into the shop, and waited eagerly as the owners prepared our two orders of shengjian. We also ordered a plate of garlic stir fry Chinese watercress 蒜蓉炒空心菜. The vegetables were made fresh, as we could see into their kitchen and saw the bag of vegetables being taken out of the wrapper. As for the buns, I'm quite certain that they are not made from frozen pre-made buns, because I also saw in the kitchen a gigantic tupperware box of meat bun filling. We only waited around 5 to 10 mins for our order to be ready.
After almost 15 mins of driving, we arrive home, already too tantalized by the delicious smell wafting out from the takeout box. One key thing to note about their to-go shengjian is that with most places, you would simply not get them to go because you know that in the box they will go soggy from the condensation. But the owners clearly care a lot about the taste of their food. Not only did they line the inside of the take-out box with foil to keep it extra warm/crispy, but they also cut holes in each of the boxes to allow the hot air to escape, thus keeping the shengjian nice and dry. In addition, they also wrapped an extra bag around the vegetables to prevent the soup in that from leaking out and making a mess. I was already impressed.
Then I look at the bun. It looks very much like the authentic shengjian of Shanghai. The buns are fried upside down, so the 'top' of the bun is dark. The other side is white, and sprinkled with sesame and green onion, and it is also puffed up like a little dough balloon. I poked the bun, and the dough is bouncy, not hard. Then I take the bite.
The inside filling is very tender, as the meat is ground up finely. This is one slight deviation to the shengjian I had in Shanghai, where the meat was a little more chunky, and had more green onions. But other than that, the flavour was almost identical. Even the soup that is missing from the buns of so many lesser restaurants was there, and you have to be careful not to spill and waste any of the tasty meat juice. The dough skin was soft and chewy in the white parts, and slightly crispy in the dark parts. The sesame were grilled just right and you can taste it even with the meat being the main focus. This, is the closest I have ever had to the real thing outside of China. Some might protest that almost $1 per bun is a bit pricey, but I think it's is highly worth the price, especially if you're like me and you value the authenticity.
The vegetable is then just an afterthought. It was crunchy enough, but could be more so, and maybe slightly overcooked since the colour was darker than it should have been, but still tasted fine (you can probably tell by now that I don't care much about vegetables in general).
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I ate the buns too quickly and did not remember to take a photo (especially since I didn't know that I was going to start my blog)... That means I'll have to go back. ^_^
EDIT: So wei went to visit this place, and took a photo of the shengjian. Here it is! Thanks wei!
So in summary:
Shengjian - 4.8/5 (-0.2 for the meat being a bit on the finely ground side - a minor detail)
Vegetables - do you really care?
And if you ever want to visit this place:
888 Old San Francisco Rd.
(it's near the corner of Wolfe and Old San Francisco, in a run-down mall next to a Shell and a Safeway. Without that info, it might be impossible to find in the dark. In the day time it's probably okay. =)
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