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Xiang Yuan Ji comes recommended by our Shanghainese colleague for its authentic cuisine
By Nicole-Marie Ng
If you follow Weekender on Weibo and WeChat, you would know that our Chinese editorial team is just as crazy about food as we are. Sabrina, our Chinese social media manager, came to the office one day raving about the Shen Jian Bao (Shanghainese pan-fried dumplings) at Xiang Yuan Ji, a small shop along Jalan Besar.
When a Shanghainese native says that a stall in Singapore serves Shanghainese food comparable to what she can find back home, the whole Weekender team had to go down and try it for ourselves.
Rebecca Lim and Ian Fang posing with the owner of Xiang Yuan Ji, Mr. Lee, during their visit.
Stepping into Xiang Yuan Ji is almost like being transported to Shanghai. The simple decor with red pleather seats and placards showing pictures of their signature dishes was just about the only pops of colour in the space. Despite its humble appearance, celebrities like Rebecca Lim and Guo Liang have flocked to Xiang Yuan Ji for their noodles and snacks.
Behind the scenes of how pan-fried dumplings are made.
The best shen jian bao
Compared to Xiao Long Bao (small steamed buns), Shen Jian Bao ($5 for 3) contain about three times the amount of meat rolled into a bao shaped dumpling. The skin of the dumpling is thicker as well to make sure the delicious soup doesn’t leak out while they’re being pan fried.
The large cast-iron pan used to fry the Shen Jian Bao was custom made in Shanghai and can fry 70 bao at once. A wooden lid is then placed on top of the bao to steam the top half, ensuring that heat is evenly distributed. The bao are then served to diners piping hot and burst with meaty juices from the first bite. The secret? Bits of fatty pork collagen that melt during cooking to form the soup.
Xiang Yuan Ji has a wide variety of noodles available to have with their pan-friend dumplings.
Aside from the dumplings, you'll find other authentically Shanghainese dishes on the menu. The Shanghai Style Pork Cutlet ($6.50) is served with a side of Spicy Soya Sauce imported from China that is sour and salty with just a hint of spice.
Their Shanghai Dumpling Soup ($6) is made with pork and shepherd's purse, an imported vegetable commonly used in Shanghai and Jiangnan. Don't expect it to come with a salty or robust soup like you'll find at most Singaporean hawkers, the soup here is light and delicate, allowing the silky dumplings to shine.
Something you don't come across regularly would be the Curry Beef Vermicelli Soup ($6.50). This tastes almost like a Chinese version of Mee Soto served with thin slices of beef. An acquired taste, you'll either love it or hate it.
Salty Bean Curd, try something different and expand your culinary palate.
Tasty and affordable
While most of us are familiar with Chinese food, I found myself trying a lot of these Shanghainese dishes for the first time at Xiang Yuan Ji. Allow your perceptions of Chinese food to change without even having to board a flight to Shanghai.
Perhaps the most unusual would be the Salty Bean Curd ($4.50), bean curd served in a salty broth with chye poh (preserved radish) and small dried shrimp, wildly different from the beard curd desserts we're used to. Give it a try and expand your culinary palate!