One thing I like about Shanghai is that it's constantly evolving. Every time I go back, there'll be something a bit new and different to try. Even locals who live there every day don't get tired of what the city has to offer so I tend to be safe from boredom during my short stays. This time when I returned, a friend of my mum's took us to Chamate on Nanjing Road. Actually, they've probably been around for a while but well, I've never dropped in to try anything before so it's new to me and that's the point really.
Chamate is a chain-eatery that has stores throughout China. The style of eating is similar to Ajisen in that there is an extensive menu with lots of 'cute' orders. In Brisbane, it can be comparable to Kadoya or 7-8 but more 'polished/professional' because it is, after all, a reputable chain.
We actually had a bit of a hard time getting to this Chamate because it is on the 8th floor of a building that's not actually a shopping center or anything. The bottom floor is a clothing store and the lifts are at the back. There were QUEUES for the lifts - insane. The decore in Chamate is clean and the particular store I went to was very expansive. It had dining areas and booth areas. The tables lining the windows looked out onto Nanjing Road East (which is the pedestrian walk - Shanghai's famous street of neon lights).
The menu contains lots of 'one-person' orders (including one-person hotpots, which are a current 'in thing' in Shanghai), shared dishes, snacks, drinks, etc.
We wanted to give everything a go so we ordered a one-person pig trotter rice meal set, some lobok pastries, 'golden balls', fried dumplings (guo tie) and a mango cheesecake slice to share. Mum's friend had a loyalty card coupon so we used that to get a taro milk tea.
The food didn't take long to arrive (which is normal in Shanghainese eateries). The pig trotter meal set composed of:
- a clay pot of braised pig trotters suspended on a live flame
- bowl of steamed rice
- savory mince to mix with your rice
- pickled vegetables
- fresh vegetable salad
The trotters were delicious - very hot (it was Winter when I went so 'hot' was a good thing) and flavorsome. What really exceeded expectations though was the savoury mince with rice. So good just on their own.
After we had filled our bellies and were no longer pining with hunger, we started chatting and nibbling on the 'snacks'. In China, 'snacks' or 'dian xin' (aka 'dim sum' in Cantonese) covers things like: spring onion pancake, pumpkin pasties, fermented rice dessert and so on.
Lobok pastries are another traditional example. They usually have a savory lobok filling and a flaky exterior but it's one of those things that every restaurant does a bit differently. The ones at Chamate were great but a bit oily. Considering the nature of this food item though, it's understandably impossible to get an 'unoily' version.
The 'golden balls' were basically deep fried little crispy balls of potato. They were sweet and the exterior was crisp and chewy at the same time. It reminded me of the honey puffs you get at Greek food festivals. At first, I thought they were a bit dull (not very sweet) but soon found they had an adictive quality and was soon munching them by the handful. Sesame on fried food always gives it an extra edge.
Mum's friend was very excited about the pan-fried dumplings from Chamate. Pan-fried dumplings, called 'guo tie' are the Chinese equivalent of Japanese gyoza. They normally have a meat filling and are fried to a crisp on one side with the rest of the dumpling skin still tender. Surprising as it may be, they are considered 'normal breakfast food' (along with things like chicken and duck blood cube soup, curry beef soup and spring onion oil fried noodles). The Shanghainese like a bit of grease in the mornings!
I thought they were 'nice' but not as good as the ones we normally got for breakfast. As is normal with these types of things, judgment is based on how much soup there is in side as much as it is on flavor, texture and whatnot.
As a side note, my taro milk tea was fine - as normal. I like taro flavored things :).
The mango cheesecake came last. It was just what I expected which is to say it wasn't the best cheesecake I've ever had. I notice that Asian-style cakes tend to taste 'lighter' than Western-styles. This might be a good thing in some circumstances but for a cheesecake, I really want it to be dense and heavy. I didn't think the cheesecake tasted bad as per se but I do have my own preferences. I'm sure my mum would have chosen it over a thick slice of New York Cheesecake from the Three Monkeys.
I had a great experience at Chamate and am thankful for my mum's friend for taking us there. It's been filed away in my head as somewhere I'll return to next time I get to Shanghai.