When you’re traveling on business, five-star hotel food is safe and accessible. And boring.
So boring that you’d sometimes rather go without, despite your stomach’s grumbling protests at three o’clock in the afternoon at still not being fed lunch.
A stone’s throw from Délifrance along O’Brien Street in Wan Chai, some friends from China Daily HK and I stopped to grab a fast lunch. Or heavy tea.
The place, called 369 Shanghai Restaurant (or 369 Restaurant Shanghai Food as the overhead sign at the entrance translates), serves, unsurprisingly, Shanghai cuisine.
The menu is typical of Hong Kong greasy spoons. Laminated bond-paper menus with items in red; and averaging a dozen pages. Back to back! Well, maybe this one had a couple less pages.
At places like 369 Shanghai Restaurant, you’re better off having a native pick the food for you. With so many choices, you’re bound to go wrong. And it really feels stupid to point at your order, or have the staff snicker at your half-baked Putonghua or weird-sounding Cantonese.
I left all the picking to my China Daily buddies Angel and Rosa. They promised to select food that was genuine Shanghainese without being too freakishly exotic.
We began with an appetizer of Shredded Chicken With Slice Bean Vermicelli (HK$50). Served cold, it was creamy and very lightly seasoned. Not as wet as coleslaw and not as heavy as creamy pasta, both taste and texture were somewhere, lusciously, in between. A refreshing break from salad or antipasto, it was a pleasant, if surprising, beginning to the meal.
Since this restaurant is not really a place that encourages diners to linger, Angel and Rosa ordered three main dishes that would be easy to consume quickly. We had no choice but to occupy the lone table in back, next to what appeared to be a fire escape, or service entrance or, I hate to think what else! The place was quite obviously popular to be packed way after lunchtime. Méi wèntí.
The Fried Noodle With Braised Eel (HK$95) was succulent and tasty. I don’t really relish slippery eel for a late lunch, but this wasn’t half bad. It was just this side of saltiness to make it flavorful without overpowering.
The Fried Pork Chop With Sweet Sour Sauce (HK$48) made me wish, in true Pinoy fashion, that we had ordered rice! But I feared I would later have to lug my heavy belly in addition to the shopping bag I was planning to fill with end-of-season sale items.
So I promptly nibbled on my last bite, Cheng Kong Pork (HK$50), and pronounced myself full. It was supposed to be another cold appetizer; a sort of pork terrine, Shanghai style. But I had neglected it, being so enamored with the vermicelli.
Not exactly something you’d want to nibble on when it’s 9°C out. As I bit on a piece, it felt like the little icicles that had formed along the grooves of each morsel were melting on my tongue. Or was it frozen fat? Being a true carnivore, I wouldn’t really have minded if it was fat. But cold fat in winter?
I felt like ordering a bottle of beer to combat the Shredded Chicken With Slice Bean Vermicelli cold breeze that seemed to eddy around my nape each time someone came through the street door. But I wanted to skedaddle to escape the pervert (One of the kitchen staff, perhaps?) who kept brushing past Rosa and I on his way to the mysterious door beyond our table. (Lucky Angel was tucked in a corner just clear off the door and wasn’t victimized. Although, the perv did try his darnedest to get her too with an extra wide sashay!)
Not too bad to endure for a feast under HK$250— including all the hot tea three people can drink, plus enough of the steaming beverage to sterilize utensils prior to the meal, plus leftover boxes of three dishes. (I love how practical Hongkies are!)
I promised myself I’d come back in the summer to gorge on the cold vermicelli (definitely takeout, or take away as Hongkies prefer). The best part of the meal, Sweet Sour Sauce the vermicelli, tasted clean—even posh. Not bad for a greasy spoon in the heart of Wan Chai, sashaying pervs notwithstanding.
Print ed: 08/10