Metro Morning‘s food guide, Suresh Doss, joins us every week to discuss one of the many great GTA eateries he’s discovered.
This week, he talked to host Ismaila Alfa about a spot in North York that specializes in Shanghainese street food.
Ismaila: You’ve brought us to this restaurant before. Why do you want to take us back?
Suresh: We talked about Sangji-Bao almost two years ago when everything was shut down. We had a little segment highlighting a few places that are great for takeout, and foods that travel well. And Sang-Ji Fried Bao was one of them.
This is a restaurant owned by a young gentleman, John Xue. It’s an ode to the street food of Shanghai that he grew up with.
He was operating in this incredibly small, parking-spot-sized restaurant with only three items on the menu — and like four stools. But it was incredibly good, and over the course of the pandemic, he has managed to move to a bigger spot across the street. And he’s got a sequel of a menu that takes us into a deeper journey for his passion for Shanghainese street food.
So I wanted to bring us back to Sang-Ji Fried Bao for version two.
Ismaila: So remind us, what were those original menu items ?
Suresh: So there was this wonderful wonton noodle soup on the menu. It’s one of my favourite dishes, it’s this sublime soup.
These wontons are made daily in-house and they’re served with this really wonderful stock of scallion confit. There are these subtle accents of ginger and garlic.
It’s a really soothing dish, perfect for this time of the year. And you can raise the temperature by adding a dollop or two of their incredibly intense, aromatic chili oil.
There’s also a dry noodle dish. Picture this perfectly folded mound of noodles coated in a flavoured oil and topped with really thin slivers of confit scallion and some peanut sauce on top.
They’re still on the menu, and if you ask me, they’re even better now.
Ismaila: So what has John added since he expanded?
Suresh: A couple items and they are all knockouts.
First, he’s got two new snacks on the menu. There are fried short ribs that are coated with flour and cornstarch and then flash fried. They’re served with this wonderful chili sauce, tiny bite-sized pieces of short rib that are great.
There’s also this wonderful savoury dough fritter roll. Picture a Youtiao, which is Chinese fried dough shaped like tubes. It is then coated with a sambal, got some mustard stems on it, some soy sauce and scallions. And then it is wrapped with this very thin crepe made from an egg and flour batter.
Ismaila: So you get the soft crepe on the outside and crunchy centre?
Suresh: Yeah, the opposite of what you expect. It’s really delicate, and soft and delicate on the outside, and a crunchy middle, with the sambal soy really bringing umami and a little bit of heat. It’s a standout dish.
And then there’s this wonderful duck soup. This is an outstanding noodle soup that I highly recommend you try. They make this deeply flavoured stock by cooking whole ducks in a pot.
They then take the meat out after a few hours, marinade it in this really dark mother sauce that has a variety of herbs and spices.
Traditionally in Shanghai, this is a sauce that would be used repeatedly, in some cases for years. So there’s a lot of flavour in that sauce.
The stock is served with tofu puffs, coagulated duck blood, some marinated duck meat and really small slices of duck gizzard.
There’s this undercurrent of this gamey sense with the soup, but it’s not overpowering, and there’s a lot of umami with the marinade. And these tofu puffs soak up the stock, so when you bite them it just gushes in your mouth.
It may sound like a heavy soup but its absolutely not.
Ismaila: And there must be some fried bao.
Suresh: Oh yes, it’s the star of the show, the shengjian bao. This is an an Iconic street food of Shanghai. They are soup dumplings with a crunchy and crispy bottom. Here’s John’s description:
John Xue: “Shengjian bao is a fried version of a soup dumpling, basically. It’s got warm soup inside, nice crispy dough and chewiness …. I grew up eating this food. I remember when I was young, I eat in the morning, I eat after school. In my perspective, I think this is much tastier than the steamed version of it, and besides, so many people doing the steam version in the city, so I want to create something unique and different for the neighborhood.”
Suresh: So picture meat and gelatin tucked into thin sheets of dough that is meticulously wrapped, pleated and sealed. And there’s a particular technique in cooking them. There’s a very large cast iron pan that sits on an open flame.
When its ripping hot, the flame is turned down, water is thrown into the pan, oil goes in, buns go in. That is what creates that crispy bottom on the bun, without overcooking the rest of the ingredients.
So you have the gelatin that turns into a soup, and a pleasingly crunchy base.
And this is a dish that comes with instructions
Ismaila: So how do we eat it?
Suresh: Its served hot. It looks harmless when you see it, but you can easily burn your mouth. There are instructions at the table, there’s a sign on the wall even.
Here’s how John explains it:
John Xue: “First you poke a hole on the bao to let the hot air go. Next…you can either sip on the bao to suck the soup out or pour onto a spoon to enjoy it. And lastly, you can dip a little bit of homemade vinegar and enjoy and the rest of the bao. Just be careful, it’s still hot … Don’t burn yourself.”
Ismaila: Good warning there!
Suresh: The ritual here is when you puncture the bao, the steam lets out and you can smell it before you enjoy the soup. It’s a really wonderful dish to enjoy.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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