On a cold and snowy evening I find myself in the heart of Chicago’s China Town. It’s not by chance, I know where I am going… I know what I am ordering and so does our waitress before I even say a word. It’s been a long day and I’m pretty sure the world hates me. I need some comfort food and I know I can find it here.
Now according to Merriam-Webster I should be seeking a traditional food preparation, one that evokes sentiment and nostalgia, but what is a “traditional food preparation” to an american mutt such as myself. I suppose it could be the meals of my childhood, my mother’s beef stew perhaps. Unfortunately, her recipe can not be found south of Milwaukee and I seek another family’s recipe to warm me up tonight.
Our waitress at Lao Shanghai knows our faces and as we sit down she asks, “steamed pot sticker?” I shake my head yes and add an order of xiao long bao(soup dumplings). There is something inherently comforting about meat wrapped delicately in dough. I prefer the pork and napa cabbage steamed dumplings, but Lao Shanghai has a variety to choose from including veggie and shrimp.
The xiao long bao is the epitome of comfort food to me. As the bamboo steamer arrives I prepare my chopsticks so that I can delve into these tasty morsels. I am careful not to break the dough as I lift the miniature dumpling onto my soup spoon. The dumplings have come with the xiao long bao dipping sauce, the pot sticker dipping sauce, and a chinese chili oil. I prefer the pot sticker sauce(soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar) so I drizzle some into the soup spoon with my steaming dumpling.
As I lift the spoon to my mouth I slowly bite into the dumpling hoping I have let it cool just enough. The soup spills from the dumpling into the spoon and my mouth mixing with the sauce and burning my tongue. I usually underestimate the heat, but I prefer them scaldingly hot to luke warm. I’m starting to feel warmer as our waitress returns for our next order.
We request the Shanghai Style Fish Filet. It took us three trips before we mustered up the guts to order the Shanghai Fish Filet. At each visit I would scan the regular customers’ tables. It appeared every table had either the fish filet or the braised pork belly in bean curd sauce. And although I still have not been brave enough to order the pork belly, the fish filet has gone into our permanent meal shuffle and is perfect for this cold and snowy evening. The white fish is cooked perfectly in a thickened salty sweet broth of Shao Xing(chinese cooking wine) and rehydrated WoodEar mushrooms.
I glance outside at the snow as we settle our small bill. The waitress says goodbye, but knows we will be back soon, on another cold and stormy evening. I feel slightly warmer as I zip up my jacket and pull up my hood. Perhaps only part of the world hates me tonight.
Lao Shanghai | 2163 S China Pl Chicago, IL 60616 | (312) 808-0830 |