Shanghai/Jiangnan ingredients in the SFBA

As we talked about on the Land of Fish and Rice thread, Zhejiang red vinegar ( 大紅漸醋) and salted mustard greens (xue cai, “snow vegetable”) are two of the more challenging Shanghai/Jiangnan ingredients to locate in the Bay Area.

I’ve purchased salted mustard greens in the refrigerator sections of a few large Asian grocery stores. New May Wah in the Inner Richmond, which is also good for Sichuan ingredients, carries two local brands, pictured above, and the ingredients are only mustard greens and salt (water for one brand). The brand on the right I bought last year at Marina Foods in San Mateo. Sunset Super no longer carries either. Are they available in Ranch 99, Lyon, or other South/East Bay stores?

I’m not sure I’ve tasted it, so I’d appreciate leads for Zhejiang red vinegar. has kept an eye out but hasn’t seen any. At Sunset Super in the Outer Sunset, I found a few brands of red vinegar, none of which appear to be the high quality Zhejiang stuff. Pearl River brand has MSG (which doesn’t sound right to Fuchsia Dunlop), Patchun brand has red food coloring, and there are a few other brands of red vinegar from Guangdong or Hong Kong. As alternatives, both places have a wide selection of white rice vinegars, and darker vinegars like rice-based Chinkiang/Zhenjiang black vinegar and sorghum-based mature Shanxi vinegar.

There’s a thread devoted to high quality Shaoxing wine. I understand the chicken feather vegetable is only available to restaurants— any sightings at farmers markets? And I keep forgetting to look— who has ji cai, Shepherd’s purse, fresh or frozen?

Any preferred brand for pressed tofu or smoked tofu— do you like the brands at Asian markets better than the more expensive ones from Hodo Soy or at natural food stores? How is Wo Chong’s pressed tofu? They only sell it in their Chinatown store, and seem to only have it when I’m shopping for something else.

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I was particularly intrigued by wild rice stem/water bamboo until I read this portion of the wikipedia entry, which indicates its import to North America is prohibited to protect our own wild rice crops, so I guess I won’t be finding it locally.

“The vegetable is especially common in China, where it is known as gaosun (高笋) or jiaobai (茭白). Other names which may be used in English include coba and water bamboo. Importation of the vegetable to the United States is prohibited in order to protect North American species from the fungus.”

I haven’t seen chicken feather vegetable at any markets, but wonder whether baby tatsoi might be a good substitute–it’s frequently available at places like Berkeley Bowl, probably even in packaged form these days. It’s a bit sharper than infantile baby bok choy, but not that far off.

Jiao bai (coba is the Shanghainese pronunciation) is prohibited from the US but not from all of North America, unless that’s a recent development. My wife was ecstatic to find it in Vancouver (at the Richmond Public Market) and smuggled some back to SF a few years back. It has a delicious nutty flavor.

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I looked along Stockton for red vinegar, and found the same brands discussed above.

Manila Oriental Market in Excelsior has frozen Shepherd’s purse (ji cai) labeled as “Chinese spinach” and Indian aster/malantou labeled as “Chinese cress”. It’s possible these items are available all over but I’ve not looked hard enough.

Manila also has salted mustard greens that aren’t chopped. These must degrade a lot— I’ve seen this brand look slimy and mossy green at another store.

My partner’s parents, both from Shanghai, like a store by the intersection of Jackson and Stockton. They buy their Shanghainese ingredients there; it’s the best they’ve found yet in SF.

I don’t remember the details though. The only thing I explicitly remember that they got there is very good quality fresh pea sprouts.

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In the 1990s there was a market on Broadway, Metro Market, owned by a family from Ningbo that specialized exclusively in products from the Shanghai region. Almost no fresh produce, but anything that could be frozen, dried, tinned (including Maling brand) or otherwise packaged was there We once met a couple there that periodically drove down from Portland to stock up. It became Nanyang Foods after the couple retired and the selection went downhill.

There was also an outlet of the China Native Produce & Animal By-Products Import & Export Corporation across the street on Broadway.

I am pretty happy to find a 6 yr Zhenjiang vinegar at H Mart today. $8.99. Hengshun brand.

The more familiar Jin Shan brand (with the all-yellow label) is also made by Jiangsu Hengshun Vinegar Industries “Since 1840.”

What does the aging do? Ju Ju never buys the aged versions,

I haven’t opened mine yet so I will comment when I do. I bought the bottle for dipping, like for XLB/ dumplings, and I was hoping for a bottle that’s smoother, rounder and less harsh in tasting, the type of vinegar more often seen in fancier restaurants because they can absorb the cost. We’ll see if this bottle is it. Around restaurants in the Bay Area, I found the vinegar often fails the dumplings even if the dumplings are decent to good, simply because I think the food is priced low for them to offer better vinegar. Not that I am bringing my own vinegar to eat out, of course.

Here’s what the Mala Project says about the bottle (note they are also selling it (for $18!!!), so take their comment with a caveat):

As with other artisan Chinese products, we do not get the long-aged, top-of-the-line vinegars in the U.S. However, over the past couple of years premium, three-year-aged and six-year-aged Hengshun vinegar has appeared on our shores. And as of December 2016, we are selling the six-year-old version in The Mala Market. It’s darker, fuller-bodied and more natural tasting than the younger Zhenjiang vinegar.

I don’t know if cooking with this bottle makes sense, but I will have to taste it to see if I can taste the difference in cooking. I suspect there may be, just like there is a difference between cooking with a 20 year huadiao and a cheap one, but its a matter of whether the taste difference is big enough to justify the delta in cost.

I thought the 6 year Hengshun tastes ok- a bit in your face. Its not a side-by-side taste test, but I don’t sense substantial differences between it and another cheaper bottle that we finished a few months ago. but for dipping I think I would keep looking out for better ones.

Marina Food in San Mateo has ~1 lb bags of chicken feather vegetable (labeled ji mao cai/choy) for $3.99/lb. There are few hard chickpea like things (bulbs?) in the tangled greens, so you need to pay attention while washing.

Speaking of tatsoi, Noodle Shanghai in San Mateo uses tatsoi as the greens in their Shanghai rice cake dish.

Btw, you may have seen it in the noodle thread, but Yu Chong in SF Chinatown sells fresh Shanghai noodles. Upper right hand corner of the picture here:

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I think you mean Wu Chong. I’ve seen them there, but they are suspiciously yellow in color, like egg noodles. Shanghai noodles generally don’t use egg as an ingredient. I suspect that the designation has to do with the thickness. I’m not talking about the extra thick cu mian: the “Shanghai” designation is sometimes used to distinguish the thickness from Hong Kong style noodles.

Can you expand on this a bit? In Shanghai, what type of restaurant would you find cu mian at? In my limited time there, I didn’t encounter a thick noodle, and at least at Gourmet Noodle House in the Inner Richmond, that’s the weakest of the dishes I’ve tried.

Do you find a big difference between what restaurants here serve here as cu mian and knife cut noodles, and within China, is the [edit] former known to be a Shanghai specialty? I made a distinction between the two in one of the wheat noodle primers but wasn’t able to find a lot of English language resources on the topic.

Ah. To fool the unsuspecting Cantonese! Probably from the same dough as the wonton noodles on the left.

Isn’t it the same noodle used in ‘Shanghai cu chao mian’?

You can liken Shanghai cu mian to udon noodles, only, if anything, thicker. They can come with either a round or square cross section. Knife-cut noodles are generally thinner and more rectangular in cross-section. I don’t think knife-cut noodles per se are looked on as Shanghainese.

You will find cu mian in casual settings, like snack bars at outdoor venues. and “benbang” chains like 乔家栅 (Qiao Jia Shan) or 老城隍庙小吃 (Lao Cheng Huang Miao Xiao Chi). Unlike udon, they are generally stir-fried.


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Bessarabsky Market, Kyiv. Ukraine
Credit: Juan Antonio Segal, Flickr