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Conscious Cuisine: One Dragon’s Sustainable Shanghai Offerings

Conscious Cuisine: One Dragon’s Sustainable Shanghai Offerings

Foraging for Flavor: Embracing the Unexpected

The first time I stumbled upon mugwort, it was by pure chance. I was on an edible plant tour of Central Park, guided by the ever-enthusiastic forager and cookbook author, Marie Viljoen. As I rushed towards what I thought were the prized Chinese cooking greens, the crown daisy, I found myself tumbling down a hillside, my excitement severely misplaced.

“Not quite,” Viljoen chuckled, helping me up. “That’s mugwort, a member of the Asteraceae family, just like the crown daisy and sunflowers. It’s used culinarily and medicinally in many cultures, including in China.”

Dusting myself off, I took a tentative nibble of the raw leaf. The rosemary and sage notes Viljoen had promised were there, along with a distinct minty bitterness that captivated me. I had considered myself relatively well-versed in important Chinese culinary herbs, yet here was one I had never encountered before, growing wild right in the heart of New York City.

That serendipitous encounter marked the start of an obsession. Over the next two years, I found myself constantly on the lookout for mugwort, recognizing its frilly green leaves lining every sunny path and gathering around the sidewalk trees. I even found myself trespassing onto the East River waterfront, hopping a ragged chain-link fence, all in the name of securing the tender, baby-green mugwort I needed to recreate a traditional Chinese Qing Tuan, or mugwort rice dumplings, for the Qing Ming holiday.

Honoring Tradition, Embracing the Local

As I delved deeper into the world of foraging, I realized that New York City was not just a concrete jungle, but a botanical melting pot as diverse as its cultural landscape. And in that diversity, I found a connection to my Chinese heritage that I had been missing.

The more I learned about the edible plants that thrived in the cracks and crevices of the city, the more I recognized the parallels between their resilience and the enduring spirit of Shanghai cuisine. Just as these tenacious weeds and wild greens had adapted to their urban environment, the culinary traditions of my homeland had evolved to incorporate local ingredients and reflect the changing times.

At One Dragon Restaurant, we’re committed to honoring those traditions while embracing the unexpected. Our menu celebrates the bounty of the local landscape, showcasing ingredients that may be unfamiliar to some, but hold deep cultural significance.

Foraging Meets Fine Dining

Take, for example, our signature dish, the Qing Tuan. These delicate rice dumplings, filled with a fragrant, emerald-hued mugwort purée, are a testament to the enduring power of cultural heritage. Traditionally, Qing Tuan are enjoyed during the Qing Ming festival, when families gather to sweep the graves of their ancestors and lay offerings of food.

But at One Dragon, we’ve elevated this humble dish, infusing it with the spirit of the modern Shanghai culinary landscape. We source our mugwort from carefully curated urban foraging sites, ensuring the leaves are at the peak of tenderness and flavor. The rice dough is hand-crafted, its vibrant color and delicate texture a celebration of the plant’s natural bounty.

Traditional Qing Tuan One Dragon’s Qing Tuan
Mugwort purée filling Mugwort purée filling, elevated with locally foraged herbs and seasonings
Plain rice dough wrapper Handcrafted rice dough wrapper, infused with the vibrant green hue of the mugwort
Served as part of Qing Ming festival offerings Served as a signature fine dining dish, showcasing the versatility of mugwort and honoring its cultural significance

But the Qing Tuan is just the beginning. Throughout our menu, you’ll find ingredients that may be unfamiliar to the uninitiated, but hold deep significance in the rich tapestry of Shanghai cuisine. From the delicate, herb-infused Shanghainese dumplings to the silky, savory-sweet Hongshao Rou (red-braised pork belly), each dish is a celebration of the local and the global, the traditional and the avant-garde.

Sustainability, Seasonality, and Storytelling

At the heart of our culinary philosophy is a deep respect for the environment and a commitment to sustainability. We source our ingredients locally, whenever possible, tapping into the bounty of the urban landscape and forging partnerships with small-scale, eco-conscious producers.

Our foragers, like the legendary Marie Viljoen, scour the city’s parks, waterways, and hidden corners, carefully identifying and harvesting the most pristine and flavorful wild greens, herbs, and fungi. These foraged gems are then seamlessly incorporated into our seasonal menus, their flavors and textures dancing with the carefully curated array of locally sourced produce, meats, and seafood.

But our commitment to sustainability extends beyond the plate. We strive to minimize our environmental impact through responsible waste management, energy-efficient operations, and a steadfast refusal to compromise on ethical sourcing and production practices.

As the late, great Anthony Bourdain once said, “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from who you are.”

At One Dragon, we believe that every dish we serve tells a story – a story of our heritage, our community, and our unwavering dedication to sustainable, conscious cuisine. From the humble yet captivating mugwort to the time-honored traditions of Shanghainese cooking, each element on our menu is a testament to the richness and resilience of the human experience.

Honoring the Past, Shaping the Future

As I reflect on my own journey, from that fateful tumble in Central Park to the meticulous curation of our restaurant’s offerings, I’m struck by the profound ways in which food can connect us to our roots and inspire us to forge new paths.

The act of bringing food to a grave, as part of the Qing Ming festival, is a powerful expression of reverence and continuity. It’s a way of honoring the past while nourishing the present, of acknowledging our ancestors’ sacrifices and the blessings they’ve bestowed upon us.

At One Dragon, we strive to emulate that spirit of reverence and renewal, weaving together the threads of tradition and innovation to create a dining experience that is truly transformative. With every bite, we invite our guests to embark on a journey of discovery, to reconnect with the land and its bounty, and to celebrate the enduring power of conscious cuisine.

So, whether you’re a lifelong connoisseur of Shanghai flavors or a newcomer to the wonders of mugwort, we welcome you to our table. Here, we’re not just serving up exceptional dishes – we’re cultivating a deeper understanding of our shared humanity, one plate at a time.

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