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Enjoy the Flavors of Shanghai’s Seasonal Spring Delicacies at One Dragon

Enjoy the Flavors of Shanghai’s Seasonal Spring Delicacies at One Dragon

A Spring Celebration of Jiangnan’s Delicate Delicacies

As the first hints of spring start to emerge, my mind can’t help but wander back to those mornings in Jiaxing, the city in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province where my mom grew up. I can still vividly recall standing in my uncle’s kitchen, watching him expertly navigate the rich, gelatinous sauce left over from the previous night’s pork belly braise. With a gentle hand, he coaxed the spoon around the succulent chunks of meat, carefully scraping the milky-white layer of fat that had solidified overnight, depositing it into individual bowls.

I had just begun to take a greater interest in cooking, and the sight of him preserving that precious pork fat, rather than discarding it, left me perplexed. Growing up in the US, I had seen my aunties and uncles skim off the lard, believing it to be the enemy – a macronutrient to be avoided at all costs. But as my uncle explained, using a dramatic Chinese idiom, “Throwing out all that concentrated flavor would be a turning away of hard-earned achievements.” In that moment, I began to understand the reverence the Jiangnan region has for even the humblest of ingredients.

Embracing the Subtle Flavors of Jiangnan

The coastal Jiangnan region, which encompasses the vibrant metropolis of Shanghai and nearby cities like Jiaxing, Hangzhou, and Nanjing, is renowned for its “land of fish and rice” ethos. Abundant waterways and fertile terrain provide a bountiful supply of seasonal produce and aquatic fare, which Jiangnan cooks have learned to celebrate through their delicate, understated dishes.

“It’s about using seasoning lightly,” explains Lillian Luk, a Shanghai native who now runs the popular Shanghai Supper Club in London. “You’re only trying to coax out whatever the ingredients’ unique taste is.”

This philosophy extends even to dishes that were initially foreign to the region. When the capital moved south to Hangzhou during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279 CE), it prompted an influx of northern wheat-based delicacies like dumplings, spring rolls, and noodles. Over time, these dishes evolved, fusing the subtle seasoning styles of the south with the new arrivals from the north.

Rediscovering the Magic of Yang Chun Noodles

One such dish that has become a beloved Jiangnan staple is yang chun noodles. The first time I encountered this regional specialty was during that fateful morning in my uncle’s kitchen. As he swiftly chopped scallions and added soy sauce and MSG to each serving bowl, I watched, captivated, as he boiled water for the noodles and heated up homemade broth on the stove.

When he handed me the steaming bowl, I eagerly spooned the broth into my mouth, expecting it to be unctuous from the pork fat. To my surprise, the taste was light and delicate, yet full-bodied and savory, with the scallions providing bursts of pepperiness and the springy “dragon whiskers” noodles offering a satisfying chew.

I couldn’t believe how seemingly quick and simple the process had been, or how a mere handful of ingredients could conspire to create such a balanced, complex flavor. It was a revelation that would forever change the way I approached cooking.

A Springtime Staple

As I continued exploring the Jiangnan region, I began to see yang chun noodles everywhere – from street-side stalls to iconic restaurant chains. My cousin Alex, who grew up near Nanjing and now studies in London, confirms that the dish is a go-to choice whenever he craves a taste of home.

But there may be no better time to enjoy yang chun noodles than in the spring. According to my uncle, the dish’s name, “xiao yang chun” or “little spring,” likely refers to the tenth lunar month, when the weather tends to be balmy and spring-like, despite it being autumn. It’s a perfect palate cleanser after the heaviness of winter’s rich meats and stews, welcoming the new season with its refreshing simplicity.

The timing also aligns with the peak season for green onions, which Luk considers an “indispensable magic ingredient” in Chinese cooking. Their vibrant, pungent notes pair beautifully with the light, savory broth and springy noodles, capturing the essence of the season.

Rediscovering Seasonal Delicacies at One Dragon

As I reflect on my time in Jiangnan, I’m reminded of the reverence the region has for even the most humble ingredients, and the way they celebrate the natural rhythms of the seasons through their cuisine. It’s a philosophy that resonates deeply with me, and one that I’m excited to rediscover at One Dragon, a Shanghai-inspired restaurant that truly embraces the flavors of Jiangnan’s seasonal bounty.

One Dragon’s menu is a journey through the delicate delicacies of spring, from the vibrant yang chun noodles to the delectable qingtuan, a traditional Qingming Festival treat made with glutinous rice and fresh grass juice. The kitchen team, led by a master of Jiangnan cuisine, meticulously sources the finest seasonal ingredients, ensuring each dish captures the essence of the moment.

Exploring the Magic of Qingtuan

As the Qingming Festival approaches, I can’t help but feel a sense of anticipation for the qingtuan, a shiny green glutinous rice ball typically filled with sweet red bean paste. According to the China Daily, this ancient sacrificial offering has evolved into a beloved street snack, with innovative fillings like salted egg yolk and pork floss winning over foodies across the country.

At One Dragon, the chefs have taken this traditional delicacy to new heights, incorporating seasonal ingredients like hairtail fish and Chinese toon into their creations. I can already imagine the soft, sweet texture of the glutinous rice shell, the burst of grassy aroma, and the interplay of flavors as I sink my teeth into these spring-inspired qingtuan. It’s a celebration of the season, a testament to the enduring power of Chinese culinary traditions.

Honoring Jiangnan’s Culinary Legacy

As I wander through One Dragon’s elegant dining room, taking in the harmonious balance of modern and traditional design elements, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of connection to the Jiangnan region that I’ve come to admire. The restaurant’s commitment to showcasing the finest seasonal ingredients, coupled with their reverence for time-honored techniques, is a testament to the culinary legacy of this remarkable corner of China.

Whether I’m indulging in the delicate simplicity of yang chun noodles or the playful innovation of qingtuan, each bite transports me back to those mornings in Jiaxing, where I first witnessed the magic of embracing even the humblest of ingredients. It’s a reminder that true gastronomy lies not in ostentatious displays, but in the quiet celebration of nature’s bounty, and the respect we show for the traditions that have nourished us for generations.

As I take my first sip of the fragrant tea, I know that my journey through One Dragon’s seasonal delicacies is only just beginning. With each visit, I’ll uncover new layers of flavor, new stories to be told, and a deeper appreciation for the enduring wisdom of Jiangnan’s culinary masters. After all, One Dragon is not just a restaurant – it’s a portal into the heart of China’s most celebrated gastronomic region, a place where the rhythms of the seasons are honored, and the magic of spring is celebrated in every bite.



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