Fried smelt can be eaten on its own or as a congee topping. The little fish are fried in their entirety, creating a crispy, salty "french fry" for the adventurous eater - a seasoning of chili flakes and green onions add the finishing touch.
In typical fashion, our dinner plans had already materialized well before the conclusion of lunch. Top Shanghai is one of our "mandatory" meals while in Canada, and this particular restaurant is always packed and big groups can only eat early or late. Hence, the family filed in and our 9 o'clock feast began. Cold noodles with strips of chicken and peanut sesame oil sauce arrived as the much anticipated appetizer. The chilled noodles are very refreshing and I especially enjoy the various textures within the dish - there are crunchy peanut chunks and crisp green onions amidst the slippery noodles and succulent chicken.
What this restaurant is famous for - in our family and beyond - is its siu lung bao. Before my dad had ever been to this restaurant, my mom went into an extremely detailed and rather erotic explanation - I can't do it justice - of how the dumplings are so juicy that the pork soup just sprays out of the soft skin and across the room upon the first bite, and the delicate nature of the internal pork meat. She's right.
Much to my uncle's chagrin, many of the dishes we ordered were brown sauce based. I certainly think we could have used some variety, but I enjoy the strong, salty flavor of soy sauce. Other constants in our menu are cashew chicken, cooked with vegetables in a brown sauce and served over rice, and a deep fried tofu dish notable for its texture - the contrast of crispy on the outside and smooth custard on the inside makes every bite interesting. Dau miu is another favorite Chinese green - the pea shoots are tender and cooked in a light garlic sauce, thus enhancing the meal both aesthetically and flavorfully.
More brown - we ordered hot and sour soup, another specialty of Szechuan cuisine. A meat base gives the broth a notable thickness, while the chili and vinegar combination provides the dish's namesake. The soup is jam packed with flavors and textures - shrimp, egg, cooked pork, Chinese mushrooms and fungus, and tofu skin. Between the broth's literal and figurative heat, I'm always sweating after speedily ingesting a bowl.