Whether you’ve lived here for decades or only a few weeks, Shanghai is in many ways an elusive beast that defies description. On a daily basis, many residents can walk the city’s streets and drink in its inherent Chinese-ness, or cloister themselves in neighborhoods and niches that whisk them away to Paris, Morocco or Xinjiang. It paradoxically manages to be both immensely international and characteristically Chinese, and few news sources accurately capture that fact.
In Shanghai Chefs: A Cookbook, one former Shanghai expat tries to do justice to this diversity by fusing her love of the city and its food into her own culinary passion project. Edited and photographed by Piper Stremmel, this colorful book aims to capture the kaleidoscope of cuisines we enjoy daily in Shanghai. The book culls over 60 recipes from the city’s most popular restaurants, as well as secrets for recreating our favorite street foods at home.
Shanghai Chefs came about through a successful Kickstarter campaign this November. “We felt this was truly an exciting time to be living in Shanghai,” writes Stremmel on the campaign, “and wanted to highlight this city’s ever-evolving (and seemingly underrated) food scene.”
The bulk of the cookbook consists of recipes Stremmel gathered from 30 Shanghai restaurants. The chapters are separated both by ingredients and course, so vegetarians and vegans can easily skip over the meat and fish-centered dishes or improvise with their own substitutes.
As far as restaurants go, readers can expect familiar names like Lost Heaven, Elefante, Fortune Cookie and Sumerian. “The restaurants were selected to represent a cross-section of the city’s numerous and varied cuisines -- including Chinese food from different provinces and a sampling of Western cuisine,” says Stremmel. “They’re also restaurants that I’ve had wonderful and memorable experiences at, not only because of the phenomenal food, but also because of the people behind the restaurants.” As such, the book lovingly profiles every featured restaurant before the recipe.
Shanghai Chefs dedicates the last section of the book to local street food. Interspersed within the recipes are examples of Stremmel’s exceptional “amateur photography” documenting the steady hum of Shanghai life. For the design, she tapped Shanghai-based designer Veronica Rushton, whose understated and elegant treatment of the book complements the photography perfectly.
Unlike many recipe books, this beautiful keepsake captures the diversity of Shanghai’s culinary dives. But don’t expect to replicate Di Shui Dong’s Hunan Pork Spareribs if you can barely boil water. While Stremmel strives to abridge recipes for amateur chefs, the book’s premise should clue readers in to the fact that many of these dishes don’t lend themselves to everyday eating. Most are better suited for big-time foodies, or for special occasions.
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