When we get a hankering for sea critters, we generally stick to the Tongchuan Fish Market. Shanghai’s seafood wholesaler offers fare that’s three times fresher than the flaccid geoducks and cloudy-eyed groupers you get downtown - and for only a third of the price. However, we’ll make an exception for Donglai Haishang, a Shandong spot featuring ingredients and preparations not found at most places.
Case in point: raw sea urchin (RMB38) with wasabi and soy. That’s Japanese, right? Shandong offers an array of raw dishes that rival the Land Of The Rising Sun. We like to think of this particular one as “poor man’s uni.” It calls for a sea urchin, which has its top sliced off Hannibal-like to reveal custardy orange roe - a substance we put in the same Pantheon of succulence as foie gras and bone marrow.
The only caveat is that the insides aren’t as luminescent as Japanese preparations, nor are the spines still pivoting about when it arrives at the table. But just under RMB40, it’s a steal. Order these in advance, as they sell out by 6pm.
Follow it up with sautéed slices of whelk, which tastes like a cockle that pumped iron for a month. Or sample a dish of sliced sea worm (RMB98), an invertebrate that evokes a reanimated water balloon when alive, and pink penne noodles when stir-fried - biting into one of these feels like eating latex marinated in clam broth.
If you really want to dive into the Marianas Trench of Shandong cuisine, order Donglai’s seafood jiaozi. It’s a sampler of mantis shrimp, cucumber and shrimp, Spanish mackerel, a three seafood variety, and snakehead for RMB46.
Most interesting is the latter, which comes inside a skin that’s dyed black with squid ink a la Venetian pasta al nero di seppia. You’d expect a fish dumpling to taste, well, fishy, from being crammed in a wrapper, but this is pleasantly airy, moist and flaky like bass.
Not a seafoodie? The menu has a turf section, highlighted by their tender roast chicken dezhou paji, and a monstrous grilled pork rib whose arch-shaped bone could be used as the bridge over a Japanese garden pond.
What: Donglai Haishang
Address: 94 Fujian Zhong Lu (near Guangdong Lu) 福建中路94号 (近广东路)
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