Classic Cantonese food
When entering Shang Palace (17 Ly Tu Truong, D1), the first impression is one of elegance. The dining area is formal, but lovely. While the restaurant is widely known for its dim sum, we visited to try some of their classic Cantonese dishes. Shang Palace’s executive chef, Kim An, hails from Malaysia and learned his craft in Kuala lumpur under the tutelage of a chef from Hong Kong. He explains that cuisine in China is as varied as the country itself. While Cantonese cooking is well-known around the world, it isn’t as spicy as others from China such as Szechuan or Hunan cooking. “Cantonese is much less strong, even a little bland for some people,” says Kim An. “But we get very creative with our ingredients and can prepare things in many different ways.”
We experienced a set menu prepared by Kim An that started off with steamed prawn dumplings (VND75,000 for four). Normally reserved for lunch, dim sum makes a tasty starter to whet the appetite. A limited selection of dim sum appetizers is available on the dinner menu ranging in price from VND60,000 to VND100,000. The seafood dumpling soup (VND75,000 each) came out next and was also delicious and light; both were served in modest portions. Hearty eaters might prefer to opt for an extra order of dim sum.
Our favorite dish, and the most interesting we encountered, was the mantis prawns in chili salt and pepper (market price). If you’ve never seen one before I recommend you see the live ones in the tank. Their appearance is hideous to the point of looking alien. But looks, as they often can be, were deceiving. Once boiled and separated from their shells, the prawns are deep fried in a light batter reminiscent of tempura. Laid back in the shell they were served with a layer of chili salt and pepper. “They’re babies, even at 300g!” Kim An jokes. For the uninitiated, mantis prawns yield very sweet, tender meat. They do distinguish themselves in taste from their famous cousins, the tiger prawns.
For the main course the chef served us seafood noodles (VND250,000). imported from Hong Kong, the egg noodles are boiled, strained, and then pan-fried leaving them crunchy on the outside yet tender on the inside. The texture was not altogether different from cake. They received a generous coating of brown gravy along with bok choy, prawns, mushrooms, squid, and scallops. Definitely the heartiest of those we saw, this selection is plenty to share with another, perhaps for three depending on the size of the meal.
To finish up the meal, Kim An prepared chilled cream of mango with ice cream (VND90,000). The mangoes were from Thailand, and thus much sweeter than the native variety here in Vietnam. The vanilla ice cream was from New Zealand and was coated with poppy seeds, which was an interesting twist. Chopped strawberries finished the dessert off with a pleasant, tart flavor.
Cantonese cooking is a departure from many of the spicy cuisines China has to offer. While there are many wonderful dishes to try, it’s helpful to request recommendations from the chef, and even to ask him to prepare his favorites.
Images provided by Shang Palace