For a spice of suancaiyu, Tai Er hits the spot
Suancaiyu, the spicy fish dish cooked with sour pickled cabbage and chili, is a great summertime dish when the appetite needs an extra boost of exciting flavors. And where is my go-to suancaiyu restaurant? For the last two years it has been Tai Er.
I’ve been to at least four Tai Er restaurants in two cities and the dish looks and tastes exactly the same every time.
Quality control is one of the highest among franchise brands, so is the service, as the waiters diligently explain to seated guests how to use the online ordering system, small drawer on the side of the table that holds napkins and the phone chargers.
Tai Er was founded in Shanghai in 2015, carrying a new and youthful dining concept that caters to younger customers. The lines were long and they only serve tables of less than four people, there’s a takeout and their big selling point is the pickled cabbage and not the fish.
The dish is usually made with freshwater fish, such as grass carp, snake-head fish or freshwater bass, and Tai Er only uses freshwater bass for the extra tender texture and fewer messy fish bones.
There are two portion sizes available, the regular (128 yuan) for two people and large (198 yuan) for three to four people. They use a whole fish instead of fillets, so don’t miss out on the extra tender piece of fish cheek meat.
The fish broth is excellent, they recommend a bowl of soup but I found it to be quite salty.
The pickles used certainly live up to Tai Er’s reputation. It is a mix of pickled sour cabbage and thin slices of white radish, boasting rich, spicy flavors yet they present a unique freshness and crunch that’s different from most other suancaiyu restaurants.
You can add an extra serving of pickle for 12 yuan. The fragrant and soft rice the establishment serves for 5 yuan a bowl is another highlight and a perfect companion to the spicy and sour fish.
The tea is free and self-serving, guests can go to the hot tea station and mix dried roselles and candied tangerine peel at their desired ratio and fill a mug with hot water. It’s a sweet and sour drink that can take away the richness of the meal. Two colors of mugs are offered to guests so there is no mix-up of drinks.
Tai Er didn’t start a delivery service until the COVID-19 outbreak but now there is a delivery app available for takeout food. You can even add some noodles to the fish soup after finishing the pickles and fish.
In addition to suancaiyu, the restaurant also has a limited menu of Sichuan-style snacks, such as deep-fried egg rice sticks (22 yuan) with brown sugar sauce, which is a great dessert to conclude the meal, but the black dough sticks didn’t live up to my expectations.
Opening hours: 11am-2pm, 5-9pm (the hours vary depending on the location of each outlet)
Tel: Tai Er doesn’t provide reservations or phone numbers
Address: 5/F, Jingpin Crystal Galleria, 68 Yuyuan Rd
Average price: 100 yuan (US$14.15)