Seasonal foods for the upcoming temperature drop
As the weather begins to cool and nightfall comes a bit earlier with each passing day, we all have our tried and true strategies for keeping warm in the winter. Be it a woolen hat, hand warmers, long underwear, or anything else, an extra layer is a must for most Shanghai residents.
Those of us who've gone through winters here know that even if the temperature stays above zero most of the time, the number on the thermometer often belies the chill in the air as the dampness of winters in the city can permeate straight to the bone.
A fresh-baked apple pie and a bowl of tomato soup
Beyond extra articles of clothing, though, sometimes a special food or beverage is the perfect way to keep warm. For many of us, certain comfort foods our mothers or grandmothers fed us as children in the wintertime warm our souls the most.
For me, a bowl of hot chicken noodle or tomato soup or a slice of fresh-baked apple pie was the perfect treat for a cold winter's evening at grandma's house – and it snows a lot where she lives, so it really was needed.
Certainly, different countries and cities around the globe have their own special cold-weather comfort foods or seasonal specialties. Shanghai, of course, is no exception.
Let's take a look at some special foods that are in just the right season to enjoy now.
Persimmon is a fruit that is deep orange-red in color and largely resembles a tomato. Its flavor, though, is much sweeter, meaning that it could never be confused with a vegetable the way its redder sibling often is. Three-fourths of the world's persimmons are grown in China, so despite it not necessarily being a popular or well-known fruit in the West, it abounds here.
It can be eaten fresh, but is sometimes frozen and often dried and made into a "persimmon cookie," which isn't actually a cookie at all but just the dried version of the fruit that looks a bit squashed into the round, flat shape of a baked treat. Persimmons are sweet, but not overly so, so they can also be incorporated into other foods, like congee or porridge.
Hairy crab 大闸蟹
A specialty in this region of the country, the hairy crab is much smaller than the giant king crab. And unlike most crustaceans we're perhaps accustomed to eating, these crabs come from fresh water instead of from the ocean. They live in rivers and lakes in the region, perhaps most famously Yangcheng Lake just up the road in southern Jiangsu Province.
Though, for many, they carry a reputation for being tedious to de-shell and consume, I find that the proverbial juice is actually worth the squeeze. I do admit that for a long time, I also thought that the hairy crab was a bit overrated, and that despite there being a couple of morsels of tasty meat or roe inside, that it really wasn't worth the hassle.
I've since come around, though. Eaten properly with some simple tools and a little of experience and know-how can make the hairy crab experience a flavorful one and reduce the aggravation. Dip the meat into a bit of rice vinegar and enjoy.
Pu'er tea 普洱茶
My favorite entry on this list isn't a food at all but a drink: Pu'er tea. Whilst green teas are more popular in China in the summertime, Pu'er, a kind of semi-fermented black tea with a particularly distinct flavor, dominates tea tables in the winter months.
The tea, which originated in southwestern China's Yunnan Province, is often made available for purchase in compressed balls or sometimes in various ornate shapes. Through a series of intricate processes that can take years, the raw tea leaves are partially fermented and oxidized until the final product is yielded.
Upon steeping, the tea possesses a broad range of flavors that, at times, the words of a layperson like myself are insufficient to accurately describe. It is the perfect drink for the colder months of the year to warm you up inside and stimulate the palate.
Though the turnip is not one of my personal favorite vegetables in most contexts, it is a popular one around these parts and has been recommended to me in a multitude of forms around this time of year. The humble turnip, or bailuobo in Chinese, is used to make soups, cakes, or a number of other types of dishes that incorporate its innate flavors and nutritional content.
One way that I do quite enjoy turnips is in a traditional snack for folks in this area of the country, the fried turnip cake, or youdunzi (油墩子). Turnip shavings are mixed together with tiny prawns and other ingredients and deep fried to create a, dare I say, succulent treat.
Though this is just the beginning of what is invariably an extensive list of foods and drinks that are either traditionally consumed in China as the mercury falls, and folks here will have their own recommendations, perhaps pertaining to traditions or customs, concepts rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, or even more modern trends, hopefully it's at least a good start.
As we anticipate the autumnal temperatures in the teens and twenties dropping to much smaller numbers, let's make sure we're prepared with our favorite wintertime comfort treats. But don't be afraid to try what the locals have to offer. After all, when in Ro ... I mean ... Shanghai ...