Food so often denotes a place, but it can also define a family, encapsulate a shared history and provide the threads that help hold memories and people together.

This is the feeling that emanates from Betty Liu‘s debut cookbook, My Shanghai.

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The Boston-based photographer, food writer and general surgery resident’s family is from Shanghai, her parents moved to Oregon in the US, and Liu grew up Chinese American – later realising how much she needed to know all of her mother’s recipes. Some of which she’s now sharing with everyone else…

Betty Lui
Betty Lui/PA

The book: My Shanghai: Recipes and Stories from a City on the Water by Betty Liu.

Who will love it? People who long for the food of Shanghai, and those who have never really encountered it before. Totally new to it? Let the variations on spareribs be your gateway recipe, or the pork belly bao, or the steamed fish. Flavour is paramount, so if you’re fascinated by how to imbue dinner with as much depth as possible, and are interested in learning how to hand-shape dumplings, Liu will have you entertained for hours. And yes, there’s space for you here, even if you’re plant-based.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Betty Liu 刘舒梅 (@bliu07)

What is it trying to get us cooking? The food Liu grew up eating: home-style, home-cooked food from Shanghai, including the dishes her mum made that Liu, through much questioning, observation and osmosis has, over time, memorised and stored away. There’s tradition and dishes specific to a family, but Liu’s emphasis is very much on “making the food truly yours”. She also takes us through specific Shanghainese food language and cooking techniques, like ‘red braising’ (soy sauce and sugar is involved), ‘stew and smother’ and the mesmeric-sounding ‘rolling knife’. Liu gives a thorough introduction to the pantry items you’ll need too, before unleashing on you dishes like hairy crab tofu, classic tomato and egg stir-fry, and sweet-and-sour lotus root.

How easy is it to use? There’s a lot of variety, so while you could leap right in and make time-intensive but perfectly plump morning pork bao from scratch (pork-stuffed buns eaten for breakfast), sticky rice balls three ways or wind cured salt pork, there are more straightforward options. Liu has a knack for simple but impressive-looking noodle soups and assembly dishes, like a salad of winter melon and edamame, and of course, stir-fries (chicken, bean sprout and garlic chives caught our attention). Get your store cupboard in order first though; tracking down lotus leaves may require forward planning and internet shopping.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Betty Liu 刘舒梅 (@bliu07)

The best recipe is… Liu’s mum’s Shanghai red-braised pork belly – Liu says it’s the dish that best represents Shanghai for her, and is the one seemingly most ingrained in her family history.

The recipe we’re most likely to post on Instagram is… the soup dumplings – they’re just so neat and photogenic in their bamboo steamer.

The dish we’re least likely to try is… the oil-braised spring bamboo. We’d love to make it, but freshly foraging young bamboo shoots might be a tad tricky…

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Betty Liu 刘舒梅 (@bliu07)

Overall rating: 8/10 – transporting yet comforting, Liu makes Shanghainese food deeply personal, but also wonderfully accessible.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Betty Liu 刘舒梅 (@bliu07)

My Shanghai by Betty Liu. Copyright © 2021 by Betty Liu. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

My Shanghai: Recipes and Stories from a City on the Water
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Liu, Betty (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update on 2021-05-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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