Nostalgia-Inducing Hong Kong Diner Fare at XiangJiang Garden

By Sophie Steiner, December 31, 2020

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The Place 

Dim sum is what comes to mind when the craving for Canto food hits, but a close second to those in the know is Hong Kong diner fare. We’re talking everyday street food that drums up a wistful sense of sentimentality for anyone who has spent more than a long weekend in Asia’s answer to New York. 

The kind that draws upon memories of street side stalls with boiling pots of noodles and tender brisket aromas pulling you inside; thick cuts of toast slathered in peanut butter and fried to a crisp with schmears of melty butter dribbling down the side; freshly baked buns, cakes and buttery biscuits in every shape and color imaginable; fluffy-as-a-cloud eggs glistening with oil and a drizzle of soy sauce; and, of course, roasted meats of all pork and fowl varieties hanging from hooks, showing off their goods like red roasted, fat-laden ladies of the night.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

DSC05911.jpgImage by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Shanghai has its fair share of said Hong Kong style diners, but we’ve recently come across one, XiangJiang Garden (香讲姳苑) near People’s Square, that is about as traditional Hong Kong as you can get, right down to the neon fluorescent lighting, 24/7 packed booths and gruff service – how dare you inconvenience them by coming to their restaurant and deigning to order. The only giveaway that pulls you out of your dream-vacation-to-Hong-Kong mode is that if you attempt to order in Cantonese, you’ll get a response back in Mandarin. We are in mainland China, so we’ll let it slide. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

The Food

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Onto the nostalgia-inducing food, because it’s not like we came for the atmosphere. The diner’s signature dish is cheung fun, or Rice Rolls (RMB14), and based on the sauce alone, we understand why. A holy trinity sauce trifecta of drippy peanut butter, sesame paste and a sweet bean sauce similar to that sticky tianmianjiang slathered on your morning jianbing are generously drizzled across rolled steamed rice noodles. Noodles aside, we found ourselves dipping everything short of a piece of cardboard in that sauce. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

It’s all about the eggs here, and we suggest the pillowy scrambled version over fried. As a diner, it should be a given that you nail fried eggs – which they do – but the scrambled are absolutely noteworthy. A hefty portion of eggs sits atop steamed rice topped with your choice of meat. 

We sprang for the Egg with Char Siu (RMB38), but the lackluster meat was on the flabby side – fatty in the not so good way. Other protein options that seem to be more popular amongst in-the-know diners include beef, shrimp, spam and pork chop, drizzled with some light soy and a sprinkling of scallions.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

It’s not a Hong Kong diner experience without a tall glass of milk tea. Slightly bitter with a hint of milky sweetness, enjoy it Cold (RMB17), Hot (RMB15) or mixed with coffee – there is no wrong way to enjoy a frothy naicha.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

For the pièce de résistance, the Beef Brisket with Tendon (RMB45) is an overflowing bowl of slowly braised, melt-in-your-mouth beef, slippery tendon and smushy braised daikon – unadulterated comfort that needs no further explanation because we are too busy with our mouths full. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

For ‘dessert’ it’s all about the Hong Kong French Toast (RMB20), two dense pieces of white bread nestling a thin layer of – surprise – chocolate spread rather than the usual peanut butter, that are then battered and fried. Served with a thick slab of melting butter, the toast acts as an excellent vessel for soaking up more of the cheung fun sauce, for those of us that need peanut butter in every bite. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

They’ve also got a killer congee selection – with everything from seafood to liver to beef balls to bullfrog available as toppings – primarily in the AM, but with a lot of options on offer in the afternoon. With the temperature dropping, we will for sure be hitting that up soon for a warming breakfast. Afternoon tea sets are also available daily from 2-5pm. 

The Vibe

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

During meal times, it’s hard to get a table in this small joint that can fit less than 30 people. At lunch, expect a wait of up to an hour, unless you are swinging by around 2pm or later, when you can usually sneak in a spot with little to no wait. 

Service is direct and efficient; we received our food within 10 minutes of ordering. If you do get stuck waiting, go for a neighborhood wander as this old school area located on the backside of People Square Park reminds us why we love Shanghai and are proud to call it our home. 

Price: RMB40-90 per person
Who’s going: The congee-loving crowd, Hong Kongers missing home, locals in the area
Good for: Satisfying HK diner cravings, nostalgic food hankerings, hefty brunches that don't involve free flow

See a listing for XiangJiang Garden. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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