Fri, Sep 14, 2001 - Page 10 News List

Restaurant of the week: Mama Ho's Shanghainese Restaurant (侯媽媽美食之家)

Address: 155 Chinshan S. Rd., Sec. 1, Taipei (北市金山南路一段155號)
Telephone: (02) 2392-2123, or 2392-1797
Open: 11:30am - 2pm; 5pm - 9pm
Average meal: NT$300
Details: Credit cards accepted. No English menu.

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sweet and sour fish and stewed lion's head are two delicious home-style dishes.

PHOTO: IAN BARTHOLOMEW

Mama Ho's Shanghainese Restaurant's homely atmosphere and simple decor distinguish it from fancy banquet-style-restaurants. This is in keeping with the food served here, which owner Jessie Lee (李嘉茜) describes as Shanghainese home-style cooking. "This sets us apart from other Shanghai restaurants," she said.

The presentation of the food is simple, giving little indication of the time and effort involved in the preparation. "There is considerable emphasis on preparation in Shanghai cuisine," said Lee, an elegant, motherly figure, who in her traditional Chinese dress, might have just walked off the set of a period drama. This impression is not at all misleading, as Lee worked as an actress in Hong Kong for many years and old black-and-white photos of her silver-screen days adorn the walls.

Brought up in a wealthy family in the Republican era, Lee says she learned to cook as one of the many feminine arts that she was expected to master. Even now she still takes on her share of the kitchen work, but during opening hours, she is on the restaurant's floor seeing to her customers. This personal concern is part of what keeps regular customers coming back. The other thing is the food.

Some of the names are familiar. Sweet and sour fish (糖醋魚) is an old favorite and is excellent, representing the style of the restaurant, which Lee said focuses on creating "rich flavors, not strong flavors." The thick sweet and sour sauce is very tasty, but does not drown out the taste of the mandarin fish, a fresh water fish that is usually used in Shanghai for this dish.

Stewed lion's head (紅燒獅子頭), a dish that has found its way into many local menus, is presented here in an unfamiliar form. The dish is a single meatball, the size of a fist, and is served in a bowl of light cabbage-based soup. Often rather oily, Mama Ho's version of this dish is full of flavor and has a delightfully soft texture. It is also remarkably free of excess oil. At NT$160, it is highly recommended. The bamboo shoots with pickles is another dish of simple ingredients given an outstanding flavor through intricate preparation.

While Lee says most dishes are authentic, she has developed a few variations of her own. The fried stinky tofu with egg (臭豆腐跑蛋) is a fascinating mix of flavors, and in its superb balance, can be recommended even to people who normally avoid stinky tofu.

Lee says that she goes to the market each morning to buy her ingredients, and sees the restaurant simply as an extension of her social life. This probably accounts for the comfortable feel of the place, where good food rather than a chic atmosphere is what really matters.

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