Shanghai Bun has two menus. There’s the one for wimpy Americans with the typical assortment of lo mein, fried rice, and egg rolls. Then there is the one with the authentic Chinese food, featuring dishes with pork intestine, shredded beef stomach, and jelly fish. There’s actually plenty of “normal” meals on the authentic one as well, such as noodles and dumplings, but you still should be adventurous. If you come to a place like this and order sweet and sour chicken, I’m sorry, but you’re an idiot. I’m not expecting anyone to magically turn into Andrew Zimmern and order eel or something along those lines, but how about trying something you cannot get anywhere else? Something which will take you out of your comfort zone a little? That’s what you have to do with a place like this. If you’re not willing to, then stay the hell home.
I ordered something only mildly unusual, which was the ox tail noodle soup. I’ve had ox tail only once before, at a Filipino restaurant in Jersey City. There it was stewed in a peanut sauce and was excellent. The segments were large. Here, it came chopped up and served in a bowl as big as my head (for only $7.95), with fresh rice noodles and scallions. It’s a lot of work trying to get meat off the tail. It is mostly fat. You have to get down and dirty with your hands and nub the meat off. Some people eat (and love) the layer of fat surrounding the bone and cartilage. I didn’t go for that today, but managed to get enough meat off of it. The broth, meanwhile, was superb. Not too salty and loaded with a hearty meat flavor. The thin noodles had to have been homemade. Will’s dish comprised of noodles in peanut sauce, and his were a bit thicker. There was just something about them, both of ours, I mean. No chewiness at all. They kind of just dissolve in your mouth. I tried a bit of his and actually enjoyed it more than my own meal.
On the side we also got scallion pancakes and steamed vegetable dumplings. A note on the former: I have found it impossible to get decent, crisp scallion pancakes anywhere that are not soggy. Sure, ordering them to-go increases the odds since the steam will continue to cook them, but even in restaurants, they have not been good. These, however, were killer. They were how scallion pancakes should be. Multi-layered, but so light and airy, and snapped and crackled in your mouth. Honestly, they are the best I have ever had anywhere up to this point in my life. As for the dumplings, well, they may look thick in the picture, but looks can be deceiving. The dough was thin and beautifully presented. I am going to use the words “light and airy” again to describe them. It just melted away and served as a nice textural compliment to the crispness of the pancakes.
This combo today could not have been any better (and all for less than $25). I had gotten food from here several years ago (the spicy beef soup) but forgot about it over time. We will definitely be back, eager to try more noodle dishes, oddities, and maybe the dim sum and buns they are well-known for. I am giving this a 4 out of 5 stars. On the outside looking in, it seems like the usual takeout joint. But inside, there are some amazing things happening. The grade may go even higher after my next visit.
This review was previously featured here. Shanghai Bun is located at 952 State Route 34 in Matawan, New Jersey.