Shanghai’s Four Hot Tables

The Wall Street Journal profiles a restaurant in Shanghai that is the hottest meal ticket in town with only four tables:

The dinner I had there recently began with a visit from Ms. Qu, whose smooth, round face and pixie haircut make her look younger than her 50 years. She came out of the kitchen and sat at our table with a notepad in hand. But the notepad was a stage prop; there’s no menu, and the fixed-priced dinner consists solely of what looked good in the market that day. The only question she asked was, “How hungry are you?”

Woe unto those who answer, as we did, that we were very hungry. For the six of us, 11 courses came out in short order — and not little tastes, but heaping platters. We had crab with sticky rice rolls and stir-fried shrimp in their shells, and the chicken — salted, cold chunks as an appetizer — was of the free-range variety that never spent a day cooped up in a factory cage. The whole fish couldn’t have tasted fresher, with a thick black sauce that should have been leaden but somehow sparkled. Everyone marveled at a purée of broad beans with Chinese pickles, but the portion was so big that six of us hardly made a dent in it.

All over China, owners of restaurants with far less reputation than Chun’s have transformed themselves from little storefront eateries into glitzy palaces, with branches near and far. One example is Zhang Sen Ji, a tiny restaurant that started out years ago in Hangzhou and now has several branches there and in upscale settings in Shanghai and Beijing. But in a country that prizes financial success, Ms. Qu may be unique among entrepreneurs: She values her leisure time and the integrity of her food far more than money.


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