Sunday brunch doesn't have to be the dining hall's hodgepodge of lunch and breakfast. Next week try out Shanghai's Chinese pastry brunch instead. Located in the heart of Boston's Chinatown, this modest-sized restaurant serves up a really filling brunch for well under $3 per person.
Something to remember about Chinese pastry is that, unlike regular Chinese meals with lots of meat and vegetables, the pastry is very doughy. Most pastries are more crust than filling.
Start brunch off with one of Shanghai's soups. The tender bean curd is mostly thick and custardy; it melts in your mouth and sits in a bath of broth. We had the sweet variety, although you can order it salted as well. Another of Shanghai's sweet soups is the sesame rice ball. This is a very sweet broth containing one-inch dough balls filled with sesame seeds. They have the consistency of bubble gum and could choke even the most flexible esophagus. Keep away! If you don't like sweet things, be careful. Shanghai really sugars their stuff.
Their wonton soup is a good alternative to the sweet soups. $1.75 gets you a huge bowl of soup that serves about five people. (One thing to watch at Shanghai--the menu doesn't indicate how many servings you get from each item, so ask.) Mostly clear broth, the soup contains a generous number of wontons and some big leafy spinach. The wontons were a little skimpy on the meat filling, but on the whole were very tasty.
You have your choice of two different pastries to dip in your soup. The fried Chinese cruller is best. It's a foot-long stick of light, airy fried dough, and since it's not sweet, tastes good with either the sweet or plain soups. The other is mandarin pie, a leathery strip of dough with sesame seeds on top. Not as tasty as the cruller.
After your soup, it's possible to order one of everything on the menu and still not go broke. Each pastry is about 40c. The sweet bean pie is an all-time favorite at Shanghai. It's a little, hard round ball with a flaky crust and filled with a creamy, sweet bean paste. By far, the best thing on the menu.
Another favorite is the steamed bun with pork and vegetables. These are fat, doughy rolls which have been steamed, giving the dough a fluffy, light quality. Inside are chopped up bits of pork and vegetables. However, you can order them with just plain pork (no vegetables) or the same sweet bean filling mentioned above.
Like the sweet bean pie, the curried ravioli has a hard, flaky crust that peels off in layers. Inside is just a smattering of beef. The ravioli is a little dry, so dip it in the tea that comes free with brunch.
Try out Shanghai and get a glimpse of Boston's Chinatown. Unlike the Combat Zone which borders it and turns abruptly quiet on Sunday morning. Chinatown's stores, bakeries, and restaurants are bustling with customers. And unlike some Chinatowns, Boston's is small--so you can see it all pretty easily. While you're there stop in at one of the bakeries for some almond cookies, moon cakes or honey sticks. Chinatown is a fun place to explore, and Shanghai a fun place to start. As the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tze once said, "Empty your head and fill your belly."