Wontons in Spicy Flavor and Rice Cake with Pork & Capsella at Ala Shanghai

Ala Shanghai rice cakes and hot sauce

Don't forget the hot sauce.

By Jeff Janssens

When asked to name the one Capital Region restaurant that I never get tired of, the answer is easy: Ala Shanghai in Latham.

The xiao long bao (soup dumplings) get the most acclaim at Ala Shanghai, and deservedly so. I wouldn't dare suggest that one not order the soup dumplings during a visit there. But I'd like to make a couple of additional suggestions from Ala Shanghai's extensive 12-page menu.

Here I'll focus on two other exceptional dishes, both of which feature a leafy green known as capsella: Wontons in Spicy Flavor and Rice Cake with Pork and Capsella.

Wontons in Spicy Flavor

Ala_Shanghai_wontons.jpg

It took me a few visits to Ala Shanghai before I was seduced enough by the description of the wontons in "spicy flavor" and said, "Why not get two different kinds of dumplings in one meal?" You might be like me and always want to start a meal here with the soup dumplings, but that doesn't mean you should then ignore these steamed wontons that are served in a simple, yet complex broth.

Featured on the Dim Sum section of the menu, an order of 10 wontons in spicy flavor is only $6. These dumplings are stuffed with capsella and bits of pork. Capsella, also known as shepherd's purse, is in the mustard family, but it is also know as a weed.

Don't let this fact deter you. Shanghai is one of the few places around the world where capsella is used in cooking; the fact that Ala Shanghai effectively incorporates it into their dishes shows their dedication to both tradition and taste. In the wontons, the capsella is cut into small pieces and packed together tightly with the pork. Its slightly bitter flavor plays nicely off of the rich sauce in which the wontons are swimming.

That sauce is a combination of chili oil, soy sauce, and sesame paste made from toasted white sesame seeds. The heat is fairly mild; you might notice it on the back end of every taste, but it's not overpowering. The sesame flavor works harmoniously with the chili oil; texturally they combine for a thin and smooth sauce, but all that roasted sesame flavor from the paste is prominent and only enhanced by the drizzle of sesame seeds atop the dish. The slivers of cucumber and tiny rings of scallions that also top the dish add a nice bit of crunch.

Rice Cake with Pork and Capsella

Ala_Shanghai_rice_cakes.jpg

Rice cakes are fairly ubiquitous throughout Asian cuisine; if you've had Korean dukbokki, for instance, you'll recognize them, only in a different shape than in this dish at Ala Shanghai.

Here the rice cakes are fairly thin ovals that tend to cling to one another. There is nothing noteworthy about the taste of rice cakes, though I do love their pleasantly chewy texture. They are coated by many finely-chopped pieces of capsella, thinly-sliced strands of pork, and narrow slices of bamboo. The pork and capsella once again work well together, and the bamboo is appreciated for its texture, but this dish becomes truly special with one important addition: Ala Shanghai's hot sauce.

Ala_Shanghai_hot_sauce.jpg

I highly recommend asking your server for a bowl of this hot sauce. It adds not only a moderate amount of heat, but also a rich saltiness from the combination of fermented black beans and chilies in oil. This rice cake dish is tucked away in the Lo Mein and Fried Rice portion of the menu (way back on page 11) for $10 and serves as a unique alternative for someone who might ordinarily have a rice or noodle dish.

The fact that capsella is an ingredient in both of these dishes makes, in some ways, for a fun and unique focus to this article. Yet it can't be said, in all honesty, that capsella is the star of either of these dishes. Then again, there's pork in both dishes, and it's more of a role player than even the capsella.

Ala Shanghai has a way of using ingredients in surprising and delicious ways across their extensive menu. These two dishes are proof of that. But they're also evidence of the many delights that await in all corners of this menu.

Jeff Janssens writes about food and beer at The Masticating Monkey.

More Eat This!
+ Vanilla Porter Braised Beef Short Ribs at Midtown Tap & Tea Room
+ Tempeh burger at The Hollow
+ Hamachi Kama at Sushi Tei
+ Dim Sum at Ala Shanghai

Find It

Ala Shanghai
468 Troy Schenectady Road
Latham, NY 12110

Comments

The rice cakes with pork & capsella dish is one of my winter faves this year. So chewy. So good. Overall I find the capsella pretty mildly-flavored, adding (as you said) just the right amount of flavor to a dish.

Love love love Ala Shanghai, and the service is equally as good as the food!!!

My stepson, the foodie of the family, is taking us here tomorrow night. Now I know what to order! Thanks, Jeff!

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

Recently on All Over Albany

The week ahead

Here are a few things to keep in mind, look forward to, or keep busy with this week, from the weather (May approaches), to stories... (more)

A quick recap of the week

Here are a few highlights from the past week on AOA: + We gave away front-row tickets to see Neil deGrasse Tyson at Proctors by... (more)

Today's moment of spring

Tulips get all the pub for their Dutch connections here. But as we've mentioned before, the word "daffodil" probably comes from Dutch (or at least... (more)

Alfred Hitchcock. Saratoga Springs. Rocking chairs.

Sarah pointed this out on Twitter this week and something about it is just kind of oddly funny: Alfred Hitchcock visited Saratoga Springs in 1937... (more)

Capital Region Bike to Work Challenge 2017

The annual Capital Region Bike to Work Challenge returns May 19, which aims to promote cycling a mode of commuting. And, as the name implies,... (more)

Recent Comments

While they may not cough up the full taxes that would otherwise be due, wouldn't it be great if St. Rose, WAMC, SUNY and St. Peters hospital, chipped in *something*.?...Albany Med just agreed to $500K a year---a drop in the bucket given the value of all their property---but it is the right step forward. (Just to pre-empt the argument: the "economic impact" of these not for profits is real, but only cash pays the bills :-) Getting a free ride is not fair.

Tara Kitchen Troy is now open

...has 8 comments, most recently from Paul

Follow up: The Dutch Udder Craft Ice Cream

...has 3 comments, most recently from mg

A good endocrinologist?

...has 20 comments, most recently from Linda

Stuff to do this weekend

...has 3 comments, most recently from Rebecca

Talking about the motivation for the March for Science in Albany

...has 1 comment, most recently from Barold