I find it difficult to trust most non-veg restaurants, and when there’s a language barrier it further depletes my confidence in how well-understood the definition of vegan will be. So when I find places that I believe to be trustworthy it’s quite the occasion and worthy of sharing. Shanghai Restaurant has moved onto my trusted list in recent months.
I went to Shanghai on Somerset Street for the first time last fall for a friend’s birthday. On Saturday evenings after dinner the place turns into a karaoke parlour, hosted by the effervescent China China Doll. That part isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (I may or may not have sang a rousing rendition of a Celine Dion ballad during my first visit), but if you’re looking for moderately priced, fresh vegan Asian food, Shanghai is worth a try. I picked up some take out this week and the empty dining room reminded me to share my love for this fun little place.
Shanghai gets some poor reviews on Trip Advisor (if you’re a bona fide foodie, you may be disappointed), but I’ve only had positive experiences. Granted, two of those experiences were take out. I dined in the first time I was there, and immediately noticed “vegan” written on the restaurant’s chalkboard as a description for some of the specials. It was reassuring. Further conversations with the wait staff reinforced that they seemed to be clear on what it means. We were a table full of vegans, and they held up to our scrutiny.
There are nearly 20 vegan dishes on Shanghai’s menu (I’ll bold what I’ve tried), or dishes which can be made vegan with a simple omission or substitution, including the vegetarian pad thai, spicy cashew noodles, spicy citrus noodles, spicy mint noodles, and vegetable lo mein can all be made vegan by using rice noodles.
Under vegetables, there’s General Tao’s tofu, crispy tofu with sweet ginger, Shanghai tofu supreme, coconut curry vegetables with spicy peanut sauce, stir fry vegetables with Thai sweet basil, ginger teriyaki tofu with vegetables, kung pao tofu with vegetables and cashews, ginger miso stir fry mixed vegetables, tofu with Shanghai bok choi and roasted garlic, stir fry mixed vegetables in black bean sauce, stir fry mixed vegetables, vegetable stir fry in spicy garlic sauce, and mushroom foo young. Some appetizers may also be vegan, although I’m not well-versed on those.
I love that the vegetables are fresh, and varied. This is not a place where you order a veggie stir fry and get a plate of onion and celery. Those are part of the mix, but there’s also broccoli, cauliflower, water chestnuts, carrot, mushroom (yuck!), bell pepper and more. The Shanghai bok choi dish offers generous portions of both tofu and bok choi, and there are actually whole cloves of roasted garlic throughout. While fried tofu is nobody’s top health food pick, it makes for a nice occasional treat after long day or week at work. And all of the great veggies let me trick myself into believing that it counteracts the fried tofu. Shanghai even delivers within a certain radius.
I’m not one to give lengthy and detailed descriptions of every bite that I take, but what I will say is that the flavours are nice, and each dish is distinct. They may not win culinary awards anytime soon, but they are delicious for what they are. I like it, it’s good. It provides a much-needed comfort food option.
Prices range from $9.95 – $12.95 per dish. There’s even restaurant parking on the east side of the building, which makes swinging in to pick up a take out order a little bit less stressful if you’re driving.
651 Somerset Street W. Ottawa