I screwed up. I have been in Shanghai for over 10 years, and had only visited Ah Niang Mian for the first time a couple of weeks ago.
Ah Niang Mian has been touted as one of the ‘Heavenly Four’ noodle houses of Shanghai, and have frequently been highly recommended to me by people I meet. The shop was made famous by it’s yellow croaker noodles, featuring the flavourful and delicate fish meat, painstakingly deboned by granny Ah Niang herself.
So why haven’t I visited until only 10 years later, after they’ve been inducted into the Michelin Guide with a Bib Gourmand award?
The decor of this highly rated eatery actually put me off from visiting for 10 years. Coincidentally, they had refurbished the interior recently, but that was not why I visited.
In the past, the eatery sat on the ever beautiful Sinan Rd, with a perpetual massive queue during meal times. The interior, from the outside always looked dark and foreboding, not helped by the hordes of people within.
Fast-forward to 2016. Ah Niang Mian had just won its Bib Gourmand award on the first edition of the Shanghai Michelin Guide.
The interior was clean, with seemingly freshly white painted walls. No mentions of the award was seen anywhere, but the hordes of people still remained.
The ordering process started from the moment you step foot into the door, at a small counter.
You tell the cashier what you would like, pay up, and get a little receipt. After that, you wait, and hope that you get a seat before your meal is ready, upon which they would call out the number written on your receipt.
I waited about 20 minutes, before my noodles and pork cutlet arrived.
Signature Yellow Croaker Noodles
The noodle dish that made Ah Niang Mian famous. As mentioned earlier, it featured tender and fresh boned yellow croaker meat.
My sources told me that in the past, you could catch a glimpse of granny ah niang slowly separating the flesh away from the fish. Unfortunately, Ah Niang had since passed away, the reigns of the shop has been handed to her grandson.
The noodle dish was done in a typical Shanghainese light, soy based broth, and featured round strands of wheat noodles, affectionally known in certain cities like Hong Kong as ‘Shanghai Noodles’. The yellow croaker meat was actually plentiful, and for the most part, deboned except for one or two occasions where I discovered some small minute bones.
The noodles were cooked soft, but not soggy. The broth tasted savoury, but did not have any particular flavour except for a generic salty-sweet taste. I would have wished for some essence of fish within the broth, but sadly, there was none.
Thankfully, the fish tasted fresh and was very tender. They seemed to have been pan-fried on the edges, yet the center of the pieces remained delicate and tender. I’m guessing that the fish was probably flash-fried.
Unfortunately, this was a very mediocre and forgettable bowl of noodles for me.
Fried Pork Cutlet
A classic Shanghainese favourite. The version at Ah Niang Mian came on the bone as a half inch heft slab, lightly bread crumbed as normal. It didn’t tasted like it had been well marinated, as i tasted only a singular bland porky flavour. The cutlet was also quite greasy, and because of it’s thickness, a little chewy. Not my favourite pork cutlet in the city; The one at Jian Guo 328 or King Kong Noodles are miles better.
Anyway, I finished my noodles, only took a few bites of the pork chop (much to the dismay of the waiting diners standing beside me), and left quickly.
I kept thinking why this place could end up so highly ranked. One reason that justified the crowds might be nostalgia. Nostalgia to earlier times, when a bowl of yellow croaker noodles was luxurious. When Ah Niang would call you in, and bid you farewell.
Today, however, was quite an unpleasant experience for me; Eating with a stranger standing right beside you with body contact. For the quality of the food, Ah Niang Mian was certainly not worth a repeat experience nor in my opinion, the Bib Gourmand award.