Why am I in Davis, California, a university town northeast of San Francisco that would normally register as no more than a passing freeway sign? I’m here on a flyer, after a seatmate at a Sacramento sandwich spot suggests I visit Shanghai Town Restaurant, a nondescript plaza eatery with formica tables and a lunch combination plate featuring the usual Chinese food suspects.
Specifically, I’m here to try just one thing: a Shanghai specialty known as Lion’s Head clay-pot soup, featuring pork meatballs. After ordering, I’m thinking $10.45 is a bit steep for soup in a Chinese hole-in-the-wall. But then this veritable cauldron is plunked down on the table, still bubbling.
“Gee, maybe I should have order a medium,” I say to the older, co-owner. “One size,” he replies before leaving me to do battle. In I dive, slurping the delicious broth and chewing delicate cabbage and soft, fist-sized meatballs; the rice noodles are lurking somewhere in the depths.
After 15 minutes of yeoman work, I’ve scarcely made a dent in the still smouldering pot, despite having sweated through a couple of napkins. I leave with a carton of untouched meatballs and a litre of broth, content my $10 has bought me two more bowls of a delightful discovery.