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Nostalgia for Shanghai: Tasty Moment’s appetizing ambiance

Three dishes, soup dumplings, scallion oil noodles, and jumbo meatballs, sit on a table.
Soup dumplings, scallion oil noodles, and jumbo meatballs from Tasty Moment.
Russell Fan / The Daily Princetonian

On the eve of my twentieth birthday, a heavy knot of emotions — along with hunger — burdened my stomach as I rode the 30-minute train ride to Edison, N.J. The feeling was an aggregation of bottomless nostalgia and fluttering excitement. After getting off at the Edison train station and walking for 10 minutes through a residential neighborhood, I soon approached an expansive strip mall. Storefronts of Asian restaurants, shops, cafes, and other commercial spaces catered to the nearly 50 percent Asian population residing in Edison defined this shopping center called Festival Plaza.

I briskly strolled to the end of the strip mall to beat the line for Saturday lunch rush at Tasty Moment, a Chinese restaurant that specializes in serving Shanghainese cuisine — a niche culinary style native to the city of Shanghai and partly influenced by its neighboring provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Having resided in that cosmopolitan metropolis in my younger years, as well as having been raised by parents whose families trace their lineage back to the southern provinces and cities adjacent to Shanghai, I grew up with Shanghainese food as my primary exposure to Chinese cuisine. How dearly I missed it when it became obvious that the options for Chinese food near campus centered mostly on Sichuan cuisine and culinary styles from the central provinces of China, which is personally tolerable but not necessarily conducive to satisfying my cravings for Shanghainese dishes.


This is why I was especially thrilled when I was seated and ordered three dishes: scallion oil noodles with spicy pork, braised jumbo meatballs, and crab meat and pork soup dumplings. These staple Shanghainese dishes appeared frequently during mealtimes in my childhood, whether they were cooked at home or consumed at outside restaurants. Thus, my nostalgic craving for Shanghainese delicacies was satiated when these dishes finally arrived. 

The scallion oil noodles were impeccably savory. Using chopsticks to mix together the long strands of noodles, small cubes of braised pork, and scallion oil sauce, I managed to get extremely flavorful bites each time I put the noodles in my mouth. The pieces of pork had just the right amount of saltiness, the scallion-infused oil was just a bit spicy, and the sprinklings of chopped pickled cabbage offered a perfect tanginess. All of these flavors complemented each other well, making the noodles a mosaic of savory, sweet, and spicy. The decently-sized dish surprisingly did not feel nor taste too oily, which is probably why I was able to continuously shove clumps of noodles into my mouth before realizing that it was actually a bit filling.

The jumbo pork meatballs are otherwise known as “lion’s head meatballs,” referring to the shape of the meatballs that resemble the head of a lion. I had high hopes for this dish as I considered it a comfort food back home. However, it unfortunately did not live up to my expectations. Though the meatballs were tender, they were quite bland and not very firm. I did not taste a lot of coarsely-chopped ginger and scallion in the pork, which is how my family prepares it, contributing to the overall lack of aromatic savoriness in the dish. The broth was watery and did not add much flavor to the dish, even when it was soaked up by the mealy meatballs. In addition, the overly-large portion of four, three-inch-sized meatballs made it very difficult to consume and thoroughly enjoy in one sitting. Admittedly, I was comparing this dish tailored to fit the general tastes of a large population to memories of a homemade version following a unique family recipe. Nonetheless, I would not recommend ordering this again.

If there is a significant component of Shanghainese cuisine, it is its dim sum — an assortment of small dishes typically eaten at brunch. The six small soup dumplings with a filling composed of a mixture of crab meat and pork are characteristic of Shanghainese — not the more widely-known Cantonese — dim sum. Soup dumplings, called xiao long bao in Chinese, were also a very integral part of my childhood. Thus, I was again very excited to have them for lunch, so much so that I accidentally bit too much into the first dumpling, causing broth to splatter all over the bamboo steamer basket. Even with this spill, I was able to taste the immensely flavorful, golden-orange soup filling that was packed with deep nodes of umami. The generous amount of meat filling was very tender, though it noticeably consisted of more pork than crab. Still, the dumpling skin was neither thin nor too thick, allowing for the rich broth and underlyingly-savory meat filling to perceptibly pair well with each other in a compact, delicious dumpling. 

This dining experience was truly a wonderful homage to my Shanghainese roots, and I am so glad to have had it for the special occasion of entering my twenties. My abyss of dietary nostalgia was filled with the warm comfort of the dishes I had at Tasty Moment. If you are up for trying Chinese food other than Sichuan-style and experiencing the culinary beauty of Shanghainese cuisine, check out Tasty Moment in Edison, N.J.

Russell Fan is an associate editor for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at, or on Instagram @russell__fan.