[SHANGHAI] ZHOU LI: Old Duck Soup for the Soul

Dear Food Diary:
It’s been a pretty dramatic time for me lately and being home in Shanghai is just what the doctor ordered. Away from it all, indulging in the art of doing nothing, filling my heart and tummy with so much love along with all the good eats… this is what being home brings.

In my thirst for comfort in food, my first stop had to be Zhou Li. Nothing warms you inside and out like a good hearty bowl of their “Old Duck and Vermicelli Soup”, specially in these cold winter days. Even if it meant waiting in long lines, really basic service and fighting for a seat along their communal tables. 
The operation is simple. Wait in line, order at the small counter in front, take your number, find a seat and wait for your bowl to come. 
A proud lit display of the Zhou Li couple’s journey hangs above one of the dining areas. This is their first store in Shanghai. A great story of the owners of a little Old Duck and Vermicelli Soup shop in ZhenJiang who brought their recipe to the big city and made it.  Zhou Li is now a franchise across the country. Though there are several locations in Shanghai, the locals I’ve spoken to, including my ChubbyMama, unanimously vote this first store on WuChang Road as the BEST tasting.
It’s always crowded, even during the hot summer months. Finding a seat, specially for more than two can be a challenge. There are 2 dining areas on the first floor and one upstairs, but the stairs are narrow and shaky, so I’ve never attempted the climb.
Busy bees are working away in the open kitchen. The steam dances to a hectic yet organized beat. 
Bowls and bowls are turned out by the second. The duck stock has been simmering for hours and hours, the ingredients are separated in tiny ready to serve packs, the fried tofu pieces are constantly boiling and the vermicelli cooked to order in personal size baskets. 
I sit anxiously, waiting for my number to be called, as if this were a game of Bingo and I only needed that one last box to be filled. In the meantime, I munch on soy sauce eggs. They have several scars on each side, intentional of course, in order for the soy and sugar to penetrate fully. Savory and sweet perfectly combined.
Finally, take a deep breath and smell the duck… ahhhhhh…
A couple drops of their hot chili sauce, a little really goes a long way. 
Pipping hot, steaming my face like a facial. The rich, milky white old duck soup is loaded with melt in your mouth fried tofu pieces, coagulated duck blood chunks, small curly duck intestine, slices of duck gizzard, generous amount of vermicelli and topped with chinese cilantro.
The vermicelli is cooked perfectly, soft but still able to withstand the soup without melting. All these textures make no two bite alike. A little crunch and chew from the gizzard, stretchy and chewy intestine, jelly/tofu like coagulated blood pieces that have an iron-ish flavor, soft fried tofu pieces soaked in broth, with sprinkles of fresh herb appearing in between bites and slurps to brighten it all. Separately, I wouldn’t necessarily crave all the innards, but together, swimming in this giant bowl of this unami duck soup is simply irresistible. Rich duck flavor but never gamey. Spoonful after spoonful of this deep and intensely addictive duck broth goes down smoothly, it doesn’t get any better than this.

The portion is huge, I’ve attempted to finish it all, came close but never accomplished. At about $2, this is definitely a must try cheap eat in Shanghai. 

This is my bowl of comfort and my Duck Soup for the Soul. It doesn’t solve anything, but the warmth of it takes me away from it all, gives my heart and tummy a big hug, minutes and minutes at a time… and that’s enough for me. 

P.S. Chubby’s RATING: 

ZHOU LI’s Address: 579 Wuchang Road (near North Jiangxi Road)

妯娌老鸭粉丝汤 武昌路店: 武昌路577号近江西北路

Hours: 9:00-22:00

(8621) 5757-5777