Native Land is a tiny establishment, with maybe 6 tables. Bring a Mandarin or Shanghainese speaker with you, because the owners don't really speak English, and there's not much English on the menus. As you can see, the atmosphere is nothing to write home about.
But oh, the food!
It was almost like eating in my grandma's kitchen. (My grandma's from Yunnan. Far from Shanghai, but the home-cooked flavor was unmistakable!)
I ordered all of this for myself. And all for under $10. Life is so good.
And can we talk about the mismatched plates? Totally straight outta my grandma's kitchen; I'm pretty sure she has those same exact plates at home.
If you're wondering what the drink is, it's winter melon tea. Kind of like a sweet and smoky tea, made from the juices of winter melon. My grandma used to make it from scratch, and this canned version tastes pretty similar. Sooo refreshing and enjoyable!
Onto specifics. Mapo tofu (basically tofu + minced meat + chili paste) is one of my favorite dishes in the world, so I couldn't resist ordering it here. Native Land's mapo tofu is super delicious. (Not as good as my grandma's, but that's really an unattainable level of greatness.) The ratio of tofu::minced meat::spiciness totally hit the spot.
Thousand-year egg is one of those things I hated as a child and now love as an adult. [Other things in this category include: french fries, mushrooms, and potatoes in general. Yes, I'm appalled, too.] Thousand-year egg goes really well with chilled tofu, soy sauce, sesame oil, and scallions. This dish is served cold, often topped with bonito flakes. Native Land tops it with pickled veggies, which is also quite tasty.
As I was paying, the owner said that I ordered too many tofu dishes (in that disapproving but kind of adorable mother-knows-best tone), and that next time I should try their eggplant, which she thinks is the best.
So two days later, that's what I did. And because Native Land's prices are a bargain, I ordered two dishes... again. This time I tried the famous eggplant and Shangainese stir-fried rice cake.
I have a HUGE soft spot for rice cake. It's hard to find good rice cake in the states, so I'm ecstatic about finding this dish.
The rice cakes were sooooooooooo good. There's not much else going on here (a little bit of sliced beef and cabbage), but hello the focus is on the rice cakes anyway. Totally fresh and wondefully chewy. I had to stop myself from eating the whole plate in five minutes.
And the eggplant? Like, exquisite. Probably one of the best eggplant dishes of life.
Other Chinese places tend to over-sauce this dish or undercook the eggplant. Native Land, however, does everything ideally. The amount of sauce was not at all overwhelming, and the eggplants were literally cooked to perfection. Soft on the inside with slightly crispy skin. Yumm-o.
I seriously cannot get enough of this place. Once you try it, you'll feel the same way!
家鄉阿唐麵館 (or what I call Native Land)
8237 Olive Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63132