The first time I ate at Shanghai Renjia was more than 10 years ago when it was in Sembawang Road. I fell headlong in love with its shengjianbao, pillowy pan-fried buns filled with a juicy meat patty and a crisp base.
But it was a small space and the wait was long because there were only two people running the show – Mr Zhang Jing Shan, who ran the front of house, while Mrs Zhang did the cooking.
The eatery moved to a bigger space in an HDB block in Ang Mo Kio in 2012 and hired some help. But there are only seven tables, so it is best to make a reservation, especially on weekends.
Besides pan-fried buns ($8 for four), you should order the xiaolongbao or soup dumplings ($8 for four), which boasts a thin skin and a delicious soup-drenched minced pork filling.
I usually order the ultra-crispy Shanghai spring rolls ($7 for five), which boast an amazingly juicy vegetable filling.
The eatery accepts CDC vouchers.
Mr and Mrs Zhang, both 64, were schoolmates and grew up in Shanghai, where they were also neighbours. They moved to Singapore with their son, who was just 10 at the time, more than 30 years ago when Mr Zhang got a job here as an engineer with a Japanese-owned flour mill.
When the mill moved to Ipoh, the couple decided to start Shanghai Renjia, which translates to Shanghai People, in a foodcourt in the Ubi industrial area in 2002. They remained there for five years before moving to Sembawang.
The Zhangs say they are happy to serve Singaporeans their hometown dishes. And, judging from the packed tables most days, the feeling is mutual.
Shanghai Renjia is at #01-3046, 151 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, tel: 6368-6927. Opens 11am to 3pm, 6 to 10pm, Tuesdays to Sundays; closed on Mondays.