Shanghai boasts one of China's best and most distinctive cuisines. Influenced by its position just south of the Yangtze and at the mouth of the Huangpu, the region abounds in a selection of freshwater fish and shellfish. Dishes from this area are delicately seasoned.
Shanghai's people have a 'sweet tooth', and more sugar is used in Shanghai than in any other part of China. Shanghai's neighbors also contribute to the diversity of the area's cuisine: Hangzhou, known for its West Lake carp; Zhejiang to the west, for its vinegar; and Shaoxing, for its warmed rice wine.
Below first we cover restaurant dishes, then street snacks.
Shanghai's steamed crab uses a special type of crab found in rivers, and is normally consumed in the winter. The crabs are tied with ropes or strings, placed in bamboo containers, steamed and served. There few other artificial ingredients added to the dish yet it tastes fantastically good. Da Zha Xie is usually consumed with vinegar. Locals are also quite fussy about when to consume male crabs and when to consume female crabs. See "Hairy Crab — The Shanghai Delicacy Every Tourist Should Try".
It is new-fashioned Cantonese dish. It tastes creamy, fresh, and mellow. A Chinese-Western combined dish, it is very popular in Japan and Southeast Asia.
Ideal for those who like highly spiced food, Shanghai's "smoked" fish slices (fresh fish marinated and spiced to taste like smoked fish) make a tasty dish.
According to the legend, beggar's chicken originated in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Beggar's Chicken calls for a stuffed and marinated chicken, sealed tight with layers of lotus leaves, and then wrapped in parchment paper or wax paper along with mud.
This unique cooking technique produces tender, juicy, and aromatic chicken, with the original taste of the chicken perfectly retained and trapped. The bones just fall off the chicken after hours of baking, and the meat is bursting with intense fragrance. Beggar's chicken is a real Chinese delicacy that cannot be missed.
Zhiweiguan, established in 1920 in Changsou Road, Putuo District, offers this dish.
Pepper duck is a famous dish in Shanghai. Charlie Chaplin, world-renowned master of comedy, praised this dish as "a lifelong unforgettable gourmet".
The dish calls for half or a whole marinated duck, lightly fried and served with plum sauce and steamed bread. With a bright red color, crispy skin, and tender meat, Shanghai pepper duck will reward you with a pleasant experience. Autumn is the best season to enjoy this dish.
Beijing roast duck is bright in color, crispy in skin and tender in meat. Taken together with a special paste, scallions, steamed pancakes, it is very delicious. This world-renowned dish is not only available in Beijing, but also in Shanghai. It is roasted in an open fire Cantonese style, combined with the culinary art of Beijing duck. It is known as Shanghai roast duck.
Noodles are a delicious and famous food in China, and have a very long history. Noodles mean longevity in Chinese culture, which makes them very popular in China. They have become many Chinese people's staple food.
The story of the name: The tenth Chinese lunar month is called little yangchun, and it is a local custom to call the number "ten" yangchun. When these noodles first appeared in Shanghai, their price was ten fen, so people called them yangchun noodles and that name is still used.
Yangchun noodles are also called clear soup noodles (清汤面 qingtangmian /ching-taang-myen/), as they are thin noodles in a clear soup. Scented scallion oil is added to the noodles to make them smooth and tasty. They are highly nutritious, containing protein and various vitamins. Tasting yangchun noodles is recommended during your Shanghai tour.
Shanghai Yangchun White Snow Noodles Restaurant (上海阳春白雪面馆), located at 80 Yuqing Road, Xuhui District (徐汇区余庆路80号), can serve you delicious yangchun noodles.
There is a tradition in China of taking snacks with tea. One specialty is a rich meal with every course cooked with tea. The unique feature is that you don't see the tea but smell the fragrance of tea. You can experience the artistic concept: "There is no tea here, but what you're having is better than having tea."
The vegetarian dishes are cooked in imitation of meat and fish, either in shape, in flavor, or color. It is exquisitely shaped and the flavor is fresh and light. It is a kind of healthy food much recommended by nutritionists. See Shanghai Vegetarian Restaurants.
The main ingredient is winter melon. The melon is peeled, the seeds are scraped out, and then the melon is sliced into meat-shaped slices and fried. A vegetarian soup is added with condiments, and it is stewed over low flames until the gravy is thickened. It's bright in color, rich but not greasy, and looks similar to dongpo meat (stewed pork in dark sauce).
Shanghai boasts 1,800 snack houses and stalls serving various sorts of refreshments.
Taking breakfast foods by way of example, there is a total of some 300 kinds of dumplings and pastries including deep-fried twisted dough sticks, soy milk, glutinous-rice balls, fried cakes with green onions, noodles with topping, dumplings in soup, steamed buns, fried dumplings, glutinous-rice cakes and dumplings, sweet pasty soups.
Shanghai snacks are dainty and exquisite in shape with unique features. The eyebrow shortcake, date paste cake, shredded turnip cake, sweet osmanthus steamed cake are known for their color, flavor, fragrance and shape. They have captivated many diners. The steamed dumpling with meat filling is a typical Shanghai snack. You will find it in every corner of Shanghai, in big restaurants and little food stalls. It is called Chinese fast food. Below is a brief introduction to a few of them.
Nanxiang Steamed Pork Dumplings (Nanxiang xiaolongbao) are a traditional snack of NanxiangTownship in Shanghai's suburbs and can be found all over Shanghai.
These dumplings are made with a thin skin of dough and stuffed with a seasoned minced pork. The dumplings are then steamed in a bamboo steamer. Note that these dumplings are wrapped and sealed differently than other dumplings like jiaozi. We recommend taking a bite to let the juices cool. Otherwise, the juices could burn your tongue or spilt out on you. Then one can dip the dumpling into the dark Chinese vinegar provided to cool the dumpling to an appropriate temperature.
In the city, there are two famous places to get Nanxiang pork dumplings. One is the area around the Yuyuan marketplace, while the other is at the snack restaurants at the intersection of Tibet Road and Yan'an Road near People's Square.
Soup buns are bigger than xiaolongbao and contain soup. Special attention is paid to the taste of the soup. Soup buns in Shanghai tend to have a chrysanthemum-like shape, thinner dough skins, and lots of "stuffing", which comes in a wide range of choices. They offer a first-class flavor no matter which type you choose.
The buns are served hot in the bamboo basket in which they were steamed. The shape and tempting fragrance will really stimulate your appetite. See "Six Must-Taste Chinese foods" and "How to Eat Like a Local by Day in Shanghai" for more on steamed buns.
1. To avoid your tongue being scalded by the hot soup, you should not eat in a hurry, but wait until the soup inside cools down.
2. Jiaji Bun Shop, located on Fengyang Road, specializes in soup buns. Many super stars are frequent visitors!
The vegetarian stuffed bun is the specialty of certain the Yu Garden and Old City God's Temple area snack restaurants. The bun itself is a light white bread. It is stuffed with finely chopped green vegetables, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and marinated bean curd with sesame oil and sugar as the condiments. It's quite appetizing in color, aroma and taste. You can find these in other parts of China, but the Shanghai has its own variety. Enjoy!
Fried mantou, a local dim sum dish of shanghai, has a history of over 100 years. The semi-fermented dough is fried in a wok, and water is sprayed on it several times during cooking. Best tasted hot, the bottom of a hot fried mantou is golden and crispy while the rest is white and soft. The stuffing, fresh meat with sesame or scallion, is especially delicious. With its tempting color, crispy skin, tender meat and the gorgeous appearance, fried mantou is a top Shanghai snack.
Xiao Yang's Mantou Shop on Wujiang Road serves large fried mantous with a rich soup inside.
With the shape of a pigeon egg, this dumpling weighs about one tenth of a liang (5 grams). It is made of glutinous-rice paste with a filling of a mixture of sugar, osmanthus, and mint, and is eaten in the summer months. It is soft and fine, and tastes sweet and flowery-flavored.
This delicacy is served exclusively at the Osmanthus Hall opposite the Zigzag Bridge at the Yu Yuan Bazaar.
Mashed red beans are used as covering of this dumpling delicacy. Its filling may be pork, red beans, or sesame seeds. It is delicious and refreshing, and is easy to carry if home consumption is desired. You will find this delicacy among the most famous dumplings served at Qiaojiashan Snack House at the corner of Xiangyang and Yongjia roads.
The cake is crisp, savory, and aromatic; as brown as the color of a cooked crab. The fillings include green onions with oil, pork, crab meat, shrimps, sugar, roses, mashed beans, and jujube paste.
Wu Yuan Snack Houseat the corner of Shimen and Weihai Roads is the most famous shop for this pastry.
Niangao, or New Year cake, is a typical southern Chinese dish made with glutinous rice flour strips sliced into pieces and stir-fried with other ingredients.
One especially popular way to prepare Niangao is to stir-fry it with pork spare ribs. This Shanghainese dish is known as Paigu Niangao (排骨年糕 /pie-goo nyen-gaoww/). The meat is tender and crisp, the "cake" is soft and tasty, and the gravy is rich and flavoured— really appetizing.
Xiao Changzhou Snack House at the junction of Sichuan Road and Fuzhou Road, and Xiangdelai Snack House at the junction of Xizang Road and Jinling Dong Road are the best known places for this delicacy.
With a crisp crust, the cake is shaped like an eyebrow. It has sweet and salty fillings, and tastes delicious. The shortcake served at the Surging Waves Pavilion Restaurant at the Yu Yuan Bazaar is of the highest quality.
Yes, you guessed it. This Shanghai favorite is soup (known as Jiya Xuetang) that contains solidified blood as its main ingredient. In fact, the blood rather resembles dark red tofu and has very little taste. The broth used is a very light or slightly salty clear chicken broth with some spring onion added for a nice flavor. All in all, this traditional Shanghai snack is quite tasty. Don't be scared. If you are not totally disgusted by the idea to begin with, you may like it.
This soup is said to be very healthy and good for you. The Chinese claim eating certain parts of animals strengthens the corresponding part on one's own body.
It is available in places like the Old City God's Temple (Laocheng Huangmiao) and Yu Yuan area.