Shanghai boasts one of China’s best and most distinctive cuisines. Influenced by its position just south of the Yangtze River and at the mouth of the Huangpu River, the region abounds in a selection of dishes that are unique to Shanghai but also influenced from neighboring provinces.
The Shanghainese are known to have a “sweet tooth”, and more sugar is used in Shanghai’s signature dishes 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 is our list of the best dishes or food items that are a must-try when you visit Shanghai.
Xiaolongbao or Soup Dumplings
A Shanghai Classic – these soup dumplings should be your first meal in Shanghai. Delicate thin-skinned dumplings, with pork or vegetable or shrimp or crab fillings inside with a delicious hot broth, each is an explosion of flavor in the mouth.
Careful as these are served piping hot in those cute bamboo baskets so give each dumpling a few moments in the soy sauce and vinegar baths before plonking into your mouth. You will find it hard to stop!
You could try the famous Din Tai Fung (many outlets of this Taiwanese chain – excellent choice nevertheless and hugely popular among expats, locals and tourists) but we would recommend another favorite of ours.
Shanghai’s famed steamed crab uses a special type of crab found in rivers, and is normally consumed in late autumn and 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 fantastic. 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”.
Smoked Fish Slices
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. The fish is usually a carp and is prepared in a way that it tastes smoked and delicious. This is also called Shanghai Shun Yu. It has a crispy outer skin and the meat inside is beautifully cooked and tender, thanks to all that deep frying goodness!
This dish has come strong folklore behind its origins. Beggar’s Chicken originated in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) and calls for a stuffed and marinated chicken that is sealed tight with layers of lotus leaves, and then wrapped in wax paper along with mud. Then it is slowly baked in low heat taking up to 6 hours to prepare. This dish hails from Hangzhou.
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 flavor and fragrance. We recommend a very popular joint on the Bund that serves a perfect Beggar’s Chicken and is likely the best place for you to try your first one!
Beijing roast duck or Peking duck has the name Beijing attached to it but it is also a Shanghai specialty. Shanghai has many places that serve some of the best Peking Duck in China. This dish prepares the duck in a way that it is bright in color, crispy in skin and tender in meat. Taken together with a special paste, scallions, steamed pancakes, it is very delicious. It is roasted in an open fire Cantonese style, combined with the culinary art of Beijing duck.
This is a a classic Shanghai dish, sweet and caramelised pork belly cooked and served in brown sauce. The brown sauce is a mixture of Shaoxing sauce, light soy and dark soy sauce, in addition to sugar. It is typically served with hard boiled eggs. The meat will melt in your mouth! Our recommendation below is a long time favorite with locals and travelers and we promise you the most authentic Hong Shao Rou you can find in Shanghai.
Fried Pork Buns
Pan-fried pork buns, a local fried 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. The fried bottom of this bun is absolutely yummy! Best eaten hot, the bottom of a hot fried pan-fried bun 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 shengjianbao is a top Shanghai snack.
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. Steamed buns come in a variety of vegetarian and non vegetarian choices, from red bean paste fillings, spinach fillings to pork and crab, the spread is endless really.
Yellow Croaker Noodle Soup
Croaker is a popular fish in Shanghai, and so naturally the croaker fish soup with noodles is one of the most local authentic dishes you can try! This fish grows aplenty in the Yellow Sea and can be cooked in a variety of ways. It is easy to prepare and the meat is tender and juicy. The broth is creamy and delicious, from hours of boiling fish bones
Chicken and Duck Blood Soup
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 dish has its origins in Nanjing but Shanghai has made it its own.
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.