10 types of foods you need to eat when in Shanghai for the first time!

Sep 26, 2019

Having lived in Shanghai for 11 years, the food and beverage scene in Shanghai has definitely evolved leaps and bounds over the years.

I remember I was excited to find a little eatery called Pauls at Xikang Rd back in 2008 that sold American diner food. I was literally thrilled to eat a simple meal of steak and eggs then, after a year of eating Chinese food, McDonalds and Saizeriya.

Today in 2019, you can find the hippest of brunches and dry aged wagyu steaks all over Shanghai.

That said, there are some local specialties that never go out of fashion though, and some other modern institutions that are better than many in other western cities. 

I often get requests from friends and fans about what to eat when they’re visiting Shanghai; I thought it was time that I compile a little what-to-eat list for the first time traveller to Shanghai.

In no particular order, you can’t go wrong picking any of of these things to eat as part of your ‘Shanghai Experience’.

Soup Dumplings
(小笼包 Xiao Long Bao)

These quintessential Shanghainese soup dumplings are on this and every other list out there. Let’s get it out of the way here and now.

You might have already eaten a version of this from another city with a Chinese presence, but Shanghai is where these little crabby-porky soup grenades originated.

Go for the crab versions unless you’re allergic to seafood, to which, you shall try the basic pork version.

Several methods of eating Xiao Long Baos have been debated as the one and proper technique, from nipping a little hole with the dumpling in your spoon, sipping out the soup before gorging the entire dumpling, to intentionally emptying the soup into your spoon and slurping it down, before eating the emptied and cooled dumpling.

My preferred way of eating Xiao Long Bao, is by simply placing the dumpling onto the little dish of fresh ginger and dark vinegar and let it rest for 10 seconds. During these important 10 seconds, the dumpling will cool down slightly while absorbing the flavours of the ginger and vinegar.

10 eternities later, pick up the dumpling, pop the whole thing in your mouth, compress, and feel the warm, savoury and tart flavours burst in your mouth, before chewing the whole thing down. None of the other methods offer a more satisfying and dramatic experience.

While locals will have their own favourite place to eat Xiao Long Baos, one of the oldest and most popular is Jia Jia Tang Bao (佳家汤包) with several outlets. I’ve found Jia Jia Tang Bao to be my favourite due to it’s price and consistency.

Jia Jia Tang Bao (佳家汤包)
1. 62 Li Yuan Rd (Original Shop) (丽园路62号) 
2. 90 Huanghe Rd (黄河路90号)

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Guan (南翔小笼馆)
285 Gu Yi Yuan Rd (古猗园路285号)

Letting the XLB enjoy a ginger+vinegar spa before it’s demise.

Pan-fried Buns
(生煎包 Sheng Jian Bao)

Enjoying a plate of Yang’s Dumplings.

Next up is the cousin of the Xiao Long Bao — Sheng Jian Bao.

Sheng Jian Baos have almost the same soupy and porky fillings as a Xiao Long Bao, but encased in a thicker, more substantial doughy skin that is seared with a top or bottom crust.

The best ones can be had at Da Hu Chun, or more conveniently at Yang’s Dumplings. Yang’s Dumplings starting out as a night market stall that had evolved into a country-wide franchise, and can be found at every other mall in Shanghai.

Da Hu Chun (大壶春)
71 Yunnan South Rd near Jinling East Rd (云南南路71号, 近金陵东路)

Yangs Dumplings (小杨生煎)
Check your Baidu map for the nearest outlet.

Shanghainese Scallion Oil Noodles (葱油拌面 Cong You Ban Mian)

The most staple noodle dish in Shanghai. Fresh thin wheat noodles tossed in a fragrant oil made by frying a lot of scallions and soy sauce.

Most noodle shops in Shanghai will have this item, and you can have it paired with various sides, with pork chops (猪大排) and spicy minced pork/pork cubes (辣肉) being the more classic ones.

Jian Guo 328 (建国328) do a great scallion pork noodle with the addition of crispy dried shrimp.

Xiao Tao Mian Guan (小陶面馆) is an even more local joint I used to visit on Jiashan Road, but note that it’s really just a small local noodle joint with no English menu.

Jian Guo 328 (建国328)
328 Jian Guo Rd (建国路328号)

Xiao Tao Mian Guan (小陶面馆)
226 Jiashan Rd (嘉善路226号)

Scallion oil noodles at Xiao Tao Noodle Shop with Spicy Pork.
Scallion noodles at Jian Guo 328. Photo courtesy of Rachel Gouk.

Shanghainese Yellow Croaker Noodles
(黄鱼面 Huang Yu Mian)

Yellow croaker noodles at King Kong Dumplings & Noodles

Yellow croaker is a popular type of fish enjoyed throughout Shanghai, prized for it’s flavourful and delicate flesh and lack of small bones.

Many of the good yellow croaker noodles in Shanghai already have the fish meat removed from the bones so you may eat with ease. 

The broth is usually a milky white broth cooked from fish and pork bones, whilst some others simply feature the classic Shanghainese soy-based broth.

Ah Niang Noodles is a Michelin Bib Gourmand joint specializing in yellow croaker noodles. Their default noodle features the soy-based broth, but you can also request for the slightly more expensive fish broth.

King Kong Noodles is another Michelin awarded joint specializing in yellow croaker noodles. I personally like theirs better, because their white fish broth is super comforting with generous large pieces of fish meat.

While you’re at King Kong Dumplings & Noodles, get a side of their pork chops too. They’re super crispy with a lovely strip of fat on the edge.

Ah Niang Mian (阿娘面)
36 Sinan Rd (思南路36号)

King Kong Dumplings & Noodles
899 Pudong South Rd, L+ Mall 515G

Yellow Croaker at Ah Niang Noodles
Pork Chops at King Kong Dumplings & Noodles.

Shanghainese Sesame Sauce Noodles
(麻酱面 Ma Jiang Mian)

The last of the classic noodles I will recommend are the sesame sauce noodles. 

Sesame sauce noodles at Wei Xiang Zhai.

These noodles are doused with a rich and flavourful sauce consisting of sesame sauce and chilli oil. Similar to scallion oil noodles, sesame sauce noodles are also often enjoyed with a side of pork chops and spicy pork.

The oldest and most popular place to eat sesame sauce noodles is at Wei Xiang Zhai (味香斋), of which I’ve even vlogged about before. Note that there is no English menu, just go and ask for Ma Jiang Mian (麻酱面 Ma Jiang Mian) with Pork Chop (大排 Da Pai) and Spicy Pork (辣肉 La Rou).

Wei Xiang Zhai (味香斋)
14 Yan Dang Rd near Huai Hai Middle Rd (雁荡路14号近淮海中路)

Red Braised Pork and other Shanghainese Dishes
(红烧肉 Hong Shao Rou)

If you get tired of street food, you should pop by a Shanghainese restaurant and try out some classic Shanghainese dishes! But take note that Shanghainese cooking is known to be sweet, rich and heavy-handed on oil.

One of the most famous dishes is Red Braised Pork AKA Hong Shao Rou (红烧肉).

It’s Shanghai’s version of the classic Chinese braised pork belly. Practically every region in China has its rendition of braised pork belly.

Shanghai’s version is special in that it starts of with a sugar caramel in the work, followed by frying the pork in it, before building up the braise with light and dark soy sauce and aromatics.

This style of cooking is prevalent across many Shanghainese dishes.

Try authentic and tasty Shanghainese dishes at Jian Guo 328 and Old Jesse. 

Jian Guo 328 is a bit of a hole in the wall, but it’s interior is very typical of traditional Shanghainese eateries.

Old Jesse is one of the most lauded Shanghainese restaurants in the city and requires advance reservations.

Pauls is also one of the oldest establishments that had seen a facelift while still retaining their traditional recipes and old school charm.

Old Jesse (老吉士酒家)
41 Tianping Rd (天平路41号)
Reservations required: 6282-9260

Pauls (保罗酒家)
271 Fumin Rd (富民路271号)

Jian Guo 328 (建国328)
328 Jian Guo Rd (建国路328号)

Hong Shao Rou at Jian Guo 328. Photo courtesy of Rachel Gouk. Thanks babe!

Hairy Crabs
(大闸蟹 Da Zha Xie)

Hairy crabs also known as Chinese Mitten Crabs are little crabs with a clump of fur on their two pincers, hence giving them their name. Crab season is typically around the end of September for female crabs and end of October for male crabs. Female crabs are generally more prized because of their rich orange roe, which tastes buttery and almost like biting into a piece of freshly cut Grana padano cheese. Male crabs lack that crumbly orange roe, and instead feature a gelatinous transparent goo, which I don’t like.

Hairy crabs are eaten simply steamed, dipped in a bit of ginger and vinegar, or in more recent times, restaurants have sold dishes featuring the meat and roe already extracted, but often at a price premium.

Eating hairy crabs is an art, and one needs to be able to enjoy the slow meticulous process of extracting the morsels of flesh from the tiny shells.

Visit Old Jesse during crab season for the best hairy crabs simply steamed or crab roe scrambled eggs.

That said, during crab season, literally every Chinese seafood restaurant in the city will be promoting hairy crabs.

Old Jesse (老吉士酒家)
41 Tianping Rd (天平路41号)
Reservations required: 6282-9260

Wang Bao He (王宝和酒家)
603 Fuzhou Rd (福州路603号)

Lunar Mushroom at Ultraviolet

Paul Pairet’s Food

Shanghai is blessed with many authentic western restaurants, from French to Italian to Peruvian. But none of them have made as big a mark as Chef Paul Pairet’s.

As of 2019, his multi-sensory restaurant Ultraviolet has won 3 Michelin stars 2 years in a row. I consider myself very fortunate to have eaten there once at a discounted but still exorbitant price, but one that I felt was well worth it as it had become the dining highlight of my life.

Reservations for Ultraviolet are hard to come by, but if you follow their WeChat group, you might be notified of same day last minute cancellations at discounted prices!

If Ultraviolet is too exclusive and expensive for you, fret not! 

Chef Paul Pairet has two other restaurants at different price categories you could eat at.

Mr & Mrs Bund is one of the oldest and still best restaurants on The Bund, serving traditional and modern French cuisine.

The newest addition to Paul Pairet’s restaurant empire is Polux, a slightly more casual eatery featuring simpler bites at affordable prices.

Did I mention already how incredible the food at Mr & Mrs Bund is?

Book online https://uvbypp.cc/bookings/
Follow WeChat for last minute cancellation deals: @ultravioletbypp

Mr & Mrs Bund
18 Zhong Shan East Rd, Bund 18, 6F
(中山东一路18号 外滩18号6F)

Polux by Paul Pairet
Taicang Rd Lane 181 No. 5

Jumbo shrimp in a jar at Mr & Mrs Bund
Crispy duck leg confit at Mr & Mrs Bund

Weekend Brunch

If you’re in Shanghai over the weekend, you might want to check out the weekend brunch scene in Shanghai. It rivals most, if not all of the other metropolitan cities I’ve visited.

You may be asking now… but this is China, how can western brunch be good? Shouldn’t we be eating dim sum instead?

I will say this now, brunch is better than dim sum in Shanghai. This is because westerners have lived and thrived in Shanghai since the 19th century when the British started their first concession, followed by the French. The French concession in Shanghai remains one of the highlights to visit in Shanghai, featuring rows of unique shops, 3rd wave cafes and hipster eateries alongside the signature ‘London Plane’ trees.

I personally witnessed the influx of western chefs into Shanghai between 2007 to 2017, and they had steadily built up the western brunch scene from a simple British fry up, to perfect eggs benedict to slow-cooked beef short ribs with sous vide eggs. Most of these dishes today are cooked competently by local Chinese cooks and enjoyed by foreigners and local Chinese alike.

Here are some places that I recommend for weekend brunch. Read my brunch articles for more picks.

282 Huai Hai Middle Rd, 6F, Ascott Hotel

Liquid Laundry
1028 Huai Hai Middle Rd, K Wah Centre 2F

Mr & Mrs Bund
18 Zhong Shan East Rd, Bund 18, 6F
(中山东一路18号 外滩18号6F)

Shrimp roll at Highline
Smoked salmon on rosti at Liquid Laundry
French toast at Mr & Mrs Bund

Jian Bing (煎饼) aka Jian Bing Guo Zi (煎饼果子)

The Chinese version of crepes. When I was living in Shanghai and working in a foreign start up, often the choice of foods would differ between local and western staff.

One breakfast option that everyone enjoys no matter where they were from, was Jian Bing.

Jian Bing is a crepe made to order usually at an illegal street side stall, that features more commonly a wheat-flour crepe wrapped around scallions, sweet sauce, chilli sauce if desired, some salty/sour preserved vegetables, an egg and a dough cruller or crispy fritter.

It costs usually around 6.50 RMB, and you will often find a street hawker selling them in the morning on busy street corners away from main roads.

There is one where I used to buy from at the junction of Yong Kang Lu (永康路) and Xiang Yang Bei Lu (襄阳北路).

PS: Jian Bing can be found in practically every city in China, especially those in the north. The ones in Beijing feature fresh leeks in the filling and sometimes a dry and crispy crust!

For even more in-depth information on Jianbing, check out my good friend Rachel’s article on it! https://rachelgouk.com/local-food-where-to-eat-jianbing-in-shanghai/

That concludes my little round up of 10 important foods you should eat when you visit Shanghai for the first time!

Hope you all find it useful, and let me know in the comments what you think after you’ve tried them!

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