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Chinese Food Lover's Guide to Shanghai

The Best of Shanghai's Chinese Restaurants and Cuisine

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Shanghai's many Chinese restaurants offer a wide variety of food experiences, from the city's own cuisine, to Chinese regional favorites, to gourmet international cuisine. This variety is due to the city's history, from a fishing village, to a port town, to the most European city on the Chinese mainland, to its position today as the fashion capital of the People's Republic.

 

Enjoy Typical Shanghainese Food

Photo of bean curd in chicken broth at Jesse
Bean curd in chicken broth at Jesse. Photo by Alison Stein Wellner

Shanghai's own version of Chinese food is down-home and comforting, which is to say it's not considered the most refined. (On occasions meant to impress, the dishes more likely have a Cantonese or Beijing provenance.) The food tends to be stronger flavored and somewhat more greasy than other regional cuisines.  Hot summers created the need for preservation through salty pickling -- which then would be balanced out with sweetness from sugar. It also led to the liberal use of soy, a traditionally cooling food. In response to cold winters, Shanghainese food traditionally featured plump noodles, and, most gloriously, dumplings. Visit Jesse for a traditional Shanghainese meal, or hit Jinxian Lu, which is lined with small traditional restaurants.

Nosh on Street Food

Photo of a vendor selling Oily Stick in Shanghai
A vendor selling "Oily Stick". Photo by Alison Stein Wellner

Street food is an essential part of the Shanghai experience. If you're not seeing a vendor on a main thoroughfare, duck down into an alleyway, where you'll doubtless find your quarry.  In the morning, keep an eye out for "Oily Stick", or Youtiao, which is a long strip of fried dough that you can dip into rice congee or soy milk. (The earlier in the morning the better as these don't keep very well.)  At any time of day, you can find small dumpling shops hand making their fine, fine wares. With a little more time on your hands, you'll likely visit a Zhujiajio, also commonly called a "water town",  an ancient village just outside of Shanghai. While you're there, don't miss the chance to sample zongzi and roasted soy nuts.

Visit a Shanghainese Food Market

Photo of typical Shanghainese Market
Typical Shanghainese Market. Photo by Alison Stein Wellner
True foodies will want to explore a food market, since that's the best way to get grounded in the freshest ingredients available to local chefs. It's also a feast for all the senses! Check out this photo tour of a typical Shanghainese food market.

Experience Glitz and Glamour at Shanghai's Finest Restaurants

photo of View from New Heights at 3 on the Bund
View from New Heights at 3 on the Bund. Photo by Alison Stein Wellner
You're probably not leaving Shanghai without hitting the Bund, the area of Shanghai that's packed with historic buildings in the highest expression of European architecture, from Gothic to Art Deco. The contrast with the view across the river to ultra-futuristic Pudong, is one of the most delightful aspects of Shanghai. This is where you'll find international chefs opening their restaurants -- Jean Georges, for example, where there are restaurants with commanding views, like New Heights, in the same building as Jean Georges, and where there all well-known seen-and-be-seen spots, including the stalwart, M on the Bund. For a sense of Art Deco glamour off the Bund, try 1931 Restaurant.

Explore China's Regional Cuisines

Photo of Southern Barbarian Restaurant in Shanghai
Southern Barbarian Restaurant in Shanghai. Photo by Alison Stein Wellner

If you're craving variety from Shanghainese specialities, why not explore some of China's other regional cuisines? Cantonese food is the best-known style of Chinese cooking in the United States, but the real thing is nothing like what you get at your average Chinese restaurant state-side. Try T'ang Court in the Langham Yangtze Boutique for very upscale Cantonese food. (See photos of a few dishes here.) Head down south to Yunnan at Southern Barbarian (don't miss the fried goat cheese), or west to Szechuan at Pin Chuan (47 Taojiang Lu) in the French Concession.

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