Food and Drink Jake Newby
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Five dishes you have to try in Shanghai

Eating out is second nature for people living in Shanghai – and whether it’s a street-corner cart slinging fried noodles or a Bund-side dining room carrying the name of an internationally renowned chef, the city offers a wealth of options for doing just that. But where to start? Below are five dishes you don’t want to leave Shanghai without trying.

  1. 1 Xiaolongbao

    The beloved Shanghainese soup dumpling, said to originate from the suburban area of Nanxiang, has spread around the world. But worshippers will tell you that the best and most authentic versions can only be found in Shanghai. The importance of the little packages, usually filled with minced pork, is such that they’ve even been the subject of an extraordinary ‘scientific investigation’ by Christopher St Cavish.

    Debate still rages over where to find the very best xiaolongbao in the city but, for a good mix of tastiness and atmosphere, head to the original branches of Jia Jia Tangbao or sister restaurant Lin Long Fang – just be sure to eat them the right way.

  2. 2 Shengjianbao

    Yes, more dumplings. But, as anyone who’s visited the city will attest, dumplings are often a cornerstone of any resident’s diet here – and with good reason. Filled with fatty pork and piping hot broth, these treasures have soft, thick skins that are steamed at the top and shallow fried to crispy, dark brown perfection at the bottom. 

    The best place to check out shengjianbao is Xiao Yang’s, a fried dumpling institution with dozens of branches across the city.

  3. 3 Hairy crab

    Every autumn Shanghai is invaded by a wave of furry crustaceans. As summer fades, ice-cream stalls make way for units promising the freshest specimens from nearby Yangcheng Lake. High-end restaurants and hotels attempt to outdo each other with the most extravagant ways of presenting them, and some residents even make the journey out to the lake itself to feast on crabs at floating restaurants that are several stories high.

    Most outlets simply steam hairy crabs and serve them with vinegar and ginger, and the cracking and disassembling of the creatures is a ceremonial, quintessentially Shanghai experience. Try Cheng Long Hang Xie Wang Fu for an authentic taste of the action.

  4. 4 Cong you bing

    Bing – which can be broadly taken to mean pancakes or flatbreads – dominate the early morning eating landscape in Shanghai. The cong you bing (or spring onion pancake) variety can be found across China, but at the eastern end of Yongjia Lu is A Da’s, an outlet that has reached legendary status in the city after more than three decades of making this breakfast staple.  

    Last year, A Da’s owner Mr Wu – variously dubbed ‘the god of cong you bing’ and ‘the cong you bing hunchback’ – was forced to close his long-running stall on Nanchang Lu, causing panic around town. But he’s since returned to the griddle in a new location, and his hordes of fans have followed – you’ll need to get here early and be prepared to queue. 

  5. 5 Hongshao rou

    Literally ‘red braised pork’, this dish is held in high esteem by people throughout China, particularly as the Hunan version is said to have been Chairman Mao’s favourite food. The classic Shanghai spin on it is often a little sweeter than most, with plenty of sugar added to the soy and bean paste as the fat-layered meat is slow-cooked to melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.

    For this and other local favourites try Hai Jin Zi – one of a number of immensely popular Shanghainese joints on Jinxian Lu and a recent recipient of the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand award.