On the occasion of the Lunar New Year, I shall dedicate a post to my hometown, Shanghai. While it has become a densely populated cosmopolitan city with the influx of both foreigners and Chinese citizens from other parts of the country, there are some dishes that no one does it better than the Shanghainese. I’m sure most of you who are familiar with Shanghainese tim sum would know the famous steamed pork dumplings – but Shanghai food is more than that. Here, I’m going to list you the top 10 (+2 bonuses) food I’ve shortlisted to try in Shanghai.
1. SHENG JIAN BAO 生煎包 / PAN FRIED PORK BUNS
While there are many small eateries selling this super-Shanghai delicacy, there are unfortunately no eatery like the famous Xiao Yang Sheng Jian 小杨生煎. I don’t know what kind of heavenly sent meat is this but it is able to be pan fried and still contain a spoonful amount of pork juices in it. Those spring onions and white sesame seeds on it are more than decorations – they add a good texture to the thinly wrapped skin when you take your first bite. Damn, I’m missing it already.
And, ‘Shanghai eateries’ I’ve tried in every other country who tried to imitate this (except for the one in Sydney’s Chinatown) has failed miserably unlike:
2. XIAO LONG BAO 小笼包 / STEAMED PORK DUMPLINGS
This needs no introduction. Just be very, very careful when you lift it up with your chopsticks. It’s super fragile, if not, the skin is not thin enough.
3. GUO TIE 锅贴 / PAN FRIED DUMPLINGS
This is also one of my to-eats every time I go back to Shanghai. Similar to both Sheng Jian Bao and Xiao Long Bao, it’s super delicious when it’s wrapped with those juicy pork with a succulent amount of pork juices. Just, meat party. It’s hard (seriously hard) to decide which of the these 3 is my favourite, so every time I just have to eat them all. And once is never enough. It’s an everyday affair. (my hips are gonna hate me, but sorry, my food is my utmost priority)
4. 小馄饨 XIAO HUN DUN / SMALL DUMPLINGS
This is also one of my favourite soupy delicacy. Singapore calls it wanton soup, but Shanghainese calls it xiao hun dun. Whatever it is, I can eat it alone as a staple, but my Singaporean friends would feel incomplete without some proper carbs, i.e. noodles. Thus we have wanton mee here in Singapore, but those similar wantons are sold alone as a staple food back in Shanghai. Some cultural differences eh? Oh yes, these are pork again.
5. LILIAN DAN TA 莉莲蛋挞 / LILIAN BAKERY EGG TARTS
These egg tarts originally came from Macau, who in return is famous for their Portuguese egg tarts. I’m not sure why it’s in Shanghai, but the store’s information says its history goes back a long way. But who cares about the history when it’s here to stay? They’re so good I swear it’s the best ever egg tart I’ve eaten across Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Just check out their other reviews on Trip Advisor. Even an American (or not) from Kate Spade New York loved it. 😉 Buy the original flavour, it’s the best.
6. HONG BAO SHI 红宝石 / RED RUBY CAKES
Fresh cream cakes?! How old school and fattening is that, you would think. But this is one of the cakes that’s more than it’s history – it’s delicious. Try this out unless you really dislike the idea of those extra calories. Which you shouldn’t, especially when you’re on holiday!
7. BING TANG HU LU 冰糖葫芦 / ICE-SUGAR GOURD
A very typical Chinese snack, you should give it a try while you’re in Shanghai (or China). I’m not a huge fan but I love the fruits version. It’s actually made of haw, if you’re wondering.
8. BAO ZI 包子 / STEAMED BUNS
While there are tons of steamed buns everywhere across Asia, you shouldn’t try those in populated tourist areas. Instead, explore out of town and into neighbourhoods for those small eateries for these most amazing and affordable buns. Prices in Shanghai neighbourhoods can go as low as 1RMB for a steamed bun. Personally, I love those vegetable buns (cai bao 菜包) because I can’t find the same ones back in Singapore.
9. JIU NIANG YUAN ZI 酒酿圆子/ GLUTINOUS BALLS IN RICE WINE SOUP
This is hands down my favourite Chinese dessert. I have to eat this whenever possible, especially in Chinese restaurants as the last dish. The rice wine has to be a good mixture of sweet and sour (since it’s fermented), and the glutinous balls are best with some black sesame paste. It’s also often mixed with osmanthus flower when served in restaurants for the additional sweetened flowery taste. It’s even loved by the LA Weekly (which is however, in LA, and not Shanghai. duh)!
10. CI FAN (DA BING) BAO YOU TIAO 粢饭(大饼)包油条 / GLUTINOUS RICE (FRIED PANCAKE) WRAP CHINESE CRULLER
This is probably one of the typical Shanghainese breakfast food that is unknown to the tourists. This delicacy can’t be found in restaurants – only small eateries in the neighbourhoods or road side stalls. While the you tiao (or Chinese cruller) is a common snack among Chinese in different countries, the way of eating it with sweet glutinous rice or fried pancake is only found in Shanghai. I especially love it with the sweet glutinous rice, but it’s hard to find it these days. Luckily for me, my granddad’s neighbourhood actually has an eatery that sells a ‘healthy version’ of it. Go find it, if you can! 😉
For the 2 bonus food:
11. CHARME RESTAURANT TOAST
It’s a Hong Kong restaurant in Shanghai, but this toast is the best I’ve ever eaten. The bread is toasted to just the right texture in terms of crispiness and heat, and it literally melts in your mouth when you eat it with the vanilla ice-cream. The food in the restaurant are pretty decent, but this toast is the best. You would see almost every table in the restaurant ordering this to end off their meal. It’s superb, I promise.
12. YOU DUN ZI 油墩子
This is another street snack that is almost extinct because of hygiene concerns. It’s fried with radish and flour, and it’s crazily affordable. My parents and granddad had tried making it at home, but I’d say the road side stalls do it the best. Probably because of the oil… but let’s not get to it. You’d be lucky if you can find it these days!
Alrighty, that’s all I have for today. I have more to recommend, but I guess this would suffice for a traveller who is new to Shanghai in terms of food. All I have to say is, get out of the populated tourist attractions (say, Nanjing East Rd) and venture into cozier neighbourhoods. Be adventurous and try small eateries – though they don’t speak English – and you’d find your food much more tastier and cheaper. Tell me what you think! 😉
p/s I hate that every English translation of the many above delicacies are either buns or dumplings. It’s really kinda annoying how it isn’t translated very well but I guess it’s part of the imperfection beauty of different languages. x