A Melting Pot of Chinese Cuisine
Shanghai is full of sights, smells, and sounds. The mega-metropolis of the East is home to over 24 million people, making it one of the most populated cities in the world. The city attracts migrants from all over China, many of whom establish food stalls and contribute to the city's diverse and flavorful food scene.
On the bustling streets, you can find food from the many regions in China, from Peking Duck of Beijing to Jianbing of Shandong province. From roasted meats, to fried snacks, to mouthwatering dimsum, Shanghainese cuisine is sure to satisfy your tastebuds.
Don’t know where to start? Check out this guide to the Top 10 Foods You Must Try in Shanghai!
And stick around for a surprise...
Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings)
Translates to “little caged buns”
One can’t visit Shanghai without trying the iconic Xiao Long Bao! These little gems feature a delicate dumpling skin that encases a meat filling along with a savory broth. The filling is sweet and succulent, made with pork, vegetable, shrimp, or crab meat. Pork skin, chicken bones, ginger, and Shaoxing wine are simmered until they congeal into a thick, rich soup.
The dumplings are served steaming hot in a bamboo basket and with a dipping mixture of a soy sauce and vinegar. But before take a bite, be careful not to burn yourself. To eat, hold one up with a soup spoon and poke a hole using a chopstick. Then, sip and enjoy the explosion of flavor!
Eating Xiao Long Bao is fun, but so is making it! If you're interested in learning how to make Xiao Long Bao and other delicious dim sum dishes, check out this authentic cooking class.
Ci Fan Tuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)
Not just any kind of riceball
Looks can be deceiving. Ci Fan Tuan may look like just an ordinary ball of sticky rice, but the package holds a surprise inside. The rice outer layer is chewy, fragrant, sweet and nutty. However, in the center is a beautiful contrast of textures and flavors.
There’s the sweetness of soy-glazed pork meat and pork floss, a whole salted duck egg, and tart chopped pickled vegetables. Then there’s the melt-in-your-mouth deep-fried pork fat and crunchy fried youtiao (deep fried dough sticks).
The sticky rice balls are a local favorite, and usually eaten for breakfast. There are also sweet variations in addition to the savory ones, usually with added sugar and sesame.
A must-try delicacy
Peking duck may be synonymous to Beijing, but it’s also a Shanghai specialty. The duck is prepared using a special drying and roasting method that yields a crispy, golden skin while keeping the meat underneath juicy and tender. When dipped in a fermented bean sauce and wrapped in a wheat-flour pancake along with scallions, it makes for a delicious snack.
Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)
A tasty tribute
Walk down the street food stalls midsummer, and you will find zongzi everywhere. That’s because these triangular parcels of rice are widely consumed during the annual Dragon Boat Festival. Festival-goers would throw them into the river as a tribute to Qu Yuan, an exiled poet who, according to legend, drowned and later became a water spirit.
You can find zongzi at many vendors, mostly old ladies that make them by hand. They stuff the bright green reed leaves with glutinous rice, duck egg, and fatty pork; then skillfully wrap and tie it up, steamed it, and it’s ready to be enjoyed.
Steamed Hairy Crab
Who’s ready for crab season?
Come late autumn, Shanghai hairy crab takes over the city’s culinary spotlight. At this time of year, the Shanghainese go into frenzy over this crab found in Yancheng Lake. The steamed dish is relatively simple, prepared in a way that brings out the crab’s naturally sweet flavor. Many people prefer to use minimal ingredients, usually some rice vinegar, ginger, and scallions. The meat is juicy, tender, and delicious. Female crabs also have rich roe which locals love.
Jianbing (Egg Crepe)
This crispy thin crepe is popular throughout China, as well as with tourists. Delicious and convenient, it comes as a little hand-held package that you can eat on the go. Jianbing tastes best when made fresh by a street vendor. See a long line and you know it’s good.
The crepe is pan fried to order on a flat griddle. A mixture of mung bean and wheat flour dough is spread thin, and an egg is cracked on top. Once it turns golden, a fermented bean paste and hoisin sauce is spread, and the crepe is sprinkled with scallions and pickled radish. It has a nice crunch to it, with youtiao or wonton strips in its center. Creative vendors may even include other goodies, like ham, fried chicken, or bacon.
Jianbing is only one of the many unique snacks you can find on the streets of Shanghai. If you want to discover all the best stalls and local eateries, book a food tour!
Shanghai Fried Noodles
Enjoy some hearty fried noodles
Shanghai fried noodles are a street food signature. Though there are many fine dining establishments that serve up more refined variations, the noodles served up at street stalls are just as satisfying.
The dish begins with cumian, a thick-cut noodle similar to udon. The noodles are stir fried with generous amounts of meat (beef, chicken, and pork) and vegetables, and, of course, a soy sauce base (essential to Shanghainese cuisine). Grab a plate from the many vendors and slurp up!
Cong You Bing (Scallion Pancakes)
Crispy, buttery, and flaky
Cong You Bing to the Shanghainese is what pancakes are to Americans. Maybe even better. They’re crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and have a nice aroma from the scallions. There’s no shortage of street stalls that sell it, but many locals would brave long lines for one of these perfections.
To make the bing, dough is hand-rolled, with minced pork and scallions folded in. The balls are then pressed flat onto a hot, greased flat griddle, and fried until they’re lightly brown. Finally, they’re baked in large drum charcoal cookers to ensure they have a crispy golden finish.
Tanghulu (Candied Hawthorn)
A sweet, fruity treat!
When walking down the streets of Shanghai, these sparkling glazed fruits are sure to catch your eyes. Tanghulu is a Chinese fruit similar to mini apples, but more sour and astringent. The fruit is placed on long bamboo skewers, and then dipped in a hardened sugar syrup similar to candied apple. The hard, crunchy coating wonderfully compliments the soft, juicy fruit interior.
Though hawthorn is the fruit traditionally used to make this treat, vendors also sell a variety of other fruits. Strawberries and apples are especially popular.
Dou Hua (Soy Milk Custard)
It’s like eating a cloud
Warm and savory, with a silky smooth texture, dou hua is the perfect breakfast for tofu lovers. To make it, hot soy milk is poured into into a dish of coagulant and cornstarch and left to settle for a few minutes. What you get is a cloud-like curd suspended in a yellow whey.
Dou hua is delicate, with a nice mild flavor. Enjoy with garnishes and dressings, such as soy sauce, chili oil, salt, and cilantro. For a sweet alternative, add sugar syrup infused with ginger.
And here's a bonus...
We hope our guide to the top 10 Foods You Must Eat Try in Shanghai gave you a helpful glimpse into the culinary adventure that awaits. Feeling hungry yet? Pack your bags and book a flight-- maybe even book a Shanghainese cooking class!
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