Shanghainese food is famous for being sweeter than other Chinese cuisines. It’s biggest claim to fame is, of course, xiaolongbao.
Xiao Long Bao are steamed dumplings filled with either pork or crab meat. They are also known as soup dumplings, for inside the dumplings is a little bit of hot soup that, if you’re not careful, will explode in your mouth when you bite down. Thus, there is a technique to eating xiaolongbao:
1. Pick up the dumpling, dip in vinegar, and place it on your spoon.
2. Bite down either on the top or the edge of the bottom part of the dumpling. Make sure you take a small bite.
3. Drink the soup inside. It’s really really hot, be careful.
4. Eat the rest.
Or…you can wait for the dumplings to get colder and pop the whole thing in your mouth. Though I like my food steaming hot most of the time, so I don’t really do that.
Some good Xiaolongbao places in Shanghai are:
Nan Xiang Steamed Bun Restaurant– Located in City God Temple, this place is one of the more popular places to get an authentic taste of xiaolongbao. It was also featured on No Reservations on the Travel Channel. This restaurant also has other buns besides xiaolongbao; there’s also the tangbao, which is one huge bun with pork and soup inside. You have to drink it through a straw.
Ding Tai Feng: I mentioned this place in a blog entry of mine. This restaurant, opened by a Shanghainese man now living in Taiwan, is one of the most famous xiaolongbao places in the Chinese community, including the overseas Chinese community. The restaurant has branches in Los Angeles, Taiwan, China, Japan, and parts of Southeast Asia like Singapore. Service here is excellent, as the waitress are trained to show professionalism and politeness in the vein of Taiwanese and Japanese service models. The food I find to be slightly overpriced, but the Shanghainese branch of Ding Tai Feng makes the best xiaolongbao out of all the other branches. Address: Shop 11A, Building 6, Xintiandi South Block, Shanghai
These are the two places that I’ve enjoyed xiaolongbao the most. If you have any others, feel free to let me know.
Otherwise, Shanghai is a food paradise. You can find most cuisines in the city, as it is China’s most international city. Although I can’t comment on the quality of the Western food, I can say that even if you want Brazilian Churrascaria, you can find it here (although technically the name gives off the wrong impression). But, you’re in China, you must eat Chinese food! That’s the whole point!
HaoYouHui: It’s a tucai restaurant (I have no idea what this means, literally translated it means potato cuisine, but I didn’t eat anything remotely potato-like here) located above 85°C, a Taiwanese bakery/cafe (also a good place to grab breakfast) on Dingxi Lu (near Yan’an Xi Lu), in the Changning District. Food here is impressive; this two story complex has a large menu (with pictures), a professional albeit distant staff, and cheap prices. For a 6 course meal for 3 people, the bill came out to ¥150, that’s slightly over $20. I recommend trying the stinky tofu, it is AMAZING.
Congee: There are a million congree places on Dingxi Lu (near Yan’an Xi Lu). The one I frequent is literally called Congee, with the character for congee 粥 printed on a large green sign in white lettering. For those who don’t know, congee is rice porridge, a comfort food of sorts for Chinese people (and Japanese and Korean people). These restaurants serve you a large steaming pot of congree with a variety of food thrown into the pot (congee on it’s own is pretty bland). The one I go to allows you 3 free items to throw into the pot: I got beef, thousand year old egg, and a vegetable. Price-wise it was around ¥30, and this fed two people.
Fu 1039: If you want to feel as if you’re eating in a 1930s Shanghai home, Fu 1039 is the place to go. Located in an alleyway on Yuyuan Road, this place serves authentic Shanghainese food in a restored 1930s villa. The decor (at least in my room) seemed slightly musty to me, but I loved feeling like I’ve been transported back in time, or that I’m eating at my relative’s home. The food is excellent; they have an amazing dessert of nuomifang, which is sweet sticky rice with red bean and dates. And well, their fatty pork belly is to die for. The staff is friendly, polite, and unobtrusive; I sometimes felt as if food just magically appeared on my table. I highly recommend this place. Prices are around ¥200-300 a person, which isn’t bad since it isn’t street food. Address: Lane 1039 Yu Yuan Road, Shanghai 200050
I also got the chance to eat at a small restaurant on Zenning Lu. I don’t remember the name of the place, but it was a small restaurant next to an apartment complex. I had a private room with American rustic-inspired flower wallpaper. The food there was also amazing Shanghainese fair; their fatty pork belly sticks out in my mind, as does their noodles. If anyone knows the name of this place, I would be so excited to know, as it is killing me right now.
I am a big fan of afternoon tea. Clotted cream and scones (pronounced “scawnes,” NOT “scounes”) make me dance in joy. So I was excited to know that certain places in Shanghai also offer this British tradition, and I didn’t hesitate to try them.
Specchi Cafe: This cafe is located in the basement of Plaza 66, a luxury brand shopping mall with commercial offices up top. They have an afternoon tea buffet for ¥100, and that’s with unlimited food (I’m not sure about drinks, I ended up drinking to lattes because they gave my dad the wrong order). Although they didn’t have scones and clotted cream (I cried a little inside), they had a wide variety of cakes, pies, and finger sandwiches. I literally stuffed myself silly and then my dad and I took home a tiramisu. Afternoon tea goes from noon until 5 PM. Address: B/F Plaza 66 1266 West Nanjing Road 200040
The Peninsula Hotel: Now this is the place to get tea, although my father, who is the biggest “foodie” I know, claims that the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel has the best afternoon tea on the planet. They have two choices for tea, the traditional tea and a “healthier” tea, both for around ¥220. I went for traditional tea because the healthier one did not have scones and clotted cream, and I’d rather die of clogged arteries than not eat that. Service was impeccable; the staff speaks perfect English (somehow I give off the impression that I am so Chinese American that I don’t speak Mandarin). They have a variety of tea, although I’ve seen more at other afternoon tea places (a little tea shop on Carnaby Street in London comes to mind, they had a wall of different teas). I even ended up ordering an ice cream sundae, since it was my birthday and all. Excellent, excellent tea. There’s even a string band playing music upstairs (I think I heard a couple of Disney tunes) Address: Bund 32, 32 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Beijing Dong Lu
Lastly, I have to say a big BOO to the Grand Central Hotel‘s Afternoon tea. Granted, they’re just starting up a tea, but this was incredibly depressing, especially since this is a 5 star hotel with amazing decor and a floating ballroom. But for ¥88, you can be treated to either Chinese tea, Earl Grey, or English Breakfast, and be served 2 small plates of chocolate strawberries, soggy macaroons, and chocolate cookies. I was incredibly disappointed, as was my father, who made it known to the waitress that this was basically unacceptable. He knows the hotel manager, and later on, when we came back for a business lunch, he made it known to Mr. Grand Central Hotel also. So they might have cleaned up their act, but when I went I was severely upset that I had to pay ¥88 for this…thing. I don’t want to knock on the actual hotel, as it is quite nice and their actual meals are delicious, but the afternoon tea seriously needs work.
Address: No.505 Jiujiang Road, Shanghai 200001