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Shanghai's Best Shanghai-nese Food

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Shanghai’s rise as one of the world’s most important cities has brought increasingly sophisticated nightlife and an international restaurant scene.  But to focus on Shanghai’s snazzy new restaurants while missing some of the city’s best local eateries would be a mistake.  Shanghainese food also includes much more than the ubiquitous and ever-popular xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings.  On a recent month-long sojourn in Shanghai, I visited the following restaurants looking for the best local food, most on the recommendation of friends.  There are perhaps yet other more “hole-in the wall” joints, but this list should give you a dependable starting point for those looking for good food.

Shanghai Cuisine, or 沪菜, incorporates culinary influence from the surrounding provinces of the Yangzte River delta, Zhejiang and Jiangsu.  Huaiyang Cuisine 淮扬, one of the four classic schools of Chinese cooking, and Zhejiang cuisine, have heavily influenced Shanghainese food.  Historically one of the wealthiest regions in China, the Yangzte Delta’s cuisine has been shaped by its proximity to the sea, the predominance of sweet-flavored soy sauce such as that from Shaoxing 绍兴 that is used in the “red-cooking” style of many dishes, and a focus on subtler flavors and ingredients.

吃吧! (eat!)

Jishi  吉士 (Old Jishi): If you eat at one local restaurant, make it Jishi.  Try to book a table at the original location off Huaihai Road in the French Concession at least a week in advance.  The red-braised pork with bamboo shoots, or hongshao rou 红烧肉 (pictured above) is amazingly sumptuous, probably the best I’ve had, as are the unique xintaixuan 心太轩, red dates with glutinous rice.  The cold brined chicken appetizer (吉士咸鸡) is also famous but only order if you like cold chicken.

41 Tianping Road, just off Huaihai Middle Road (original branch)

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Dieyuan 蝶园: Another solid restaurant serving up local fare.  The “drunken crab” or 醉蟹, is one of the more authentic Shanghai items on the menu, and was, admittedly an acquired taste for me.  It’s basically raw crab soaked in yellow vinegar, but it’s worth a shot for the brave.  Other trusted regional specialties like sweet and sour pork ribs, Tangcu Paigu 糖醋排骨, and Red-braised pork are good as well.

70 Taicang Road at Songshan Road, near Xintiandi 

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Chuchuyuan 楚楚圆: A popular local lunch spot serving meat pasties (xianbing, 馅饼) and porridge (zhou, 粥).

Multiple locations.

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Dintaifung 鼎泰豐: After biting into the papery-thin and feather-lite skin of a hairy-crab dumpling, you’ll know why I like to refer to this restaurant by its initials, DTF.  Although technically not from Shanghai (the restaurant is a popular chain founded originally in Taiwan), the (xiaolongbao, 小笼包 , soup dumplings) are considered Shanghai’s most famous food.  Also order some seasonal steamed vegetables, Sichuan-style DanDan noodles 担担面, or wontons.

Multiple locations around town, most popular one at Xintiandi.

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Yangzhou Fandian 扬州饭店: Come here to try classic Huaiyang Cuisine (淮阳菜) including the cute red-braised “lion-head” meatballs in chicken broth (红烧狮子头), and Babao Lajiang (八 宝辣酱) which is a kind of sweet Yangzte-river version of Sichuan’s Kung Pao Chicken featuring a medley of peanuts, peas, bamboo, and shrimp in a sweet sauce.  For an uninspired but safe choice order the Yangzhou Fried Rice, 扬州炒饭, a dish that has become a staple of Chinese restaurants worldwide.

Fujian Middle Road, at Nanjing East Road

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Laoshengchang 老盛昌: A cheaper and more unassuming alternative to Dintaifung, this bustling shop off of Nanjing East Road serves up good xiaolongbao at half the price of its cousin.  The mushroom-filled dumplings are a unique and great-tasting option, especially for vegetarians.  Brusque but quick service is a great sign you’ve come to a dependable Chinese restaurant.

Intersection of Fujian Middle Road and Nanjing East Road

Dumplings at Laoshengchang

China, FoodAndrew Stokols