What to eat in Shanghai – our guide to the city’s most iconic dishes and where to eat them.
Shanghai is an amazing city, there’s so much here to see, do – and, of course, eat! You could spend years working your way around all the amazing restaurants the city has to offer, but if you’re a first time visitor you might appreciate our top tips on what to eat in Shanghai and where you can find these dishes.
Table of Contents
Here are 10 foods we recommend you try during a trip to Shanghai, plus our thoughts on some of best restaurants in Shanghai to eat them!
What: Xio long bao (soup dumplings) – Where: Din Tai Fung
Xio long bao is a Shanghainese delicacy that you can find everywhere in the city.
These pork soup dumplings are delicious and have to be tried while you’re here. Everywhere I looked the top recommendation for xio long bao was Din Tai Fung, which is actually a Taiwanese chain of restaurants.
I can report that their xio long bao were absolutely delicious, as were the other dishes I tried on my visit. Even better, Din Tai Fung recently opened its first restaurant outside Asia in London! I’ve already visited once and was not disappointed.
What: Xinjiang food – Where: Yelixiali
Xinjiang is a region in China where there’s an interesting mix of cuisine styles thanks in part to the large Muslim population, and it’s particularly known for its spicy lamb dishes.
Yelixiali is known as the best place in Shanghai to enjoy Xinjiang food and Will from Going Awesome Places, who lived in the city, highly recommends the lamb skewers.
What: Peking duck – Where: Old Beijing Qianmen Roast Duck
If duck’s your thing then this is the place to go, although Old Beijing Qianmen Roast Duck can be a toughie to find. This restaurant is hidden away in a very plain high rise office block, and you may wonder where the hell you’re going until the lift doors open and you see the restaurant entrance.
Their speciality is Peking, or Beijing, duck and if you order the ‘Emperor’s meal’ you’ll be served three different courses of duck: duck skin served with kiwi fruit, crisps and jam, next is the broth and finally the duck ‘proper’ with pancakes.
A chef comes to your table and cuts the duck in front of you, which is slightly cool, but we were disappointed that we weren’t left the duck to finish off on our own – these two carnivores felt there was a lot of meat left on the duck when it was wheeled away.
Also I have to admit the quality of service leaves a lot to be desired, but even with these downsides this place is considered one of the best spots in the city for Peking duck.
What: Hairy crab – Where: Xinguang Jiu Jia or Cheng Long Hang Crab Palace
Hairy crab most often appears on menus during October, November and December and is a local delicacy. Eat it steamed, with a dipping sauce made up of ginger, sugar and rice vinegar.
There’s two recommendations for where to eat hairy crab in Shanghai – if you’ve got deep pockets then you may want to visit Cheng Long Hang Crab Palace, which is a Michelin restaurant. If you don’t want to break the bank another popular crab spot is Xinguang Jiu Jia.
What: Fried pork buns – Where: XiaoYang ShenJian
I really should have started writing this post after lunch, ‘cos I’m half way through and now starving!
Anyway, continuing on with my guide to what to eat in Shanghai, another local speciality is fried pork buns, or sheng jian bao, which have been eaten for breakfast for over 100 years.
Stuffed with pork and topped with sesame and spring onions, the dough is fried in the wok, giving it a crisp bottom and soft, gooey top. Enjoy!
What: Drunken chicken – Where: Xiao Shaoxing
Chicken drenched in rice wine is a speciality of this bustling, old-fashioned canteen-style restaurant.
But if you’re feeling daring, you could try some of Xiao Shaoxing’s more out there dishes, such as the chicken feet or blood soup. I’ll pass though, thanks.
What: Beggar’s chicken – where: Xindalu
Another local speciality, beggar’s chicken, is a whole chicken, wrapped in lotus leaves, sealed with clay or wrapped in wax paper and mud, and then whacked in the oven.
This dish actually dates back to the Qing Dynasty. Slow cooked, when ready the meat is tender, juicy and just falls off the bone. Delicious. The recommended place to enjoy Beggar’s chicken is somewhere special in its own right – The Xindalu restaurant can be found in the high-end hotel Hyatt on the Bund. Imagine the views!
What: Pork belly – Where: Fu 1039
Fu 1039 offers traditional Shanghainese food is a special setting; a colonial mansion in the French Concession area of the city.
This part of the city is known for its more upmarket eateries – therefore Fu 1039 is not cheap, but the food is high quality. The restaurant is particularly renowned for its delicious pork belly and it’s worth the effort to find it; which can be a little tough as you can’t see it from the main street and it doesn’t even have a sign!
What: afternoon tea – Where: The Peninsula
If you want to know where to eat at the Bund, well the Peninsula name is eponymous with luxury and class. Therefore, if you want a decadent treat after some Shanghai sightseeing, this is the place to go.
The Peninsula Shanghai is the chain’s flagship hotel in Mainland China and its marble-columned lobby is a beautiful place to enjoy afternoon tea in the city. During my visit both a heritage and baroque afternoon tea was on the menu, allowing guests to pick between a more classic offering and that with a more local twist. Find out more in my review of afternoon tea at The Peninsula Shanghai.
Sure, I’ve talked about some of the dim sum I recommend in Shanghai, but the city has so many amazing snacks that I can’t give them all a mention!
There are literally hundreds of different cakes, pastries, dumplings and buns to try, ranging from sweet glutinous rice affairs stuffed with date paste and shredded turnip or through to more savoury offerings made with pork, crab, bean paste or vegetables.
You can find these all over the city, from small stalls through to cafes and even posh restaurants, and they’re just as amazing to look at as to eat! They’re often brightly coloured or decorated with intricate designs, especially cute animals. Some of the best I saw were at a little stall in Tian Zi Fang, where there was everything from pandas and penguins through to roses and fish!
What NOT to eat in Shanghai
I do love trying the street food when I visit a new place in Asia, but I was sadly warned not to try any roadside stalls in Shanghai as you can end up with a rather upset tummy. This is supposedly down to the use of dodgy oil. However, there are some ‘food streets’ that are safe to order from – these are simply roads lined with cheap restaurants that come to life at night.
The Rough Guide to Shanghai goes as far as recommending that visitors don’t drink the city tap water as, according to the book, it’s laced with heavy metals, so worth considering.
What to eat in Shanghai
So there you have it, our guide to the best shanghainese food in Shanghai! While I prefer soy sauce over duck blood soup I can promise you there’s something for everyone (well almost everyone, if I’m honest I think vegetarians may struggle a little).
And the above isn’t the entire list – there’s an endless variety of dishes to try out in the city –have your chicken, beef or pork braised, deep fried, cooked in scallion oil and served with a sweet sauce, a spicy sauce, sticky rice or perhaps glutinous rice. Well, you’re getting the gist now, right? Basically you’re spoilt for choice!
If you’re heading to Shanghai, firstly I’m jealous, and secondly have an amazing time. Dive into those restaurants, try those exciting new flavours and see if you enjoy Shanghai cuisine as much as I did!
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