Shanghai is renowned for its rich food culture and is often considered a paradise for food enthusiasts. The city’s cuisine reflects a blend of traditional Chinese flavors with influences from neighboring regions. Whether you’re a fan of steamed dumplings or spicy seafood, Shanghai has something to satisfy every palate. Let’s dive into the culinary delights that await you in this vibrant city. In this article, we will explore the top 10 Shanghai dishes that you must eat to truly experience the flavors of this dynamic city.
1. Xiaolongbao: A Steamed Dumpling Delight
Xiaolongbao (小笼包), a type of steamed soup dumpling, is one of Shanghai’s most iconic dishes and is usually served as a breakfast dish. These delicate dumplings are filled with a savory broth and meat filling, usually pork, and are bursting with flavors. Originating from the Jiangnan region of China, Xiaolongbao has gained international recognition for its unique cooking technique and delicious taste.
To make Xiaolongbao, chefs start by preparing a flavorful pork filling mixed with a combination of aromatic ingredients like ginger, green onions, and soy sauce. The filling is then carefully wrapped in a thin, delicate dough and steamed to perfection. When you take a bite into a Xiaolongbao, the hot soup inside oozes out, tantalizing your taste buds with its savory essence.
Recommended Restaurants: Din Tai Fung, Jia Jia Tang Bao, and Nanxiang Mantou Dian.
2. Shengjianbao: Pan-Fried Soup Dumplings
Shengjianbao (生煎包), often referred to as pan-fried soup dumplings, are another must-try Shanghai specialty. These dumplings share similarities with Xiaolongbao but have their own unique twist. Shengjianbao are pan-fried on the bottom, giving them a crispy texture, while the top remains soft and steamed. Inside, you’ll find a flavorful filling of pork, ginger, and fragrant broth.
The cooking process involves pan-frying the dumplings to create a golden brown crust. Afterward, a splash of water is added, and the pan is covered to steam the tops, ensuring that the soup inside remains hot and succulent. The combination of textures and flavors in Shengjianbao makes it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
Recommended Restaurants: Yang’s Fry-Dumpling, Gaochangxing Shengjian, and Shengjian Baozi.
3. Da Zha Xie: The Hairy Crab
Da Zha Xie (大闸蟹), also known as the hairy crab, is a prized delicacy in Shanghai. This seasonal treat is harvested during the autumn months and is highly sought after for its unique taste and texture. Hairy crabs are known for their distinctive appearance, with a furry shell and robust claws.
To enjoy Da Zha Xie, the crabs are steamed whole, preserving their natural flavors. The meat is delicate and sweet, with a hint of brininess. The roe of the female crabs is particularly prized for its rich, creamy consistency. Eating Da Zha Xie is a true culinary experience that captures the essence of Shanghai’s seafood culture.
Recommended Restaurants: Jesse, Fu 1039, Huxinting Teahouse
4. Lion’s Head Meatballs: A Hearty Delicacy
Lion’s Head Meatballs (狮子头) are a traditional Shanghai dish that will satisfy your cravings for comfort food. These giant meatballs are made from a mixture of minced pork, cabbage, and various seasonings. The name “Lion’s Head” refers to the large size of the meatballs, resembling the head of a lion.
The meatballs are typically braised in a savory broth until they become tender and juicy. The combination of the flavorful meat and the fragrant broth creates a delightful and satisfying dish. Lion’s Head Meatballs are often served alongside vegetables or noodles, making it a well-rounded meal.
Recommended restaurants: Chunfeng Songyue Lou, Lu Bo Lang, and Shangxiajiu Restaurant.
5. Beggar’s Chicken: A Flavorful Feast
Beggar’s Chicken (叫化鸡) is a traditional dish with a fascinating history that dates back to the Ming Dynasty. Legend has it that a beggar, lacking cooking utensils, wrapped a chicken in lotus leaves and clay before roasting it over an open fire. The result was a tender, juicy chicken with an incredible aroma.
To prepare Beggar’s Chicken, a marinated whole chicken is wrapped in lotus leaves, covered with a layer of clay, and baked for several hours. The clay acts as a natural seal, trapping the flavors and juices within the chicken. When cracked open, the fragrant aroma escapes, and the tender meat is revealed.
Where to find the best Beggar’s Chicken in Shanghai: Fuchun Teahouse, Guyi Garden, and Old Jesse.
6. Shanghai Crayfish: A Spicy Delight
Shanghai Crayfish (上海小龙虾) is a favorite among locals and is known for its fiery flavors. These freshwater crustaceans are typically cooked in a spicy sauce made with Sichuan peppercorns, chili, garlic, and various aromatic spices. Shanghai Crayfish is a messy but satisfying dish that combines the sweet and succulent meat of the crayfish with the bold spiciness of the sauce.
The cooking process involves stir-frying the crayfish with the sauce until they are cooked to perfection. The result is a dish that packs a punch and leaves your taste buds craving for more. Enjoying Shanghai Crayfish is an experience that captures the city’s love for bold and vibrant flavors.
Top restaurants to enjoy Shanghai Crayfish: Xing Long Restaurant, Yang’s Fried Crayfish, and Lao Zheng Xing.
7. Chicken and Duck Blood Soup: An Adventurous Delight
Chicken and Duck Blood Soup (鸡鸭血汤) is a unique dish that might pique the interest of adventurous food enthusiasts. While it may sound unusual to some, this soup is a popular delicacy in Shanghai and certain regions of China.
The soup is made by simmering chicken or duck blood, along with other ingredients such as tofu, vegetables, and seasonings. The blood is typically coagulated into cubes or slices, giving the soup its distinct texture. The soup itself is flavorful and rich, with a slightly earthy taste.
Chicken and Duck Blood Soup is often enjoyed for its unique culinary experience and is believed to have various health benefits. It is considered nourishing and is said to provide a good source of protein.
While this dish might not be for everyone, those willing to explore the diverse flavors of Shanghai should consider giving Chicken and Duck Blood Soup a try. It showcases the city’s willingness to push culinary boundaries and offers a glimpse into its rich food culture.
Local specialty restaurants and street food stalls are the best options for experiencing the authentic flavors of Chicken and Duck Blood Soup in Shanghai.
8. Shanghai Fried Noodles: A Local Favorite
Shanghai Fried Noodles (上海炒面) are a beloved staple in the city’s culinary scene. This dish features chewy and springy noodles stir-fried with a combination of ingredients, such as pork, vegetables, and soy sauce. The result is a flavorful and satisfying noodle dish that showcases the simplicity and depth of Shanghai’s cuisine.
The key to a perfect plate of Shanghai Fried Noodles lies in the balance of flavors and the texture of the noodles. The noodles should be cooked just right, allowing them to absorb the flavors of the other ingredients. This dish is often enjoyed for breakfast or lunch, providing a quick and satisfying meal.
Notable eateries for Shanghai Fried Noodles: Chun Feng De Yi Yang, Da Hu Chun, and Yonghe Restaurant.
9. Cong You Bing: Scallion Pancakes with a Twist
Cong You Bing (葱油饼) is a popular street food in Shanghai that will delight your taste buds. These scallion pancakes are made by kneading dough with chopped scallions and then pan-frying them until they become crispy and golden brown. The layers of dough and scallions create a flavorful and satisfying pancake with a unique texture.
Cong You Bing is often enjoyed as a breakfast or snack option. It can be eaten on its own or paired with a variety of dipping sauces. The combination of the fragrant scallions and the crispy pancake makes for a delightful culinary experience.
Best places to try Cong You Bing in Shanghai: Lianxiang Restaurant, Yang’s Fry-Dumpling, and Da Hu Chun.
10. Yangchun Noodles: Nourishing Comfort Food
Yangchun Noodles (阳春面) are a simple yet nourishing dish that is beloved by locals. These noodles are made from a combination of wheat flour and eggs, resulting in a soft and chewy texture. They are typically served in a clear broth made from chicken or pork, garnished with green onions, and topped with various ingredients such as sliced meat, vegetables, or eggs.
Yangchun Noodles are often enjoyed as a light and comforting meal, providing warmth and nourishment. The simplicity of the dish allows the natural flavors of the ingredients to shine, making it a favorite among those seeking a satisfying and wholesome dining experience.
Recommended places to savor Yangchun Noodles: Qiaojiashan Restaurant, Wufangzhai, and Qiao Family Courtyard Restaurant.
Recommended Shanghai Food Tours
Exploring the culinary delights of Shanghai is a journey that unveils a world of flavors and culinary traditions. From the delicate soup dumplings to the spicy seafood dishes, Shanghai’s cuisine offers a unique and unforgettable dining experience. Each dish carries a story and a connection to the vibrant culture of the city. So, when you visit Shanghai, be sure to embark on a gastronomic adventure and indulge in these top 10 must-try dishes that capture the essence of this vibrant city. Below are our top recommended Shanghai Food Tours:
- Half Day Shanghai Tour for Local Food and Zhujiajiao Water Town
- Half Day Shanghai Private Tour to Yuyuan Garden
- Shanghai Night Food Tour with Huangpu River Cruise
- Chinese Breakfast Foods: What Do Chinese People Eat for Breakfast
- The 15 Most Popular Chinese Dishes