Where to tantalise your taste buds in Shanghai
Take a tour through China’s culinary capital with these six restaurants.
1. Breakfast on the block
The Michelin Guide may have belatedly come to Shanghai last year, but this bustling, cosmopolitan city remains just as famous for its fantastic street food as its haute cuisine. Friendly, family-run food stalls and hole-in-the wall eateries dot every neighbourhood, hawking mouthhwatering eats for a handful of pocket change. For breakfast with a difference, join the queues at the intersection of Changle Lu and Xiangyang Nanlu, which comes alive each day with customers lining up for jianbing (savoury pancakes), shengjian mantou (fried pork buns), youtiao (deep-fried dough sticks), and congyoubing (scallion oil pancakes). There’s no better way to start the day.
2. Super snacks
Those walking the busy streets of Shanghai often need to recharge the batteries without indulging in a full-blown meal. The Tsui Wah chain, which has a range of Hong Kong-style cha canting (tea restaurants) in the city, offers delicious pick-me-ups such as Macanese egg tarts, sweet toast smothered in condensed milk, pineapple buns, and superb milk tea. Perfect for a mid-afternoon snack, or even a second breakfast.
3. Classic chow
For locals and Shanghai-based expats, Old Jesse needs no introduction. This pint-sized eaterie is widely recognised as the best Shanghainese restaurant in the city and is the first place visitors should go to become better acquainted with local flavours. Identifiable by a small, yellow-lit sign and the handful of culinary devotees typically milling about outside waiting for their table, this isn’t the fanciest Shanghai place you’ll dine out at. In fact, you’ll likely be crammed in with 30 other customers, elbow to elbow, because the food is that good. The hong shao rou (braised pork belly) wins rave reviews on a regular basis. Reservations recommended.
4. Something old, something new
Ye Shanghai is located in one of Xintiandi’s restored shikumen (stone gate) houses and offers fine Shanghainese cuisine, as well as dishes from neighbouring provinces like Jiangsu and Zhejiang, in a refined, elegant setting. Sit upstairs to make the most of the high ceilings and Shanghai-of-yesteryear atmosphere – there is often a jazz singer who performs on the midde level from early evening onwards. Many of the dishes here are perennial favourites – the green beans with bamboo, sweet and sour fish, and glazed ribs all seem to go down well with those sampling Shanghainese dishes for the first time. Reservations recommended.
5. A little piece of heaven
The Bund, Shanghai’s iconic sweep of Western architecture along the Huangpu River, has long been home to the city’s most expensive eateries – most of which are housed in stately, fin-de-siecle buildings. To go easy on your wallet, however, check out Lost Heaven. Just footsteps from the Bund, this classy, romantic restaurant serves up the finest “Yunnan Folk” cuisine in Shanghai. A combination of Tibetan, Dai, Bai, Yi, Miao, and Mountain Mekong dishes, the menu draws inspiration from the recipes and ingredients of southwest China’s Yunnan province, as well as Myanmar and Laos. The wild vegetable pancakes make a perfect starter. Reservations recommended.
6. Divine dumplings
A trendy shopping, eating, and entertainment area, complete with restored shikumen houses, the trendy Xintiandi area makes a great place to dine out. And when it comes to dining, nothing says Shanghai more than the city’s iconic xiaolongbao (a plump dumpling crammed with juicy pork mince and a shot of meaty broth). With an outlet in Xintiandi, Taiwanese restaurant chain Din Tai Fung is generally regarded as serving up some of the most superior buns in town.
Text and photos Daniel Allen