Beggar’s Chicken is among the dishes served at a traditional Chinese meal in Shanghai. (Photo: Yvette Cardozo / Alamy)
Shanghai is a city with a vibrant history, and nowhere is its colorful mix of cultures more prevalent that in its beloved palette of flavors and dishes. A haven for those seeking gastronomic adventure, Shanghai allows foodies to test their tastebuds in whimsical small-town restaurants as well as upscale urban dining venues. Check out our quick guide to the top must-try local dishes.
A dish that is said to date back to the Qing Dynasty, Beggar’s Chicken is a stuffed and marinated chicken, sealed tightly with lotus leaves, and wrapped in either wax or parchment paper, together with mud. This unique preparation yields tender, juicy, and very aromatic meat, which quite literally falls of the bones.
A steamed bun from the Jiangnan region of China, the Xiaolongbao seems to have a constant presence in Chinese dishes. Steamed to perfection, these broth-filled dumplings are also known as “soup dumplings.” Often burning the mouths and tongues of first-timers with its explosion of broth, the Xiaolongbao is best enjoyed by first puncturing the wrapper to let out steam, then enjoying its soup, and finally swallowing the dumpling meat. Locals also recommend eating Xiaolongbao with a combination of vinegar, shredded ginger, and a bowl of egg soup.
Braised Hairy/Mitten Crabs
A local favorite during the autumn season, hairy — or mitten — crabs are considered a gourmet delicacy in Shanghai. The unique specimen of crab is known for its furry claws, which resemble mittens. In fact, it is the silky, egg-yolk orange crab roe which is so prized. According to the Chinese tradition, because the golden flesh of the hairy crab is cold, it is considered to reflect the “yin” in yin and yang. This designation means pairing it with other “cold” foods such as bamboo shoots or lotus root is prohibited. The meat of the hairy crab is best enjoyed with Huangjiu or Chinese yellow wine or with ginger tea.
A popular dish in Shanghai and is well-loved by classic comedian Charlie Chaplin who described it as “lifelong unforgettable gourmet,” the Pepper Duck is a dish best enjoyed during autumn. The half or whole duck is marinated, lightly fried and then typically served with plum sauce and steamed bread. The duck has a crispy bright red skin and a tender juicy meat.
A traditional food in China and a local specialty in Shanghai, Yangchun noodles is a soup dish made with scented scallion oil. Served in a thin, clear broth, this simple yet impeccably good meal is a must-try for your Shanghai trip.
Shanghai is a paradise for seafood lovers and the city’s grilled oysters are available in different varieties. If it’s your first time slurping down a grilled oyster in Shanghai, try the ones prepared with black bean sauce, as well as garlic and chili oil.