All photos taken by the author, except for those that have been credited
Ah, Shanghai – a metropolis that’s known for its beautiful skyscrapers, crazily advanced technology and an abundance of food and shopping choices.
Despite Shanghai being a fast-paced city, we found the locals warm, hospitable and willing to help. On the other hand, with the city mostly being a cashless place, we often found ourselves in many an awkward situation (once when we paid in cash for a bubble tea, the poor cashier had to scramble to find change for us… oops).
Home to about 24 million people, Shanghai’s food scene is extremely diverse, featuring cuisines from various parts of China and the rest of the world. But since we were only there for a short four-day stay and had limited tummy space, we made it our mission to try the best local food around.
Some tips if you are a first-time traveller to China:
- It’s advisable to get roaming services for your phone – China’s firewall system is strong and you can’t easily access platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp.
- Download the WeChat app; it’s the main platform that locals use. Most restaurants don’t even carry physical menus; you have to scan a QR code and order from the app.
- Download the Gaode Ditu (高德地图) map app, which is super high tech. It even tracks your journey when you board a bus and informs you when to alight!
- If you can read Mandarin, download the Dazhong Dianping (大众点品) app to source the best eats. Many locals use this app, so it’s filled with lots of reviews. Most of the spots featured below can be found on this app.
Overall, we had a good dining experience in China, and thanks to the Dazhong Dianping app, we were able to find seemingly random places for some good local chow. However, Shanghai, or China as a whole, does have a big waste problem, with frivolous plastic wastage pretty evident in the city. Baby steps can be taken to counter this problem, so be mindful as a tourist – just take what you need and if you can share disposables or bring your own, that’s already one step taken!
Xiaoyang Shengjian (小扬生煎)
If you don’t get your hands on one of these hot buns, you will not have experienced Shanghai. The raved-about pan-fried pork buns (小扬生煎) were the first things we gobbled up when we were on Shanghai ground. True to their reviews, the buns were a good balance of texture: golden, crunchy bottoms and super-juicy insides. Be careful not to eat these too quickly like us – the soup inside is excessively hot and explosive. These are so damn addictive and moreish. This shop has many branches around Shanghai, but we recommend the one stated below because it’s central and close to many other many local eats/attractions.
Yimi Xiang Chaoshan Shaguo Zhou
Just a few shops down from Xiaoyang Shengjian is this underrated claypot congee shop. This is such a great place to find comfort in a bowl of piping-hot congee. You can choose from their selection of ingredient combinations such as shrimp and abalone or bullfrog and shrimp or, if you’re picky, you can customise your own congee with your favourite ingredients. Feeling adventurous? Get their stir-fried bullfrog in chilli, which is juicy, tender and spicy. Trust me, your bravery will be duly rewarded.
Ah Mei Sheng Jian (阿美生煎)
We were actually looking for another breakfast place along the same street, but it was unfortunately (fortunately) closed, so we had to try Ah Mei Sheng Jian as the second resort. We observed locals standing around the shop, slurping noodles and downing massive dumplings, and we ended up ordering what everyone else was eating: a bowl of jiaozi (dumplings) and noodles. All we can say is: this simple breakfast of spicy pork-chop noodles and juicy dumplings kick-started our day on just the right note.
Lao Wang (捞王)
Photo credit: Dazhong Dianping
Everyone loves a good hotpot! We were super stoked when we found out that the signature broth that Lao Wang uses is painstakingly boiled with pig’s stomach and chicken. You can just imagine how much flavour was already captured in this hotpot broth before anything was cooked in it.
Available at various locations
Da Dong (大董)
Photo credit: Dazhong Dianping
We didn’t get a chance to try Da Dong, but it was highly recommended by our local friends if you’re craving good Peking duck. This outlet near IFC boasts great views, but of course great views plus great good often comes with a price to match.
You Lian (有练) – Sweat & Tears
We loved the hipster (but pretty premium) area called 新天地 because it boasts so many lovely bars and cafés. You can see people digging into brunch during the day and then sipping on cocktails as night falls. We chilled at You Lian one afternoon and enjoyed it for its good vibes, decadent waffles and stellar cups of joe. In Mandarin, You Lian literally means “did practice”, and the baristas’ coffee-making skills were definitely something to see.
Yong Xin Mian Guan (永兴面馆)
If you’re a noodlehead like me, you’ll dig this hole-in-the-wall noodle shop. It’s easy to miss this, as it’s located amongst a sea of other noodle shops, but once you find it, plonk yourself down and get a bowl of homemade noodles. Like other noodle shops, you can choose your own ingredients and sauces. We had the braised duck and beef noodles and they were yummy (we regretted not adding a sunny-side-up egg, though).
By the way, these weren’t as good as raved…
Let’s face it – dining out is subjective. These two spots were highly recommended in the Dazhong Dianping app, and we tried them but were not particularly impressed.
Jia Jia Tang Bao (佳家汤包)
This soup-dumpling place is opposite the first dumpling spot featured above (Xiaoyang Shengjian) and had a much longer queue. Initially, we were excited when we saw a group of ladies freshly making the dumplings and steaming them when a order was put through. After what seemed like a 20-minute wait, we were presented with a basket of forlorn-looking soup dumplings that looked as if some of the juices had leaked out during the steaming process. The dumplings themselves were fresh and piping hot, but they were missing the point – they were soup dumplings, after all! We were supposed to get a surprise jolt of broth when we bit into them, but we didn’t. The salted-egg-yolk and crab-roe flavours were alright, but nothing to shout about. Maybe we were just unlucky. And we had to pay extra for ginger! Not that this was expensive (RMB2 per serving), but I was still slightly bummed about it.
Nanxiang Mantou Dian (南翔馒头店)
As you can see, my soup-dumpling journey in Shanghai was pretty bumpy. We tried another famous soup-dumpling place at Jade Garden that had a long, snaking queue of tourists and locals. We succumbed to the gigantic soup-dumpling gimmick and regretted it. First, plastic straws were given, and it was hard not to use one, especially when the soup leaked through any hole created in the skin. Second, to make the skin less prone to leakage, the wrapper had to be of a certain thickness, and we were not very fond of it – we even saw people throwing the entire dumpling away after sucking up the juice. What a waste! Lastly, these dumplings were lukewarm-ish, a temperature you never want your soup dumplings to be. Ugh, bummer.
Have a place in Shanghai to recommend? Drop me a note at email@example.com!
For more awesome guides like this, like Foodie on Facebook