Shanghai: Where the locals dine

Gary Bowerman
AAP Images
Find out where the locals tuck in for the best food in Shanghai.

Breakfast pancake

There's a good reason for the early morning queues at the corner of Xiangyang and Changle roads; a cluster of open-fronted cafes crank out the local morning favourite — jian bing. This round egg pancake is cooked on a griddle while you wait and topped with spring onion, preserved vegetable, and hoisin sauce, rolled up and served piping hot. Michelin-starred chef Jean Georges Vongerichten has called it "the best breakfast in the world".

Dumpling days

Steamed dumplings are the snack of the day. Although they're served nationwide, the Shanghainese can chew your ear off for hours about the superior local xiao long bao (literally, 'little dragon packets') served at the Nanxiang Steamed Dumpling House in Yu Garden. Steamed in covered bamboo trays, these paper-thin dough balls are filled with pork or crabmeat and hot soup. The first bite is often both delicious and disastrous — remember the adage: don't wear white when you bite.

Hot 'n spicy

The Chinese love to promote their nation's culinary diversity, especially to foreigners accustomed to take-out sweet and sour pork. So here's a warning — if you're invited to eat Hunanese or Sichuan cuisine, take the opportunity, but wear an asbestos mouth guard and buy a couple of cartons of ice-cold beer to see you through. Cooked with handfuls of incendiary shade-grown chillis, this stuff is seriously spicy. favourite Guyi Hunan or smart newcomer Hunan House (86-21 3461 1377) for tongue-numbingly spicy Hunanese ribs and chili pots. For spice with style, both South Beauty (branches citywide) and Sichuan Citizen (Donghu Lu) serve up peppery, meaty Sichuan hotpots in smart surrounds.

Classic crab

Mid-October to December means one thing: Crabfest. The city takes leave of its normal dietary senses and hotels and restaurants beg, steal, and borrow as much 'hairy crab' as they can lay their hands on. These tough-shelled and surprisingly small crustaceans are reared in nearby Yangcheng Lake and are prepared simply — just steamed and served with vinegar. To be honest, you'll either love 'em or hate 'em, but when the Shanghai winter sets in, you can't avoid the crabs. For a special splurge, Wang Baohe on Fuzhou Lu prepares the city's finest, and priciest, crab dishes.

Original fusion

Whisper it in local company, but Shanghainese is the original Chinese 'fusion' cuisine — an assembly of dishes from the neighbouring coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu. Sweeter and oilier than many Chinese cuisines, it's strong on seafood, meat dumplings and soupy noodles. Local elders, taxi drivers, five-star chefs and backpackers fill the tables into the early hours at Bao Luo, a Shanghainese diner on Fumin Lu. More upmarket Shanghainese dining (at pretty affordable prices) is on offer at Lynn on Xikang Lu, just around the corner from the Shanghai Centre. Or for a real splurge, Fu 1088 (86-21 5239-7878) ratchets up decadent imagery of traditional Chinese dining culture in a beautifully restored historic villa.

Veggie revenge

This is a city of unreconstructed meat and seafood eaters, but Chinese vegetarian fare is also popular — especially at Vegetarian Lifestyle on Fengxian Lu (directly behind Nanjing Road's Westgate Mall). Don't expect gourmet salads of grilled artichokes on a bed of fragrant couscous, however. Mock-meat dishes are fashioned from tofu, gluten and vegetable proteins to look and taste like the real thing. The result is tastier than it might sounds. A newer alternative is Anna Maya, a small Japanese-owned café that serves delicious vegetarian, vegan and macrobiotic dishes, plus cakes and desserts and fresh juices.

Have you tried any of the places mentioned? Got any ideas we haven't thought of? Have your say using the comments form, below.

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User comments
Check out the great food market where the locals go to dine on many different dishes - fried dumplings, char-grilled scallops, etc near Nanjing Road West + WuJiang Road. The queues are sometimes long, so it pays to grab a bite from a short queue, while you are standing in a longer one. The short wait for the freshly-cooked dishes are definately worth it!