Chinese cuisine has a long and profound history, it is a major part of Chinese culture and identity. Due to its vast size and the multiple ethnic groups, different regions have their unique cuisines, ingredients and recipes. The dishes vary in method of cooking, appearance and of course, taste. Shanghai’s cuisine can be described as a delicious fusion of the different forms of the encompassing Jiangnan region, with a sprinkling of influences from other regions of China and even other parts of the world. The Shanghai method emphasizes freshness and balance, in particular the richness of sweet and sour flavoring that many savoury dishes have. Although not considered as one of the eight major cuisines of China, Shanghai’s cuisine is still widely popular. There is a saying in Shanghai, ‘Blessed are those born in Shanghai as they have the most chances to taste delicious food’.
There are two styles of Shanghai cuisine – Benbang cuisine and Haipai cuisine. Benbang cuisine is a traditional family style cuisine that appeared in Shanghai over a century ago. It emphasizes the use of fresh fish, chicken, pork, oil, soybean sauce and various vegetables. The result? Shanghai Benbang dishes taste deliciously fresh, mellow and sweet. Haipai Cuisine is originated from the cosmopolitan culture formed in Shanghai in the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The Haipai method takes the appealing tastes of other cuisines (Western & Eastern), and then adapts them to suit local tastes. The main ingredients of Haipai cuisine are mainly seafood such as fresh fish, shrimps and crabs.
Xia Zi Da Wu Shen – Regarded by many as the most famous seafood dish in Shanghai cuisine, this dish is a popular favorite among the locals. Dried sea cucumber is soaked in water, making it succulent and juicy. It is then stewed with oil, yellow wine, soybean sauce, broth, sugar, shallot, starch sauce and shrimp roe. Nutritious and rich in protein and minerals, this dish is said to have health benefits.
Ba Bao La Jiang – Shanghai cuisine is not known for being spicy but the few that are, this particular dish stands out. This brightly colored Benbang dish consists of bean sauce and chili sauce which are blended and stir-fried with shelled shrimps, chicken, chicken stock, pork, pig offal, dried small shrimps, bamboo shoots and other kinds of seasoning.
You Bao He Xia – This is a popular dish among seafood lovers. Live shrimps are first deep-fried, then sir-fried with a special sauce made of yellow wine, soybean sauce, sugar, shallot sauce and ginger sauce. The blend of seasonings give this dish a fairly sweet and refreshing flavor.
Qing Chao Shan Hu – Fresh eels are stir-fried with shredded bamboo shoots, yellow wine, soybean sauce, ginger, sugar and starch sauce. This dish is served with a sprinkling of chopped shallot, with hot oil poured onto it causing the dish to crackle.
Xiao Long Bao – Probably the most famous Shanghai dish and often mistaken for dumpling. Xiao long bao is filled with a pinch of meat and hot tasty broth and there is a proper way to partake this dish. First a little hole is bitten, allowing the hot steam to escape (helps prevent having a scalded tongue) then the broth is sipped and finally the bun is dipped in dark vinegar, bringing out the flavor of the meat inside.
Sheng Jian Bao – These larger buns made from dough are pan-fried until the bottom is a deliciously crispy brown. This particular dish is relatively unknown outside of Shanghai but is very popular with the Shanghainese.
When you are in Shanghai, make sure to try the local snacks such as the famous Nanxiang steamed stuffed buns, crab-yellow pastry, fried stuffed buns, chop rice cake, vegetable stuffed buns, Leisha dumplings and wontons. While there are various snack streets in Shanghai, we highly recommend Wujiang Road, Old Town God Temple Snack Street, South Yunnan Road and Xianxia Road where they serve the best local street snacks.