Chinese food is delicious in most provinces and dishes in Shanghai are served up with that region’s particular twist on the cuisine. Chinese cooking emphasizes the quality of the raw ingredients and original spices and this is especially important in the Benbang and Haipai styles of cooking that are prevalent in Shanghai. Benbang is traditional cuisine often using fresh chicken, fish and pork in mild, slightly sweet sauces. Hapai came about around the end of the Qing Dynasty and embraces tastes from all regions of China creating more varied dishes.
You may see this as xiaolonbao, a word that refers to several styles of dumplings. The most common are spoon-sized packages of meat wrapped in dough and filled with delicious soup. Beginners usually burn their mouths on the first bite until they learn to puncture the package to release the steam before popping the amazing bite into your mouth.
Another variation is larger, has thinner dough and more filling. They come in a steaming basket and are open on top. Rather than bite into one, sip the scalding soup with which they’ve been filled before getting to the tasty filling lurking in the bottom of the cup.
Shengjian bao are a variation that have been lightly fried after steaming to create a crispy bottom layer. These are a popular breakfast food but also hold up well if you want to grab a snack to go.
Nanxiang dumplings are similar but served steamed on a platter. They’re a little larger than soup xiaolongbao and served with tangy vinegar that you dip them into to cool them off.
You Bao He Xia is made of deep fried live shrimps (head and shell included) mixed with a flavorful wine-soy sauce flavored with ginger and a bit of sugar. The result is a sweet, refreshing dish that’s great any time of day.
Grilled oysters are one of the most varied dishes you’ll find as each small restaurant creates their own sauce to serve with seafood. Try them all to experience oysters with bean sauce, garlic, chili and even cheese sauce.
Da Zha Xie is river crab steamed in bamboo containers and rarely flavored with anything else. The delicate crab meat is dipped into vinegar when eaten producing a surprisingly tasty mouthful. Ask if you are eating male or female crab to receive an impromptu lesson on seasonal crab eating.
Drunken crab is raw, served with equally raw roe. The dish has been marinated in yellow rice wine, somewhat pickling the meat and a cup of warm ginger tea is a traditional accompaniment. Also traditional is to eat the crab from the inside out, starting with the “cream” and finishing the meal by consuming the shell.
Huang ni luo are yellow mud snails with a transparent shell that are marinated in brine and rice wine before being served raw. You can get these at the local market, but most residents prefer the jarred variety from the supermarket.
Found in marshes, swamps and aquaculture ponds “field chicken” is large frogs that can be served almost any way that other meat is cooked. A favorite is just a plate piled with tender, spicy frog and served with rice cakes and bamboo.
Many dishes include chicken and a few are even designed around the bird, but you are more likely to find duck as the featured fowl meat. Very young chicken is super-tender and served with stir-fried peppers or edamame.
Honey-glazed roasted ducks are found in most markets hanging in the windows. Once ordered the duck is chopped by the butcher and taken home by the purchaser. Use your duck to top rice, add flavor to soup, or just eat it out of the box and enjoy the sweet, gamy taste of the bird.
Pepper duck has been both braised and fried, creating crispy skin and tender, juicy meat. It’s served with sweet plum sauce and steamed bread and although you can find it year-round, autumn ducks have the most flavour.
Eggplant is found in many dishes but most visitors stop trying the different varieties once they’ve sampled the braised dish. Shaoxing wine, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, a bit of sugar for sweetness and a few chilies to add spice are combined to create an incredibly flavourful broth to stew the eggplant in, producing the perfect combination of salty, sweet and savory.
Fermented tofu is a highly fragrant version of the well-know bean curd. Although a bit odiferous, the crispy, deep-fried morsels are creamy and sweet inside and almost addictive once you get past the smell.