So this is my final post from my visit to Shanghai. Later this week Jen has the difficult task of posting a serious recipe (her dashed off blueberry muffin retort to the EXPO from last week is here) inspired by a trip she didn’t go on and has only experienced through my smug messages about how amazing the food was in Shanghai and I really wished she could have made it.
So to the food. Apparently the government shut down at least 50% of Shanghai’s street food vendors whilst the EXPO was on to protect the image of the city. This is a real shame as for someone who loves food, it is the city.
Still it is there. Well it is everywhere. As you will probably stay in the French Concession if you ever visit Shanghai (or should as it is particularly nice and an easy entry point to the city) I thought I would give my street food suggestions from that area. You can get all of the below from Tianping Lu (or anywhere else you see a throng of hungry locals).
Jian Bing or a Chinese crepe
My first recommendation is a jian bing which is China’s version of the French crepe. You will know it when you see it as there will be a little guy with a ghetto crepe stand (probably an old oil drum) and a crowd of people round him. Think a crepe batter with extra goodness inside. Like the Vietnamese banh xeo there are different textures with a crunchy fried layer and then your fillings such as cheap sausage, scallions, a gloppy sweet sauce. You will cry with joy.
Kung Pao chicken noodles
The second was a bowl of noodles we had in Shanghai’s equivalent of a greasy spoon cafe. The one we went to was at 220 Tianping Lu and I would travel a long long way to have as good again. But you will find similar places dotted around the French concession and Shanghai. Whilst this isn’t strictly street food it had the same type of atmosphere and immediacy (and price). What we choose was the most expensive bowl of noodles on the menu which had kung pao or gung po chicken on top and a rich broth. It was transcendentally good. It cost 12RMB or £1.00.
La mian or stretched noodles
The third was stretched noodles or la mian which we had multiple times. It is not actually a traditionally Shanghainese food and derives from the poorer Muslim regions of Western China. However, stretched noodles can now be found in most Chinese cities and are basically the Chinese equivalent of spaghetti. The best version we had was actually up in the old Jewish quarter (which ironically now seems to be the new Muslim quarter).
To watch them prepared is quite frankly amazing. So impressive that I actually took a little video of one. Just like good Italian pasta they retain a texture and bounce to them.
Xiao long bao or Shanghainese soup dumplings
You may have noticed that I have not yet talked about the dish that Shanghai is so famous for. Indeed the dishes I have talked about above are more generically Chinese and throw in various influences from the region and Europe. So to xiao long bao (XLB) – the dumplings with a soup filling.
But, and here is the twist that anyone from Asia will already know, the most renouned version of XLB’s are actually from a Taiwanese chain called Din Tai Fung. The photos of the XLB in this post are from there, where humble soup dumblings are refined into delicate beasts filled with crab or scallop meat. That said for a rough and tumble snack nothing can beat the ones you buy on the street corner. For the price of one Din Tai Fung dumpling you can buy eight street dumplings.
The fancy stuff
Of course I didn’t just eat the cheap stuff. In one week the pure size of Shanghai meant that we cycled over 200 miles to try and see as much as possible so I pretty much felt like I could eat anything and not get too fat. Out of the myriad non street food places we visited a couple of places stood out.
- Name: El Coctel
- Address: 2/F, 47 Yongfu Lu, Shanghai
The first of these was El Coctel in the French Concession. As near perfect a place you will find in any city place to get drunk expensively. Discreet, stylish and tasty and highly recommended. If it is full, the Apartment just by it is a good bet as well.
- Name: Ji Shi
- Address: 41 Tianping Lu, Shanghai
Another highly recommended place is Ji Shi (also in the French concession). It is a tiny little hideaway serving some of Shanghai’s best food. You can tell it is good because the locals are joyously holding up the menus in front of their faces to have their pictures taken with them.
- Name: Dongbei Dong Bei Si Ji Jiao Zi Wang (not the shortest of names)
- Address: 1791 Huaihai Zhong Road, Shanghai
Then to Dongbei which serves North Eastern Chinese cuisine. Think more dumplings, think fried stuff, think smashed chicken with spices and flavours you normally associate with Islamic cuisine (cumin, lamb etc.). Result is joy for a tenth of the price of any other country.
- Name: XiBei Oat Noodle Village restaurant
- Address: 1535 Dongfang Lu, near Pujian Lu, Shanghai
And finally to an Inner Mongolian restaurant which led me to realise that one of the great things about Shanghai is that like any world city you can get all the tastes in one place.
Whilst we ate a lot of Shanghainese food we also took the chance to experiment with some other regions (quick tip, New Zealand food in Shanghai is worth a miss). One of the most interesting was some Northern Chinese food at XiBei which made use of grindstone tofu and oat pasta.
Now call me ignorant but I didn’t know that one common bit of (fake) “food history” is that Marco Polo was supposed to have introduced pasta to Italy from China having been inspired by Chinese noodles. The reality was that it developed in both countries independently but the fake story (apparently invented by the Italian macaroni industry) is indicative of a true fact – Chinese cuisine does pasta.
And this goes beyond the Chinese spaghetti or hand pulled noodles I’ve already spoken about above. The meal we had at XiBei Northern Chinese restaurant in Shanghai was actually quasi Italian with steamed pasta (see two pics above), oat noodles and a type of potato pasta that had presumably been pushed through a machine like Play Doh. It was quite remarkable to realise this was a whole style of food that… well… I didn’t even know Chinese food broached.
So, that is about all I can manage on Shanghai. I’m exhausted. It is a remarkable sprawling city that deserves hard work to get the most out of it. I can’t wait to go back and continue to experiment.