Although Shanghai's oily, sugary and soy sauce-doused cuisine can't be heralded as the best eating on the mainland, everyone seems to love the food in Shanghai. In a city that offers so many culinary options, from roadside stalls to Michelin-starred restaurants, we wanted to celebrate that, with a list of the 12 foods you can find in Shanghai that we simply can't live without
1. Xiaolongbao (小笼包)
Let's get this one out of the way first since no list of Shanghai's favorite foods would ever be complete without the mention of our famous soup dumpling, xiaolongbao. The dumpling, cleverly hiding in it's soup and dressed in a delicately pinched wrapper. It still makes the list of best shanghai eats
Even though it burns the mouths and tongues of novice dumpling eaters (Note: you have to puncture the dumpling wrapper to let out the steam, and then slurp the soup slowly before shoveling the xiaolongbao down), we just can not live without this shanghai classic. We love it so much, in face, we've even taken a few xiaolongbao tours of Shanghai
2. Shanghai Niangao (上海年糕)
Soft and chewy sliced Shanghai-style niangao is an old-school treat that remains a favorite bachelors cooking dinner as well as a popular lunch order at local noodle joints. Stir-fried with leeks and pork, or for special occasions mixed with pieces of hairy crab in a sweet brown concoction, niangao is freaking delicious. We love the sweet, gooey, chewy hairy crab niangao at Wang Jia Sha.
3. Mapo doufu (麻婆豆腐)
Although mapo doufu is technically a Sichuan dish, Shanghai has adopted the tantalizingly spicy creation as its own, as it can be found in most restaurants here. As legend has it, an outcasted pockmarked-faced old lady (mapo) created this dish featuring the tongue numbing huajiao -- flower pepper. Just make sure to eat it with a bowl of rice, a tall glass of milk or, more likely, a cold Tsingtao, as this stuff can be tortuously, though addictively, hot.
4. Shengjianbao (生煎包)
What's not to love about a fried fatty pork dumpling? Not a whole lot. This local snack made our list of fattiest foods in Shanghai ... that we'll never give up.
5. Drunken Chicken (醉鸡)
Forget enjoying a meal while a bit inebriated, some of the best foods in Shanghai have already beat you to it. Of all the drunken varieties of dishes in Shanghai, we love the cold dish of drunken chicken the most. After the chicken is steamed and chopped into pieces, it then marinates overnight in a bowl of punishingly strong baijiu, or other hard liquors. Served chilled, the poultry is a heady, salty delight.
6. Shanghai Fried Noodles (上海粗炒）
Shanghai cumian -- a thickly cut pasta -- is Shanghai's gift to the wondrous world of noodles. Served at most dumpling joints, Shanghai-style fried noodles are usually stir-fried with beef, chicken or pork (sometimes even shrimp) then cabbage and onions.
7. Green Onion Pancakes (葱油饼)
The best green onion pancakes come from little old grannies (and grandpas) who get up at 6 a.m. to cook, knead and slap these petite bing in the city's many nongtang. If you're lucky enough to stumble across such a person in the morning (the long lines heading into residential buildings are a hint), make sure to pick up a green onion pancake.
8. Boiled Fish In Hot Sauce (水煮鱼）
The "water boiled" part of this dish's name is total deception; the water is actually oil. Tender slices of fish (often wild catfish) are completely suspended in a massive bowl of chili oil, with bean sprouts and more dried red chilies just in case. Don't be intimidated, most of the versions of this famous Sichuan dish are spicy but bearable. Make sure to go to a reputable restaurant to avoid the risk of eating gutter oil.
9. Mini Wontons In Soup (小馄饨)
Piping hot bowls of tiny wontons suspended in broth, garnished with cilantro, dried shrimp and strips of egg regularly start off our morning. As you head out for the day you can find wet market grannies-cum-xiao wonton sellers making these little treats rapid fire by clasping mini-wrappers and minced pork together in their hands.
10. Lion Head Meatballs (狮子头)
What's not to like about giant Chinese meatballs? Lion head meatballs might not be as big as a lion's head, but they are delicious like the foie gras of meatballs. Featuring indulgent crab meat and combined with a creamy texture, these balls are expertly made. The delicate, porky nuances of these meatballs are quite irresistible with rice (lots of it). Bet the Italians are kicking themselves that they didn't think of this one.
11. Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish (松子鲑鱼)
Also known as sweet and sour mandarin fish, this dish originates in Suzhou, a short hop from Shanghai. At first just an order for Shanghai-ning on holiday there, it became so popular that it was put it on the menu of every fancy Chinese restaurant in Shanghai. The Mandarin fish is scored, deep-fried into its distinctive "squirrel" shape and covered with a tomato sauce, shrimp, pine nuts and bamboo.
12. Hairy Crab (大闸蟹)
This species of crab is so popular, many fake versions of the Shanghai crustacean can be found when it's not even hairy crab season (which is in autumn). Believed to have the cooling yin (of yin and yang) effect on the body, the female crab roe is where it's at (although this is the subject of pretty heated local debates), and is a seriously good eat.