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The food in Shanghai rewards adventurers’ taste buds. There is an impossible amount of excellent street food and the easiest way to find your favorites is to try as many different things as possible. Soy sauce and sugar spice up many dishes, as does alcohol, which is used in modest quantities when cooking and steaming fish, crab and chicken.
A xialongbao, or a steamed pork dumpling served with soup and wrapped up in a wonton wrapper, is the hot dog of New York, iconic Shanghai street snack that everyone adores. There are two regional varieties of soup dumpling: the Nanjing-style (tangbao) dumpling that has a translucent skin, a little less pork and a savory broth; and the traditional Shanghainese xialongbao which has a thicker skin, hearty amount of pork and a sweeter soup.
Shaokao, known as the Chinese barbecue, is the perfect late night snack. There are shaokao spots all over the city and you’ll recognize them from the pick & mix method of ordering. Customers choose from tables laden with an enormous amount of different vegetables and meats, putting their choices on a tray and then handing it to the cooks at the grill who season and grill it to perfection.
Being a vegetarian in Shanghai, as in anywhere in Asia, can sometimes be a challenge. Chinese people don’t always understand why someone wouldn’t want to eat meat but this doesn’t mean meat dominates every course. Often the dish is 90% vegetarian and a little meat is used to flavor the dish or garnish it with, for example, a sprinkle of pork. There are 100% vegetarian options that are in no way shadowed by their meatier counterparts when you know what to order. Try the qingcai baozi, a steamed bun filled with bok choi, mushrooms and tofu. Cha ye dans are hard-boiled eggs which have been marinated in tea with soy sauce, vinegar, star anise and cinnamon. Watch out for the very similar looking Maodan eggs – they are fertilized eggs boiled with the foetus inside. Da congyou bing is a delicious veggie pancake, and bamboo tofu is the king of all tofu (nothing like the Western cubes in plastic trays with water!).
It’s not only Chinese food that Shanghai excels in. There are, for example, excellent French, Italian and British restaurants that have become immensely successful with not only the expats but locals as well. The French Quarter in Shanghai is scattered with French treats, everything from bistros and bakeries (Farine’s the best one in town) to wine bars that show French movies (Le Petit Franck). Even if you are sticking to a strictly Chinese diet, French Quarter is a delightful neighborhood; a little French village really, with its art deco houses, 1920s mansion and secret walled gardens.
A surprise hit, Mr Harry Authentic British Restaurant, serves everything English: the full breakfast, apple and rhubarb crumble, fish and chips and bangers and mash. The restaurant is located in a mall next to the main branch of Marks & Spencer in Shanghai.