[Photographs: Simon Farrell-Green]
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Shanghai twice in the past year, both times in summer when the city is soupy with humidity and heat, and it takes all of your will to not go running into the sanctuary of an air-conditioned mall to buy a clean shirt. Mainly, we go to eat – the city is awash with restaurants, everything from street-side stalls to high-end French restaurants in art deco buildings on the Bund. Here are some of our favourite spots.
We have dreams about Jia Jia Tangbao, which makes some of the best xiao long bao in the city – soup dumplings, filled with pork mince and stock. At Jia Jia, there is a grumpy woman on the door, who occasionally takes pity on you and gives you an English menu; otherwise you just have to mutter “xiao long bao” and hope she gets it. It’s a plain, white space with shared tables and a kitchen where you can see them putting the meat into the wrappers. They come out in bamboo steamers, and they are wondrous and small and delicate.
90 Huanghe Lu, People’s Square.
Right across the road you’ll find Yang’s Fry Dumplings: you’re here for shenjian mantou, Shanghainese breakfast buns – they’re the size of a big dumpling, cooked in a huge wok so they’re half-fried, half steamed. They’re topped with sesame seeds and spring onion; inside you’ll find pork and stock. The queues are long, and by the time you get close to finishing, there’ll be someone standing over your table.
Various locations: we like 97 Huanghe Lu, People’s Square.
For noodles, we have two particular favourites. There’s Grandmother’s Noodle, or Ah Niang Mian (no English sign, 36 Sinan Lu, French Concession): it opens at 11am and is full within minutes and it is here that you will find crab noodle soup like no other on this earth. You slurp your noodles and get out. And on our last visit, we went to a tiny hole-in-the-wall called He Nan La Mian Guan (Changle Lu, near Donghu Lu) and ate a simple plate of congyou ban mien: noodles served with shallots and oil, and it was wondrous.
For a taste of classic Shanghainese food, head to Jesse, or Jishi Jiujia, which is a family-owned restaurant serving classic local dishes, including “salty chicken” and a steamed fish head. The service is awful and the place is tiny, but the food is brilliant.
41 Tianping Road, ph +86 21 6282 9260
Meanwhile, Shanghai attracts people from all over China, and they bring their food with them – and there are an increasing number of restaurants with great fitouts as well. We like Xibo (Third Floor, 83 Changshu Lu, French Concession), all raw concrete and black timber, where you’ll find food from Xinjiang province, in the northwest of China. Recently we ate lamb with cumin, and then a huge dish of chicken and potatoes in a fragrant tomato sauce, to which they added big flat noodles later – try the black beer, also from Xinjiang. Otherwise, head to Southern Barbarian (Second floor, Area E, 56 Life Art Space, 169 Jinxian Lu, ph +86 1362 1797 634. southernbarbarian.com) which has a good selection of craft beers and food from Yunnan province in China’s deepest west – try the pan-fried goat’s cheese, flown in from the province, or beef stir fried with mint and chilli. Best of all, there’s a fish grilled with spices and fennel and a dab of chilli.
Sichuan food is so hot right now in Shanghai: we like Xingfu 131 in the French Concession. It’s a long, airy space, with wooden-topped tables and stools, and the food is brilliant. Good Sichuan food actually uses green pepper corns, which are numbing rather than hot, but you’ll still get a good sweat on. We like the frog stew here.
237 Wanping Road, French Concession, ph +86 21 5757-5777
You really must make your way to one of the many food streets around Shanghai. To a Westerner, these can be a bit daunting – a lot of the preparation is done on the streets, right down to shucking oysters or washing plates. But they’re actually very clean – look for places that use fresh oil, and which cook the food to order rather than leaving things sitting around. Start with Shouning Lu, where you’ll find crawfish in season – grilled over coals and then slathered with chilli – as well as grilled scallops and oysters. It’s outrageously good – and open 24 hours a day.
And, if you find yourself craving western food, head to the rightly acclaimed Mr & Mrs Bund (Sixth Floor, 18 Zhongshang Dong Yi, ph +86 21 6323 9898. mmbund.com), a strikingly modern restaurant in an art deco building with a view of the skyscrapers of Pudong. The food is brilliant – classically French, but updated: think confit duck, terrines, foie gras, a classic egg with mayonnaise. Dinner is expensive; lunch and late suppers are cheaper. No matter what time of day, adjourn to the Long Bar at the Waldorf Astoria (2 Zhaongshan Don yi Lu, ph +86 21 6322 9988). Once, it was the Shanghai Club and famous for having the longest bar (34 metres) in the Far East. There are brilliant martinis, a raw bar and – holy of holies – a selection of Cuban cigars. What more could you want?
Eat Here Now travelled to Shanghai with the help of Air New Zealand.