Shanghai cuisine, also referred to as Benbang cuisine, balances color, aroma and taste.
While appearances may not always be appealing to a Western palate (check out Hairy Crab below) – in general, Shanghai dishes feature a comparatively sweet and light-salt flavor. By contrast to the heavy and spicy flavor prevailing in China’s north, Shanghai cuisine offers a different culinary experience. Benbang cuisine is known for its thick red oil sauce and its method of braising or stewing in soy sauce and use of sugar.
A contrast to typical Shanghai street food, traditional Shanghai cuisine is somewhat different and readily available in local restaurants. ChinaTours.com is a reputable provider of China tours, and in writing this article our local tour guides have assisted by handpicking a few famous favorites, including some must-try Shanghai cuisine dishes for those visiting this fascinating city.
Traditional Shanghai Cuisine
Shanghai Old Restaurant / 上海老饭店
Find it: 242 Fuyou Rd
Founded in 1875, Shanghai Old Restaurant is the origin of Shanghai’s Benbang cuisine and has a history of nearly 150 years, providing featured dishes such as Braised Jumbo Sea Cucumber with Shrimp Roe; Chicken, Mushroom and Ham Threads in Consomme; and Fried Shrimps.
Fu 1088 / 福1088
Find it: 375 Zhengning Rd
Located at an old foreign-style house built around the period between the 1920s or 1930s, Fu 1088 features dishes from Shanghai’s traditional wealthy and influential families. Menu highlights include Stewed Pork with Brown Sauce, Braised Noodles with Yellow Croaker and Shrimp with Mustard and Sesame.
Wang Bao He Restaurant / 王宝和
Find it: 603 Fuzhou Rd
Originally built in 1744, Wang Bao He Restaurant specializes in cooking river crabs, showcasing featured dishes such as Stewed Crab Meats with Tender Tofu, Crab Meat and Prawn Rolls, and Shrimp and Crab Cooked with Green Pepper. If you’re a seafood lover, you are guaranteed to love this form of Shanghai cuisine.
Yong Foo Elite / 雍福会 Michelin two stars
Find it: 200 Yongfu Rd
Built at the beginning of last century, the garden villa of Yong Foo Elite earns every point of its two Michelin stars. Covering an expansive area of three mus (a traditional Chinese measure of land) on which the former site for British Consulate in Shanghai was located, Yong Foo Elite features dishes such as Stewed Crab Meats with Fins, Wine Preserved Crab and Prawns in Chili Sauce. Come ready to be impressed and enjoy the top-rated Shanghai cuisine at Yong Foo Elite.
Jardin De Jade / 苏浙汇
Find it: 388 Zhaojiabang Rd
Built in 1999, Jardin De Jade brings together the dishes and flavors of Suzhou, Zhejiang and Huaiyang – all cities located within proximity of Shanghai – enhancing them to innovate traditional Shanghai cuisine. Feature dishes at Jardin De Jade include Braised Meatballs in Brown Sauce, Benbang Smoked Fish, and Steamed Reeves Shad. Ask your local guide for details on how to book a night out at this special restaurant.
Lubolang Restaurant (绿波廊)
Find it: 115 Yuyang Rd
Built during the reign of Emperor Jiajing in the Ming Dynasty, Lubolang Restaurant is a century-aged restaurant which boasts not only typical Benbang cuisines but also unique and exquisite pastries. With classical pastries available, including Flaky Pastry with Shredded Meat, Mushroom and Winter Bamboo Shoots, Osmanthus Jelly, and Pan-fried Turnip Cake, make sure you arrive ready to feast.
Looking for traditional Shanghai cuisine dishes to try?
Sample these local specialty dishes when you’re visiting Shanghai, the Pearl of the Orient
Steamed Hairy Crab （蒸毛蟹Zheng Mao Xie）
I know. It sounds more like an animated character than seasonally popular Shanghai street food dish, but Hairy Crab is virtually revered among locals who recommend steaming with ginger and serving with a dipping sauce of rice vinegar, ginger and sugar.
Can’t face the prospect of pulling apart the crab? For local Shanghai residents, it’s all part of the ritual. Ask your local guide to share their insider secrets to the best Hairy Crab street stall. They’ll take you there – and we know you’ll be happy you did.
Braised Pork Intestines with Alfalfa (草头圈子 Cao Tou Quan Zi)
For the more adventurous Shanghai visitors, a foray into the unknown sampling braised pork intestines with alfalfa could make for the ultimate food travel memory. When you’re asked Did you try any usual Shanghai food? You can give a resounding Yes! as your answer. While it may not sound appetizing, braised pork intestines with alfalfa is old Shanghai cuisine. Ask your local guide to include it on your culinary tour.
Sauteed Shelled Shrimps (炒虾仁)
For seafood lovers, sauteed shelled shrimps – or you bao xia – are a Shanghai favorite. Sauteed in oil, and flavored with ginger, chicken broth, Shaoxing wine, sugar, black vinegar, and sesame oil, this dish is unique to this region. Keen to eat like the Shanghainese? Check in with your local guide while on tour or layover for the best culinary adventure advice.
Indian Kalimeris Herb mixed with Smoked Bean Curd (马兰头拌香干)
The Shanghainese love their vegetables, so trying Indian Kalimeris Herb mixed with Smoked Bean Curd (Ma Lan Tou) is a must. Others you may want to sample include Shepherd’s Purse, Chinese Little Greens, and Shanghai rape, a type of cruciferous green vegetable.
Make your visit to Shanghai a totally memorable food experience
Apart from the wonderful culture and history of China, local traditional cuisine adds to every travel and culinary experience, whether it’s a short layover or a longer China tour. If you want to experience Shanghai’s local cuisines come with us (ChinaTours.com) on a Shanghai tour and your local bilingual guide will ensure you enjoy the different flavors which will captivate and delight you.
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