Chou Dou Fu (Stinky Tofu)
The first reaction first-timers usually have towards this local delicacy would be to hold their noses or their breath. Yet, despite its pungent odour, those who have tried it usually come back for more. Chou Dou Fu or 'Stinky Tofu' is another popular local dish commonly found on Shanghai’s streets. Fermented with a mixture of sour milk, vegetables, meat, Chinese herbs and other optional ingredients for several months, the stinky tofu is commonly fried, but it can also be eaten cold, steamed or stewed.
A legendary dish in Shanghai, Beggar’s Chicken is prepared by wrapping a whole chicken in lotus leaves and covering it with mud, before placing it in the oven to cook to perfection (in the olden days, the chicken was baked in the ground).
After it is taken out of the oven, the hardened clay is then broken in front of diners to reveal perfectly juicy and tender chicken.
Hairy Crab is a freshwater crab characterised by patches of fur-like fuzz on its claws, hence the name. It is a very popular dish in Shanghai, as the meat is believed by the locals to have a ‘yin’ (cooling) effect on the body. Flavourful and sweet, the hairy crab is a seasonal dish which can be mostly found in bigger restaurants. The most-preferred way to eat this crab is to toss it into a bamboo steamer immersed in boiling water for about 15 to 20 minutes, dip the meat in a mixture of vinegar, shredded ginger and a bit of sugar, and down it all with rice wine.
Among the more popular restaurants serving this national specialty is Wang Bao He Restaurant on Fuzhou Road (near Zhejiang Road) and Yanan-Xi Lu (near Panyu Lu).
Jiya Xuetang, otherwise known as Chicken and Duck Blood Soup, has congealed duck blood as its main ingredient and resembles dark red tofu with no distinctive taste. The solidified duck blood is served in a clear chicken broth with some salt and spring onion added to it for flavour. The idea of congealed blood may sound rather appalling, but it is said to be quite tasty, and good for the health, too. The Chinese believe that eating parts of the animal benefits the corresponding parts of the body, so that means consuming animal blood will give your blood a boost.
Also known as Thousand-Year-Old Eggs, Pi Dan are preserved duck eggs flavoured with lime and ginger. Despite its name, the eggs normally are preserved for only 100 days at the most before consumption. The recipe is made by thickly coating raw duck eggs with a concoction of mud, tea, rice husks, wood ash, soda, lye and lime. These ingredients penetrate the shell, causing a change in colour, texture and taste within. It may look revolting with its dark brown albumen and black yolk, but the taste, according to those who have tried it, is sublime.
Xiao Long Bao
Xiao Long Bao or Little Dragon Buns are small, soft buns with meat fillings (usually pork) which are then steamed in bamboo containers, resulting in super thick skins and juicy insides. Popularly-known as ‘dim sum’, it is widely consumed throughout Shanghai and the whole country, so much so that it has been said that if you haven’t tried Shanghai’s pork dumplings, then it’s the same as never having been to Shanghai at all. Xiao Long Bao can be found in abundance everywhere around town, be it in upmarket restaurants or at tiny stalls on the streets.
Cheap and plentiful, Shanghai’s local street snacks are definitely not to be missed. Shanghai’s streets are lined with vendors selling steamed and fried buns with a variety of fillings, crab-yellow pastries, chop rice cakes, cream spiced beans, Leisha dumplings and wontons.
Two of the best snack streets are Wujiang Road (Jing’an District) and Old Town God Temple Street (Huangpu District).
Other streets good for goodies are South Yunnan Road and Xianxia Road.
As expected with a vibrant metropolis with an international status, in terms of cuisine, Shanghai has international offerings as wide and varied as its local specialties. For a taste of authentic Italian recipes, head down to Ad Domus, cited by many as the best Italian restaurant in Shanghai. If spicy Indian food is more to your taste, then Hazara and Tandoor are your best bet.
For the best in Mediterranean fare, Indalo features a huge range of Spanish and Portuguese specialties, including a mouth-watering selection of tapas. For a more upmarket dining experience, Jean Georges serves classic French favourites in a sophisticated setting, whilst M on The Bund offers the ultimate in style and ambience as well as in its range of Continental offerings. Deemed as the classiest restaurant in Shanghai, M on The Bund is a popular choice among the city's upper crust.
Whether on the balcony of M on The Bund or on The Cupola atop Three on The Bund, rooftop dining brings about a whole different experience – one that is unforgettable, surreal and certainly not to be missed.
Enjoy world-class cuisine in the company of loved ones, in full view of the glitzy and glamorous city spread out before you. What could be better than that?