To ring in the year, I traveled to Shanghai for a weekend with Christina and Jennifer. I had heard so much about Shanghai, particularly about the soup dumplings and the food! So needless to say, I arrived in Shanghai ready to eat!
It was a bit disheartening though when I found out many food streets in this city had been closed down as the government began requiring all food vendors to have an official certificate. I’m sure this is a good move to ensure food safety and hygiene, but it sucked for us tourists who were looking for a convenient location to eat. To add to that, Google was barely working in China and I was having problems finding food street alternatives that haven’t been closed down.
I arrived separately from my friends and too early to check in to our hotel. Thankfully while walking around alone in the wee quiet morning with my backpack, I found a street full of food right next to People’s Square – a short street called Huanghe road.
Tips for Traveling in Shanghai
- Do a Shanghai Evening Food Tour – We did this tour for one of the nights. It’s a bit pricey, but as someone who does not speak Mandarin and doesn’t have local friends, it was SO helpful having a local guide showing us around. He brought us to Lin Long Fang (麟笼坊特色小笼包), one of the most famous places for soup dumplings.
- Google Maps doesn’t work in China. It’s not just that Google services are banned in China, the pins on Google Maps are also incorrect. Most expats in China use alternative maps like Apple Maps and even FourSquare to find the exact locations of food places. This is why we decided to go with the food tour – it was hard finding there places on our own.
- Bypass the great firewall of China by roaming. So by now, we all know that China blocks certain services like Google, Facebook, and Instagram. But if you are using a foreign card and roaming, these services become available to you. I roamed using my Singapore SIM and I was able to access all the banned services. So if it’s available to you, try to arrange a roaming service with your local telco before you leave for your China trip.
- Shanghai Maglev Train – Is the best way to get to town in Shanghai from the airport. It takes almost no time, and I personally think the train is SUPER COOL!! I mean, we are levitating on the tracks for god’s sake! You can buy the Shanghai Maglev Train Ticket here and pick it up at the airport.
Huanghe Road isn’t as lively as food streets in other countries, but you can get a decent sampling of what Shanghai has to offer here. It is also hardly a secret since it houses two of Shanghai’s most famous offerings: Xiao Long Bao from Jia Jia Tang Bao and Sheng Jian Bao from Yang’s Dumpling.
Okay! Without further ado, here’s what I found on Huanghe road:
1. Jia Jia Tang Bao
Jia Jia Tang Bao is, no doubt, a must visit in Shanghai and is the reason why I was on this street to begin with. Their Xiao Long Bao, aka steamed soup dumplings and probably the most famous dish from Shanghai which I’ve always lovingly refer to as “XLB”, are simply divine.
How to order at Jia Jia Tang Bao
First, you line up outside the shop. If you come after 9am it should not be hard to spot along Huanghe road because the shop would already have a long queue outside. If you come early though, you might miss it since the shop is actually very small and unassuming. I arrived around 8am and walked past it since it just blends in with the rest of the shops there.
Just look out for a white-colored shop with red Chinese writings on it. There will be a menu of the restaurant, also in red, beside the door.
But ummmm… the menu is not in english. I panicked for a second before I whipped out my phone and texted my good friend Serena who speaks fluent Mandarin. Thankfully she was awake at the time!
So if you’re like me and do not speak Mandarin or read Chinese, here is a translation of the menu. Thanks Serena for live-translating for me via Whatsapp while I was there!
Jia Jia tang bao’s English Menu Translation (from top to bottom)
- 纯鮮肉汤包 – Pure Pork Soup Dumpling – 15 Yuan
- 虾仁鲜肉汤包 – Shrimp soup dumpling – 20 Yuan
- 鸡丁鲜肉汤包 – Chicken Soup Dumpling – 20 Yuan
- 蛋黄鲜肉汤包 – Pork Egg Yolk Soup Dumpling – 23 Yuan
- 蟹粉鲜肉汤包 – Crab Meat Soup Dumpling – 30 Yuan
- 纯虾仁汤 – Pure Shrimp Soup – 25 Yuan
- 纯蟹粉汤 – Pure Crab Soup – 99 Yuan
- 鸡鸭血汤 – Duck Blood Soup – 5 Yuan
- 紫菜蛋皮汤 – Seaweed Soup – 5 Yuan
- 生姜丝 – Ginger – 2 Yuan
Once you get to the front of the line, look at the columns of red plastic plaque hung behind the cashier to see what’s still on the menu for today. Once they sell out of a dish, they don’t make them again for the day so be sure to come early!
On the top row are the different types of XLBs and the bottom row are soup, sauces, and drinks.
By the way, aside from the normal pork dumpling, I totally recommend the Pork Egg Yolk Dumpling (蛋黄鲜肉汤包). My tummy is rumbling just thinking about it! I also highly recommend adding some ginger (生姜丝) for only 2 yuan extra. It really completes the flavor of the XLBs.
After placing your order, find a place to sit down or if it’s the busy time they might help you find one. Also, during the busy time, you will likely have to share the table with strangers which is a pretty common practice in Asia. As everything seems to be made fresh, your order will then come to your table in approximately 10-15 minutes – Don’t worry, they will find you.
Once the XLBs are served – it’s time to eat! They don’t give you spoon here for some reason, so this is how to eat them XLBs – pick one up with chopsticks, dip it in vinegar and/or chili, put a few slices of ginger on top, then proceed to bite a small hole on top of the XLB and suck up the soup. Do NOT under any circumstances put the entire dumpling in your mouth! The XLBs will be served scalding hot. I burnt my tongue this way, and know exactly what Anthony Bourdain was talking about when he said these things can cause “unforgettable maxillofacial damage”.
We also accidentally ordered a bowl of duck blood soup. We were trying to order seaweed soup but mixed up the Chinese characters. It was actually pretty good though… if you don’t think about it as gelatinous blood squares. The broth is light and quite tasty!
My thoughts on Jia Jia Tang Bao
I think their XLBs are definitely a must try. Unlike many other XLBs I’ve tried, the broth isn’t very oily. In fact, it’s light enough that even though I finished an entire tray by myself on the first day here (that’s a dozen XLBs) and ate four Sheng Jian dumplings after that, I wasn’t overly full.
(Then again I am known to be overly excited about food…)
That said, I do think the XLB at Lin Long Fang or Nanxiang Steamed Bun is just as tasty if you don’t feel like queueing up. I just love Xiao Long Bao…
2. Yang’s Dumplings
Yang’s dumpling is another must visit for its Sheng Jian Bao, the lesser known Shanghai-style soup dumpling that is just equally as magnificent as XLB. The concept is similar to XLB – it is a dumpling that contains soup and pork meat inside, but the skin is thicker and pan-fried instead of steamed.
There are now many outlets of Yang’s throughout Shanghai, and lucky for us tourists, there is even a Yang’s dumpling outlet right across from Jia Jia Tang Bao!
How to order at Yang’s dumpling
Ordering at Yang’s is much more straightforward as they have English translations on their menu.
First, you go to the cashier and place your order. If you ordered any non-bao items, like noodle or soup, you will be given a pink plastic plaque with a number on it and told to sit down. Your order will be delivered to your table. Again, it’s fine to share the table if the shop is busy.
However, if you order any of the bao’s, you have to take your receipt and line up again at the window outside. From here, you can either ask them to put on a plate or tell them “ta pao” which means takeaway and they will place your baos in a plastic container.
For the non-bao item, I highly recommend trying the Pork Wonton Soup and the Hot and Sour Soup.
And that’s all! Time to chow down on your Sheng Jian Bao. You can even have these to go and eat while you are queueing up for Jia Jia tang bao 😉
3. Jianbing for breakfast
Jianbing is a type of savory thin crepe that has earned the title of the most popular Chinese street breakfast. I read somewhere that “bing” is the term Chinese use for anything that’s round in shape.
I have absolutely no idea what the menu is saying, but I used body gestures to order and paid 4 yuan for it so I guess I got the first option? @_@
First, the cook would spread a thin batter over a griddle to make the crepe-like wrap. Then, he would crack two eggs and spread it over the batter, while slowly adding ingredients on top of it such as crispy crackers, scallions, pickled vegetable and hoisin sauce. After that, he would fold the entire thing and cut it in half – and Jianbing is ready to be eaten!
There is a stall right next to Jia Jia Tang Bao so you can also get one while you are lining up. The catch is, as they are a breakfast item, they seem to be only available until 11am.
4. Butterfly Pastry at Park Hotel Deli
This is another store on Huanghe Road that would attract a long line of people. At first, I was confused as google searches don’t seem to result in anything, but soon noticed everyone seem to be walking out with one thing – a butterfly-shaped pastry.
[instagram url=https://www.instagram.com/p/BdO13coBkIS/ hidecaption=true]
I don’t have any pictures as I didn’t get to try this… but if you have time, you should definitely give it a try. There must be a reason why people are willing to queue around the block for it.
5. Other Various Street Vendors
This is a bit hit or miss in terms of variety of vendors. I came to Huanghe road multiple times as we were staying at a hotel nearby, and on some days there seem to be more street vendors than other days. In particular, I noticed more vendors on Saturday and Sunday morning.
Other things worth doing in Shanghai
- Walk around
FrenchConcession Area for hipster shops and nice streets
- Have dinner at Old Jesse if you can get a spot. This restaurant is apparently quite famous among expats living in China.
- Try Long Leg Noodle, a noodle dish sold in a simple pushcart (don’t expect a restaurant) as recommended by Anthony Bourdain. I didn’t get a chance to try this.
And that wraps up my experience of eating in Shanghai! In general, I was very impressed with this city. I can definitely see myself coming back here and exploring more of the areas I didn’t get the chance to see, especially the beautiful French Concession area.
Until next time 🙂