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American chowhounds in Beijing and Shanghai in October

My husband and I will be in China for three weeks in October, starting 10/1 (half in Beijing, half in Shanghai.) This is partly a business trip, so for the first part of the trip, in Beijing, we will have the company of a co-worker and his wife. They are both from China, and she went to college in Beijing. Other than day tours, we are otherwise on our own.

We would really like to try good food (of all stripes) in Beijing and Shanghai. Although our co-worker’s wife may be some help, it’s been awhile, and as a college student she was more used to buying street food than more gourmet stuff. We are relatively daring (have eaten cock’s comb, pig blood, chicken feet, etc.) but we aren’t looking to eat something “weird” just so we can go home and tell our friends that we ate rat or whatever. I mean, it would have to be a really TASTY rat dish.

We are already big fans of dim sum, and xiao long bao – at least, what we have had in NYC, Toronto, etc.

Since we'll be there for three weeks, not all food has to be traditionally Chinese. If there is a place that does great French, or Ethiopian, or whatever, we'd be hip to checking it out.

I also know this is around the Moon Festival – we have had moon cakes before (some great, some too “pre-packaged tasting” and will happily seek out some good ones. Is there other “holiday” food we should look for?

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  1. I'd be happy to recommend some good food in Shanghai, where I'm living now. Of course, it depends a bit on your budget, since dining in Shanghai can be quite expensive by Chinese standards - and sometimes even by American ones. At a "nice" Western place, for example, the pricing is basically the same as you might be used to at home. (I'm from California.)

    One nice thing that will be in season when you arrive is Shanghai hairy crab. I just moved here in March, so I haven't been here for a crab season yet, but I hear it's a lot of fun.

    For mid-range Chinese food, some favorites are 1221, Yang's Kitchen, Charmant, Jade Garden, Crystal Jade and South Beauty. If you want more info or addresses, etc., just let me know, though most are well-known enough to be in a tour guide. Bi Feng Tang is a nice place for a quick, cheap lunch. Family Li is very expensive, but does give you a great introduction to the cuisine with a 12+ course meal. Yong Foo Elite isn't much for food, but the design is really lovely, so go for a drink.

    For mid-range Western food, I'd try Indian food at Vedas, Saleya for French, Mediterraneo for Italian, Azul for tapas, Simply Thai for thai (though there are tons of great Thai places).

    At the high end, some places to try would be Jean Georges, Jade 36, Laris, Whampoa Club, M on the Bund, and Nadaman.

    If you miss home, Bubba's does excellent Texas wood-smoked barbecue. And Element Fresh, a California-style healthy cafe with smoothies, etc., can be a pretty nice break from all the pork and fried things.

    For drinks, I highly recommend Glamour Bar (dressy, elegant) or Senses (casual, laidback).

    Of course, all of these places are fairly popular, but they are well-known for a reason. If you want an awesome hole-in-the-wall or some great street food, just let me know - and let me know if you have any more specific questions -

    1. You won't find much in the way of Cantonese-style dim sum in Shanghai, but you will find a lot of very tasty dumplings and other noshes, expecially as "street food." Good xiaolongbao is everywhere, including the Pudong Airport food court, and there's a discussion somewhere below on the current wheareabouts of Jia Jia Tang bao, which seems to have become keeper of the xiaolongbao flame.

      As another responder mentioned, you will be there for peak Dazha Crab season. Dazha Crab is not to be missed. They are small critters and a pain in the butt to get a decent amount of meat out of, but worth it. You best option will to be find one of the many crab feasts held in the main restaurants of some of the hotels -- Wang Bao He at the Central(?) Hotel is the most recommended. (If I got the hotel name wrong, it's the building that looks like it's wearing Juughead's hat). At the crab feasts there will be several presentations where they've done all the work of shelling the crabs for you.

      Mooncakes are mooncakes are mooncakes, and you won't find them much different there than here. You either like them or you don't, and you won't find many Shanghainese that are crazy about them. However, if you want to bring some back, the two most famous places in Shanghai for them are Xinghualou Restaurant on Fujian Lu (street) and Xinya Restaurant on the Nanjing Lu pedestrian mall.

      For suggestions on historic old-line Shanghai Restaurants, here's an overview I posted below:


      And from my own website, some stuff about street foods in Shanghai:


      1. Thanks for all of the tips so far. They are very, very helpful. I am definitely excited about the hairy crab! We will be in Beijing and Shanghai for more than a week each, so we are looking for a mix of prices. We have no problem spending money on a nicer place if it is worthwhile (and this will actually probably be a necessity in Beijing, as we may need to entertain some fellow scientists) but fine dining every night would get a bit tiresome. I would estimate 2 or 3 very good dinners in Shanghai, and at least that many in Beijing.

        Sadly, neither of us speak Chinese. We will have some help in Beijing, but in Shanghai that may be an issue. I am normally all for hole-in-the-wall places but although I am pretty good at charades and would be willing to try the “random pointing” method of food ordering now and then, it would probably be helpful to find places that will allow us to use our English and perhaps a restaurant phrase book we are planning to have our friends make up for us. (I should post on that elsewhere.)

        I was told by some friends who just traveled to China that THEY were told not to eat any street food. Would you concur? It seems a shame, though I certainly don’t want to wind up sick during our trip.

        We are just in the process of trying to pool together tips from friends/colleagues/guidebooks/Chowhound, so I won’t ask for addresses yet – as you say, I can probably track down that info elsewhere.

        I will delve into the links soon – we are traveling to Montreal this week so probably won’t start serious China planning until we return. Thanks again for your assistance.

        1 Reply
        1. re: meg944

          I'd say go for the street food. Most of it, by nature, is stuff that's thououghly cooked through, and generally right in front of you. Just be wary of food that looks like it may have been sitting around. I've never gotten sick from street food in Shanghai, and don't know anybody who has. Most working Shanghainese grab their breakfasts from street vendors. In particular, if you see locals lining up at a street vendor, get in line!

          A surprising number of restuarants in Shanghai will have English on the menu (though the translations can be mysterious). "That's Shanghai" used to publish an annual guide to eating and drinking out that identified which restaurants have English menus; I don't know if they still publish it, though. You are not by any chance staying at the Academy of Sciences Convention Center Hotel on Zhaojiabang Lu, are you? They had an excellent dining room with English menus when I stayed there several years ago.

          Coincdentally, I'm travelling to Montreal next week too (from San Francisco)!

        2. I wanted to chime in again to agree with the other posters that street food is usually perfectly safe and very delicious. However, I have gotten - and still am - very sick from the water, so be very cautious about that. Only drink bottled water, and tea made with water you know to have been bottled. The tea here is rarely brought to a full enough boil to kill off all the bad stuff before serving.

          1 Reply
          1. re: langland

            ya, and besides the local tap water tastes absolutely awful even when it is boiled. (heavy metals...? ... let's not think about that)

          2. I am a frequent traveler to China, and am moving there tomorrow (!) so will be around, and checking things out in the city for a few weeks before you get there. But there are two places I can recommend already--the aforementioned South Beauty for excellent Sichuan, and "Three Guizhou Men", a tiny little chain of restaurants serving the spicy and generally hard-to-find cuisine of this southwestern province. There is one location just off Dongdaqiao Lu near the Silk Market, and another in the Soho complex (I believe). Excellent stuff, particularly the lamb with mint, which is an amazing dish.

            1 Reply
            1. re: James G

              Thanks - I am writing all of these in my guide book. South Beauty sounds especially intriguing.

            2. Go for the Hairy crab, should be in season Oct and Nov.

              Jean Georges is over rated, and not even close in terms of quality to the other JG restaurants.

              Visit Wamphoa club for decent upscale Shanghai/Chinese cuisine, but you pay for the view and location on the Bund, expect modest portions.

              For Italian, try Da Marco, not high end food, but if you are craving Italian, the food is very solid, large portions and the wine list is very decent though 99% Italian. And Marco is in the restaurant every evening.

              M on the Bund is ok but if you compare to SF or NYC the food will only be decent and will not "wow" you. Has great view of the Bund! and if you are visiting in Sept/Oct the weather will be nice to sit outside on the deck. Very decent wine list, and Marcus the floor manager knows his wines.

              The dim sum in the Cantonese restaurant next door to Da Marco (sorry forgot the name) at the "Dong Zhu An Bang Lu" location (Da Marco has two locations) is very decent, the crispy squab is very tasty and is their special dish.

              You should be able to find the locations and phone numbers of these restaurants listed in the classifieds of magazines like City Weekend or That's Shanghai.

              1. Thanks so much for the tips. I am assiduously keeping track of them all.

                Incidentally, we finally booked our hotels. In Beijing we will be at The Sheraton Great Wall, 10 North Dong San Huan, Chaoyang District, and in Shanghai we will be at the Howard Johnson All-suites, 1155 Yan'an West Road (at the Jiang Su Road Metro.) Anything around there? Not that I am concerned about taking cabs or the metro, but if there is a cool little place around the corner we wnat to be sure to try it.

                1. For authentic Shanghainese fare, I recommend "Chun" (Chinese character for Spring) on Jingxian Road, a block from Okura Hotel in the French Concession. This 18 year-old restaurant is run by a bubbly proprietress and has been regularly accorded rave reviews from food critics in the Greater China region. It only has 4 tables and getting a table without good ol' Chinese connections meant being on the wait list for 3 months, but a phone call from our super concierge, Harry, at the Westin Bund Center Shanghai, managed to get all 5 of us a table. The food and service were impeccable, and the cost for a 12 course meal for 5 hungry adults? 490RMB (or approximately US$55). If you crave comfort food from Italy, stop by Prego, at the Westin Bund Center Shanghai on Henan Road, and ask Chef Dario to whip up a "little something" for you... his creations always put a big smile on my face.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: kks24

                    Thanks! Italian food may be fun to try, though it's hard now to imagine getting bored with the vast assortment of Chinese reguional cuisines.

                    1. re: kks24

                      i second this recommendation for chun. i was brought here by a shanghai-nese foodie friend and had a great meal, this was 2 years ago, however. i also enjoyed lunches at the newer meilongzhen. they had decently priced lunch specials and it was walking distance from my house. there is also good taiwanese food in shanghai. i cant remember the name but it was super disco'ed out with pink walls (i think?) and blue lights (which unfortunately makes everything look gross) does this ring a bell to any locals?

                      hairy blue crab is awesome as is xiaolongbao and noodle joints, but this is obvious.

                      my favorite thing to eat when im in china are all the regional specialties one cant find while here in the states. this may include yunnanese food for their wild mushrooms. good xinjiang food (like the yangrou chuar) although there are decent examples in flushing.

                      its hard to go wrong if youre sampling across the cost spectrum.

                    2. We're two more NYC Chowhounds who will be in Beijing and Shanghai for a few weeks in October. "That's Beijing" has an ongoing series of short articles called "Decoding the Dish" with photos and descriptions of all manner of street food, such as Buddha Jumps Over The Wall (Fo Tiao Qiang), Earth's Three Fairies and more. If this link http://www.thatsbj.com/index.php?a=28... doesn't get you right there, just click on any Food link on the site then on Decoding the Dish.

                      We're also going to be in Pingyao and Xian for a few days, so if anyone has any recommendations we'd be happy to hear them.

                      1 Reply
                      1. I was in Pingyao a few years ago, and while it's difficult to recommend a particular place for a meal, I can recommend you try the kaolaolao, a sort of oat noodle that is served in a steamer basket that you then dip in a vinegary sauce. Very unusual, and pretty tasty, too. There is also a typical braised beef dish that is very popular there, and you'll see it for sale there everywhere.

                        1. There are a ton of places to go in any price range and almost any cuisine.

                          If you are looking for something specific, email me at info@shanghai-eats.com or visit the site I created to help travellers such as yourself easily find places to go.


                          I think langland covered the basics, but I'd throw a few more in that are my favorites: South Beauty 881 (it is more beautiful than the food is good, but it is still an excellent dining experience).


                          I also like "Mao Long" for Shanghainese - it is next door to Chun and they are similar in food, price, and experience (i.e. there are only 4 tables in each restaurant).


                          Completely skip any "mexican" places in town - none compare to Southern California or even better, Mexico. And the Italian places are OK, but none that knock my socks off.

                          For dim sum, I also think that Zen at the corner of Nanjing Xi Lu and Tongren Lu is pretty tasty:


                          although Shen Yue Xuan is an even better place


                          and the setting inside of a park can make a nice stroll before or after your meal.

                          If you like sushi, Shanghai has a price war going on right now, and there is no better place than Tian Jia if you love Toro and Crab (sorry, I haven't gotten around to writing the review yet). But, if you go, opt for the price fixe menu at 250RMB - which is 5 courses of toro and crab dishes. Call ahead for reservations. It is directly above Archie's Bar.


                          Also, if you want to order anything from the menu (sushi, sashimi, tempura, teppanyaki, etc.), including all the beer and sake you can drink for 168RMB (US$20) - then I'd recommend Hatsuhana - it's a bit out of the way, and the food is good, but not excellent.


                          I promise you this: if you do go to Hatsuhana, you will have a hard time eating sushi back home where a similar meal will run you $75-100 per person.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: shanghaieats

                            Thanks for the tips and links - sushi is a particular favorite with us.

                          2. If you're looking for a comfortable, funky spot with good western food with a Chinese influence (I had mutton pizza), in Beijing, search out the Pass-By Bar in the hutong area slightly north of the main part of town.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: fpatrick

                              and on not such a chowish note, the Pass-By Bar has a great line of t-shirts. Good place - and good presents to bring home from a trip!

                              1. re: igj

                                We haven't gotten many Beijing recommendations (in comparison with the myriad Shanghai recommendations) so that sounds intriguing - thanks!

                            2. I am from Chicago and have been living and working in Beijing for the past three months. I am looking forward to the 3 to 9 months that are still coming!

                              My very favorite restaurant in Beijing is Din Tai Fung because of the Xiao Long Bao (steamed soup dumplings) stuffed with either pork, or pork and crab. They are unbelieveably good!! IMHO. There is another version with a shrimp on top that is also wonderful.

                              They also have a few very nice vegetable dishes, noodles, rice and soups.

                              It is a very modern, clean and attractive restaurant with excellent service. Many of the staff speak some English, some speak English extremely well. They have private rooms for parties of about 10, or larger rooms for more. The only downsides are these:
                              - it can be crowded, so reservations are recommended 10-6462-4502 - omit the 10 if you are in Beijing
                              - for the type of food it is, it is expensive by Beijing standards - I typically spend close to 100 RMB ($12.50 USD) for dinner for one. That is a lot for local food!

                              I agree with the earlier comment about South Beauty. A nice place to eat and very good food.

                              I have not had problems with the street food, but I am fairly selective about what I will order. One street treat not to be missed is jian bing. A crepe, topped with an egg, sauces, green onions and cilantro, a crunchy bread crueller, sometimes a bit of meat, made right in front of you in a little booth and served piping hot. About 2 - 3 RMB. I Love It!!!!

                              I hope this reply is not too late for you. I just checked out the China board today for the first time. If you are still in BJ and wish to talk about other places, please email me at kstroble@comcast.net and I will send a mobile phone number.

                              Cheers, Ken

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: kstroble

                                i used to eat this all the time for breakfast when i lived in beijing in 95. then it started to make me queasy! hahah

                                plastic bags full of oily rou bao and the huge by the kilo portions of rou bing are things that bring fond memories as well. and the yoghurt drinks in ceramic pots! oh and the 25 cent egg fried rice from the beida cafeteria that always had egg shells, chunks of msg and the occasional rock in the rice! ah the memories!

                                the one kuai fatty yang rou chuar outside of night man disco too!

                              2. Go for drinks and dancing at the Old Jazz Bar at the Peace Hotel on the Bund. Like stepping back in time to Old Shanghai of the 1930s. I went with a group that included some couples who were really good ballroom dancers and we all had a wonderful time. The hotel is faded but you get a sense of the glamour that Shanghai had before the Revolution. The hotel is part of the mercantile history of the city. Fabulous view of the Bund and River from the hotel roof.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  Stopping at the Peace Hotel's elegant coffee shop for pastries and coffee is also a nice way to take a break from the hectic pace of Nanjing Dong Lu in the afternoon.

                                2. Yong foo elite for drinks after dark. Colonial luxury.