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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:

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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

      http://www.eatingchinese.org/phpbb2/v...
      http://www.eatingchinese.org/phpbb2/v...

      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.