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Shanghai report

I’ve just returned from ten days in China, five in Shanghai and five in Beijing. Thanks to earlier posts and other advice, it was a fantastic food trip. Here are the highlights from Shanghai, grouped by cuisine.

My related Beijing post is at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/456997

Two great meals, one at the glitzy South Beauty and one at the humbler Pin Chuan. South Beauty defies my Chowhound instincts: despite a huge, varied menu and lots of attention to design and style, the food was outstanding. I especially liked the shredded duck with ginger and chili, in which the sweetness of the ginger balanced the chilies, the twice-cooked pork, and the thinly sliced pork served cold hanging on a wooden rack with dipping sauces (which looked like “meat laundry” the way it hung). At Pin Chuan, I liked comparing two different noodles: dan dan mien, swimming in a bowl of chili oil with a sprinkling of meat, and Sichuan cold noodles, with a sesame and vinegar sauce and cucumber shreds.

Two more great meals. Guyi is an upscale scene, quite mixed (Chinese & foreign). Loved the bacon with garlic shoots and pork ribs with cumin. Di Shui Dong is more local, less refined, and more charming. The bacon with garlic shoots here was even better, and I really liked a stir-fry of chopped pickled vegetables (not sure what kind), chilies, and green onions.

Another vote for Jia Jia Tang Bao. Definitely the best soup dumplings I’ve ever tried. They’re ugly and floppy, all lopsided from an impossibly generous amount of soup, but the skins hold perfectly and the pork is mellow and sweet. A total bargain (7.50 Yuan = 1 dollar for around a dozen), too. Went twice around noontime: once we waited around 30 minutes, and the other time there was no wait because it was raining.
Nanxing Mantou, in the Yu Gardens, was a disappointment. The xiao long bao skins were too thick, with less tasty meat. I also tried the tennis-ball sized individual soup dumpling, which comes with a straw to suck out the soup. It was no better than the frozen pot pies I remember from childhood: gummy dough sitting too long with dull broth, with little if any meat. The one redeeming dish here (we ate on the top floor) was the salty cashew bun: crunchy, salty, sweet, and flaky. Mmm.
Best of all in the dumpling category was Yang’s Fry Dumplings for sheng jian bao, thick soup dumplings pan-fried on one side. All the fun of xiao long bao with the added benefit of the crunchy, toasted bottom. Never seen these outside of Shanghai.

My preference is for the spicy foods of Sichuan and Hunan, so sweeter Shanghai cooking was not a big draw for me. Still, we had a great meal at Shanghai Uncle, another glitzy spot for foreigners and upscale locals. Local standards – braised pork, smoked fish – were all very good, but my favorite was “8 treasures,” cubed chewy rice cakes (like Korean dok) tossed with diced pork, mushrooms, and several other treasures I’m now forgetting. That dish is a nice mix of tastes and textures and unlike anything else I tried in China.


Pin Chuan, 47 Taojiang Lu, French Concession, across from US Consulate

South Beauty, Taojiang Lu, French Concession, and other branches

Guyi, 87 Fumin Lu, French Concession

Di Shui Dong, 56 Maoming Nan Lu, 2nd floor, northwest corner at Changle Lu, French Concession

Jia Jia Tang Bao, 90 Huanghe Lu, just north of People’s Square

Yang’s Fry Dumplings, multiple branches, including across from Jia Jia Tang Bao on Huanghe Lu

Shanghai Uncle, multiple branches

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  1. David, you can find sheng jian bao on your home turf in the Bay Area, though not nearly as tasty as what you can find in Shanghai. Shanghai Dumpling King in SF and Shanghai Restaurant in Oakland have them, and probably some of the Peninsula and South Bay places.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Xiao Yang

      Thanks -- I never knew to look for them until trying and enjoying them in Shanghai. I will try them next time at Shanghai Dumpling King.

    2. Hi David,
      Re Guyi: I would not call Guyi upscale, price is quite reasonable there. My favorite 2 dishes are the fish head with chilli paste, and the shrimps on the chilli pot. (Both are not the correct translation as I have forgotten the name until I read the menu again) Both are extremely spicy so forget it if you cannot eat hot food. I think most foreigners would have problem eating the fish head but the Chinese always consider the fish head as the best part.
      Re Nanxiang Mantou: I don't know why Xiao Long Bao here is getting such a bad wrap in Chowhound. I have eaten XLB for many years in many countries, and think the XLB here is actually pretty good. And while it is in tourist area, I do not think it is touristy. Sitting beside me are 4 Shanghai retirees, and being a fluent Mandarin speaker, we chat about the art of eating XLB: poking a small hole to sip the juice, then add a bit ginger with soya sauce before swallowing the rest. I prefer XLB with crab roe so that is the one I ordered rather than the standard pure meat XLB. I also ordered the one you described as tennis ball size XLB with the straw but I feel the purpose of this XLB is to let the person tried the juicy rich stock, but not the meat. In my opinion, the tasty part of XLB is actually the juice, not the meat, which is why most of the time, I ordered XLB with crab roe to enhance the flavor.
      Re Shanghai Unlce: which branch did you try? I tried the one on the basement behind Westin Hotel, and the XuJiaHui branch. Since the visit was 2 years apart, I thought there was some differences in its dishes and presentation. The one at the Bund center seem to be more upscale.

      5 Replies
      1. re: FourSeasons

        We went to the Shanghai Uncle branch in the basement behind the Westin Hotel.

        At Guyi I saw many tables having fish head and wished we had ordered it. That and the ribs appeared to be the most popular dishes.

        1. re: FourSeasons

          I haven't tried the XLB on the third floor at the Nanxiang, but the ones with the industrial strength wrapper they serve on the second floor and the takeout line are nowhere near the quality that the Nanxiang produced 20 years ago when it was the benchmark for the specialty.

          1. re: Xiao Yang

            Yes, I know you dislike Nanxiang from earlier thread. It is either I have different taste bud from the rest of CH or I was lucky to get a good quality one on the day of my visit there.
            I think the one I tried is on the 3rd floor as I recall climbing quite a few steps on the way up. Definitely not take out and I don't recall any industrial strength wrapper. Can't compare to 20 years ago as I am a regular visitor to Shanghai only in the last 5 years.
            On another note, I have also tried the Nanxiang branch in Tokyo and I thought the quality there is good too.

            1. re: FourSeasons

              Is the Tokyo Nanxiang branch in Roppongi Hills? If so, I have been there (I thought the menu looked familiar), and if I recall correctly I liked the xiao long bao more at the Tokyo branch than in Shanghai.

              1. re: david kaplan

                Yes, that is right, the one at Roppongi Hill, on the basement 2 (if my recollection is correct). The one in Tokyo is more refined, presentation is better and not as chaotic as the Shanghai branch. I can't really remember the difference in XLB as I had too many XLB in past few years but I just remember I enjoyed both branches. I don't think the tennis ball with straw is available in Tokyo though.

        2. I think the chewy rice cake that you described in Shanghai Uncle is called Nian Gao. But usually "8 Treasures" refers to either 8 Treasure Rice "Ba Bao Fan" or 8 Treasure duck "Ba Bao Ya". It is rare to hear 8 Treasure assocaite with Nian Gao. Maybe someone can explain if I am wrong.

          2 Replies
          1. re: FourSeasons

            The Eight Treasures Rice Cakes may be an invention of Shanghai Uncle. I didn't notice it on the menu myself when I went (Xujiahui branch) but novelist and food writer Nicole Mones described the very same dish at that branch:

            "Another triumph is 'Eight Treasure with sticky rice cake'. Chewy rice cakes are cooked in an addictive piquant sauce with pine nuts, fine-cubed pork, diced mushrooms, and other goodies, then topped with a mound of crystal-fresh shrimp."


            1. re: Xiao Yang

              Must be an invention from Shanghai Uncle then. That is not a surprise since the food there is not really traditional Shanghai food but more of a modern fusion version created by the owner or chef there.

          2. Two noodles from Pin Chuan: dan dan on left, cold noodles on right.

            1. Sheng jian bao at Yang's Fry Dumplings.

              Production at Jia Jia Tang Bao.

              Monster xiao long bao at Nanxing Mantou -- thumbs down.

              Salty cashew bun at Nanxing Mantou -- thumbs up.

              1. Menu at Di Shui Dong.

                Dishes at Di Shui Dong (pea shoots; chicken with chilies; bacon with garlic shoots)

                Chicken at Di Shui Dong.

                Ribs at Guyi Hunan.

                2 Replies
                1. re: david kaplan

                  The ribs I had at Guyi is different from the one shown on your picture. A direct translation of my dish is Ribs Tea: some ribs on a herbal soup, just like the version in Singapore known as Bar Ku Teh.

                  1. re: david kaplan

                    Di Shui Dong also has a fabulous shrimp dish with tons of deep-fried garlic and chilis...

                  2. Love the report! And the pics! I have my own photo of the basket at Jia Jia Tang Bao as my screen saver! Boy does reading this make me hungry to return!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: erica

                      wow thanks so much for the report ill be going to shanghai in a while and this definetely gave me some insight into the area

                    2. 6 August 2007
                      Shanghai, Xintiandi, Lunch
                      Din Tai Fung restaurant

                      Pork/Crab soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao) ¥35 for 5 pieces
                      Sui Mai (pork/shrimp dumplings) ¥35 for 5 pieces
                      (Cold) water bamboo and scallions ¥25
                      Cucumber with chili/garlic sauce ¥25
                      1 iced tea, 1 Tsing Tao draft, 2 glasses of red wine
                      Total ¥240
                      Bamboo cut into rectangle slices were slightly more toothsome than al dente pasta, tiny pieces of scallions almost microscopic—no dressing that I could discern. Delicious.
                      Cucumber wasn’t spicy enough but crisp and tasty. A cold dish.
                      Pork/Crab soup dumplings came to table in bamboo steamer still steaming. Not too thick skin, elastic, chewy, good I guess. The soup was steaming hot. And a bit spicy. The filling was light, yet substantial. The pork not too finely ground, the crab had a strong presence but not dominant flavor. From the color of the soup and film, a bit of chili oil was used. About the size of a very large walnut—the skin would tear if handled roughly.
                      The siu mai had a tiny shrimp on the top of a purse-shaped dumpling. Surprise! It too was a soup dumpling. (Just learned from Prof. Li Bailing or rather his wife that water bamboo is salted dried bamboo that is then rehydrated in water. Cool.)
                      Din Tai Fung is a Taiwan chain w/locations in Japan, US west coast, BC Canada, HK, Shanghai, etc. Sleek, glass and wood and brushed steel interior. Airy, bright and good level of noise. Seems to be popular with the younger professional set. A table of mini-skirted Chinese-American girls with big hair and valley-girl accents near us kept the waiters and waitresses very amused. heh.
                      The amount of dumplings is about the most me and the SO can eat. At the other places, it’s no tragedy not to eat them all. Fun place and good food at higher prices than a typical dumpling shop.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: PakaloloDreams

                        Are you sure that's the "water bamboo" you had? To me, it means "jaio bai", which is popular in Shanghai and in Taiwan. It's a member of the bamboo family (Zizania Latifolia) which is also related to the wild rice plant. It is a tender stalk which is swollen from a fungus infestation and has a nice nutty flavor. It is always served fresh, AFAIK. It is kept out of the US because of fears the fungus could threaten our wild rice crops. More here:


                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                          Hey, great find and I think you're right after reading the link. It sounds exactly what we ate. It was delicious. My friend's wife may have misunderstood my description of that dish, given my lack of Mandarin, so in no way do I want to attribute the mistake to her. :-)