How to eat like a local in Shanghai: The best spots for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Feb 17, 2020

If you only had one day in Shanghai, what should you eat? Shanghai native and self-described foodie Wilson Mao takes us on a food crawl to some of his favorite spots.

Shanghai is a wonderful city to eat and indulge. Its status as an international hub means the options are endless and incredibly diverse.

While the city has grown more cosmopolitan over the years, with food from all over the world, local Shanghainese fare is still king. We asked Wilson Mao, a Shanghai native and self-professed foodie, to show us his favorite spots in the city.

Areas like Jing’an and Huangpu are often at the top of recommendation lists, but Wilson wanted to take us to a neighborhood off the beaten path: Hongkou, a residential district with some of the most spectacular dumplings in the city.

Here’s his guide to a day in Shanghai.

Pan-fried buns at Guangtou Shengjian.
Pan-fried buns at Guangtou Shengjian. / Photo: Nathaniel Brown

Breakfast: Pan-fried buns and soup dumplings

Start the morning at Guangtou Shengjian, perhaps Shanghai’s most famous pan-fried bun spot. This tiny shop regularly sees lines out the door.

The main attraction is plump purses of meat grilled until they’re crispy on the bottom and juicy on the inside. Eat with care, though, because the inside is packed with soup.

(Read more: An illustrated compendium of Chinese baos)

For second breakfast, head next door to Wanshouzhai. Once a state-owned restaurant, this soup dumpling specialist has been around for more than three decades.

Soup dumplings at Wanshouzhai.
Soup dumplings at Wanshouzhai. / Photo: Nathaniel Brown

The thin wheat dumplings are stuffed with a generous portion of meat and soup.

Where to Find Them:

Guangtou Shengjian 光头生煎, 149 Shanyin Road 阴路149号

Wanshouzhai 万寿斋, 123 Shanyin Road 山阴路123号

Vegetables at the Sanjiaodi Guyang Market in Shanghai.
Vegetables at the Sanjiaodi Guyang Market in Shanghai. / Photo: Nathaniel Brown

Lunch: A trip to the wet market and a home-cooked meal

A trip to Shanghai is not complete without visiting a wet market. For lunch, Wilson took us to one near his house, picked up some groceries, and whipped up a fantastic home-cooked meal.

Traditionally, wet markets are places where farmers sell fresh meat, fish, and produce out in the open. Some would even butcher live animals on the spot.

Wilson Mao regularly buys groceries at the Sanjiaodi Guyang Market.
Wilson Mao regularly buys groceries at the Sanjiaodi Guyang Market. / Photo: Nathaniel Brown

But in Shanghai, all wet markets were moved indoors in 1999 out of sanitary concerns, and the only live animals are fish and crustaceans.

(Read more: Don’t blame wet markets for the coronavirus outbreak)

Wilson bought a handful of amaranth, an eel from a live fish tank, and some fresh river shrimp. At home, he whipped up a red-braised eel, stir-fried amaranth with yellow wine, and a raw shrimp ceviche made with fermented tofu and wine.

To Visit the Wet Market:

Sanjiaodi Guyang Market 三角地吉祥菜场, 69 Guyang Road 吉祥路69号

Noodles with a plethora of sides at Dongji Luchun.
Noodles with a plethora of sides at Dongji Luchun. / Photo: Nathaniel Brown

Dinner: Noodles with lion’s head meatballs

We finished off the day with dinner at Dongji Luchun, a noodle soup shop. The main dish here is chewy, flat noodles cooked in a savory broth.

By itself, the dish is quite plain, but the accoutrements make all the difference.

Lion’s head meatball is one of the sides you can choose from at Dongji Luchun.
Lion’s head meatball is one of the sides you can choose from at Dongji Luchun. / Photo: Nathaniel Brown

There are a lot of sides to choose from, but we recommend the deep-fried pork chops, served with a side of Worcestershire sauce, and lion’s head meatball, a local dish made of ground pork seasoned with rice wine and gently steamed.

Where to Find It:

Dongji Luchun 董记盧春面馆, 142 Huanghe Road 黄河路142号

(Want more Shanghai? Check out this list of places specially curated for us by food influencer @ShanghaiGirlEats)

ShanghaiStreet foodEat China

Credit

Host and Producer: Clarissa Wei

Videographer: Nathaniel Brown

Editor: Mario Chui

Mastering: Victor Peña