5 places to eat breakfast like a local in Shanghai

Aug 12, 2019

Situated on China’s east coast, Shanghai boasts a modern skyline that suits its status as the country’s financial capital.

But stick closer to the ground, and you’ll find quaint neighborhoods serving up some of the city’s—some say country’s—best food.

Shanghai is an immigrant city, with a population that hails from all over China, so the food scene here, particularly street food, is all about blending flavors from different parts of the country.

Shanghai street food is a blend of flavors from different parts of the country.
Shanghai street food is a blend of flavors from different parts of the country. / Photo: Lou Jiakai

Here, life is all about the hustle, and breakfast is king. Over the years, migrant workers hoping to eke a start in the city have found that the most economical way is to open up stands serving cheap, convenient, and fast breakfast.

As a result, most people here get breakfast to go, and the options are diverse and delicious. Here are five essential Shanghai breakfast items to get your day started.


Fried dough sticks 油条

This crunchy, carby comfort food known as youtiao is popular throughout China. The equivalent of a donut, it can be itself, wrapped in a crepe, or dipped in rice porridge.

Where to Get It: 小桃园 复兴中路1251号

In Shanghai, people usually pair it with sweet or savory soy milk, which brings us to our next item…


Savory soy milk 咸豆浆

Most people drink soy milk by itself, but locals in Shanghai love adding toppings such as soy sauce and seasoning to their milk.

Where to Get It: 小桃园 复兴中路1251号

Popular accoutrements include scallions, soy sauce, dried seaweed, pickled mustard greens, and dried shrimp.


Wonton 馄饨

Found all over southern China, these delicate purses of meat are freshly wrapped every morning with pork and a generous helping of vegetables and chives.

They’re shaped like ingots, an old form of Chinese currency.

Where to Get It: 美新点心店 陕西北路105号

In the summer, they’re served cold with a dollop of peanut sauce and vinegar.


Soup dumplings 小笼包

Soup dumplings, or xiaolongbao, were born in this part of China.

Minced pork and gelatinized broth are wrapped in a thin wheat wrapper. When the dumpling cooks, the gelatin melts and turns into a broth, hence the name soup dumpling.

Where to Get It: 南翔馒头店 福佑路豫园老街87号

The dumplings come with a side of vinegar and shredded ginger.


Pan-fried buns 生煎包

These buns, called shengjianbao, started appearing in Shanghai teahouses in the 1930s. They’re stuffed with pork, and topped with scallions and sesame seeds.

Where to Get It: 丰裕生煎 陕西南路281号

They’re almost always cooked on a cast-iron pan, which gives them a crispy bottom. Vinegar is optional.

Street foodShanghai


Producer: Lou Jiakai

Writer: Clarissa Wei

Narrator, Editor, and Mastering: Victor Peña