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While sheng jian bao tend to be filled with minced pork, you can get other versions such as spicy prawn and vegetable too. Popular for breakfast, they’re served with black vinegar for dipping.
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Xiao long bao aka Shanghai’s legendary soup dumplings. These originated in Nanxiang, close to the city, and are something you just shouldn’t miss. Pork, or pork and crab, are the usual fillings.
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While not unique to Shanghai, jian bing is simply one of the best breakfast foods ever and is something vegetarians will enjoy too. The filing includes egg, sweet bean sauce, lettuce and a fried dough stick called you tiao.
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Shanghai is famed for its freshwater eel dishes and this dish (shan si mian) features springy, chewy wheat noodles, strips of eel meat and a gutsy, peppery sauce.
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There’s a whole family of dishes called kaiwei cai that are served in small portions designed to share. They run the gamut of hot, cold, fried, steamed, pickled, steeped and salted.
Pork with rice cakes
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An old-school dish of fried pork chop and chewy rice cakes that’s most likely Western-influenced and dating from the time, early last century, when Shanghai burst at the seams with Europeans. Paigu niangao even features splashes of the Chinese version of Worcestershire sauce.
Crab braised tofu
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Xiefen doufu makes a feature of hairy crab that the Shanghainese go nuts for. The season runs over the late autumn months – other types of crab are used when they’re not available. Good restaurants will make their own tofu for this dish.
Lion’s head meatballs
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So named because the meatballs are said to resemble a lion’s head and the few bits of leafy greens that go with it the mane. There are a few versions of shizi tou the size of the meatball, traditionally made using hand-cut pork mince with plenty of fat, can vary.
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A legendary dish from the nearby city of Hangzhou, jiao hua ji is a whole bird stuffed with mushrooms, ham, chestnuts and other ingredients, which vary, depending on the cook. The bird is baked in a layer of clay that hardens in the oven and is broken open at the table.
Squirrel-shaped mandarin fish
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Fried and served whole, the flesh of a fish is incised using some nifty knife work and opens out as it cooks. The final dish, called songshu yu, is slathered in a thick sweet-and-sour-style sauce and garnished with, among other things, pine nuts.
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Red cooking (hongshao) is a hallmark of Shanghainese cuisine. Meat, and sometimes fish, is braised in a thick, sweetish mixture of rice wine, soy sauce, aromatics and sugar. Red-cooked pork is called hongshao rou.
Eight treasure rice
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Ba bao fan is a festive sweet pudding that consists of a dome of glutinous rice stuffed with red bean paste which is steamed with a little lard and topped with assorted dried (or glacé) fruits and nuts.
Shanghai in 12 Dishes
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For more delicious information on these dishes and the best places to try them, pick up a copy of Shanghai In 12 Dishes (Red Pork Press, 2017).
Up Next: Things to Know Before You Go to Shanghai
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