Global Roaming: Dumpling hunting in Shanghai

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04 November 2008

Philip Engelberts hits the streets of Shanghai's French Concession with a noble mission: to find the best dumpling restaurants around.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to make my third trip to the bustling metropolis of amazing contrasts that is Shanghai. Something that stood out in my mind from previous trips was the amazing selection of dumplings on offer in restaurants, eateries and cafés on each corner.

Having previously sampled the dumpling offerings on Nanjing Road, the Bund, The Old Town and all the markets, I made it my mission this time to explore the tree-lined French Concession area south of Huaihai Road and west of Xingje Road (around Fuxing Park). For those who have never been, the French Concession area is delightful – in lieu of any high-rise buildings or big-name international chain stores, you will find things like cute small boutiques and grocery stores; little laneways where the locals live; and women working on sewing machines, hanging out their washing or dropping off their kids at kindy.

My goal this time around was to find the best dumplings in the area, at restaurants that have some added charm for international visitors.

After exploring the district’s restaurants, a firm favourite became Yin/Le Garçon Chinois. This restaurant sits within the grounds of the Jin Jiang hotel, an art deco gem in the Concession area. Walking along the manicured gardens of the hotel, a small laneway leads to Yin's entrance. Seating is both inside and outside; the décor is Shanghainese (circa 1920) with dimmed light, a lot of dark wood and a stage for weekend afternoon jazz; and the dumplings are handmade and just beautiful. This is a great place to spend an afternoon with a TsingTao beer at hand.

On the edge of the French Concession area is the more modern Xintiandi shopping and restaurant complex. It looks authentically 1920s Shanghainese, but was built in the 1990s, and is attracting a huge number of tourists and savvy locals. Here you can find two really good authentic Shanghainese restaurants: Ye Shanghai and Crystal Jade.

Dining at Ye Shanghai feels yet again like stepping back in time to the 1920s and it boasts delicate dumplings and beautiful service (for the best seat in the house I recommend grabbing a table upstairs). Crystal Jade is a large restaurant in the cinema building at the far southern end. On the first floor is a large international-style Chinese restaurant, serving beautiful noodles, soups and, what I was after, great dumplings! The service was a bit patchy here but the food good and quick.

Philip Engelberts

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